Frankly, The Folksy Magazine


Don’t be gloomy! How to take great photos on a grey day

by Emily. Average Reading Time: about 7 minutes.

Aside from making great products, photography is the most important aspect in successfully selling online. There are almost 13,000 handmade items for sale on Folksy and so it’s essential that your photographs are clear, bright and professional looking. It takes time, love, skill and imagination to create a great handmade product so it’s only right you take the time to showcase your work in the best possible way.

London based photographer Yeshen Venema has kindly climbed aboard the Folksy wagon to share his tips on photographing your products well. And, because we don’t want a little thing like the grey January skies to stop us taking great shots, his first post will help you get great shots on the gloomiest of days. Take note, be brave and let’s make a pledge to show off our work in the best darn way possible! Over to Yeshen…

It’s my birthday in January, so I’m less depressed than most. However, looking out the window on yet another gloomy day, it’s easy to get disheartened. The Christmas rush is over and while it’s time to reflect on your previous year’s sales, you can also get a step ahead with your product photos. It’s probably the last month you would consider doing this, but surprisingly, cloudy days give the best quality light. You see clouds are nature’s own diffuser, so they’re a photographer’s friend! You can achieve a natural, soft light with no harsh shadows. Of course, being winter, this means less daylight hours, so you need to make the most of your time.

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The weather on the day of the ChiChiDee Handmade shoot, December 2012.

Camera prep:Set your white Balance to ‘cloudy’ otherwise you may find blue tones and dull colours creeping into your images.

Don’t worry if colours are not coming up as bold as you want them when you preview on your camera’s LCD screen, you can simple bump the saturation a notch or two in your editing software later.

Tip: Always have your product to hand when you are processing the images, because your customers need an accurate representation of colours/texture etc.

Now, while the cloudy sky is acting as nature’s diffuser, you don’t actually want the sky in your photos because it will appear flat and dull. Shoot down or across your products and be careful of the background, avoid clutter and keep it simple.

A cloudy day is absolutely perfect for photographing your products outside, so if you have a small garden, balcony or patio (and it’s not raining of course) set up. If you choose to shoot outside, watch out for bare trees and barren flower beds in the background, a stone wall or wooden fence might work well – again, experiment as you may find inspiration in unlikely locations.

What you are photographing?

I’ve included a few examples here of shoots I’ve done where it was a grey day and only natural light was used. While natural light on a gloomy day is fine for lifestyle photos, it will be difficult to achieve good results for ‘on white’ shots because a white background will come out grey and require a lot of post-processing. This may lead to colour/tone distortion in your images – best to use a daylight photo lamp or wait for a brighter day.

ChiChiDee Handmade

Type of products: Handmade accessories including pillowcases, knitwear and crochet

Location and light source: Third floor flat with glass patio doors.

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Pillowcases by ChiChiDee Handmade.

Clemmente

Type of products: Vintage-inspired gifts themed on different rooms of the home.

Location and light source: Dressing table (skylight above) and bathroom table (north-east facing window to left, slightly behind table)

You can see the full set of images from this shoot here.

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Wooden Bear by Clemmente

Ville et Campagne

Type of products: French-inspired Linens and home accessories.

Location and light source: First floor on small table by large north-facing window.

You can see the full set of images from this shoot here.

Ville et Campagne Photo Shoot by Yeshen Venema

Cotton Scarf by Ville et Campagne

Jordanne Cliffe

Type of products: Jewellery using a 100mm macro lens. Tip: this lens I used had Image Stabilization (IS), which does help if you’re doing macro using natural light.

Location and light source: First floor Velux window above and to right of piece of slate on small

table.

You can see the full set of images from this shoot here.

Jordanne Cliffe Photo Shoot by Yeshen Venema

Star ring by Jordanne Cliffe

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A few more images from recent shoots, all shot using only natural light.

Find your light.

For all the examples shown here I used only natural light (and some crafty reflection). Make sure you turn off the other lights in the room otherwise the yellow/orange tones creep into your images. If you have a daylight quality craft light, you can use that for a bit of extra brightness, but be careful where you place and aim it – see what results you get from different positions.

Bring a surface and/or background to the light.

Keep it simple, avoid clutter and busy patterns. Find surfaces and materials that are complementary to your products in tone, colour, shape and texture. If you’re shooting jewellery or smaller items try a piece of slate, tile, wood or even metal – you can often get cheap offcuts from hardware stores or stonemasons.

Even if your background is out of focus, if it’s busy, it will distract from your products.

Set up your tripod (you do have a tripod right?).

A cloudy day means less ambient (natural) light, so a tripod is essential to achieve sharp images. You may need a longer shutter speed and wider aperture, so hand held shooting is not advised – test it out with and without a tripod to see the difference. You may not see the blur on your camera’s LCD screen, but full screen on your laptop, you will.

Play around with the composition for a while before taking any photographs.

Keep your existing product photos up on a laptop nearby so you can refer to them – also have some inspirational product photos on there for reference. You may not achieve the same results, but it’s good to have a goal! Keep your favourite magazine spreads to hand or cut out images and create a mood board you can refer to while shooting.

If you are lucky enough to have a north facing velux window or large skylight, use it to your advantage. The absolute last thing you want is direct sunlight. A north-facing window is ideal.

Now, as it’s January you might find outside a little chilly, so make the most of window sills or other surfaces close to windows. Shift some furniture around if you need to, you really need to make the most of the available natural light.

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Of course, right at the end of day at the ChiChiDee Handmade shoot, the sun was shining!

DIY Equipment tips:

Lighting

A craft light with usually be daylight balanced, so can be useful. You can also use a desk lamp with a daylight bulb – these are cheap on amazon, make sure you get the right fitting for your lamp.

Reflectors

Cardboard with one side covered with tin foil.Silver or gold windscreen sun reflectors – these are super cheap from any discount car/DIY store and are great for bouncing in light, especially for portraits.

White and Grey card in various sizes – experiment with these to the side and below your products to bounce/soften the light and reduce shadows., gloss card will offer a different bounce to matt card – try both!

Cheap poly sheeting – if it is sunny, a large sheet clamped up over a window will diffuse the light.

Surfaces

Visit your local hardware stores, tiling shop, wood shop, stonemason, builder’s merchant etc and ask for offcuts of various materials. It’s good to have a range or surfaces to choose from as not all of us have an antique oak table or marble desk.

Lenses

Okay, not exactly ‘DIY’, but did you know older lenses will often fit on your DSLR? So if you have a Nikon or Canon DSLR ask around family and friends and second hand camera shops.

You’ll find the older lenses much cheaper and often they have even better build quality than more recent models. Some will still auto-focus, but you will have manual control of the aperture (by turning the ring closest to the camera body) which is a great learning process.

Yeshen Venema is a photographer based in East London. He has a Half Price Photoshoot offer, created specially for online sellers: http://yeshenvenema.com/half-price-photoshoot