Sunday, January 16, 2011

Product photography quick tutorial


Some of us have done testing and have discovered that a plain white background really does results in more clicks and more sales of products.  Yes, I still think that the black I advise here is pretty darned sexy, but the numbers simply don't lie.  The black background will give you a museum feel to your items, but pure white will sell more of them.  Other than that, what I wrote here is still valid.***

***And now the original blog post***

Pottery is notoriously difficult to photograph.

If you are able to get enough light on it, the light tends to reflect showing horrible bright spots.  If you don't get enough light, customers will have trouble really seeing what the product is.

I had to make a demo of my ability to use screen capturing video software so I opted to make a quick photoshop tutorial on product photography so I could share it with you.

Here are some of my random tips for taking the photos.

1)  Invest in good lights and a light tent.  No matter how much I white balanced my camera, when I was using either natural lighting, or the lighting in my home, I had to do a lot of work color correcting after the original photo was taken.  Since receiving some optimized lights, this has become unnecessary.

2)  The larger the light tent, the better the light diffuses.  Most of my products are rather small and could easily be photographed in a very small light tent.  But I've found that the giant light tent results in few bright spots on the pottery.

This is my current setup (but take pictures when the sun is down so you can control the light)

And this is the smaller tent in comparison to the one I've actually decided to use.

Obviously the smaller one would be much easier to deal with, but the images I get when using the larger one do turn out better.

3)  Go for a black background.  I've tried several different colors, patterns, textures, etc, and nothing has popped like my new black background.

Whatever color background you use, it's likely going to reflect in the shine of the pottery and slightly alter the color.  Or maybe it's our eyes doing that, I'm not sure.  As much as I liked my gray background, it still looked like a product sitting on a background whereas with the black, the product seems to stand alone and lift from what it's sitting on.

4)  Position one of your lights slightly behind the product.  When setting up lighting for humans, this is called a "hair light".  It adds a touch of highlight on the back of the person (product) which helps lift it from the background.

5)  Once you have your picture set up, white balance your camera.  The setting usually looks something like the symbol to the left.  Read your manual on how to do this.  This will teach your camera what white is under your specific lighting conditions so that the colors of your picture are life accurate.  This will save you a ton of editing later.

6)  Use long exposure.  The more light you add to your product, the brighter the hot spots are going to be.  But if you mute the lighting, let it be a little bit dark, and allow a longer exposure time for that light to get into the lens, you'll end up with much softer bright spots.

I've tried just about every setting on my simple digital camera and I've found that using the ASM setting, on shutter priority, allows me to adjust the exposure.  Before each picture, I press the exposure button the back, fiddle with it, and then when I focus the camera, it shows me what the image will look like from that exposure setting.  Adjust as needed.  For most of my pictures, I'm finding that 1/4th of a second is usually the best setting for my setup.

7)  Use a tripod and the camera timer.  The secret to clear crisp photos is using a tripod, setting the timer, and taking your hands OFF the camera for the actual photo taking.  1/4th of a second doesn't sound like a long time, but when you have to keep the camera absolutely still for that long, you'll find that your pictures are blurry because of minute movements while that shutter is open.  Even the motion of pressing that button for a quick shutter, you'll find that it's moving the camera more than you think it is.  Put the camera on a tabletop tripod, focus your shot, set the timer for 2 seconds, press the button, and take your hands off and wait.


No amount of editing can make up for a good picture taken in the first place.  Seriously.  It takes at most, 10 minutes to try to get a really good shot in the first place.  If you take a mediocre shot, you're going to spend 2 hours trying to edit it and the results aren't going to be as good as when you just take another 10 minutes to get a good starting picture.

If you're starting with a good picture, you're still going to want to do some editing to make your picture clickable.  No matter how clean your background, the dust and pet hairs are going to show up fiercely on it and you'll want to clean those out of the picture.  And you'll also want to make sure that the black is truly black in your picture, and not just a really dark shade of gray.  By manipulating the levels a touch, you can really pull your product off its black background.

Remember, most of your customers are clicking over from Google or Google Shopping and your picture is being shown as a thumbnail among many other pictures.  You want your picture to look sexy, even when it's itty bitty to make people click on you to see your larger picture.

So here is the quick tutorial on making a good picture particularly Google sexy.  Remember, we are going for subtle enhancement.  We don't want to edit it so much that it's no longer and accurate depiction of your product.  I've had this product up on Artfire for at least a year now, and 12 hours after I made this video and posted the new picture, it was sold.


Linda Landig said...

This is a really good tutorial. I'm glad I found your link in the AF forum. Thank you for sharing, I need all the help I can get!

Audrey said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

great tutorial. Thanks for taking the time out to help fellow sellers :)
Bab, Poetry Dolls.