Sunday, November 30, 2014

Photographing Jewelry for my Etsy Shop

O.K., let's get one thing straight right off the bat...I consider myself to be a decent wildlife photographer. But still life photography is a major challenge for me. In fact, I kinda suck at it.

Every once in awhile I give it a shot...I set up a still life subject, arrange the cheapo lights I bought one day when I was feeling particularly enthused, and give it a whirl. Nothing ever seems to work out that well and I often end up on the floor feeling wretched, trying to adjust my aching crooked neck.

This past summer I opened an Etsy shop called Coconut Joy Jewelry for my handmade coconut shell earrings. I had to face facts: I needed photographs of my earrings in order to do business. And it would be better if those photographs didn't suck too badly.

My first impulse was to photograph my earrings hanging against a plain white muslin cloth. This is what I'd done years before when I put together a catalog for my wholesale accounts. I'd sold my earrings to dozens of galleries across North America in years past and that catalog, which I updated through the years, had served me well.

Here's one of the first photographs I uploaded to my Etsy shop. I photographed the earrings like I'd done for my wholesale catalog years before.

Blue Coconut Shell Earrings

Kinda blah, right? I mean, you can see them clearly enough but I think the picture's pretty boring. It doesn't sell the earrings. It doesn't make them look sexy or inviting or anything.

There were other problems. I took my first pictures outdoors in natural light. One thing about our place is, we have very little flat ground. Another problem is, we live close to the ocean and there's very often at least a little breeze, if not a stiff wind. Having earrings bouncing around at a crooked angle doesn't bode well for trying to capture a good photograph with crisp details.

I decided I had to move indoors to photograph my earrings. Our place is pretty dark though, and there wasn't really enough light to photograph properly. I had to wait for sunny days to even get close to enough light to photograph indoors, and that was a problem.

So I switched from using my expensive Canon 7D camera with 100-400mm lens to using my recently-acquired iPhone 5. Here's the result...

Yellow Coconut Shell Earrings

This shot has way too much shadow and the set-up is still pretty boring. I still photographed a bunch of earrings this way though because I was kind of at a loss at that point. I didn't know what to do to make my pictures any better.

Eventually I switched to using my inexpensive wide angle macro zoom lens which I'd had for years. I added my Speedlite 430EX flash that had mostly sat in a drawer all these years. The flash definitely helped with the shadows. I tried varying my set-ups more to bring some interest to the earrings. This worked for awhile but my lens started malfunctioning and wouldn't focus properly. Time for a new lens.

So I bought a Sigma 18-250mm lens and I'm pretty happy with it. It does decent macro shots. I photograph my earrings by the window but I also use the Speedlite for fill flash. Here are a few shots taken with this set-up.

burgundy earrings, coconut shells
Burgundy Coconut Shell Earrings

turquoise earrings, coconut shell earrings

plum earrings

So I think I'm improving and I'm definitely enjoying myself more now when I'm photographing my jewelry.

If you're in the same boat and trying to photograph your handcrafted work for your own Etsy shop, I'd suggest having a look around at your competitors to see whose photography you enjoy. I looked at other jewelry and noticed a definite trend of photographing jewelry against bowls and cups...I love that look but it didn't really suit my work. Since my earrings are made out of coconut shell, I went with a more tropical feel and use an assortment of shells and things like sand dollars and starfish. 

I know a lot of people use their iPhones to photograph their crafts and I think that works quite well for the most part however my lighting conditions are so dismal that it wasn't the best idea for me. Photographing outside in natural light is a really good option...as long as you can pretty much rely on good weather conditions, which isn't really happening here in the Pacific Northwest. 

Anyway, it's all a work in progress. I still prefer photographing moving, living subjects but it's a challenge that I'm feeling a little more capable of meeting these days.

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