Easy Ways to Photograph Small Items

There's lots of difficult ways to take better photographs -- tripods, light boxes, scanners, expensive cameras, etc., but why make it hard if you don't have to? With just a couple of easy changes, your photographs can turn out great. My photographs are not the best in the world--but they're not bad at all and they take less than a minute to take five to ten photos for every piece of jewelry.

Tips for Photographing Items for Etsy

1. Use natural light.
I don't think anything is more important than using natural light. Try out different places in and outside of your house and find the best lighting. My house faces south, and I've found my porch to be the perfect blend of natural light that is not too direct. If it's too bright, your photographs will look washed out. Another good place is by a window with natural light coming in. Even if you live somewhere where there's not a lot of light (and trust me, I live in Portland, where we have 8 months of clouds), you can always take advantage of quick sun breaks. I've even taken rings on a trip to the zoo with my son. When the sun was right, I plopped the rings down on a bench, snapped a couple of quick photos, and was done. Creating a cheap light box with natural-light bulbs may work for some people, but why make more work for yourself when nothing beats the sun. Some of my earlier photos were taken with a light box and to me, they're just not as vibrant.

2. Get in close.
Most people on etsy will first see your photographs next to everyone else's when they are very tiny. You'll want something to draw them in, and if the item is small or washed out in your photo, they won't click on it. You can (and should) always use one of your other four photograph spots to show the item from far away or being worn or in use. To take great close-up photos, use the macro button and turn the flash off. The macro mode button looks like a little tulip flower.

On my camera, I put the settings on automatic, then hold down the button halfway to focus, then I take the photo.

3. Use nice backgrounds.
Your best bet is something relatively plain, but with at least a little color. I'm currently using fabric samples, but other items I've seen look great include handmade paper, maps, book pages, sheet music, clothing (even night gowns), and scrapbook paper. Use your imagination and play around until you find a look you like. Don't use too many backgrounds, as this can look cluttered, but if you keep within a theme, your shop will look colorful and great. Etsy's gemmafactrix demonstrates a similar technique, using natural light, colored backgrounds, and close-ups on youtube. There are some people who prefer white backgrounds to be able to see the item better, but I think that colors make the photos "pop."

4. Use an okay camera.
It does not have to be anything fancy. Mine is a Canon Powershot SD200. It cost around $150 and serves me just fine. As long as it has a macro feature and can take photos at least 1000 pixels wide, it should serve you well (which almost all do). Once I've sold thousands of dollars in jewelry, sure, I might upgrade. But until then, I'm quite happy with what I have. Another option, if you don't currently have access to a camera, is to use a scanner. Make sure to place a clear sheet of plastic on the glass so you don't scratch it. Scanned jewelry tends to look flat, but a scanner can work well for items such as cards and scrapbooks.

5. Editing software.
I don't actually use any software for my photographs. It would make them look slightly better I'm sure, but the small amount of difference isn't worth it to me. Instead, since photos in etsy automatically are cropped square, I line up the photo imagining that the sides will get cut off. If you want to do any touching up, including cropping, lightening the image, or sharpening, there's several good options. Macromedia Fireworks and Adobe Photoshop are two professional programs that I like. Fireworks is a little easier to use and is made for the web, while Photoshop is better for print items such as post cards. Picasa is a free photo editing software from google that works very well for most things you'll want to do.