Applications have just closed on our first show of the year of the year, and with at least two more shows on the horizon for 2019 it's really got me thinking about what's making some submissions stand out more than others.
Bottom line, when we're talking about digitally representing yourself, it's allllllll about the pictures.
I know that's frustrating.
You're focused on your craft. You can't be good at everything.
My good friend Amy Eaton (the mastermind behind Picture Profit Academy) is one of the first people I go to for photography guidance. And, because I know you love to learn new things too, I asked her a while ago to do a little guest post on what she thinks are the FIVE most common mistakes we're all making with our product photography.
So maybe we'll stop doing them.
Take it away Amy!
(NOTE. This post was originally shared in early 2018)
Hey there! Just your friendly neighbourhood prop product photographer popping in with a little pep talk for all my maker friends.
Product photos are kinda important. Actually, one of the MOST important.
If you're not yet completely rocking your product photos, it's time to put some major time and attention into getting them right.
Because product photos are quite literally what sells your products when you sell online. Customers don't have the luxury of seeing your products in person with their own eyes, seeing them up close, turning them over in their hands, then making a decision to buy. Your photos have to do that for them.
So, if your product photos are awesome your customers will be buying up your stuff faster than you can say ”cha-ching.” On the other hand, if your photos are kind of junk, no one will want to buy. Because A) your products will look low quality because your photos are low quality and B) they won't be able to get a proper sense of what your product is like because the photos won't show it clearly.
If you're thinking about your product photos right now and you're about three beats from a panic attack, don't fret. Take a deep breath. I'm here to help you.
The first step is knowing what's going wrong with your product photos. The second is knowing how to fix it, and the third is actually doing it. Let's chat about those first two right now.
Here are the 5 most common mistakes I see in DIY product photography.
1. Your photos have bad lighting
I'm going start off with the #1 killer of pretty product photos. Lighting. In photography, lighting is everything. ”Photography” literally means drawing with light. So as you can imagine, if you have low quality light your photos are also going to be low quality. Some characteristics of bad lighting include the light not being bright enough, using direct light (light directly from the source with being diffused at light), harsh highlights and shadows, and using the wrong colour light.
If you're not sure where to even start when it comes to lighting, start off near a bright window in your home (but watch out for those pesky direct rays of sun) and use a white foam board on the side opposite your window to bounce light back toward your product. This should provide enough light to make your product photos look brightly yet softly lit. Seriously hot tip alert: If you're not sure if your area is bright enough, download a lux meter app on your phone (I recommend Galactica Light Meter for iPhone and Lux Meter (Light Meter) for Android) and test your area. 1000 lux or more is ideal. If you're using artificial light, make sure that your lightbulbs are around 5500K. That is daylight temperature (aka colour) and will render your colour correctly, just like natural light will.
2. Your image size is wrong.
Without the proper image size, your photos are going to have parts of your product cut off in the search results and they'll look pixelated and/or lack detail when moused over with the zoom tool. The fix for this is to ensure your image size is big enough (I like 3000px wide x 2400 px tall) and that your ratio is 5:4 (especially if you sell on Etsy, as that is the size of the thumbnail that appears in the search). Note: 3000 x 2400 px is a 5:4 ratio.
Another important note: You MUST take your photos large enough to begin with. You cannot enlarge your photos after the fact without seriously compromising the quality. It's like making a quilt - if you make a quilt and then decide it's too small and want to make it bigger after the fact, that quilt is going to look messed up. So, check your camera settings to make sure your images are being capture at a large enough size.
3. Your photo's styling is... interesting.
Product styling is hard, you guys. I get that. But I've seen some major faux pas that I know are turning your customers away. Too many props or the wrong props are the downfall of many product photos.
Props can make a product look absolutely amazing - but they have to be high quality and a good fit for your brand. They can't steal the show from your product and can't make your customers confused as to what's for sale.
To avoid mass confusion and turning off your ideal customers, always defer to your branding when choosing props. For example, if your brand is all about being eco-friendly you'll want to avoid using props that are hard on the environment. Keep it simple by choosing one or two props, and make sure that your product is always front and center.
4. You aren't editing your photos or you're not editing them properly.
I bet some of you are recoiling in horror at the idea of opening up Photoshop and editing a photo. There are about a million different tools and you're not even sure which ones to use, let alone how to use them. But, photo editing is a necessity for professional looking photos.
Just like back in the days of film photography, a photo isn't really finished until it's developed. The editing process is that development process. Sure, you can use the photos right out of your camera. But, I should warn you, you've just left an machine in charge of deciding how your photos should look. Do you let your washing machine pick out your outfits? Didn't think so.
So now that we've established that you have to edit your photos, let's talk about what to do and what not to do. First, crop your photo at the ratio we talked about above. Second, adjust your image tones so that your photo is bright, clear, and well balanced. Third, adjust your colour balance to make sure that your colours are coming across correctly in your photo. And for heaven's sake, embed a colour profile when you save your photo. For more info on that, check out my blog post here and my YouTube video here.
In terms of what to avoid: too much contrast, too much saturation, and adding a vignette are the worst offenders. To read more about common editing mistakes, check out this blog post here.
5. You're watermarking your photos.
This is a controversial topic, but I'm here with some hard truths about watermarking. They don't protect you from photo theft and they make your photos look cluttered and unprofessional. Those rotten people who wants to steal your photos and pretend that they're theirs can use any number of programs available to easily remove watermarks. Or, they'll just use your photo with the watermark.
Watermarks distract from your product, often make your products look low-end, and won't get you featured. Being featured by bloggers, influencers, and Etsy can mean big business for you, but it won't happen with watermarked images.
Keep in mind that your business's biggest asset is the product itself, and when someone steals your photos they aren't stealing the thing you actually offer and have built your business upon. They may steal your ideas, but sadly there are those out there who will do that anyway. Focus on making your awesome business and creating fans and return customers, and you'll have nothing to worry about.
If you are yelling at your computer screen right at this very moment that I'm obviously cray and how dare I try to separate you from your watermarks - hey, go for it. Keep using them. Ultimately it's your choice. But if you insist on using watermarks, I implore you to make them subtle AF. Trust.
And that's it, my friends. That's all there is to being a professional product photographer.
Just kidding, but those are huge steps in the right direction toward taking awesome DIY product photos.
Good luck! I believe in you.
I'll be opening the doors to my NEW endeavour: Cheerfully Made University in the coming weeks! Stay in the loop by signing up for our emails!