13 Product Photography Lessons from My Fake Etsy Photo Shoot

13 product photography lessons from my fake Etsy photo shoot. Includes tips on composition, lighting, and more!

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but people totally judge crafts by their photos all the time!

Sure, tagging, titles, SEO, and relentless shop promotion have their own roles to play in bringing traffic to your shop, but all that hard work can be undone in an instant if your photos suck.

Photos sell your crafts.

A couple weekends ago I put together a “pretend” Etsy photo shoot with the goal of demonstrating the best, most practical product photography lessons I’ve learned over the years. These photos were shot with a mix of my iPhone 4S and my Canon PowerShot Digital ELPH 300 HS (Amazon Affiliate link). The metal airplane is a yard ornament from my own garden (originally from McClendon’s hardware store).

Enjoy this meaty product photography tutorial!

1. Shoot in daylight (or really good indoor lighting)

Good lighting is 90% of the battle. Even an old or crappy camera can do some pretty amazing things given the right lighting.

My favorite natural lighting setup is bright but cloudy day, but it can be hard to wait around for the right kind of day to land on a weekend so I have a bunch of tricks for working with the lighting I’ve got. If you’re reading this from the North Pole in the dead of winter, check out these great lighting setups that you can use indoors.

If a cloudy day is a rarity where you live, read on for tips on diffusing that bright lighting.

2. Diffused lighting looks better than direct lighting

I think soft “diffuse” shadows look better than hard shadows, which sort of duplicate your object onto the surface its sitting on and become a distraction. (Hard shadows do add nice sense of depth which gets lost when you diffuse the light, but you’re better off without them if they’re becoming distracting.)

Here’s a visual guide to the difference between direct sunlight and diffuse sunlight:

Etsy product photography tutorial and tips: direct sunlight vs. diffuse sunlight.

Direct sunlight creates hard, dark shadows, as seen on left. Sunlight that is filtered through a curtain or sheet of paper becomes much softer, as seen on right.

How to get diffused lighting:

  • Hang a white curtain across the window you’re shooting next to (this is the technique I use most frequently, see below for a photo of my setup)
  • Wait for a cloudy day
  • Cover a window with tissue paper
  • Stretch a white sheet over your shooting area
  • Use a light tentclick here to see our reviews of many popular light tents
etsy_product_photography_tutorial_how_to_diffuse_lighting

Blocking some of the light with a curtain might seem counter-intuitive, but it softens the shadows and prevents harsh blow-outs. If you need to punch up the overall brightness/contrast a bit, you can do so in Photoshop or any image editing tool later on. Shown above is my el cheapo $5 DIY white background product photography setup.

 3. Shoot a TON of photos

I used to be a once-and-done photographer… back when I wasn’t a very good photographer. ;)

Always shoot 4-5 times the amount of photos you think you’ll need. Some will turn out blurry or bad for reasons you didn’t anticipate. Having a ton to pick from helps ensure you have something useful. Pick the best and delete the rest later (or keep them forever and ever and keep buying larger hard drives, like I do :D).

etsy_product_photography_tutorial_take_a_bazillion_photos

It is virtually impossible to take too many photos for your Etsy listings.

4. Keep it simple with a white background

Products with a light grey background basically scream “feature me!” on Etsy, and while the look is overdone it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

If it suits your product and you don’t mind a bit of conformity, shooting your product on a white background is easy. A simple sheet of poster board makes for a seamless, smooth white background. Prop it up against something, or have a helper hold it up for you.

etsy_product_photography_shoot_on_white

5. Make your OWN background(s)

I had this stained cabinet door laying around so I tried it out as a background – success!

Lots of top selling Etsy shops are rejecting the oh-so-common pale grey background, so don’t feel bad if it’s not right for you. Experiment and find something that is right for you and your product, or use a white background shot as your main shot and add more interesting backgrounds as your supplementary photos.

I’ve seen other crafters make great use of table tops, weathered door frames, painted walls, bricks, books, you name it. (Read about 6 alternatives to white backgrounds here.)

etsy_product_photography_shoot_on_wood

6. Shoot close up or crop it

Show off those tiny details, and don’t be afraid to leave some parts of your product out of the shot. You already know what my airplane looks like, so it’s okay to focus in its details for the remaining shots.

etsy_product_photography_shoot_close_up

Here’s another shot to show you the power of cropping. The wings and tail are cut off, but I bet you hardly noticed until I said something:

etsy_product_photography_tips_up_close

7. Don’t be afraid to experiment

Try some weird and unusual shots. This goes back to the advice from earlier about shooting way more photos than you think you’ll need. As it turns out, I only ended up with ONE shot of the bottom of the plane, but if I were actually selling this product I’m sure a customer would want to see the bottom.

etsy_product_photography_bottom_angle

8. It’s okay to “fix it in post”

Your job as a photographer is to minimize the amount of work you have to do in post (ie: don’t count on editing out complicated shadows), but you don’t have to avoid it entirely. Adjusting brightness/contrast is easy in Photoshop or any free in-browser editing tool. The punched-up result is usually worth the 5 seconds of effort:

fake_etsy_photoshoot_brightness_contrast

Some photos benefit from brightness/contrast adjustments more than others.

9. Include a human (or at least part of one)

Boom! Now you know exactly how big this plane is.

I’ve seen quite a few Etsy shops featuring pretty items without ANY sense scale. Most people don’t like to read measurements and guess at the item’s size in real life- a picture can answer these questions in a single glance. This goes triple for jewelry!

etsy_product_photography_tips_include_a_human

10. Closer is almost always better

It’s tempting to shoot the product from the angle you normally see it from, but that will probably bore your viewers (see the first shot, below).

As I reviewed my Etsy photo shoot shots, I realized the far away ones I took were almost completely useless. Move in close and fill the frame with your product!

product_photography_tips_get_close

11. Showing it in use is a good idea

This little metal plane is intended for use as a yard ornament, so after all those shots of it inside perhaps I ought to show it actually, y’know, in my yard:

etsy_product_photography_action_shot

12. Choose a contrasting background / setting

If you aren’t shooting against white posterboard or some similarly simple background, be careful to choose backgrounds that complement your product. You don’t want it getting lost or competing for the viewer’s attention. I shot a number of photos with the plane against my yard, mulch, and front shrubbery, and they all turned out useless – the plane just blends in. I’m glad I shot a variety, because the tree trunk shots (which I didn’t think would be anything special) totally stole the show.

fake_etsy_photoshoot_harmonious_background

13. Pursue on-the-spot ideas

Don’t worry too much about planning your shots. Just start shooting and roll with what works. If you get a great idea for a shot mid-way, go ahead and pursue it.

I didn’t go into this photo shoot intending to put the plane into my husband’s hands, but when I saw him holding the plane for me between shots I was inspired! I loved the shot so much, I made it the header image for this post. If I were listing this item on Etsy, I’d definitely use it as one of the five photos.

Bonus Tip: Have FUN with it!

Just like how I draw better when I’m in a good mood, I shoot better photos when I’m in a good mood! It’s like magic.

It’s okay to make fun of your project a bit - shoot a few goofy shots and make yourself laugh, it’ll show through in everything else you shoot.

product_photography_tips_have_fun

Pro tip for having fun on a photo shoot: bring along a husband, lol.

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