Get the Blur Out (Revised)

Okay, let’s face it.  Blurry Etsy product photos are pretty darn common.  I see them, you see them, and potential buyers certainly see them.  So why would anyone bother to post them, when getting clear, crisp images takes not much more than a little time, effort and patience?

Realistically, books could be (and have been) written on this topic, but you’re not looking to become a professional photographer, right?  You just want some quick and easy tips to make your photos better so you can go about the business of doing what you do – creating your special items.  So I think what I’ll do is briefly touch on a few points today, and then get into more depth on each of them in future posts.  But first, a look at a few examples of images created using good technique:

This first photo is of a wire wrapped ring created by Danielle (Etsy shop SimplyCharmed21).  Look not only at the detail in the stone, but also in the foreground portion of the wire wrapping.  Notice also the simple yet interesting background and a very appropriate depth of field for the subject.  Overall, a nicely done and very pleasing photograph.

This second photo is of an historic colonial outfit for American Girl dolls created by Patti (Etsy shop PattiKuz).  Despite the fact that Patti (who happens to be my wife) took this shot hand held using a six-year old point-and-shoot camera, she was able to capture the fine detail of the fabric, stitching and even the doll’s hair.  Also notice the excellent color rendition of the dress and apron fabric as well as the doll’s eyes.

So, how do you get great photos without any of the far too common blur problems that seem to plague many Etsy sellers?  Following these simple steps will get you well on your way:

Learn how to use your camera

That’s right, spend a rainy Sunday afternoon with your favorite beverage and the user’s manual.  Learn what settings can be adjusted, what they do, and how they affect the finished image.  And experiment – it’s free!

Shoot big, finish small

You have a 6 or 10 megapixel camera, right?  And since you just read the manual, now you know what that means.  So put that new knowledge to use.  Other than filling up your memory cards quickly, there’s not much downside to shooting larger than you need.  Now you can take a step back away from the subject and not worry about perfectly filling the frame, since you can crop to size later.  Keep your files bigger than Etsy can handle – it’s better to resize to make them smaller than to try to enlarge them to fill a decent portion of the screen.

Move yourself, not the zoom

When you zoom in using your camera’s lens, you’re reducing the depth of field (a topic for another day).  If all else is perfect, that could give you some great effects, like in the ring photo above or in my raindrops photo.  But it also makes it a little more difficult to get your intended target in focus.   Better to take a step or two forward (but not so far forward that you mess up what I just told you above).

Never, ever, use your camera’s “digital zoom” feature

Did I mention not to use this feature?  In fact, check your user’s manual to see if there is a way to disable it.

If your camera has any sort of image stabilization feature, turn it on

You really want me to explain that one?  Seriously, though, read your manual to see if your camera has this feature.  If so, you can turn it on and leave it on for most hand held shots.

Turn the ISO setting up, a little

A higher ISO setting makes your camera’s sensor more sensitive to light, so your shutter speed can be faster.  But don’t go too high, or your images start to look “grainy” or “noisy.”  I think with most cameras you can set it at 200 and forget it (for Etsy product photos).  If you’re going to the pool or beach, don’t forget to turn it back down to 100 or so (or put it back in Auto).

Manual mode

If you’re lucky enough to have a camera that has full manual control of the shutter speed and aperture, learn how to use it.  It’s not that difficult, and it gives you so much more flexibility and greatly improves your chances of taking quality photos.

Use macro mode, if you really need it

Taking a shot of a small item like a piece of jewelry or a detailed wood carving?  Sure, use the macro-mode feature (but still keep your distance a bit).  Taking a picture of a full-length dress or a piece of furniture?  Turn it off.

Use a tripod

Don’t have one?  Go buy one!  Seriously, get yourself something to keep your camera steady.  It doesn’t have to be a carbon fiber mountain climbing expedition tripod – it just needs to be steadier than your caffeinated hands.  One of those little flexible tripods whose name includes that of a large ape would be perfect for most applications.  Oh, and when you use your tripod, turn off the image stabilization.  Also, it’s a good idea to use your camera’s self-timer feature when using a tripod.

Check images on the camera’s display

The display is not only there so you can see what you’re shooting, it’s also there to allow you to review your shots.  So use it.  No, it’s not going to show you exactly what your final image will look like, but it’s better than nothing.  If they look bad here, they’re going to look a lot worse when you view them on your computer.  And if you’re going to re-shoot, might as well be sooner rather than later.

Delete and start over

So you think you’re all finished taking pictures.  You have all your images uploaded to your computer, and you’re about to list your item for sale.  But wait, that one doesn’t look quite right.  No problem, you say to yourself.  I’ll just use it anyway, since nobody will notice.  What, are you crazy?  Or just lazy?  Get off your butt and go take some better shots!

*****     *****     *****

Until next time, happy shooting!

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Setting the Scene

So many elements play a part in creating a great photograph.  Regardless of the subject, whether it be a wedding couple, a car or a piece of jewelry, the overall composition must always be taken into account.  One often-overlooked consideration in the importance of how the scene is set.  In this post, I’ll be taking a look at a photograph of soap from Etsy seller dennisanderson and talking about how successful he was at setting the scene for this shot.  So let’s take a look:

If you’re like me, the first thought that comes to mind is something like … gee, that’s a really pleasant-looking photo.  It makes me want to linger and take a closer look.  Don’t you agree?  But what makes it so?

In short, all the elements belong, and they all get along quite nicely.  The product for sale in this photo is a natural orange and sandalwood olive oil soap bar.  To me, that just sounds mellow and muted and peaceful.  Now take a closer look at what else is used in the scene.  Only three other elements show up: (1) an earth-tone plate with a design that looks suspiciously like olive branches, (2) a bamboo mat (if that’s not natural, I don’t know what is!) and (3) a very nondescript, out-of focus wall in the background.

Now what else do you see?  Sharp transitions and harsh lines?  No.  Bright, primary colors?  No.  Blinding white backgrounds?  No.  A pair of dirty socks or a cat in the background?  Of course not, but if you think I’m being facetious, just spend some time looking at random Etsy shop photos and you’ll find quite an assortment of surprises!

There are also some nice lighting and depth of field techniques used in this shot, but that discussion is for another time.  Thanks to Dennis for letting me use his photo, and thanks to all of you for stopping by.

Welcome to Greenpix

I’m not a big fan of those “… for Dummies” books. The books themselves are okay, I suppose, but the titles are a bit insulting. They seem to imply that we’re a bunch of idiots who need help with even the simplest of tasks.

I personally think we’re all a bit smarter than that. I happen to know something (maybe not much, in the grand scheme of things) about photography, and I thought that if I shared it with you a little at a time, I’d be able to help you along your way to creating photos as beautiful as the crafts you create.

Although I hope a wide variety of readers will come to enjoy my posts, this blog is primarily geared to those who sell on Etsy.com. Here you’ll find tips and techniques to improve your product photographs, information about cameras and lenses, discussions about lighting and some other fun goodies. I’ll be posting a few of my own favorite photos, as well as examples of photos taken by other Etsy sellers along with a discussion of what makes these photos stand out.

Don’t forget to subscribe to receive email notification when new posts are available.

And finally, some self-promotion – click here to see my Etsy photography shop.