Photographing Your Projects

Hi All,

I hope you all had a safe and wonderufl fourth of July!

Stunning photographs can be hard, but you don't need a fancy uber expensive camera to get premium photographs (I know - I'm a photographer!) You don't even have to hire a professional photographer! All you need is: 1. A nice quality point-and-shoot camera with a macro feature; and 2. knowledge of light and how to manipulate it. (Also, you don't need an expensive program like Adobe Photoshop, either. I like to use a free program called Irfanview to play with my photographs - it's simple and easy.)

Let's talk about light. Leonard da Vinci spent years studying light. He would drape fabric and draw what he saw and how the light played off of the fabric and where the shadows and folds occurred. Eventually, da Vinci's study of light led to a style of shading technique called chiaroscuro, which allowed da Vinci to paint a broader range of light than he actually saw. This, in turn, provided da Vinci and his viewer with a more 3-D shape, more realistic in depth and tone.

La Belle Ferronniere,
Leonardo da Vinci, 1490-95.

How does this effect your etsy shop photographs? The study of light and how it plays off of your pieces is important because photography is painting with light. Spend a little time figuring out how your setup and the light plays off of your subject and which side it is best lit from - front, back, either side, or top. Take a LOT of photographs of each subject. You'll never get the shot you really want in only a few snaps,and it's better to have more to choose from than not enough. It's key to understand what your light source is, where it is in relation to your piece; and when - as in, time of day, if you're using natural light. (I prefer to photograph between noon - four pm, but the sun is the strongest from noon to two pm.)

Natural light is best to photograph your projects, art, jewelry or otherwise. Sometimes a bright overcast is better because the clouds filter the light and project it evenly on the subject. Direct sunlight will also make your jewelry sparkle! Although, sometimes it can be beneficial to not photograph in super bright direct light, it depends on the situation. Play with it a little bit and see what works for you.

Typically I like to take the piece outside and set it up on a table or railing and photograph it there. Other times, if I can't take it outside, I'll set the card up right next to a window where I get the most natural light. In these cases I like to use a simple, plain bright background that contrasts with the card to make the colors pop.

If you decide to photograph inside, using a non-natural light, you may be disappointed with the results. You may get a yellowish tinge and will have to drastically lighten your photo to get the desired results.

[Inside, yucky lighting]

You *can*, however, purchase light bulbs that immitate natural light and may be suitable for photography - known as Full Spectrum Light Bulbs, they supposedly help with Seasonal Affective Disorder and Depression as well.

Here are a few more examples of different lighting scenarios:

[Inside, direct natural light with background - early afternoon]

[Outside, direct natural light - mid day]

[Outside, direct natural light, late in the afternoon.]
Notice the shadow in back, as opposed to the previous photo. The lighting is also softer.

If you can't photograph outside, there are several options that are open to you. One is a small lightbox that you can purchase (or make yourself) for just this purpose. Often times the lights come with these lightbox studios when u purchase them, but you can also use bright household swivel study desk lamps, or purchase a light at JoAnn's. (I've seen some lights specifically for beading or needlework that look like they'd be good.) Portable studios run anywhere from $35.00 to $350.00 - it really depends on how much money you want to spend.
[portable studio]

[My result from my portable studio]
If the light box is the type of set up you prefer, but you don't want to spend money, I have known people to make their own. This is a simple, easy and cost-effective way to start off getting high quality photographs.  See the Light Box Tutorial here.

There is also another way to photograph. You can take a box and a large background paper (some people like to use printed background papers to make their pieces pop, but I find the print can be distracting and fussy) and clamp the paper to the box and the top. Then place your piece in front of the box with the paper. Use a desk lamp with a swivel arm to light the piece and snap away! This is how Kristina Werner lights and photographs her cards.

Try to photograph in the same location at a similar time each time you photograph. Take a lot of pictures of a lot of different pieces all at once. I have found that this really helps the overall cohesiveness of the shop.  It adds the same feeling to each of the photos and ties the shop together.

I hope you all enjoyed this. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Till next time!


  1. Truly awesome to have read your article and has shed some new insight as to how I need to take more time and evaluate my photos prior to listing. I've often referred to my pics in my shop as "ghetto" as such they are in comparison to some of the other shops. Thanks for sharing and definately something I must consider changing, easier said that done, hehe!! Have a great weekend!

  2. Yes, great care should be taken when photographing. It's the first thing your buyer sees. A picture is indeed worth a 1,000 words. Glad this helped.


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