Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Photo tips 4: Staging your products

You've made a gorgeous piece of craftsmanship, now how do you best represent it to your customers?

Etsy listings have five free photo slots available. The better you can use these slots to your advantage, the more likely you are to have good views and sales.

Five types of photos will cover most of the bases:
  1. Overall image
  2. Detail
  3. Reversed (back of item)
  4. Item in use
  5. Packaging
Variety of angles is very important, as customers are "buying blind" without a chance to see or handle your products in person first. There have been times where I'm shopping and found that a different angle of the sweater or purse makes me want it more. And often times, if I can't get a good idea of the product's size or features, I'll just walk away and find something else.

Another creative way to use your allotted slots is to create a collage. These are pretty easy to do with photo editing software:


White posterboard: You can buy this very cheaply from Walmart. Tape it to a table pushed up against a wall, so the paper is curved. This will avoid a harsh line in the background. Use the matte side, rather than the shiny side, to avoid glare.

Light box: This is particularly good for jewelry, pottery and other small/medium objects. It gives even lighting from all sides, and you can shoot any time of day. The diffusion of light provided by the veiled sides helps eliminate harsh shadows.

Step-by-step instructions for a DIY light box here!

For larger objects, you'll want to find a large, empty space to take photos. Clothing should be shown on a person or mannequin if possible. Hanging against a white wall on a wood hanger also looks nice. Quilts and blankets can be shown folded against a white background, but staging them on a bed is ideal to show the entire product.

People vs. models

Showing your items against people is a great way to illustrate scale. Take pictures of yourself or rope a friend or relative into modeling. Most digital cameras now come with self-timers so you can set up your own shots.

A note: If you make a product that people wear, like jewelry or clothing, you'll want to indicate if the item shown is the actual item the customer will receive. I make earrings, so I made a few demonstration pairs to wear for photos. Worn earrings ... not very sanitary!

Staging in an environment

Isolated photos are great and all, but what about showing the item in use?

So ... white is a style, right?
A lot of Etsy's success is due to the image and marketing of the Etsy "brand" (though technically it's only a collection of stores, not a store in itself). While there is a vast variety of items on the site, there's a certain look to many of the items on the site.

A popular kind of staging tells a story. Look at catalogs like Pottery Barn and Land's End. They don't just sell a candle or a t-shirt, they sell an image, an aesthetic, a lifestyle, and their photos reflect that. The photos give context.

Let's say you are selling fancy crystal jewelry, and you've decided to market to brides. Stage a necklace on a rich-looking black velvet display piece, or add props like a satin purse in the background. Brides who look at your necklace can more easily imagine themselves wearing it.

So, here's an example of contextual staging (excuse the meh quality of the last two pictures, I did them quickly for this blog):

Photo 1: "A cute wooden bowl. I like the color."
Photo 2: "A little bowl I can put some jewelry in."
Photo 3: "Aha! I put it on my nightstand, to store my wedding rings overnight!"

The props (rings) and the staging (my nightstand) tell a story about how my product will fit into the customer's life. You can do this with any decorative item - frame and hang a picture on a wall next to a bookcase, and customers can start envisioning it in their own homes.

White background: An Etsy trend

If you do a bit of browsing on Etsy, you'll notice that the majority of items have white or very neutral backgrounds. The simple reason for this is that white backgrounds don't distract from the subject - your product. White backgrounds are also easier to color-correct when editing (a subject I will discuss at a later date). They look professional, which is definitely an image that a small business wants to project.

However, there are many nice non-white backgrounds. As long as the background doesn't overshadow or distract the product, I say go for it! You can find fabric in a light gray or beige to use in place of white posterboard. A plank of wood can give a bit of visual interest without dominating the picture.

Bottom line is, you want your photos to accurately represent your product, entice customers to click on your link, and compel them to buy!

Next week, I'll be talking lighting!

— Jocelyn | paragraphloop


  1. I love these posts!! So helpful!!!

  2. "As long as the background doesn't overshadow or distract the product, I say go for it!" Well said, Jocelyn! There are soooo many items on Etsy that I WOULD have purchased --- if I'd been able to SEE them.

    I don't think it's a coincidence that your shop, L Richards Design, Rust Belt Threads and Wise Apple (to name a few) have exceptional photos AND impressive sales!