Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tips for Photographing Small Art and Craft Items

From an amateur to other amateurs, with in mind

A friend who makes small polymer clay figures mentioned that she was having trouble photographing her work. She would like to start posting her work for sale on

She said:
“ I have one of those Kodak One-shot digital camera's...they're great...but not top of the line by any means.... my shots are always either blurry, too dark or don't show detail... argh....”

Well I am not familiar with the camera she mentioned, but figured I have learned so much by doing this that sharing my tips couldn’t hurt. My camera is a digital Olympus D-460Z that’s about eight years old. My hubbyboy picked it out and I really know very little about it. So I figured I’m qualified to offer some tips!

Here is how I do it. It is by no means HOW to do it! Take what works for you, ignore the rest!

Set up: Tripod – yes or no? I choose no. On such small items, taking multiple angles means constant adjustments of the tripod which can be frustrating and nigh impossible to set up. I found I had more freedom and got better shots by using my elbow or wrist to steady on a table, as the items are quite small. Hold your breath in when you push the shutter. Don’t forget to resume breathing.

Where to do it: Outdoors when sky is somewhat overcast so that few or ideally NO shadows are falling. The best times have been before 10 am and after 2:30 pm or so depending on how overcast it is. Of course on particularly overcast days, I have taken wonderful pictures in the middle of the day. Don’t even bother on a windy day.

If there is direct sun, it’s better to wait. Shadows like these can be too distracting. However, if you can’t wait, find the best angles with the least shadows… sometimes you can take advantage of some reflections as the sun hits the object.

Indoors: I have just recently discovered the ONLY place in my apartment that I can do this! It’s in the middle of my entryway, in the middle of a sunny day. Again the light should be somewhat diffused and not bright, direct sunlight.

Backdrops: sometimes white is NOT good, especially when the sun is bright. Oddly, it is also not good with darker items when it comes to getting the brightness and contrast right later. Try neutral or pastel backgrounds. Make sure your paper is large enough so you don’t have to crop out too much background ‘noise’. The paper doesn’t have to be fancy or special. Fabric works too… but avoid wrinkles, too distracting. Stretch it over a board or piece of cardboard.

I have gotten away with using some of my acrylic paintings on canvas for backdrops. I put one on the seat of a chair, and lean the other against the back of the chair.

Sometimes a patterned or painted background is good, but don’t let it overpower the item. One trick I’ve used is to lay a piece of tissue paper over a painted backdrop (often one of my paintings on canvas.) Some of the color will show through the tissue paper. Experiment with pastel color tissue paper as well.

More recently I painted a Halloween/autumn themed backdrop on a large piece of corrugated cardboard, scored it down the middle with a utility knife and folded it like a book. I find that sometimes flipping the backdrop different ways gives different effects.

I usually set the backdrop and item on a low table or chair seat on my deck, and then kneel on a cushion to get the right angles.

Actually taking the pictures:
Take lots of pictures, and experiment as you go.

Not all cameras have a ‘macro’ feature, but if yours does, you probably should be using it for your small items. On my camera, I push a button marked with a picture of a flower/tree. A flower appears on my monitor so I know it’s working. (See, uber low tech!)

Take pictures from lots of different angles - from above, multiple sides, back, bottom, etc. Take some with plenty of space around the object, some with less.

The best advice I had from another seller was ‘What is the picture of’? Don’t let your beautiful work get lost in background or props. It is the subject and center of attention at all times.

Some props are not that bad….
Sometimes I include leaves that fall into the shot while I’m working!

Ceramic pots aren't bad as long as they aren't the center of attention.

Uploading and Editing: When I am done photographing on the deck and upload my pictures, they often look like crap. (However, I am very proud to say that my last two sessions resulted in far less tweaking than usual!)

They are often too dark and grayish.

First off, just delete any that are completely out of focus as you come across them. Don’t get attached to any of those. In fact don’t get attached to anything you see.

I use Microsoft Office Picture Editor to edit the pictures. Under edit, I brighten and increase contrast slightly. This is something you will get better at seeing/ doing as you go. Don’t make it as bright as you want before increasing the contrast, only bring it up to a few notches below what your eye wants, then adjust contrast.

Cropping is a huge part of making the photo right, and resizing for posting is another step to talk about. However, I think those will have to wait till the next installment!

I hope this helps some of you improve your photos…remember, unless you take a photography class, it’s about trial and error, and learning about it from others. You’ll find that as you play and experiment with how you photograph your work, your pictures will improve by leaps and bounds! I suspect that each camera has its pros and cons and little tricks, you’ll soon find your own bag of tricks. Just have confidence, and keep on doing it.

Also, if your goal is to sell on, look at lots of shops and treasuries. Go window shopping and see what attracts you, and why. Some of the most gorgeous and affordable handmade jewelry is photographed so poorly, it can hardly sell. Sometimes just noticing the difference between the qualities of photos helps train your eye.


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Blogger mrsb said...

Thanks for the tips! I'm contemplating maybe (just maybe) opening a shop. These tips will really help!

October 29, 2008 at 5:14 PM  
Blogger syzygy13 said...

Awesome post! Really well written and clear. I love the picture examples that you use, and that they're your own pictures, and that you show us by your own mistakes. That's honest and gutsy. Like you. ;)

You make me want to take pictures! As you know, I do video ( I too find that just shooting, shooting, shooting really is a good thing, especially at first. Don't be shy; and as much as you can, enjoy going through the footage/photos. You did it; have fun playing with it.

Yay! Thanks for sharing and helping others achieve their own dreams. You rock, my dear.

p.s. - I love the dragon ring! ;)

October 29, 2008 at 8:30 PM  

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