Before & After – Wine Glass Charms

I got a comment from Becky (Etsy shop theMonkeyButtons) about her wine glass charms. She says: “I have a hard time with black and white objects. I can only get the black or the white to look good in any picture. These are also made with carved mother-of-pearl buttons, and I can’t get the details to show well because they are slightly shiny.” Specifically, she was referring to this set, which includes the following listing photo:

It’s actually quite a nice shot, as are all the others in the listing. Becky obviously has good technique and understands how to control depth of field. But I think that the lighting is just a bit too yellow and warm to capture the true colors and details of the buttons. So I thought I’d try for a more dramatic look and avoid the influence of the tablecloth.

First up, a very simplistic shot taken on a reflective white background (click to zoom):

Same concept, different charms:

Same concept, different charms, and a cork for added interest:

Now for a few on a reflective black background, again with emphasis on the details of the buttons and wire wrapping:

This time, the entire set hanging in front of a flat white background:

Less attention on the charms, more on the setting:

Now for something completely different, a little post-processing to give this shot an aged, vintage look:

That’s all for this post. Click here if you want to see a few more photos, and be sure to check out some of the other cool items in Becky’s shop.

Next time — Glass Marble Pendants.

Free Product Photography Studio Sessions

Important Update 10/10/2012 – Thank you all for your interest in this special offer. Unfortunately, the “limited time” has expired, and I will no longer be offering this service.   

That’s right … FREE! For a limited time, I will be offering free photography services to a few readers. If you would like to be considered, the following requirements must be met:

  • You must have an active Etsy shop
  • You must pay for round trip shipping of your item
  • You must grant me permission to use both your original shop photos (that you took) and the new photos (that I take) in a future blog post

Here’s what you’ll get:

  • About five unique digital images that you can use, without restriction, in your Etsy shop, Facebook page, website, etc.
  • A feature in a future “before and after” post on this blog (with a promotional link to your Etsy shop)

If you would like to be considered for this free promotion, simply comment on this post with a link to a particular item in your Etsy shop that you would like me to photograph.

That’s all there is to it! No fine print!

By the way, check out these two posts if you want to see what I have done for a few other readers:

How to Shop for a Camera


I often see in the Etsy forums people asking for advice on buying a new camera.  While others’ experiences and opinions can be quite valuable, most of the responses simply state what the writer is currently using, along with some verbiage like “I love it,” or “it’s a piece of crap.”  Unfortunately, those responses rarely include the reason the person feels that way.  Responses like this one are also pretty common — “I use a Canon PowerShot.  It’s fantastic.”  Of course, it’s never mentioned which of the 28 currently available PowerShot models they’re using!

So by now you’re probably thinking to yourself … OK, smart-ass, what camera do YOU recommend?  Well, I don’t.  What I do recommend, however, is thinking about what you’re planning to photograph, learning about the features important to that type of photography, and then doing a little research into what camera best fits your requirements.  Today I’m going to help you do just that!

But I’m going to start out with a disclaimer that the things that I say are important (or unimportant) when choosing a camera assume we’re talking about product photography for your online shop.  If your main interest is shooting your child’s soccer game, or sweeping vistas, or parties and weddings, then you’re in the wrong place (although you still might learn something interesting).  This discussion is also limited, for now, to compact (point & shoot) cameras.  If you’ve  already read this, and still believe a dSLR is the right choice for you, then you’ll have to wait for my upcoming “How to Shop for a dSLR” article.

Look online at the “specifications” page for any camera and you’re likely to see a list of 50 or so individual points.  Which ones are important?  Unfortunately, there really is no consensus on this.  But I’ll give you a list of nine that you really should pay attention to and use for comparisons.  So let’s get to it, starting with a simple list of features that do NOT matter, should not be considered and should make you go elsewhere if a salesperson starts telling you about why you need them.

  1. Resolution (number of megapixels) — You’ll be hard pressed to find a camera on the market these days that doesn’t have a high enough resolution for your website or online shop images.  8, 10, 12 MP … it really doesn’t matter.  Learn why here.
  2. Digital zoom — You shouldn’t be using it anyway, so it doesn’t matter whether it’s 4X or 6X or 8X.
  3. 37 different shooting modes — Granted, having a camera automatically adjust some settings based on what you’re shooting can be helpful.  But there’s absolutely no need for “foliage mode,” or “pet portrait,” or “toy camera effect.”

Next, a look at what IS important, and what you should make an effort to learn about before deciding on a particular camera.

  1. Custom white balance setting — Learn why here.
  2. Image stabilization, vibration reduction, etc. — Whatever it’s called, you need it!  But turn it off if you’re using your tripod.
  3. Sensor size — Although there are exceptions, in general bigger is better.  Bigger sensors usually allow you to shoot at higher ISO settings with less noise.  All else being equal, shooting at higher ISO means that your shutter speed can be faster, so you’re less likely to have motion blur problems. Sensor size is usually measured as a fraction, so a smaller denominator means a bigger sensor.  For example, the sensors on the Canon PowerShot A490 and Nikon Coolpix S3100 (1/2.3″) are smaller than the sensors on the PowerShot G12 and Coolpix P7100 (1/1.7″).

Lastly, here’s a list of a few “debatable” items, important to some but not to others, depending on how you shoot.

  1. Maximum aperture — Larger apertures (lower f-stop values) can be very beneficial.  They let you play with depth of field a bit, and can provide a little more flexibility in low-light situations.  But the advertised maximum aperture on most compact cameras only applies when the lens is zoomed all the way out.  Zoom in even a tiny bit and that number is meaningless.  So if you’re going to make maximum aperture a deciding factor in picking your next camera, make sure you understand how it relates to the focal length of the lens.
  2. Manual control — I personally wouldn’t buy a camera without a manual shooting mode.  And if you dedicate some time to learn how to use it, then you’ll never regret having it.  But for those of you who know up front that you’ll never have the time or inclination to shoot in full manual mode, then just leave this feature off of your “must have” list.  If the camera you purchase has it, great.  If not, you’ll probably never miss it.
  3. Noise reduction — If you have relatively powerful image editing software, with good noise reduction capability, then you don’t have to worry about this feature.  But if you’re planning to use images with little or no post-processing, then the camera’s built-in noise reduction performance becomes important.  Do a little research, or better yet, go to your local camera shop or big box store and ask the salesperson for a demonstration.

There you have it.  Nine points that should make you a better-prepared camera shopper.  Good luck with the hunt, and as always, let me know if you have any specific questions.

Until next time … Happy Shooting!

Don’t be Surprised

Just about every digital camera manufactured these days has a big, bright LCD display.  It’s there for a reason, you know, and it’s not just to let you see what you’re shooting (a viewfinder is better suited to that task, although most compact cameras don’t even have one, but that’s another story).  No, the LCD display can give you an abundance of useful information, both before and after the shot.  So much information, in fact, that you shouldn’t be too surprised when you finally get around to transferring them to your computer.

To illustrate what I’m talking about, I downloaded a user manual from a mid-range Canon point-and-shoot camera, the PowerShot SX210 IS.  This camera has a really nice 3.0 inch TFT LCD display.  Sure, your cat looks cute in this display, but let’s have a look at what else it can tell you.

Here are the display options in shooting mode:

Wow!  Thirty-four separate pieces of information at your fingertips.  I’ll mention three in particular that are easy to understand and yet very useful:

  • Number 7 (camera shake warning) – This indicator tells you that you’re probably going to have a blurry image unless you use a tripod.
  • Number 14 (digital zoom magnification) – I already told you here what I think about digital zoom, so you’d better not be using it.
  • Number 28 (aperture value) – Click here for a refresher on what this number means and how it relates to what you’re trying to photograph.

And here are the display options in playback mode:

This time there are “only” twenty-seven items!  Again, here are a few that I think may be helpful:

  • Number 4 (ISO speed) – This (and other settings) could just as easily have been reviewed (and adjusted if necessary) before you took the picture.  But if you forgot to do so, here’s an opportunity to notice that you had a setting that wasn’t optimal for your conditions and easily retake the shot without waiting until after seeing how crappy the image looks on your computer monitor.
  • Number 6 (white balance) – Look at the photo you just took.  Do the colors look right?  If not, check your white balance setting.  Go back to shooting mode, change your white balance, re-frame your subject and try again.  Click here for information about setting custom white balance.
  • Number 7 (histogram) – Click here for a lesson on how to read a histogram.

Not every camera has the same features, but I’d bet that most have a lot of information that you haven’t yet taken advantage of.  So dig that user manual out from under the La-Z-Boy and start learning!

Until next time … Happy Shooting!