My adventures on the information superhighway...

This blog chronicles the activities of my Etsy and Artfire shops, and my adventures as both a jewelry designer and information specialist.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

My photography tutorial - for myself!

This post is inspired by what I've learned about photography, and related matters, over the course of running my Etsy shop this past year. While I have access to a lot of computer programs and technical training due to my Library Science background and my husband's connections (he's a computer guy), I have absolutely no photography training whatsoever. *I* like to think I have a good eye. But who knows? Please, don't enlighten me...

When I first ventured onto Etsy as a seller, I took photos willy-nilly. It wasn't good.
Obviously, I needed a little help! Outdoors, in the direct sunlight was a no-go, and indoors under incandescent lights, while artfully arranged, skewed the colors too much.
I did a little digging - something I do have some background in! - and found this forum post and these instructions for how to build a photo light box. Now, I will readily admit, I can be lazy. I never got around to making the photo light box. But I took the forum thread to heart, set my camera on macro, turned off the flash, and got some white poster board as a background.

Here is one of my earlier attempts taken indoors, near a window, but not directly in the sunlight.

It's actually not that bad in terms of sharpness. The blues seem pretty true to their actual color, and the cat eye beads are captured especially well, but the white background seemed a bit stark to me, so I started experimenting.

I dug out the reams of scrapbook paper - yes reams, I kid you not. I am the queen of not finishing projects. These were purchased for my son's baby book. He's now 2 1/2, and I've finished chronicling approximately the first 6 months of his life so far [ack!].

Some of the paper was too flashy, but I did find lots of different greys, some black, and cream. These proved to be much better backgrounds for shooting photos of jewelry, when so many different colors - or tones - are present in one particular piece. As an illustration, here is the same bracelet which is mostly minty greens and silver on both a white, and a darker grey background. Now, the white isn't bad, but it just seems a bit washed out when compared to the grey.

Granted, a lot of my growth as a photographer is due to my willingness to experiment, and to simply reject photos and take them over again. And living here in the north with at least six months of winter and a "nighttime" that begins at 4:30 for a portion of the year, experiment I have. Above is an example of what I call my "maglite" technique ☺ Obviously, that's not the only photo I'd include for that piece, but it does the trick of catching someone's eye and hopefully causing them to click to see more.

What's especially difficult for me is to resist the urge to take photos at night. As a mom, who has a "real" job during the day, I often complete my jewelry pieces at night. And then I really want to take pictures of them and get to the listing process because everyone knows that Etsy is most active between about 7pm-12pm EST.

Also, because I have photoshop, I can get fairly good photos at night, with editing - in terms of clarity and sharpness - and I'm fooled into thinking that they might be good enough to list. OK, that glass of wine doesn't help the judgement either! But I was reminded yet again this week of why that's a bad idea.

Witness my nighttime and daytime photos of the same piece, a mostly white, clear, and crystal bracelet. Photo #1 (above) is taken on our kitchen table, at night...being very careful not to cast shadows onto the subject! It was then photoshopped to look its best. Photo #2 (right) is taken mid-morning, in front of a SE facing window, but not in direct sunlight, and is the original, unedited, unphotoshopped version. Which do you like better for best representing the item "how it is?" [monitor issues aside]

The difference - as pointed out to me by my husband who has won photography awards and also posesses a science degree - is that natural light, and incandescent light, have different wavelengths. So, the nighttime photos are always going to appear a bit "yellowish". Of course, I repeatedly forget this until I see the evidence in front of me the next morning of new, natural light photos. So this post is a reminder to myself that I should not get too over-excited upon completion of a new piece - no matter how fabulous it is!

And my final point? If you're the model - in my case - the hand model (why can't I get George and Seinfeld out of my head on that one?). Remember to apply lotion before taking pictures!!! This is partly motivated by my own vanity, I readily admit that, but also...don't you want your items to look their best? The above photo? Really not showing the bracelet to its best advantage.

My tips?
• Play around and don't be afraid to discard shots. Play with light, perspective, backgrounds, and props.
• Try to put yourself in the mind of your buyer. What grabs your interest about a photo?
• If you can, get yourself a good photo-editing program. It's not entirely necessary, but it's certainly helpful.

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