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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6 thoughts on “Get the Blur Out (Revised)

  1. Looking forward to your articles! Photographing jewelry can be overwhelming – sometimes I don’t even want to create, because I know what inevitably follows … photographing and Photoshop.

    • Jill,

      I just looked at your shop and you do beautiful work. I think I know how you feel about the photography and processing after you’ve put your heart into doing what you do – creating jewelry. For me, obviously, I really enjoy the photography part. But I don’t particularly look forward to preparing the actual listings (that’s why my descriptions are so short!).

      Feel free to send me a note if you ever want to chat about a few ideas I have for some of your photos.

      Mike

  2. I am reading your posts with a smile. Anybody remembers the days when you had to know all this, because images from point and shoot cameras were kind of ugly. We were shooting on 35 mm film which had to be developed and then printed. If you wanted a decent images you had to know about depth of field, your film’s ISO, etc. Fun days and a lot of creative work. I am glad at least some people paying attention to actually goes into creating a good image.

  3. this post just made my life so much easier. i knew some of it, but the ISO thing was awe-some.

    i have no idea where the manual for my camera is, but you’ve inspired me to either go find it or look it up online. man, i hate reading instruction manuals, but since this ISO thing saved my life so undeniably, i’m willing to admit that my best bet is to just shut up, listen to you, and read that stupid manual.

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