Thursday, September 24, 2009

How To Photograph Vintage Objects for Etsy


I was so pleased a week or so ago when these boots made it into an Etsy Storque article!  They sold right away, and, brought some traffic to my shop.  Since I know no one in Etsy Admin, and have no special knowledge or connections, I can only attribute it to my photos. People often comment on how much they like the "look" of my shop - especially the photos.  I am grateful for the compliments, and, decided to try and share some of my own methods and strategies.  I have both studied and taught design for years, and, spend a great deal of time on my photos - two attributes you may not have the luxury of sharing! - however, I will do my best to get you off to a good start.

Since there are some good articles out there already on photographing jewelry and clothing, I am going to focus on vintage objects.  Objects are tough for vintage sellers.  They are often weird or boring shapes and sizes and trying to get them to look beautiful and engaging can be a challenge!  The photo above from tippleandsnack is a great example of creating something engaging from an item that, when fully closed is a rectangular block, and, when fully open is a 6' long straight line!  This image tells the story and looks good all at the same time!

For this piece I will focus on the following factors:

The First Photo
Composition
Lighting
Photo Types
Photo Editing
Your Camera

and  
Case Study - Vintage Crochet Cord 




The First Photo
The photo you use first in your listing is key.  It says not only what the object is but who you are.  Your Etsy "brand" is reflected in all of your first photos whenever someone clicks into your shop.  Remember, your first photo does not have to say it all - it just needs to get someone to click on the item.  The first photo is also the photo that will get you selected for treasuries, for Etsy Storque articles and to be featured on others' blogs and websites!  A good chunk of your attention should always be paid to your first photo.  The photo above from mousetrapvintage is a great example.  This photo was included in a treasury that made it to the front page just this past week.  You can see that great hat clearly, it has a nice textured but non-competing background, the fact that it is hanging on an antique chair says "vintage" while the casual placement helps set a mood and is in keeping with the "brand" of the shop.  A winner all the way!



Composition
Composition is an important consideration, especially for that first photo.  The fact that the list view images are square and the gallery images are rectangular poses a unique challenge!  Personally, I search by list, but, others might search by gallery and many of the Etsy features - treasuries, Storque articles - use the gallery format.  For this reason, when composing photos, I focus on the rectangle, and, try to keep most of the focal part of the image towards the center so it will be visible in the list view (square) as well.  The rectangle used by Etsy is at a ratio of about 4:5.  You can edit your first image to this proportion, or, use an image that will be cropped by Etsy and still work for you.  The image above from Le Petit Poulallier is a great example.  Although this print is larger than the section shown, this edit works well in both the rectangular view and the square view as the dogs' heads are visible in both.  She does not need to show the edges of the print, she just needs someone to say "Wow - that looks like my dog! - Click" or, "Wow - those dogs are beautiful! Click"  Each click is a visitor who can then read the details of the dimensions, condition, etc.  You just need to get to the "click!"  Composition is a topic for which I used to devote 12 weeks to teach at a basic level!  A web-site that will give you some good visual design basics of using line, shape, color, balance, negative space, rhythm, patterns, and other elements in your composition is here.



Lighting
The topic of lighting is also vast.  Personally, I advocate for natural lighting.  Be wary of direct sunlight, however, which may be good in a few rare situations - if you intentionally want light to reflect off of something or shine through something - but for the most part you want indirect natural light.   I do not personally use a lightbox, but, there are many people who do with much success!  They are handy if you have limited clear space and need an area where you can create a clear, well-lighted space instantly and without taking up too much real estate in your home. There are many good tutorials on the web.  Here is a good tutorial for an inexpensive and handy option.   The picture above is one of my own that I was lucky enough to have selected by Etsy for a front page treasury.  This globe was a challenge as I wanted something plain behind it, but, I also wanted the lighting to show that great clear mid-century base.  I tried and tried to get something to work and finally went with this photo I snapped with the globe on a chair in my husband's office!  The dark of the chair behind the base combined with the strong light from the other side provided the perfect way to show off that hard-to-photo feature.  The orange curtain both complimented the blue of the globe and picked up the oranges within the globe while the strong but diffused lighting also picked up the texture of the topographic globe.  I can tell you this is the ONLY object I have ever shot in my husband's office but it just worked.




Photo Types
We have talked about the importance of the first photo to not only get people to click, but, to help you get selected for marketing opportunities, to set a mood, and support your "brand."  (like this great pair of shoes from jessjamesjake above - standing on that amp - what great composition and these otherwise "nice" shoes suddenly look "cool!")  You have five photos to work with in Etsy, and, personally, I usually use all of them.  Especially as a vintage seller, you want to show things from all sides and angles, and, let your buyers know of any wear or known damage to the item, so use those photos to not only look good, but, to tell the whole story.  Here is how I breakdown the priorites:
  1. The main photo is to look GOOD.  See details discussed previously with regard to considerations.
  2. The next photo, if you have the option, is also to look good.  I use this option especially if I have an item that looks really good photographed vertically, which cannot be used effectively as a first option.  I have often had bloggers feature one of my items in their post, and, select an alternative photo to the first horizontal photo.  It is also good for buyers, of course, to see another great shot!
  3. A shot where you can see ALL of something is important.  I am a strong advocate of cropping that first pic for visual interest, but, don't forget to show the whole of something, or, all the components of a multi-part listing.  Remember, these later photos do not have to be so beautiful, just in-focus and well-lit.  This is often the photo where you can also show the relative size of something.
  4. Varied angles are important for some items.  For instance, a flat print may need only one or two good clear shots of the front, but, if something has wear to the back, or, the construction of the back may be useful to understanding the age or condition of the piece, it is important to show that to your buyers.
  5. Details of important sections must be included.  Be sure to get details of manufacturer's marks, artist's signatures, and chips,  cracks, flakes, wear, or stains.  Textural details, tags, or plates are often useful to buyers as well.  Think about what you would want to see if you were considering the purchase.


Sometimes I only use 3 or 4 of my five-photo option, while, sometimes I feel like I need ten photos!  In this case, I often group together images into one image.  For instance, a number of details cropped and edited into one photo can still provide the info a buyer needs.  The photo from a recent antique sewing machine listing above is a good example of this.  I am lucky to have Photoshop to edit my photos, but, it is an option in most photo-editing software to combine images.  Just remember to resize the combined image to Etsy's recommended sizes so that they are not too large once merged.



Photo Editing
The photo above is a great example of a photo edit that works.   The name of the listing begins "An Apple For The Teacher..."  and tells you it is a brooch.  The fact that you only see the top if the brooch is enough.  You can see that it is an enameled red brooch with a goldtone stem and the words "Go to school" in the sheet music help to visual establish that this is a vintage piece while also supporting the playful brand of the seller, 23 Burton Avenue.  As a potential buyer, I know that if I click onto this item I will be able to see the full brooch and exact dimensions.  I also know that this seller is fun and clever and I want to see more!


Here is another great example of composition and editing from Find Me A Memory (my mom!).  She has these great vintage vocabulary cards that are interesting to collage artists, but, not too colorful.  She has therefore photographed them on top of some vintage graphics that she knows will appeal to the type of artist that would be interested in these cards.  Putting them in a fan shape in the center also works as that is what you see in the square view.  Can you see exactly what these cards look like in the first photo? No.  Does it matter? No.  These cards on their own are not so interesting, but, by showing them this way she speaks to the type of artist that would like them, puts them in a fun, vintage educational card context and supports the brand of her shop  - great job mom!


The primary edits I make to my photos are cropping and perhaps, lightening or darking (the digital equivalent of a burn or dodge).  None of these things actually changes the images themselves, just changes how the images are going to be presented.  Personally, I rarely edit the color or manipulate photos in any way.  You need to be careful about manipulation.  As an on-line seller, you want your items to look like they look. Make them look good for sure, but certainly do not deceive.  It's the Etsy equivalent of putting a 10 year old, or, 20 pounds lighter photo of yourself on a dating site - it's all well and good until you meet for coffee!  Be truthful, and, people will respect and trust you and your shop.  The only time I manipulate color is if I feel like the camera/lighting combo cannot capture the true color and by pumping it up a notch the photo actually looks MORE like the object.  Also, I sometimes will purposely oversaturate an image to the point where it is clear that I am manipulating it. The image below from EShipShop is a great example.  By making the first pic sepia she says "Vintage" but also shows the real colors of the camera in the listing.  Finally, there have been times when I realize a photo shows a spec of dust or piece of cat-hair or something that I simply flicked off after the photo, but, I do not want it to show.  (and am too lazy to reshoot the item!) This is the ONLY time I "erase" something, but, only if it is really gone from the item.  Never, NEVER erase something that is truly on the item.  This is a no no for sure!



Your Camera
Don't be afraid of your digital (or traditional) camera! I know many people have these great cameras and they say "Oh it does all sorts of things but I don't know all that stuff."  Take a few minutes and learn a few basics.  First, learn to not be afraid of the manual setting.  You wouldn't let other machines - your car, your microwave, your telephone - make decisions for you so why are you letting your camera make all the decisions?  These things are so savvy nowadays that even with a manual setting it is still taking care of all the hard stuff.  You use the manual setting to shut that flash OFF.  Also, you may want to use a higher ISO setting if your camera allows you to do that.  This will default to allowing more light into your camera so that you can effectively shoot in natural light in most indoor areas.  Finally, understand how to use your camera's macro function - in laymen's terms this means "closeup photos."  Here is a terrific site that will give you an  overview and links to detailed instructions on many aspects of getting the most out of your camera.




Case Study - Vintage Crochet Thread
I listed this thread in my shop the other day and decided to use it as a case study to help consistently illustrate the topics discussed above.   I picked this group of 6 balls of thread because it is an item that can look really interesting or really boring, very easily, depending on how it is photographed.  For starters, the balls stacked three across and two up make a perfect 4:5 rectangle, filling the frame with color and texture.

This same view can be cropped in even closer, allowing you to see the items, colors, and, textures, but abstracting it a bit more.

Also a good candidate for an "angle shot" which still shows almost all of the items being offered, but, at an interesting angle that adds movement and depth to the picture.  A more extreme variant of this shot, across the top of an item, is useful for shooting flat objects. (See photo of measure at beginning of post.)


Another fun abstraction is this overhead shot.  Not as immediately clear what you are looking at, but, visually engaging and a nice repeated colorful pattern.

Step a little further back, shoot against a white background and you have this "clean" look.  Personally, my taste is much too cluttered to pull this off for very long but there are several vintage sellers on Etsy who consistently use the "clean" white background to show off the beautiful forms of vintage objects and create a nice brand to their shop.


Sometimes having an even number of objects can be dull compositionally, by jumbling them up in this "contrived casual" arrangement you can see everything, it is a nice composition but the balance is less formal.  This helps create movement and a more "fun" effect.

Scattering objects on the floor is a variation of the above shot that I often use as a 3rd or 4th photo to make sure that the buyers can see all of the objects clearly.  Note the difference between the top and bottom photos. The top looks like 6 interesting objects while the bottom looks like one clump.  Which is more interesting?  In my opinion, the top photo could also work as a first photo, but, if the second were used the items would be small and uninteresting.

Here is something that can happen if you do not have a clear area in which to photograph.  The items are arranged nicely but all that stuff in the background is distracting.  Do you really want to show everyone your CD collection, curtain choice and laundry in the corner?  If this is you, think about that light box idea, or, just hang a sheet, piece of vintage cloth or prop up the back side of your kid's science fair poster.  It honestly doesn't matter if you shoot in your living room, back hall or bathroom; as long as you crop things out no one will know!

Previously I suggested the elimination of the flash and this is why.  In this natural light setting, the cord looks colorful and textural in the top shot, and, deer-in-headlights washed out in the second.  Which makes you want to click?

Likewise with incandescent lighting.  It warms everything and gives it a flat appearance.  My camera has a setting for indoor lighting, which I used for the bottom pic.  It does improve it, but, my vote is still with the natural light if it is an option for you.

Adding a flash to incandescent really is "Oh...no no no!" (In my opinion, of course!)


...and please, PLEASE do not do this!  Nor would I advocate the use of a quarter beside an otherwise beautiful vintage brooch, a coke can, or   - heaven-forbid -  a beer bottle!  Relative size is good.  It often helps buyers to understand the size even more easily than typing "measures 6" tall."  Try to use something common and nice to look at however, like an apple, or, your own hand.  Or something vintage with texture that will not distract from your object.  Personally, I have a collection of vintage rulers that I use.  You do not need to do what I do, but, it is an alternative example.  And please, no matter what, do NOT use your measurement photo as your first photo!  (That is, unless you make it a completely beautiful and effective part of your listing, like this.)  No one needs to see a quarter beside your brooch to click on it.  And I will guarantee you will lose marketing opportunities if you make that choice.  If you must; keep it for the inside.


If you want to see my final choices (wise or not!) for this posting, click here.


I sincerely hope that you find this post helpful.  I encourage comments, with tips you have learned yourself and links to other photos that you think work great!  I do not pretend to have all the answers on this topic, these are just my suggestions.  Please keep comments positive  - we all know things we have seen that made us cringe!  Before and after shots of your own mistakes are fine, otherwise, let's try to learn from what others are doing RIGHT!

10 comments:

  1. what a wonderful, educational, informative piece! Thank you for taking the time to post. You're a doll!

    katcando.etsy.com

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  2. Great work! I'm honored to be mentioned!!

    23burtonavenue.etsy.com

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  3. wow, this post was beyond awesome. I will try and spread it around. I may leave another comment later if I have something intelligent to say. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Just in time for this Etsy newborn~~thank you for all your work & research & patient, detailed tips. I have learned alot. You're photos and style are just amazing.

    Best,
    Michelle

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for the positive feedback! Don't hesitate to add tips of your own as well!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I keep coming here again and again! I learn so much and enjoy the visit!

    ReplyDelete
  7. This will be a tutorial guide I will refer to again and again. Thanks for sharing this treasury of knowledge.

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  8. Great common sense suggestions! It seems so obvious, but not until you put it all together. Thanks!

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  9. Thanks for reading and the positive comments, all!

    ReplyDelete

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