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Shooting Pictures That Sell

Craft industry photographers share their best tips for improving craft product photography

A captivating image can make the difference between selling products and having a room full of unsold creations. The quality of photography influences the buying decisions of consumers, because the majority of people are visual learners, and they want to see something before they buy it. Images also attract more attention than words alone, especially online. Articles with photos can get as much as 95 percent more traffic than the same article without an image, and the top sites with the best sales conversion rates always feature outstanding photography.

Yet hiring a professional photographer might be as far beyond your budget as the prospect of becoming a master photographer yourself.

Product photography seems daunting because perfect shots rely on multiple factors. But beautiful photos boil down to basics. Without spending thousands of dollars, you can shoot professional-quality photos of your products using these simple tips from the pros.

Know your equipment

“The best camera is the one you have in your hand,” says Caro Sheridan, who teaches an online product photography class on Craftsy and sells sewn creations on her blog, “You don’t need to spend a bazillion dollars on a high-end camera to take amazing shots; even the iPhone 5S has astounding quality.”

Many modern smartphones have advanced camera capabilities, and apps that adjust exposure make editing easy. Even the most basic point-and-shoot camera can be a powerful tool, if you know how to use it.

“Experiment with what you’ve got,” Sheridan says. “The better you know that camera, the better quality images you’re going to get. Reading the manual is terribly boring, but learning how your camera works is your best bet for improving.”

For Courtney O’Dell, who blogs at and contributes photography tips to the SNAP! Creativity website, cameras aren’t as crucial as lenses.

“Buying good lenses is one of the best investments you can make,” says O’Dell, endorsing 50mm lenses with low apertures that let in more light. “If you buy down in camera and up in lenses, you’ll save a lot of money.”

Keep it light

The biggest photography mistakes O’Dell sees stem from lighting.

“Think of light scraping across your subject, not beating straight down on it,” she says. “If you get too much light, it looks flat and boring. If you don’t get enough light, it’s grainy and blurry.”

Fortunately for novice photographers on a budget, the best light is free.

“If people took the time to go outside and get natural light, 80 percent of their problems would be solved,” says O’Dell, who shoots on her covered porch or under a tree.

When she can’t get outside, she sets up inside, near a window. A sheet of vellum can diffuse direct light and reduce shadows, and $30 reflectors — or homemade versions made from boxes wrapped in aluminum foil — can bounce light toward your subject.

If afternoon photo shoots aren’t practical for you, Sheridan suggests shooting early in the morning or late in the day to take advantage of the “magic golden hour” near sunrise and sunset. And if daylight is not an option, invest a few hundred dollars in a standing light kit.

Run background checks

Clean and simple is the key to product photography. O’Dell’s favorite backgrounds are chalkboards and whiteboards, which you may already own. She adds shabby-chic texture with old whiskey barrels, cutting boards, concrete steps or the peeling paint of her porch railing.

“Keep backgrounds as minimal as possible,” she says. “People tend to overthink the background, but simpler is better — and cheaper and easier. It’s all about making the craft stand out, so you want something neutral.”

However, plain white backgrounds present a challenge for amateur photographers.

“The challenge with shooting on white comes from exposure,” Sheridan says. “Your camera will try to balance out the white, so your photos are going to come out dark. Use a gray background, or even brick, to naturally balance out the middle gray.”

Generic shots, while standard, don’t suit every situation. Add style with patterned backgrounds, lifestyle props or interesting angles to make photos identifiable, especially for sharing on Pinterest.

“It helps to have your product in context,” O’Dell says. “Stylized photos help people remember your product and become emotionally connected.”

Keep shooting

Once you snap the perfect shot, keep shooting.

“It’s always easier to take 100 pictures when you think you have it at 20 than it is to redo a shoot,” O’Dell says.

As you photograph, examine the subject from various angles and experiment with different aperture settings. Fill the frame, then step back for wider shots that leave room for text overlays on websites or sales flyers.

“The beautiful thing about digital photography is that it doesn’t cost any money to take more shots,” Sheridan says. “Always shoot more than you think you need.”

Edit to perfection

Don’t be afraid of editing. Both O’Dell and Sheridan prefer the intuitive tools of Lightroom, which costs $10 per month through Adobe Creative Cloud.

“Some people think that editing is cheating, that if you get it right ‘in camera,’ you shouldn’t have to edit,” Sheridan says. “The truth is, software is basically our modern darkroom, so there’s no shame in altering the photo if you need to bump up the exposure, pull down the contrast or crop differently.”

Sources to polish your photo skills

Digital Photography books by Scott Kelby

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