Friday, January 16, 2009

Taking Photographs of Your Work or How Important Can Good Pictures of Buttons Be?

You've heard folks speak to the importance of high-quality photographs. And as a former semi-commercial tabletop photography, I've got an advantage. I'd like to share some tips that will get you photographs that will help you promote and sell your work:

1. Invest in, or borrow a good digital camera. "Good" means at least 5 mega-pixels and some ability to control the camera (i.e. not full-automatic). Don't think that you have to spend thousands of dollars; get a decent camera and know how to use it!

What controls do you need? At least these:

  • adjustable white balance..for daylight, flourescent and indoor/incandescent lighting

  • Adjustable, manual depth of everything is in focus

  • Zoom, so that you can crop your picture in the camera.

  • A tripod mount. See below.

2. Learn how to use your camera and any lighting you use. See above. Knowledge and a barely adequate camera beats out a fabulous camera that you can't use.

Wanna buy some buttons?

3. Get a demo version or other inexpensive version of photo-editing software and learn to use just these 5 tools:

  • Brighten/darken

  • Contrast

  • Sharpen

  • Saturation/hue

  • Color cast/color temperature

All of the other 'tools' in Photoshop may be nice to have, but only if you're an ad exec, a retoucher or making your living at photography as art.

4. Keep a small area permanently set up to take pictures. As one who produces tons of pieces every so often, I'm guilty of not taking pics of my work and then selling it before I can take photos.

Recently I set up a small table with two Home Depot lights and matching bulbs in my 'junk room'. It's perpetually ready for a shoot; I put a small piece on the background of the week (usually an interesting board and rock combination...see the picture to the left) and shoot a couple of pictures so I can edit one good one. This morning I took 2 pictures of about 30 small glass pieces. If I would have had to set up the camera and lights, it wouldn't have happened.

My friend and artist Rachel Hoehn keeps a roll of 4-foot backdrop paper on a dowel in her she can immediately pull down the paper, take a couple of quick shots and then roll things back up.

5. Use a tripod or other stable way to hold the camera still. This will not only reduce blur, but you'll be more methodical about your images (note we segued from 'pictures'..that one 'takes' to "images' that one 'makes').

6. Mix it up - vary your backgrounds, have alternative people wear your stuff, etc. I change out my backgrounds (different wood, rocks, props) every couple of weeks so that my work doesn't get stale.

7. If there is one thing that the digital age has brought us, it's uber-cheap 'film'. Take lots of pictures. Take the best one and then crop it several different ways and save 'large' and 'small' versions of it.

8. My permanent small setup uses a cheap table, two cheap Home Depot lights, sheets of white typing paper to diffuse the harsh glare of the lights, a $75 tripod and my background props. The Home Depot lights were around $10 each. Soften that hard lighting with white cloth or white paper. Get matching daylight bulbs and always replace both if you have to change'll get more consistent color that way.

9. Consider doing a 'photo party'. Get 3-5 crafty friends together and share knowledge, equipment and get pictures to boot!

10. Use your pictures to tell a story. In the world of visual art, make sure your pictures represent what you do!

11. Edit mercilessly and seek out others' opinions on which images work. Just becasue your daughter looks extra-cute modeling that fabulous polymer necklace, be objective about the necklace and decide if that image captures the essence of your work? Can your future buyer see the details? Are the colors accurate on the computer screen? If not, select another image!

12. The 'art' isn't the photo you're taking. Your handmade product/art is! Strive for clean, well-lit photos that show off what you do.

So go set up that mini studio, learn how to use that old digital, and take pictures that you can be proud of!


  1. Hi

    I just wanted to suggest Picasa by Google.

    Its a free program that does pretty well for editing photos. I was pretty impressed with it, being an avid designer... and Photoshop user. :)

  2. I have Photoshop Elements. My father is an avid Photoshop user, and so far, almost every function he uses, I have available on elements, and it was A LOT cheaper. Good though if you're already comfortable working in a photoshop environment.

    And yes on the permanent photo place! I definitely have one... and I have a rule... items don't even go into my case of "for sale" items until they've been photographed. I actually have bins for different stages - unfinished, finished but not logged into inventory/priced, logged but not photographed, and ready to sell. Yes, I'm that anal!!!

  3. These reflectors are not new to the market but I think you will find they are very versatile for tabletop work. I have been using them for 21 years.

    Gary B