Tuesday, 19 July 2016

How to take good product photos

...and without photoshop!

Hi everybody!

Since I started my button adventure, my photogrphic skills have improved significantly. At first I had little idea of how to take attractive pictures and they would look like this:

Surprisingly, these have sold, despite the poor image quality

No wonder my shop was not very popular! I knew I had to use white background, but it would never turn out white in the pictures! I was desperate. I also hated the shadows, whch were a problem every time the button was not flat.

There are a few tricks I have learnt since then that I would like to share with you. I am a 100% amateur and believe me, you do not need to be a professional photographer to take and post good pictures.

  • To start with, never use the automatic mode in your camera! It is designed to capture the largest size image with the poorest quality. And you can't fix it later! I usually go for the semi automatic, which allows me to choose several options, but still does the 'difficult stuff', like focus, automatically. 
  • Overexposure helps 'bleach' the background so that it is whiter. I usually go for +1 or +1 1/3, depending on the light. However, I don't do this if I am photographing white items against black background, as in this case, the details will be 'bleached' and so, invisible. 
  • To be able to take pictures without shadows, or the least possible, I made this photo box out of an empty cardboard box.
You can see my sewing machine in the background :)
I cut out the sides, leaving a narrow piece every time and pasted some tissue paper from the inside. There is also a background made of white paperboard and a white sheet of paper, which I change from time to time, as it gets dirty (that's where I place the buttons). Well, every few months really. But I like it to be snow white.

  • Now there is an issue with the focus. I use auto-focus, but I love taking pictures very close up. It is great to show the tiniest details of the buttons. I am lucky because my camera, apart from the typical macro mode has supermacro, which allows taking good pictures from no distance at all (I can virtually put something on the objective and it will still capture it focused!)
The tiny carvings on this nacre button are invisible to the naked eye - they look like simple lines.
  • White balance - another key word. If you do not know what it is: it establishes what the white colour is, basing on the light you are using. Lamps usually have a bit yellow light, so it adjusts the settings so that white is still white. If, on the contrary, you use the light bulb mode in day light, your pictures will be blue (like mine...) 
Different icons used in your camera for white balance. Do not use auto balance! Sunny day mode is good if you are not using a photo box. Cloudy is still not good for it, so I usually pre-establish the white (the icon in the middle of the bottom row). Shady place (the last icon) is also great, but I don't have that one in my camera! And there is the K mode, which I would not dare to use. It basically allows you to introduce whatever value manually. One day I am sure I will master it...
  • Natural day light is crucial. I have tried to take pictures using lamps and adjusting the white balance accordingly, but it's no use. They will have extra shadows and extra light just where you would like not to have any! So I usually take the pictures on sunny days, close to the window.
  • OK, we've got a picture which is taken with the right focus, at a right angle, no shadows, but white is not white! It is grey! Don't panic. You can make the most of your picture even so. I am using a freeware program, really small and really easy, to fix any imperfections. Also, sometimes there are microscopic fibres or other nano-stuff that you can't see with a naked eye, but the camera can. And this program allows you to correct this too. It is called IrfanView and its many options. The basic function I use is Image>Color Corrections or Shift+G. Here you can slightly change the tone of the picture to correct the white balance. I also add some contrast. the buttons look so much better!

The pictures above are actually the same photo but one is the originally taken (the blue one, of course) and the other one has been changed in IrfanView. Still not perfect, but so much better! By the way, in IrfanView you can crop the image you want, you can also rotate it, even very slightly, and so on, and so forth. So if you do not want to study the science of photoshop, go to http://www.irfanview.com/ and download a version of this freeware program. 

  • Although I am in favour of white background, because this is the best way to see the product and not get distracted, I occasionally use different colour backgrounds just to make my online shop look more attractive, or when I am taking pictures of white and off-white items, in which case I usually go for black background. I usually use fabric, but sometimes also colourful paperboard for this purpose.  

  • My last tip is to take a few different pictures and at different angles. I hate looking at stuff in other shops, where there are seemingly 5 pictures, but all of them are the same!! I usually take a picture from the top, then at an angle, the back of the item (which may help people see what it is made of) and one with an SD card, which helps understand the real size of the buttons. I know everybody uses coins for that purpose, but hey, the Internet is a global market, and in every country there are different coins! If I post a 1 Euro coin, folks in the US won't know how big in comparison it is. And If I use an American coin, who in Japan will know its size? SD cards, on the other hand, are the same everywhere. 
One picture, at least, has to give an idea of what the item actually is. In this case, no doubt, we can see 6 shank buttons.
If your product has got interesting details, show them off! I sometimes use the detail photo as the main picture of the item. And every time I am more convinced that it is what attracts more visits to the shop, whether they want to see what the whole product is like, or simply because the details are adorable.

Oh, one more. Do not overdo on photo size. I use a quite small size of the pictures, 1600 x 1200. It's enough for most computers and it uploads in a flash. 

Well, I hope you have enjoyed reading this post!