Rebeca wrote this for the Craft Racket, a crafty networking event sponsored by the Chicago Craft Mafia. For more crafty tip sheets from previous Rackets, please visit the Craft Racket Welcome Page.
Photography on a Shoestring Budget
by Rebeca Mojica
You've made your craft and it looks great! But it doesn't matter if you have the best craft piece in the world—if your photograph is lousy, you could lose sales and be rejected from shows. If you have the money to spend on a professional photographer, that's great (especially for high-end shows), but for most of us, it is far more practical to take our own photos. This in-a-nutshell article focuses mainly on jewelry and will offer some tips and tricks, without getting bogged down in technical details like camera f-stops. (This is a quick
tips guide, after, all. You can find plenty of additional technical information on the Internet, including the links at the bottom of this article.) Happy photographing!
WHAT YOU NEED
Before you even begin shooting,
WHAT YOU NEED
- Camera – borrow one from a friend if you don't have one! (This is shoestring, remember!)
- I recommend using a digital camera with at least 4.0 megapixels. If you are shooting jewelry or small objects, make sure there is a macro feature (often designated by the flower symbol). I do most of my photography with a Nikon Coolpix 4300, which you can now get on eBay for less than $50. It's an old camera, but it still gets the job done!
- camera accessories – extra batteries (have at least 2, so that you won't run out of juice in the middle of a shoot!), memory card, and most importantly, a tripod. (Small tripods can be found for $20.)
- Photo editing program – PhotoShop is great, but there are other programs that are free, like GIMP (works on Mac, Linux and Windows).
- Light – sunlight is the cheapest version!
- White sheet – or something else to scatter light
- A "surface" or backdrop – there's nothing wrong with plain white, or solid colors (in fact, they're better than busy patterns)
- Optional display forms – for inexpensive display pieces for jewelry, try NileCorp.com
SCANNER DOs and DON'Ts
In case you have a flatbed scanner to use:
DO prop scanner lid open so it doesn't touch your items. This keeps delicate things (like jewelry) from getting smooshed. You can tape a piece of paper to the inside scanner lid if you'd like (the smooth paper that looks like marble can be cool). Or, take a shoebox, paint the inside a solid color and use that to "house*quot; your piece and prop the scanner up at the same time.
DON'Tscan jewelry while you are wearing it. Usually your body part will be squished on the scanner, or in a weird position.
DO use a photo editing program to color correct and reduce shadows, as explained on page 2.
spend several hours looking at craft photos. Begin to create a collection of the ones you like best. You should look at crafts that aren't your specialty for additional inspiration, but the majority of your time should be spent focusing on your particular craft. Note how artisans position their work in the photo. Note the backgrounds used. What do you like? What is distracting or confusing? What looks professional?
Prepare your photo area
by making sure your "background" (meaning your shooting surface and/or backdrop) is ready, and the lighting is appropriate. Whatever background you use should remain consistent for all your photos, and most importantly, it shouldn't distract from your work. I like white backgrounds best, followed by black. The reason is that they are both simple and allow my pieces to really stand out, and also, it makes post-production color correcting so much easier!
Make sure to bounce and diffuse light.
My photo set up has evolved quite a bit over the years, but it is still fairly shoestring: six 75-watt lights clamped to a table. You can't see it in the photo on the next page, but the inside of the light domes are covered with aluminum foil, to help bounce/scatter light. The large white pieces are acrylic (picked up at Home Depot) covered with parchment paper. This helps diffuse the light and eliminates harsh shadows. Black velvet and white sheets hand from a curtain rod behind the table, so I can use either one for backgrounds. This entire setup cost about $200.
You might think, "Whoa, that's cool, but I don't have $200!" No biggie! Just come up with an inexpensive way to diffuse your light. My first set up was literally about $20. It consisted of plain white paper (as a surface) and a large white sheet. Whenever I was ready to shoot, I'd drape the sheet around me and what I was shooting, creating a "tent" with the white sheet. Yes, I looked ridiculous, but that sheet really helped diffuse light. I used the sun as my light source, but to eliminate shadows, I would shoot in indirect sunlight. Yes, this meant that some rainy days I was out of luck, but as long as I planned ahead and allowed for a rain day or two (or heck, three, you never know in Chicago!) when considering my deadline, I was just fine.
Once you're ready to shoot,
spend lots of time setting up your piece so that it is just right. Plan your photo shoot so you don't have to move the camera and tripod too much. So, take all your votive candle photos at once, then switch to the huge pillar candles, etc.
As you're shooting,
remember to look at how the object sits—does it fit well within the frame? Is anything being cut out? Is there unbalanced negative space? If it's your first time shooting, and you know your way around the camera, you might want to play around with different f-stops and exposure times. Once you figure out what works best, take notes (even note the distance the camera is from the piece) so you can easily recreate this. If you don't know your way around the camera, spend some time reading the manual and then practice! Focus on different areas and vary the camera settings (once again, take notes!) until you nail down what looks best. This could take several hours because you'll be stopping periodically to check how the photos look on a computer. Never trust how they look on the tiny camera screen!
You may have seen this online, but please do not include a coin in your photo for scale. It looks tacky and can cheapen your product. If you must, include something artistic, like shells, marbles, a vase, etc, to scale your piece. Jewelry forms always work well to scale jewelry pieces.
One quick jewelry tip: Earrings should be shot hanging, not laying flat. One easy way to do this is to create two stacks of books of equal height. Place a piece of paper on each stack, and tape a glass chopstick (or a piece of wire) to the paper, one end to the paper on one stack, and the other end on the other stack. Then you can hang your earrings from the center of the chopstick.
After the shoot, you'll upload and edit your photos. At a minimum, you will probably need to:
- crop and/or rotate the photo so that it fits nicely within the frame. (Try to minimize this by taking a centered photo that fills up the frame to begin with!)
- white balance the photo (in Photoshop, this is "Levels." Choose the white eyedropper—this is why I like white backgrounds!—and then move it over part of the photograph that should be white. Click, and magically everything adjusts! Careful not to make everything look washed out, though.)
- if you have a lot of shadows around your piece, you might need to use the eraser tool at 10-20% power to reduce those shadows (works best with a white or solid-color background)
craft photography tips (mostly jewelry), see:
Bead Photography - how to photograph beads
Digital camera turorials and digital photography course - DCVIEWS
Tips for Photographing Jewelry
Spiderchain's Quick and Dirty Photography Tips
Feel free to contact Rebeca as always with questions or comments.
local: 773.478.3767 toll free: 866.602.RING (7464) email@example.com
All content written by Rebeca Mojica, Blue Buddha Boutique artist & owner.