It’s Just a Photograph – Photography Tips for Selling Online

Brialveil FallsI wrote a post not long ago entitled The Reality of Selling Online. In that post, one of the realities I mentioned is that “You will need to be the Ansel Adams of handmade to sell your work online.” What makes Ansel Adams photographs so wonderful and how does this relate to selling arts and crafts via the web?

Take a look at this beautiful Ansel Adams photo taken of Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park, California.  Even in black and white, you can hear the thunder of the water, feel the spray, sense the power as it crashes to the surface.  In short, you feel as if you are standing where he stood, experiencing the surroundings.

Your photographs, no matter what the subject, need to make the virtual shopper have the same experience if you want to make a sale.  They need to feel that they could reach out and touch it, turn it over to view it from all sides, to understand the texture and the size.  Sight is the only sense they have to be convinced that they need this item.

Certainly, all item pictures are not going to be as dramatic as this Ansel Adams photograph, since the subject matter isn’t going to have the life of Bridalveil Falls.  But they can be intriguing.  But how?

Staging the Shoot

So much has been written about lighting, blurriness, F-stops and the like, that I would like to focus on the composition itself – the way the item is staged for the photograph.  Some sites insist that a good photo is on a stark white background, and with many items, this works.  If everybody will absolutely know in what context the item belongs, the item itself contains tremendous detail and intricacy, or is remarkably colorful, a neutral background is best.  But what about something simple that doesn’t necessarily have any of these visual qualities, say a bar of soap?

Garden Party Soap

Reef Botanicals Garden Party Soap

This is one of my all-time favorite product photos from Reef Botanicals.  This is Garden Party Soap, and the photograph relays that information. If for no other reason than to see more beautiful pictures and learn more about what it is, aren’t you completely enticed by this terrific photo?  Notice it’s NOT on a white background either; the soap itself would be lost on a neutral pallette. You can see many great examples of these principles on or stock photo websites, but becareful as there as many faut-pas as well.

When you stage your photo, look at the item as a customer would.  Would the item benefit from a prop or props – something that would lend to the visual definition of the use of the item, or the size?  But be very careful with the props – they are not what you’re selling.





Sterling Silver Turkish Roundmaille Necklace from Chainmaille by MBOI


There are many jewelers out there, so there’s more jewelry photography than items in other categories.  If you’ve searched for “necklace,” you already know that the items you’re browsing are necklaces.  Are you going to be more drawn in by a lump of chain/beads/wire in a pile on a flat surface or a photographic portrayal of what the piece would look like when worn?  Note again in this photograph that it’s NOT on a neutral or pale background.  Even though there’s a prop involved (the mannequin), the necklace is all you see.  Photographing a piece of jewelry on an actual person does work, but be sure the jewelry stays the focal point.  It’s also important that the model’s hair is styled and that the clothes worn are not rumpled and mis-matched.



Baby Moccasins

Beaded Baby Moccasins from ThunderRoseLeather



Here’s a photo on a background that is in fact a prop, with an additional prop in the foreground.  The aged and rustic barn wood flooring puts these handmade moccasins in context, and the quarter gives the shopper an excellent idea of their size.  Yet neither detract from the item itself.  The photograph is clear and crisp, accentuating the intricate details of the moccasins.

Notice that not one of these great product shots is on a white or pale background.  The lesson here is that the background color or prop needs to be the opposite hue of the item itself.  The last thing you want to do is have the focal point blend into what’s behind it.  The more depth you can give a photo, the better.






What Not To Do

Sometimes, it’s easier to explain what should be done by displaying the failures.  I am not going to credit the shops using the following photographs, as it is not my intention to embarrass anyone.

What is for sale here?   A vacation in a tropical setting?  Breast enhancement?  Tanning?  The photo is so wide, taking in the lovely ocean and palm trees.  The model’s main feature is that she is incredibly well-endowed.  But I’m a shopper… what am I buying?  The item for sale in this photograph is the chainmaille bikini top, but it’s completely lost in the expanse of the rest of the photo.

Again, what am I buying?  Just from the photograph, I really don’t know what the items are…  fabric samples maybe?  Pot holders?  And the picture itself is so dark, I’m not the least little bit interested in getting more information.  In fact, these are a set of 10 plush cloth baby wipes.

This photograph has lots of issues.  First, the background lends nothing to the composition…  If you’re going to shoot in your kitchen, at least tidy the place up a bit!  The photo itself is blurry…  I believe there’s a label on the shorts, but I’m not sure and certainly can’t read it.  The item for sale in this shot is the shorts.

Okay…  this is the last one.  My gosh – did something die here?  I can’t imagine what this is from the photograph, and frankly, I’m not inclined to look further to find out.  Are those bugs crawling in whatever it is?  In fact, this photograph is trying to sell you raw sheep wool.

I am sure you get the point.  In addition to taking perfectly lit and focused photographs, you need to make sure that the item you’re selling is the star!

Written By iKnitQuiltSew



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