When we're trying to take great photos of our craft, it's easy to imagine the end result: well-exposed, well-lit, in-focus and sharp images that showcase our work. But despite our best efforts, this doesn't always go to plan. Adding to the frustration, it can be difficult to work out what, precisely, is the problem.
Today it's time to talk about 10 of the most common problems we encounter with everyday craft photography. The problems cover basic but important topics such as styling, lighting, composition and camera settings.
It's particularly important to get your photography right if you're selling and marketing your products online. Whether you're selling your work on Etsy or on any other online craft marketplace, your photography is the key to success.
Poor composition, styling problems and badly lit photography will not only turn off potential customers, but bloggers and press will be less likely to feature your work. Bloggers look for beautiful and aspirational images and if your photography isn't up to scratch, you could be missing out on some valuable (free) marketing opportunities.
For each problem I'll look at two example photos: the 'before' photo will be problematic in some way, and the 'after' photo demonstrates how it should look when you use the best photographic strategies.
To illustrate the problems and highlight the fixes, I've used the same product throughout the article, and for consistency, the crop ratio is the same (2:3). I've also used a variety of backgrounds for demonstrative purposes. If you'd like to learn more about creating these backgrounds, take a look at 10 Great Backgrounds for Beautiful Craft Photography.
Each fix uses simple and achieve-at-home techniques, and expensive equipment isn't required. Take a peek and spot the difference! If you see a problem that's been bugging you for a while, give my 'fixes' a try!
1. The Problem: Wrong Prop
Props can help to tell the story of your craft, and also your brand, but they aren't essential. Sometimes they can be a distraction and take valuable customer attention away from your product. If you're undecided about including a prop, it's probably because you don't need one.
If you'd like to give it a try but aren't sure what to select as a prop, think about things that are relevant to your product, such as an ingredient or tool used in the making.
In the above example, the vibrant red bottlebrush, although beautiful, overpowers the product. It's too big and dark and it's not really relevant to the product. Here, the product would be better styled without a prop (or perhaps with its packaging) on the beautifully textured aged wood, or with more relevant props.
The Fix: The Right Prop
We can entirely change the look of a photo when we either remove the wrong prop or swap it for the right prop. The delicate and petite product is flavoured with lemon and tea tree, so it seems like a better idea to use delicate, petite and relevant props of freshly sliced lemon and a lacy melaleuca flower. The fix is more thoughtful and effective and creates a more pleasing photo.
2. The Problem: Wrong Background
The beauty of nature is never lost in photography. However, as we saw in problem one, nature and natural products are not necessarily suitable. Grass, for example, may seem like a natural and consistent option for a background, but when we take a closer look at the example above, grass is richly coloured, highly detailed and very busy.
You want all customer attention placed firmly on your craft; if the background is too dark, rich or busy, it acts as a distraction. Neutral and gentle backgrounds are a better option.
The Fix: A Better Background
If in doubt, remember that simple is usually best. In this fix, a small sheet of white card is used as the background, and the pretty outer packaging is the only prop. This creates a fuss-free finish, allowing the customer to place their attention entirely on the product.
3. The Problem: Forgetting to Crop
This photo is a mess. No cropping has been done in camera or in post-production. The result is a series of distractions for the customer: the edges of the brown paper bag are showing, you can see the handles and bottom crease, and the product looks too small and 'lost' in the photo. Overall, it looks unprofessional.
The Fix: Apply a Neat Crop
As you can see, a simple fix like neat cropping makes a big difference. Cropping can be done with the camera or by editing the image in post-production. Move the camera closer to your craft, or zoom in until the distractions are out of frame. A good tip is to think of the viewfinder as a photo frame.
Cropping in post-production is easy, and useful if your camera won't allow you to get close enough to remove all distractions while maintaining focus. There are many free basic editors available these days, and many cameras themselves come with complimentary basic editing software.
4. The Problem: Losing Focus
Focus can be affected by many factors, including exposure/lighting, lens type and capacity, camera settings, focal point and movement.
In this example, a combination of camera settings and the focal point is problematic. A large aperture (f2.8) was used, to create a shallow depth of field and a blurring effect. Blur can be used very effectively, such as to make a product 'pop out' or to soften the background and/or foreground.
The focal point selected here is too far forward - you can see the main focus is on the weave of the fabric at the front of the photo. Combined with the shallow depth of field, the blur is created behind the point of focus. Unfortunately for this photo, this has obscured the full detail of the product.
The Fix: Maintain Focus
Balancing exposure, keeping a suitable distance between the lens and your craft, choosing the appropriate aperture setting, focal point and keeping still can all help to maintain focus in your photos.
The fix has its focal point adjusted to focus directly on the product, so the customer can see the features clearly. Adjusting the focal point is as simple as selecting the square/circle/dot on the viewfinder that is closest to the part of your craft you'd like to keep nice and sharp.
5. The Problem: Using Direct Flash
Direct on-camera flash used at close range is often very unflattering (for both people and products!). In this photo, a shiny background (ceramic tile) has been selected deliberately to illustrate the high-shine and reflection when direct on-camera flash is used. The craft has a harsh, wet look and fingerprints are visible.
The Fix: Soften the Light
'Soft' light is diffused in some way. This includes cloud cover and window light, where a barrier of some kind is placed in front of the light source. The barrier absorbs the strength of the light and spreads it out over a greater surface.
This makes the light larger, softer and more flattering than 'hard' light. In this fix, the harsh on-camera flash has been swapped for window light. The matte result is much more appealing and fingerprints aren't visible.
6. The Problem: Underexposure
Underexposure is one of the easiest problems to spot. Affected photos are too dark and typically the wrong colour. As a collection, underexposed photos can give a shop a dreary feel, and your products can't be seen clearly.
The Fix: Balance the Exposure
To avoid underexposure, increase the amount of light available for the photo. To increase available natural light, you can shoot on a brighter day or use a homemade reflector (a large sheet of white board or tinfoil).
You can also adjust the camera settings to allow more light to enter the lens. Do this by moving away from the automatic setting and either decreasing the shutter speed or increasing the aperture or ISO.
7. The Problem: Overexposure
Like underexposure, overexposed photos are also fairly easy to identify. They're too bright and detail is lost, as you can see here in this example. When detail is lost, it's hard for the customer to feel confident in the product because they may not know exactly what they're going to receive. It also looks unprofessional.
The Fix: Balance the Exposure
To avoid overexposure, you should try the opposite of the fix for underexposure. Simply decrease the amount of light available for the photo (for example, move into the shade or shoot on a cloudy day), increase the shutter speed, or decrease the aperture or ISO. Adjustments to camera settings normally are only possible when the camera is set to a semi-automatic or manual setting.
8. The Problem: Wrong Colour
If the colour is wrong in your photos, for example, they're too blue or yellow/orange, the white balance may be wrong. It's important to match the light source that you're using with the corresponding white balance setting on the camera. In this example, the 'temperature' as it's also known, is too 'cool', making the photo look blue.
The Fix: Adjust the White Balance
Fundamentally, the white balance tool tells the camera what is pure white. When pure white is known, the camera can perfect other colours. Most cameras make selecting the right white balance easy for us by using icons or names that match perfectly with the light source, for example, daylight or shade.
If you're having trouble changing the white balance, it may be that your camera won't allow the white balance to be changed on the full automatic setting and you'll have to switch to a semi-automatic or manual mode.
The fix has 'warmed' the photo to show the true colour of the product and plywood background. If you've tried adjusting the white balance on the camera but still can't achieve the right colour, you may need to look at the exposure (see problems six and seven) and also the background and surrounds.
The background and surrounds can cause what's known as a 'colour cast'. This isn't a problem with the white balance or temperature, it's caused by the colour reflected by the background or walls in the room.
9. The Problem: Harsh Contrast
This example highlights harsh contrast and composition. Poor background selection and over-editing in post-production has created this undesirable look. A pure black background, such as the black fabric used here, often provides too much contrast. Adding just the right amount of contrast (normally only a small adjustment in post-production) can improve a photo, but too much can look unnatural.
The Fix: Aim for Gentle Contrast
Replacing the pure black fabric background with a softer, 'almost' black background, like the chalkboard used in this photo, softens the overall look. Additionally, contrast hasn't been adjusted in post-production. The more natural look is flattering for the product and easier on the eye for the customer.
10. The Problem: Strong Shadows
Photography in bright, direct, or 'hard' light, creates strong shadows. Notice the effect in the example above where direct sunlight was used. Shadows are perfectly normal and give photos depth and realistic contrast, especially in portrait photography, but for craft photography, strong shadows can be unflattering. Soft shadows won't overpower the product.
The Fix: Soften the Light
Avoiding strong shadows is as simple as diffusing the light. Diffusion takes hard light and makes it soft. In this fix, the outdoor shoot was moved from direct sunlight into a shaded area. You can also try shooting on a cloudy day, using window light or other diffused natural light, or by diffusing on-camera flash. The result is more gentle and professional.
Now, Start Shooting!
You've now got the know-how to fix any of these common photography problems and make your craft shine.
Can you see where you've gone wrong in the past? Have another objective look at your craft photos and see if you can identify any of these problems. Now try again and use our tips to fix your photography. You might be pleased with the results! Good luck and be sure to come back and tell us how you've got on.