I’m Angel and I’m glad Tim gave me the chance to guest blog about my new Etsy store called: 88thcompany and teach you how to take great pictures for your online store.
A bit about 88th Company and me
The idea took a while to come to me. I was searching for something different and unique that could show what my design studio, Angel’s Design, can also do. All the online stores related to design companies are usually selling shirts & tote bags, but I preferred to go the opposite direction. It sure has its own risks and headaches, because you will have to rely on yourself to test, fail, test again and finally you will find the right formula. My gut kept telling me to follow my passion for the 1940’s military design, which I did and things started to get easier.
During my few days trip to New York, I found a Japanese book on how to make your own emblems as a brooches and the rest is history. It encouraged me to take some sewing classes, buy a sewing machine and so on. My testing and research period also helped me to learn how to carve my own stamps, which made gorgeous emblems!
But today, I would like to take some time to talk about how to take pictures for your online business. I have been a photographer for more then ten years and l truly learned everything myself. I’m not afraid to say that I wasn’t so good at the beginning, but I kept moving forward by keeping one objective: become a great photographer!
I will share with you the methods that I used to take my pictures for my Etsy store. Let’s dive in!
How to showcase your products on Etsy.com
Legends and Facts
A picture can make or break a sale online. Think about it like your window display. You won’t go into a store, if their window was all dusty and dark, right? The same goes for the Internet. You have to place your product into a theme and an environment that would make the buyer fall in love with the product without even thinking about it. The product is the star! So nothing else should be in the shot, but the product itself. But, you will say that people use backgrounds and props. It’s true! But great pictures will never make you feel that there was something behind at all.
I do not think you can truly showcase your products with a camera phone. Why? Because the lens is not as advanced as a real camera and the pixel ratio is much lower. If you are ready to invest in a camera for your business, I advise you to purchase a Nikon. Nikon is famous to have the best lenses for crisp detailed photos. On the other hand, Canon is much better for film recording. I used to have a Canon SLR, but it never was as crisp as my current Nikon. Of course, it is also a question of taste. Some people will disagree and prefer Canon to a Nikon. But this is my advice after years of experience.
Nikon have a wide range of cameras. The J collection is good for people who are just starting. But, if you want to make the leap to buy an SLR camera, you can start with the same camera that I currently have: D3100 or the D3000. Even as a professional web and graphic designer, it’s perfectly enough! I encourage you to use the manual modes, because you can control the exposure and shutter speed to get the pictures that you really want. Automatic modes usually use flash and it’s not helpful when you need to use the natural sunlight. Don’t be discouraged if it’s complicated at the beginning, just keep on testing! The more you do it, the more you will understand what every mode does. The best way to really understand the basics, is to go on YouTube and watch some videos like these ones:
I think it’s better to see it on video and see what every option does.
Setting up a background for pictures.
I often hear people say, that in order to make great pictures you need a professional studio. I totally disagree! It’s not always true! You can even use the sidewalk on the street, to make a nice picture. The secret relies on your vision and how you have trained your eye to see things. In order to train your eye, look at professional pictures and look at the composition from these points of view: foreground, middle ground and background. You should also pay attention to the emphasis, balance, repetition and movement in the picture.
Research for foreground, middle ground and background
Before taking the pictures for my brooches pins, I asked myself these questions:
What is 88th Company about? What do I want to convey?
I know my brand, but it’s nice to ask yourself those questions to not lose track of what your brand is about. 88th company mainly focuses on handmade embroidery brooches pins. The brand also does sell its brooches on vintage limited edition military surplus items. I repeat this sentence to myself very often to not lose track of what’s important: the brooches pins.
Now, I’m ready to pick the words or adjectives that will help me build the set for the photo shoot:
- Handmade (craftsmanship, tools, sewing, time, patience, past, nostalgic, 1940’s and 30’s)
- Brooches pins (made with embroidery and handmade stamps, message, pride, different, statement, etc.)
- Vintage (old, rusty, age, quality, handmade, craftsmanship)
- Military (green, WWII, ammo, sand bags, bullets, stamps, bomber…)
TIP: If it’s hard for you to visualize things, I deeply encourage you to make an idea board by searching images on Google. When projects get a bit complicated, I research and collect as many references as I can.
Now, this list gave me a clear idea on which direction to take. I could clearly see an image of an old barn and WWII airplane parked near by. Even if I knew, that due to budget, I couldn’t get my perfect image, I knew that I could fake it or be close to it! After all, that’s what they do in movies! They build a set and make you believe that they were on some strange planet, but were never there! It’s the same idea.
With my ideas ready, I went on to the Army and Navy Surplus store and searched for something that might help me build my small photo shoot set. It’s great to go to these second hand stores, because you won’t spend a fortune on building a background for your pictures. The options are endless! During my search, I found a bunch of empty military sand bags and thought to pick two different colors: one green and two brown for contrast. That’s it! I returned to my studio and I already have thought to use the brick wall for the background near the window for a great natural light source. I pulled my drawer unit next to the wall and covered it with the sand bags like so.
TIP: Please don’t spend money on props! You can use whatever is around in your house. If don’t have anything that defines your vision, go to the surplus, antic stores, second hand bookstores, garage sales or on eBay. Don’t spend more then $10 on props! It’s not worth it! Learn to be the deal breaker and learn how to use your environment to your advantage!
Then, it was time to create my middle ground by adding the little details that would set the mood for the shot. I added an old book, wax stamp, a paintbrush, a ribbon, and an 88th Co. card.
For contrast, I placed one of my green repurposed military laundry bags in the center. I took my brooches and placed them in a natural matter: one on top of the other, while I made sure that each design was still visible. Now, I’m ready to take pictures!
TIP: turn off any interior light that might interfere with your natural light source. Bulb’s light will add an orange shade that will look terrible on a picture. Also, don’t be afraid to try to shoot your products from different angles. Don’t make your subject boring! Make it interesting!
Focus and out of focus
When I picked the background and middle ground item, I knew they were going to be out of focus, which will bring depth to the picture. You don’t want everything to be in perfect focus, because it will lose realism. So be aware of that, even if it might be a small detail, it could bring so much to the picture.
Learn how to play with the shadows. It can make a picture soft or totally dramatic. In my finished picture, you will notice that I make the viewer believe, that the product was “discovered”. The source light play the role of an open door, while the shadows give the effect of the half closed barn that is hiding a treasure: the brooches.
Most people think that the best software for photography is Photoshop. I would say yes and no! Photoshop is, in opinion, a more advanced tool. It goes beyond what you will need for an Esty photo shoot. I would strongly advice you to use Adobe Lightroom, because it’s cheaper then Photoshop, it’s easier and it only focuses on photography!
I also want to set the record straight that a bad picture can be saved on any software. That’s pure legend in my book! I mean you could make it better, but it will take so many hours of your time to do so. Therefore, it’s best to start with a great picture and transform it into a beautiful piece thanks to Lightroom.
I hope this insight into photography had helped you better understand the techniques that we use in the professional world. It takes time and practice to master something. Make sure to understand and practice the methods until you truly become an expert!
If you have any question, please feel free to ask me. I will do my best to help you out!