Before you can sell online, you need to have a product that people will want. Once you have that, the job of Artist, Maker, Creator, Seller or whatever hat you wear takes on many new demands. We all have to learn how to photograph, edit photos, write copy, deal with customer service, pack and ship along with many other tasks. Or, we have to have enough money to pay someone else to do it. Each of these tasks is an art form. In this post, I want to try to cover some of the basics if catalog photography and how you can develop your brand.
What is a brand?
This is your identity online. We compete against millions of other products and photos on the web and your task is to find something that makes you stand out from the rest. Geico insurance’s gecko is recognized by anyone who watches TV in the US. The ads are clever, the gecko is likable and Geico is easy to remember because of Gecko.
Mariposa Handwovens has her own pet who follows her on her weaving journey, Chippy!
A brand can be reinforced by a symbol, the style of photography, a narrative, a logo, and so on. First you have to have a simple statement or mission that you can build from. I have been exploring the idea of “That was then, this is now.” for Artizan Made, using vintage photos to remind us of the history of handmade, but also because they are fun and hopefully copyright free. I think this one with Brenda Abdullah‘s dress works as the mannequin picks up the posture of the dudes behind her and it almost looks like the two on the right are talking about her.
Before you can play around with ideas, you have to have basic editing skills in place. This is not easy, but it’s essential as a bad photo can ruin the chances of a good product being seen. Folt Bolt has over a million followers on Facebook because Kriszta does an exceptional job at curating and editing the images she posts. I edit 80% of the images I post on Artizan‘s and TAFA‘s pages, too. Usually it is a quick crop so that the image fills the column on Facebook, but sometimes I’ll brighten things a bit or add more contrast. Facebook is our top referrer on both sites (Artizan Made and TAFA) and although we don’t have Folt Bolt’s traffic, each post brings in traffic to the sites, so it’s worth investing the time and effort.
I usually head on over to YouTube and look for tutorials when I want to learn something new. There are loads of great tutorials there on photo editing! You just need to know what keywords to use along with the platform being used. I decided that I needed to learn how to do screen casting and I’m awful at it. A screen cast involves recording your computer screen as you use it. I spent a lot of time on trying to make a video about photo editing and will post my efforts here, but you get a prize (points in Heaven!) if you stick through it…
For some reason, both of the videos I did are not starting at the beginning…. Do it manually after you click play as I couldn’t figure out how to change it on YouTube…
This video is one and a half hours long. Ugh. I started trying to crop it to shorten it and it was just going to take forever to do it. Several weeks passed with no desire to try to do it again, but then I jumped in again a couple of days ago. This second attempt is half an hour long. I had a problem with the sound part of it and think I need a better mike. I was going to edit this one down, too, but editing takes forever. It boils down to learning how to use the tools quickly and effectively and I’m not there yet. My apologies. Both videos have examples of our member products, so if you knit or can do something else while watching, maybe it will be worth it…
Top Photo Editing Tips
- If your camera is older than 3 years, buy a new one. Even a cheaper point and shoot camera will give you much better results than the older ones. This tutorial on Hobby Help has a comprehensive guide on cameras and general photography tips.
- Use subdued lighting. I like to shoot outside on cloudy days or somewhere shaded.
- Never use a flash. It flattens the image and causes glare.
- Crop your images to a square. If all of your product images are the same size, you will develop a consistent look and square images work best on most platforms.
- Ideal size: Between 1,000 to 1,500 pixels saved at 72 dpi as a jpeg. Facebook’s column size is 960 pixels wide. If your image is narrower than that, it won’t fill the whole column. If you save at 1,500 pixels, the image is large enough to crop for other uses: banners and special images. It’s always easier to crop down than it is to increase an image’s size. Current web design uses huge images and if they are blurry or below standard, a page or post can look horrible.
- Find unusual props or settings. This post has lots of great ideas: 10 Beginner Tips for Unique Product Photography
- Label all of your images with good keywords: Etsy and Facebook scrape the content from submitted images which keeps them from showing up in image searches on search engines. But, if you are submitting images to other sites (our Market, photo contests, other sites), your content will help the image get found in searches and will also carry the info when shared. Your image title is what shows up on Pinterest if someone saves it there. Example of a good photo label: Rayela Art Woven Paper Bag – Sweet Pea – Detail
- Learn about color correction: Try to get your colors as close to the real thing as possible. If you have more than one image of the product, make sure all of the images look similar in color. Each monitor shows color a bit differently, but shoppers understand that and expect some variation. But, if your product is blue and the image looks purple, you will get a return.
Important terms: Crop, Image Size, Canvas Size, Adjusting Hue and Saturation, Using Layers, Color Cast, Brightness/Contrast
Look up tutorials on YouTube that show you how to do these things with the editing program that you use. Example: How to crop with Photoshop elements 12.
A watermark is a signature or logo that is added on to an image after it has been edited. Many photography businesses cover their images with watermarks to keep people from downloading them for free. I highly recommend using a watermark as a part of your branding process, but believe that it should be like a signature on a painting, an element that is cohesive with the whole. Try to place it in the same place (bottom right corner) or make it a fun part of the image. I don’t believe that watermarks are effective in protecting copyrights. If someone wants to steal an image, they will. Keeping a file size small (at 72 dpi) because that size does not print well and using a watermark consistently builds a body of work that is traceable. If there were a copyright issue, you would be able to show that an image is a part of your look form such and such a time and place.
Nice examples of watermarks:
(images click to their sites)
Once you know what your brand looks like, you can create lookbooks to showcase your work. These are usually seasonal, announcing a new collection. The lookbook can use a mix of simple product shots with neutral backgrounds along with images or video of how they are used. Think about your audience. Who buys what you sell? Target your brand and story to them. If you are selling garments that older women are buying, use models that reflect that age group. Do you want your textile hanging in public spaces? Go around town and find offices, banks, hospitals and other potential buyer types and ask them if you can use their space for shooting some photos. Your best photos should be used in your lookbook.
IndieSource breaks this down into steps: How to Create the Perfect LookBook
Ariane Mariane shared a wonderful post on TAFA’s blog about her journey in photography. She works very hard at showing off her felted garments and art works in the best possible way. Her images are fun and beautiful, but it took her time, trial and error to find the right voice for her brand. Check it out: Photo Tips for Wearable Art by Ariane Mariane
Create collages and other fun effects: PicMonkey and Fotor. They are similar to each other, but have some different tools, so check them both out. You can edit, crop, and do almost anything with either one for free. They also have paid packages with more tools.
Design ads and marketing images: Canva Their story: The idea for Canva came about when Melanie Perkins was teaching graphic design programs at university and found students struggled to learn the basics. Partnering with co-founder Cliff Obrecht, the pair launched Fusion Books, an online design tool that made it easy for students and teachers to create their own yearbooks. They soon realised that the technology they’d developed could be used much more broadly. After searching far and wide, they launched Canva with tech co-founder Cameron Adams.
Their Design School is loaded with tutorials!
Break it down
Creating beautiful catalog photography and finding the right voice for your brand is definitely challenging! Everything takes so much time to learn, so break things down. Do some tests on your social media sites and see what your followers respond to. Start with the basics: lighting, focus, cropping and try different backgrounds. Invite friends to help you. Ask that know-it-all teenager for tips. 🙂 Then, as you become familiar with tools, teach yourself something new every so often. Time is our biggest challenge. I know that there are so many things that I want to learn as I have always had an interest in photography and there is just so many effects and tricks that can make an incredible difference in the end result. But, I never have time…. Still, I hope that in a year or so, I will be able to make effective screen casts that don’t bore everyone to death!
Questions or Tips?
How about you? What tools or platforms do you like to use? Do you have any questions? Leave them in the comments and let’s help each other learn!