Sunday, January 31, 2010


A picture tells a thousand words. 

As someone who makes and sells craftwork online, I struggle with taking a good picture of my items.  I have neither a fancy camera nor mad photography skills so I have to work hard to get a picture that I like.  I want a picture that portrays the item accurately, but also one that conveys a "feeling", my feeling of the item.

The sweet Karen posted a comment on my blog tonight, complimenting me on my photos, and her comment made me feel compelled to share my process.   

Here's what I know works for me. 

First I shoot in natural light near a window.  I find that 10:00am to 11:00am offers light that is kind of moody and nice.  Any later than that, and the light no longer throws shadows, something that I like in my photos.

I shoot the item while facing slightly into the sun.  

I shoot in macro mode.

I consciously arrange the scene, often with the main item slightly off-center.

I use Picasa, a free photo service offered by Google, to crop and make minor edits to my pictures.

I take many pictures, often running to the computer to check them out before returning to take more or change things up.  This becomes extra fun when I know I'm losing my light and have many things to photograph.   (take photo, run to computer, mutter profanity, run back, take another photo, run back to computer...)

Here are outtakes from today.
This one was shot in a different room than I normally shoot in.  The room was painted yellow which gave kind of a sickly yellow tint to everything.  It has a window, but it did not get a lot of sun in it.  Using a diffuser, I set up a daylight bulb to add extra light.  It looks like it's in an aquarium sort of, don't you think.

This one was shot in the same room, but without the diffused light.  A little better, but a lot of glare, and still that sickly yellow tint.

This is the shot I kept.  I changed rooms, and changed backgrounds and shot into the sun.  I like this one much more.

So please, fellow photo-takers, share your tips.  I'd love to hear what works for you and what doesn't.  What are your secrets?


Anna White said...

I use picasa...and the feature soft glow on most of my personal images ( not blog one) its free to download and so you can play around and edit your pics...pretty user friendly too.

karen said...

he he he......made you blog ♫♬.....

I do something similar - take photos in a natural light, in the same room, and with a macro setting.

The only thing I don't do is to edit using Picasa. I just upload them to the computer. Oh, I also don't "take photo, run to computer, mutter profanity, run back, take another....etc." Maybe I should try that.....especially the profanity part.

Thanks for this post. I'm going to try a few tips you mentioned.

Between you and me, I think your pieces being gorgeous helps. Alot.

Brittany | the Home Ground said...

Daylight, always. Also, macro mode is awesome. Yes, that time of morning is the very best for light. Also, the afternoon (around 2) makes for good light.

You are so good at all you do, Lisa.

Tiffany said...

Wow, thanks for this post, I've always wondered how you take so many gorgeous photos and thought you had a super expensive SLR camera on hand. Your colour choice and setup is always impressive and I cant wait to have my photos look like yours one day. Thanks for the tips!

btw, I really like the look of the last photo, that terrarium is so cute I want to buy it.

Alison said...

(I also do not have a fancy digital camera, but a little Nikon point-and-shoot "Coolpix")

Aside from using the macro function, there are two other things that I do that have made the most difference in my pictures... One was realising that I could turn the flash off. The other was figuring out that if I used the self timer function, I could take pictures without a tripod, most of the time. By using these three things together, I have become a lot happier with my photography. I just set the self timer, then carefully hold, or brace the camera on something, and it snaps the image while I am holding it still. No more dreaded "this image is blurry" messages on the wee screen, and my closeups look 1000% better...

I had assumed that you had a spiffy camera, your images are so beautiful!

Paul Baxendale said...

This is a great post! Thanks for sharing. I also find that 10-11 am light to be the best
I have downloaded Picasa twice and then chucked it out, because it freaked me out both times to see the program scouring every nook of my computer for images to suck up-- I have alot of images, and so it seemed like Picasa's updating process was never going to stop! I should just use it though, as I think it may fix some of the problems I have with losing contrast and saturation when I upload pictures onto blogger.

Anyway... it sure is quite a learning process! Your photos are great, and I love "toadstool hollow!"

Have a super day!


lynn bowes said...

Jeez, here I thought you had a fancy-schmancy camera and all . . .

Truly, this is a timely post since I was going to ask you what you used to get such great photos. My blog pics seem to be sort of ragged and yours are so nice and crisp.

I do use the profanity method as my computer is two flights of stairs from my shop but I find it hard to curse effectively when I'm gasping for breath.

Lisa at lil fish studios said...

Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your tips, everyone!

Alison - great points! I never use the flash on my product shots. The self-timer is a great idea too. I imagine it gives you just a smidge more time to steady your hands when shooting. Thanks for sharing.

Paul - I know, it's kind of off-putting that Picasa drags everything into it from every corner of your system, but I *think* there's a way around that. I'm not sure how you do it, but I think you can choose which drives Picasa pulls from and only allow it to suck up what you tell it to. I think. Have you tried Gimp? It's also free and doesn't pull your images into it. I haven't entirely figured it out yet, but it seems pretty cool. It also allows you to easily change image sizes so when someone asks for a certain dpi image, you can change it in Gimp and send it to them. The help manual was pretty big so I opted not to download it and instead access help on the internet. (way long post, sorry)

Lynn - no, no fancy camera. It's a Pentax Optio M40 that hubs got on Woot for $120 or something. But I have to say, it works great for product shots. Landscape shots, not so much, but up close work is fine. Don't rule out hand gestures and arm flapping in lieu of profanity, it can be just as effective even when you're out of breath.

Laura said...

Thanks so much for your tips! I need to be more vigilant in getting good photos. Usually I just settle for "it's OK" not "that's a good photo" even though quality of pictures is something I notice right away on blogs.

Lisa at lil fish studios said...

I'm adding a tip, one I put into use just now. When your pictures keep coming out blurry and you can't figure out what's going on, check to see if there are fingerprints on your lens.

lauren said...

Thanks Lisa.

This inspires me to try more (you also don't have a big pro camera - unbelievable !)

I believe my store currently have the worst photos on etsy ever.

It is heart-breaking to see our so-loved items in such bad photos. My sisters and I joked that at least when someone get our jewelry, she'll definitely think it looks better in real life !! :)

I have a question. We only have a small digital camera and need to take a lot of small tiny objects. The big photo looks fine but when I crop to get the details, they always come out sort of blurry. We already use macro and even take things outdoor. You'll see what I mean in our photos.

What else can we do?

Thank you so much.

Valerie said...

I love all these great comments, because I am FOREVER trying to better my photography skills. I know a little point and shoot camera can take great photos. I think most problems are user errors ;o) (especially in my case)

I do use the macro setting, no flash, and photograph near a window in diffused morning light, or even outside on a cloudy day. I love the idea of the self timer, because I always fight with camera wobble. If my photos still come out blurry, I think it's because I'm getting too close, or getting closer than the camera can handle. I also like using my Ott light to light a subject when I'm photographing at night. I also practice the "run and check on computer-curse-reshoot" method... sigh.

Lisa, your photos are awesome, and they show off your work so well. Thanks so much for sharing!

Lisa at lil fish studios said...

Laura - I do that too sometimes, settle for a "good enough" picture. It nags at me though.

Lauren - I think your photos look good! As far as the image looking grainy when you crop it, I'm not sure how to fix that. I've had it happen too, and usually a change in lighting fixes it. Good luck.

Valerie - an Ott light...good idea. It would be nice to have a broader time of opportunity to shoot. I'm kind of stuck in my 1-hour window of time.

Thanks so much, everybody for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

You do everything I do when it comes to taking pictures.

10 - 11 am. Natural light, by the window. Micro lens. Retakes and some times lots of them. Sometimes cursing is involved.

Sometimes 4pm works well too.


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