Dear Design Doctor
I am struggling with photographing my work professionally for my online shop. Have you got any advice?
Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust, answered this question as The Design Doctor in Crafts Magazine March/April 2013 where it was called ‘How to get the picture perfect’ (page 26):
‘Photographs have become even more important to promote and sell your work in the last couple of years. With the increase in online promotion and selling you really do need fantastic images to stand out in the crowd.
Photography is one of the most crucial marketing jobs for designer makers.
Without amazing images your work will not be selected for shows, promoted in magazines or blogs, and go unsold in online shops.
Ideally you use a professional photographer who is an expert in product photography.
A good photographer doesn’t need to be that expensive (you might be pleasantly surprised!) and actually a very important investment in your business.
If money is an issue then consider swapping your products or skills, or work with a recent graduate. Alternatively there are some great books and workshops that can teach you how to do it yourself (see our book reviews of The Crafter’s Guide to Taking Great Photos or Photograph Your Own Art & Craft).
Where to start?
Start collecting images that you like to help you or your photographer in achieving the look you want. Research magazines, online shops or image libraries such as the Crafts Council’s Photostore for inspiration to improve your images and styling.
The first question to ask yourself is:
‘What’s the purpose of the image? What will it be used for?’.
In principle there are two types of images: with a neutral background for ‘cut outs’ and life style shots.
The first is ‘factual’ showing your work against a white or dark background from different sides, often in its entirety. The lifestyle images show your work in context, in scale, in detail and can show how to use it or what person will use it.
It is good to have a mixture of both types of images in your portfolio.
If you are using images for print, social media or for websites, then you will need to think about that from the start. This useful guest post by photographer Yeshen Venema will explain that in more detail to you.
It is essential that there is a consistency in your images to create a visual brand. Although there might be a mixture of neutral and life style images, showing a variety of products, colours and materials there needs to be a consist thread throughout your image collection.
Photographs are a major part of communicating your brand.
Before you brief a photographer or do it yourself, you need to ask yourself:
- What makes your work better than others? What is so special about it?
- What are your values that you want to communicate? Is it the detail of the craftsmanship? The colour and sparkle of your glassware? The warmth and fluffiness of your blankets? The organic and natural materials you use?
Good lighting is one of the most important contributors to fresh, good looking, contemporary pictures. Ideally you use indirect daylight, which is soft, doesn’t alter your colours and doesn’t give too many stark shadows.
You can also play with different light sources, or light boxes and reflectors to highlight parts of your designs.
Secondly communicating the scale of your work is crucial, especially if you want to sell your work. Potential clients want to know how small or large your work is, so show this to them.
Using models can be a great way to improve your image and make your design come alive, but more often I see that they distract from the design! You really need to use a professional model, stylist and makeup artist if you want to make this work.
Beyond the creation of images …
Creating great photographs doesn’t stop with the camera work. It is essential that you learn some basic photo editing. Just cropping an image and improving the brightness or contrast can make a huge difference.
If you use your images on a popular online market place ensure you tag them appropriately, so that your work can be easily found by potential clients, trade and press. Research the home page of Etsy or NotOnTheHighStreet to get inspiration for the right kind of tag words.
Use detailed descriptive words like ‘matte 14kt gold stacking ring’, ‘rustic big men ring’, ‘dark orange crochet women’s beanie hat with flower’. Think about who will buy it (e.g. ‘gift for men’) and the upcoming festivals (e.g. mothers day, wedding season) to be found easier, and therefore sell more.
Another tip from the professionals is to name your photo files in a functional way for others (such as exhibition organisers and press) to find your images in a big pile of crafts images. Instead of naming your image ‘JPG333’ call it ‘EmmaB silver rings blue stone’ so that they can identify your images much quicker.
It’s more professional and will get you noticed!
And last but not least; when you are getting some pictures done professionally, make sure you get some portraits and you at work. These images are essential to tell your story and who is behind your work. The press and potential clients love them!’