Monday, October 19, 2015

The Art of Photography

With the premiere of Handmade at Amazon, there has been quite the buzz "out there" regarding product photos. Natural light versus artificial light; the use of props versus no props; neutral background versus white background; watermark versus no watermark.  The topic changes daily and can and always will be frustrating.

I have absolutely zero training on photography.  It has always, and will continue to be, my least favorite task (actually - listing jewelry on my site is my least favorite task).  But, it has to be done! And taking a good picture is art, in and of itself.  While I am no expert, I have learned what does not work for me.

I have taken my share of LOUSY pictures.  Following are some images taken very early in my selling days. I knew the pictures were bad, but I did not know how to make them better.  I tried an all white background.  OMG, the editing I had to do to remove all the shadows... the gray and yellow tinge in the photos, even though that background was white.

Back in "the day", I used Photoshop Elements for editing. For me, the editing required on the all white background just made the jewelry look "edited".  And it took forever!

Then I tried scrapbook paper.

Let's face it - frosty white lampwork with a white background...ugh.

I used a piece of purple scrapbook paper with silver splashes. Still did not like the picture, but the beads looked a bit better.

Then I tried taking pictures in natural light - a huge disadvantage for me, based on the time of day the picture had to be taken and where the sun is blaring.  

I tried a "natural" background - my flagstone sidewalk outside my basement studio door. Horrid, in my opinion.  The shadows in this picture - and the glare from the sun shining on that sterling ear wire...

My studio at the time was in my unfinished basement, complete with two light bulbs screwed into the ceiling - translated as DARK. Then I bought two very cheap photo lamps, and I made a trip to the local garden center and bought a slab of granite. I used this setup for years.

I was still not happy, as the granite began to take on a green tinge in my eyes, but I did not know what else to do, so I just kept using it.

But, the pictures still look "blah" to me.  It's like the beads were blending into the background. I wanted to focus on the jewelry - not the background

I started to add just a fringe of a prop in the picture - a tiny cluster of white flowers in the back, on this photo, thinking it would help. It doesn't help.

The violet color of these beads was just lost.

Then, about 2 years ago, the unthinkable happened. I lost my camera - lost it! It was an old Sony Cyber-shot with so many attributes that were perfect for someone struggling to take photos who knows nothing about photography: automatic macro shots, automatic exposure, etc. I used that camera for at least 5 years.  How do you lose a camera when you don't take it anywhere????  So, after searching EVERYWHERE in my house, I bought this camera - also a Sony Cyber-Shot (link here).

When I received the camera, I thought for sure there would be no learning curve involved - I mean, it was still a Cyber Shot, right?  Wrong.  It took at least 2 months before anything was in focus, half the item would be out of range - it was awful.  But, I finally figured out what angle to shoot the photos, how close I could get to the object, etc., and then found my old camera. Isn't that how it always goes? Just for grins, I tried to take a photo with the old camera, but this old dog could not go back.

Anyway, still not happy my photos, I determined I had two problems: the lighting was still wrong, and that granite background had to go. After researching and trying to find photo lamps that would not impart a horrible shine on my jewelry, I found these lights (link here).

These are entitled "soft-boxes" - there is a piece of sheer white material covering the light bulbs, which help with the ugly shadows in pictures when a straight-on bulb is used.  Now, although these lights are considered portable and lightweight (note the cute bag in the lower right corner of the picture), they were a bit cumbersome to fit together. But, I now have a dedicated studio in my new home (still in the basement, but so much better than the old basement), I never take them down. The stands are also adjustable in height - which comes in handy when I have to take a picture of a necklace on my mannequin. So, problem Number 1 solved.

Problem number 2 was the backgrounds. I did a lot of research, and found the perfect background for me where the background does not deter from the jewelry- an 18% Gray Card. The 18% gray card, combined with the photo lamps, provides the correct exposure regardless of brightness - every single time I snap a picture. And most importantly, the colors stay true. Here is one link to an 18% Gray card on Amazon - I have purchased several different "brands", including these.

The following is a snapshot of my photography setup.  I still use the granite for height - the gray card sits right on top. The table is an old - and I mean at least 20 years old - craft/cutting table that I used to use for sewing.  With the 2 lights facing each other, the shadows disappear.

Now when I take pictures, at least the copper looks like copper and the silver looks like silver.

I still use a hint of prop in the picture sometimes.

Like this small cluster of sea was the only way to photograph this ring upright!

Most importantly, colors stay true.

Nowadays, the only picture editing program I use is Picmonkey (  If you do not want all the advanced features - it's free (with advanced features, it's $4.99/month). Three editing clicks: crop, re-size, automatic exposure. Done.

I am no expert on Watermarks. Technically, what I do is not a watermark at all.  A watermark is a visible embedded overlay on a digital photo consisting of text, a logo, or a copyright notice.  Its purpose it to identify the work and discourage unauthorized use. I just slap my name, the year, and the © symbol.  I only do this for name and "year made" reference (for my use) . It's hard enough to market one's work - and the name Vanderbloemen does not slide easily off one's tongue, or remain in one's memory. So, it's mostly for name recognition in the hopes that someone sees my photo and tries to find my shop! 

Like all art, photography is subjective.  Some people are drawn to an all white background - if taken correctly, it is beautiful! I have seen some phenomenal images of jewelry using tree stumps, driftwood, seashells, and, feathers - you name it.  I do not believe there is a right or a wrong way to take a picture - this is just my way.

If you have any tips on photographing your jewelry, please share in the comments! Would love to read new tips!!


8 comments: said...

Great post Patti, thanks for all the helpful advice. I've been needing to improve my photo taking as well.

Kathy Lindemer said...

I appreciate these tips. I find your using the gray paper enlightening! Thank you!

Sherri Stokey said...

Boy does all of that sound familiar, Patti. I am going to try the soft lights that are working for you and see if I can cut down on the time I spend editing photos - I'll let you know how it goes. Thanks for all the info!

Jenny Gholson-Morris said...

I'm struggling, too, and there's a great deal of excellent information here. I will definitely borrow some of your ideas.

For me, by far the best lighting is natural light on a cloudy day. But I live in an area where the weather seldom cooperates with the forecasters, and just about never cooperates with me. I spend 5 days a week at work, leaving 2 days for photography - and sometimes an early evening or morning, depending on the time of year.

Thanks much for this!

Jess Green said...

A really helpful post Patti - I'm just starting out on my online selling journey so all this photographing is new to me!

My photos are currently terrible - I can't wait to get a proper set up to give my product photograph a bit more of a 'wow factor'. I will definitely be looking in to the grey background idea!

stacilouise said...

GREAT post! I prefer a grey background too. I have not mastered the dual lights to remove shadows though. I have a pop up light box. I will be playing around again this winter I am sure! during spring summer and fall I try to do them pics outside in indirect sunlight. no shadows, best colors, least editing!

Carla said...

Well done! enjoyed the tips very much as this is something I am going to need to work on.

Carol Dekle said...

Thanks for this post Patti! I had constructed a light box out of plastic piping and large vellum sheets. I used that for awhile but always had problems with light reflection. You inspired me to dig out my son's lighting equipment out of storage and use those soft boxes. Thank you! They are working great! Although I'm sure my son won't be thrilled;)

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