You know that you’ve got to take professional-looking photos to get your work noticed on platforms like Etsy, Instagram, and Pinterest … but you’re not a photographer. What’s a person to do? DIY it! In this post, I’ll share six tips for taking elegant photos that showcase your work in the best of ways.
I recently wrote a post over how to make extra income by selling your calligraphy. In that post, I recommended professional-level product photography … but, this week, I realized that I left you hanging about how to achieve that! Today, I’ll discuss my top six tips for taking photos that catch prospective clients’ attention. Don’t worry if you’ve got zero photographic talent — trust me, I was there five years ago! It just takes some patience, experimentation, and time.
1. Get a DSLR Camera
“DSLR” stands for “Digital Single-Lens Reflex” … an acronym that makes an already-intimidating machine sound impossible to use (spoiler: it’s not). In layman’s terms, a DSLR camera is a camera that takes very high-quality photos compared to your average point-and-shoot or smart phone. Using a DSLR camera gives you the ability to change out lenses and customize photography settings to take professional-looking photos.
Researching DSLR cameras can be exhausting if you’re not a professional or an advanced hobbyist. I remember reading camera reviews and feeling very discouraged because people were using terminology that I couldn’t understand! After doing some homework and sifting through reviews, though, I decided to go with the following budget-friendly setup, and I haven’t regretted it:
Nikon D3300 Camera Body – If you just buy the “camera body”, that means you’ll be getting the camera without a lens. That’s good because you can choose which lens you want!
40mm f/2.8G Lens – This is the only lens you need; it’s awesome for crisp, clear photographs of everything from paper goods to people! Note that it doesn’t have the ability to zoom — you’ll need to physically get closer or farther away from your subject to do so.
Memory Card – You’ll need a high-capacity memory card to use a DSLR camera.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll be overwhelmed when your DSLR arrives. At that point, take a deep breath and remind yourself that the Internet is your best friend. I would start by reading Digital Photography School’s article The Ultimate Guide to Learning How to Use Your First DSLR. Take notes and play with the camera as you read! After that, use Google to find the answer to any questions that you may have. Anything you could possibly want to know is available for free online!
2. Use a Tripod with a Horizontal Arm
While a tripod with horizontal capabilities isn’t strictly necessary, it helps so much in helping you to achieve perfect aerial product photography views! I use the exact set-up pictured above to take photos and videos. The quality of my photography has increased tenfold since getting this tripod! To take photos, I use the self-timer feature. That way, my hands aren’t anywhere near the camera as the photo is taken, which eliminates any risk of the photo blurring. (It’s hard to keep your hands steady, which can lead to blurred photos!) This set-up is also excellent for videos because you can use both of your hands to showcase a product!
If you’re getting a tripod with a horizontal arm to hold your $400+ camera, you want to make sure the tripod will keep the camera safely attached! Unfortunately, quality tripods are expensive, but a good one will last for a long, long time. I love my Manfrotto tripod, which I balance on the table with a 5 lb. weight. If you purchase a tripod like the Manfrotto, don’t forget to purchase a plate … otherwise, you won’t be able to attach the camera to the tripod.
If you’re not ready to invest in a tripod, you can always take side shot photos. The automatic edge lens blur turns this side photo of Janet Style envelopes into an artistic treat!
If you opt for a side view, make sure you take quite a few photos (at least 5). As I said, hands on the camera can lead to blurry photos. The more photos you take, the more chances you’ll have of getting a nice, clear photo like the one above.
3. Use Natural Light
Once you have the camera and possibly the tripod, the rest of your product photography set-up is free and DIY! To make the most of your photography, try setting up your camera on a table by a light-filled window. Lay down a background for your photos (like the orange/yellow piece of paper pictured), then open a large sketchbook to allow light to bounce back at the window.
The open sketchbook helps to ensure that the subject will receive plenty of light. You can see that the photo of the retro thank you card below is bright and clear thanks to the light bouncing off of the sketchbook!
While you can use artificial lighting for your photography, you’ll find that natural light is a cheap and beautiful way to illuminate your photos. As is the nature of sunlight, however, it’s only around for a few hours a day! Here in Colorado, I try to take all of my photos between 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM. Before and after those hours, the light results in a strange tint.
As you experiment with taking photos using natural light, you’ll figure out what hours are best to take photos in your time zone!
4. Use Fun, Unique Photo Props and Layouts
While a DSLR camera can help you to take nice photos, you won’t notice a difference in your product photography if you don’t put some creativity into your layouts! Try to punctuate your photos with interesting backgrounds and elegant props.
Props don’t have to be expensive … in fact, I find a lot of my props outside for free! You may have noticed that a lot of my photos include leaves, and that’s because I keep a box of dried leaves on hand specifically for photography purposes. No matter the season, you can go outside, snip a few twigs off a tree, and use them for photos.
I also keep a box of trinkets handy on the windowsill. The trinkets consist of objects like old jewelry, ribbons, and knickknacks.
Finally, I have a collection of handkerchiefs that I often use as backgrounds. Vintage handkerchiefs are widely available on eBay, or you can just go to your local fabric store and buy squares of interesting fabrics to use as backgrounds.
There is no right or wrong way to style photos. As a result, teachings on the topic can be subjective. That said, I’ve found two photo styling articles that I really like: “How to Style Instagram Photos” and “Creating Backgrounds for Food Photography” (which I believe applies to all photography). Through reading articles like these and absorbing photo styling ideas through platforms like Pinterest and Instagram, you’ll soon develop your own product photography style!
The Adobe Photography plan consists of Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. The cost is $10 per month, and it will revolutionize your product photography! I had the Adobe Photography plan long before I purchased a DSLR camera or a tripod, and I absolutely credit the growth of this blog to the software. Lightroom and Photoshop allow you to turn lackluster photos into works of art! For example, here’s an unedited photo of a watercolor invitation and an envelope …
… And here’s the same photo after being edited in Lightroom and Photoshop.
You can see that the colors are rich and appealing, with lots of nice contrast. As a result, the photograph is more eye-catching. You can see exactly how I edited this photo — and, effectively, learn how I edit all of my photos — in the video below (also available on YouTube).
6. Be Patient
No matter what, you’ve got to remember to be patient with yourself as you’re figuring out this photography thing. It takes a while to hit your stride and develop your personal style, but it’s worth the wait! If you are selling art or calligraphy services, good product photography helps you to communicate a professional persona and will attract more clients. With that said, I’d love to provide you with some of my early photography work so you can see that I don’t have a natural talent for taking pictures. Better photos really just came from online research, photo editing software, and experimentation!
You can see a big difference in my photography from year to year, and I’m still improving! Your skills will get better, too, as you work with your camera and use Lightroom/Photoshop. It takes a little bit of time, but you’ll get there!
I hope that you enjoyed this post, and that it gave you some ideas for DIY product photography. Photography is a big topic to take on, so I’m sure I left some things out — if you have any questions, please feel free to ask! Thanks very much for reading TPK, and have a great weekend!