Top Product Photography Tips for Handmade Crafts
You’ve heard it before; product photography is important to your handmade craft business. But are you aware of how important? You quickly snap a photo with your camera phone and some decent lighting because it’s more important to get your handmade product posted with an average photo than to not post it at all. Those “quick pics” you’re posting for content may be doing more harm than good.
Having great photos may seem like a bonus that’s a nice to have and not a need to have but below are 5 ways your product photos may be deterring shoppers from buying. You’ll also find photography tips and the types of product photos you should be including to increase your handmade craft sales.
We’re also excited to have some input on this topic from Jules Tillman from Hello, I’m Handmade. Jules is passionate about helping makers of all kinds by promoting their businesses on social media, with her (combined) following of over 110,000 followers. One thing she won’t do? Promote your handmade business if you have bad photos. So she will be chiming in with tips of her own on each point (watch for “Jules says:” throughout the article).
HOW PRODUCT PHOTOS CAN COST YOU SALES
1) Your product photos aren’t getting shoppers to stop
Poor product photos online are the equivalent of a store window with burnt out light bulbs, dirty glass and products thrown on the floor. Even though that store may carry the exact item you’re looking for, you don’t even notice as you walk by because of the poor lighting, obscured view and distractions. You’d likely keep walking, especially if there are 10 more stores on the block with amazing windows. Think about where you’re posting your handmade product photos. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram…online marketplaces?
Your product photos are competing with a LOT of other noise. If your photography isn’t top notch, people are going to keep on scrolling. Test it out for yourself. Head to Instagram or Pinterest and quickly scroll through your feed. What type of photography makes you back that scroll up? Usually they’re clean and bright with a nice composition. We don’t spend much time reading captions, admiring or clicking on photos that don’t catch our eye from the get go.
Jules says:This is absolutely true! Yes, you might get a few sales even if you have bad photography. But I’m guessing you didn’t start your handmade craft business for a few sales a year. Spending some time learning how to take clean, bright photos of your products is one of the most important things you can do in your handmade business.
At the start, this can literally mean using a white backdrop and natural light from a window and photographing your product(s) from different angles. If your products are small and light is scarce where you live, you may even want to invest in a small light booth like Foldio2 (or DIY one) because it makes it easier to get professional-looking product photos, even with your smart phone.
2) Your product photos don’t get people to “come in”
Imagine that store window again. The store may be beautiful inside and the owner may be lovely but based on your first impression, you’d assume the store is a mess and wonder if the owner even cares about your business. If they don’t pay attention to the details of their storefront, why would the other areas of their business be any different?
You may make the most amazing handmade products but if you rush the photography process, shoppers are never going to take the time to get to know you, your products or your business. You want it to be obvious, from the very start (when they see the first photo), that you put thought and care into every aspect of your handmade craft business.
Jules says:Yes, if your photos don’t get people to follow, click, and buy, you’re wasting your time. While simple white backgrounds are a great starting point, people love to see more variety in the photos in their feeds (whether that is Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, etc.)
Here is an example of well-photographed shots:
@Badseedcompany on Instagram uses a variety of lifestyle, flat lays, and even white background shots. They’re particularly good at making all their photos cohesive and beautiful.
3) Your product photos don’t allow shoppers to “try it on”
When people are shopping at a craft show, they have the ability to pick products up, look at them closely, turn them around or upside down, compare them to other objects for size relation, etc. Online, your product photography (and description) needs to do that so the customer can imagine the item on or in their home.
You would never walk into a store, glance at a shirt and head to the till to purchase it (unless you were familiar with it or in a rush). You would examine the item first, mull it over while you browse and try it on before purchasing. Give your shoppers that experience online and use your product photos to walk them through the stages of going from “just looking” to a committed customer.
Jules says: This is where lifestyle photos come into play. You want to show people actually using or wearing your products, whenever possible. If you make baby clothes and don’t have kids? Get a brand rep. Do you make jewelry, but have metal-smither’s hands? Pay a hand model.
Like in this example, @Siidewaystattoos could just show a photo of their temporary tattoos in the packaging, but it’s so much more effective when it’s on a person’s body.
If you make candles? Show them on your styled living room table. If you make ceramic bowls, show them filled with in-season fruits. You really need to show people how your products will look when they use them.
The Black Star Boutique has taken a screenshot of their necklace being worn by actress Nina Dobrev on The Vampire Diaries so shoppers can see exactly how the item looks on and an example of how to wear the look. They also include photography of the beautiful packaging your purchase will arrive in.
4) Your product photos aren’t tempting people to share
Getting talked about is the best way to market your handmade craft business. And a good way to get people to talk and share your work online are photos.
Just check out #23 and #27 in this post. Visual content is 40x more likely to be shared on social media while Facebook posts with images see 2.3x more engagement. Not to mention #29 – Instagram has grown to over 400 million users as of September 2015. People care about photography!
400 million is a lot of users, which means those product photos can’t be average. You need them to grab attention and compel people to share. How many times have you talked about an average restaurant or product you thought was just okay? People talk about things that are amazing or that they love. If you want your followers to click that share button and tell their followers how much they love your work, make those product photos share-worthy!
Jules says: It is GREAT when your friends, fans and followers share your work. That’s basically word of mouth advertising for the digital age. And there is no form of advertising that is more powerful.
But the same holds true if you want to be featured on large Instagram accounts like @HelloImHandmade, blogs, or even magazines or television. You must have great photos.
5) Your product photos are getting you turned down for craft shows and other online opportunities
Craft shows are an important platform for making sales and your product photos need to be great if you want to be accepted as a vendor at them. If the craft show organizer has never heard of your handmade craft business, your photos are your first impression, your resume and your interview. If you don’t nail them, they’ll wonder about your product’s ability to attract shoppers to the event and your ability to present your handmade products in a pleasing way at the craft show.
More and more vendors are applying to craft shows each year and competition is stiff. Be sure you’re putting your best foot forward with the product photos in your application, regardless of whether the organizer is familiar with you or not.
There are also other online opportunities to market your business such as being featured by Hello, I’m Handmade! or pitching to magazines. Your photos need to be top-notch in these cases as well or they’ll likely be passed over.
Jules says: Many makers report making thousands, or even 5 figures, at one or two-day craft fairs. I know one jewelry maker who makes half her yearly income from holiday fairs alone. Even if you’re just starting out, let’s say you project that you want to make $30,000 a year, and even just ⅓ of that is projected to come from craft fair participation. Isn’t $10,000 a year worth your time to figure out how to best photograph your products? I sure would think so! 🙂
The same goes for applying for online features from accounts like Hello, I’m Handmade. The very first thing I look for is great photography of handmade products. I can tell almost instantly whether your application will be approved (or not!) based on your photos. Although I do have other criteria, none of that matters if you’re photos are bad. What is “bad” varies, but includes photos that are blurry, too busy, overly-processed, etc.
THE ELEMENTS OF A GREAT PHOTO
You know why it’s important to have great product photos, now you need to know how to take great photos.
Unless you have the right equipment and have some photography skills, I would strongly suggest you forego the flash and opt for natural lighting. You don’t want direct sunlight (or that will cause harsh shadows, just as a flash does) but setting up near a window and using a lightbox or other tool for bouncing light onto the object will give you a well-lit product photo.
Jules says: Agreed. And typically the best times of day to photograph your products in natural light are the “golden hours” — the hour or so around the time the sun is rising and setting.
Made By Jess uses a simple background with natural lighting which keeps the product photo clean and bright. A couple of props add some interest.
Keeping it simple is the way to go. Props and more detailed backdrops are great to add dimension and perspective but ensure you have some photography composition experience or do some research so your product photo doesn’t get too busy or take away from the item you’re trying to sell.
A plain white background is cheap and easy to set up and a good place to start. Taping a piece of white poster paper to the wall and letting it flow onto the floor gives you a clean, seamless background for photographing. As you gain more knowledge and experience, you can begin playing with different settings but remember to keep it simple.
Jules says: Above I talked about lifestyle photos and flat-lays, etc. But even when you expand to those types of photos, most bloggers and magazines will want photos of your products with a clean white background. So you’ll always need these types of product photos. They are the perfect place to start, and one you’ll most likely go back to over and over again, so it’s great to have a set up to take these types of pictures.
This is the art of combining different elements to create one cohesive product photograph. A poor composition will have the eye darting around, unable to find a subject to focus on while a good composition will have a flow and direct the eye to the item for sale. There are many elements that go into a successful composition, which you can read about here but the basics are to be sure your handmade product is the focal point.
Jules says: This is where I like to go see what other people are doing. I would never advocate copying someone else’s photographs — especially someone who is selling the same kinds of items as you are. Not only is it slimy/not a good business practice, the internet makes a small world even smaller, and you will get called out for it.
But there’s no reason you can’t get inspiration from looking at other (great) product photos. It will help you come up with ideas for your own line that will work beautifully with your brand.
The Bro Brick uses a few props that are arranged to draw the eye to the soap and help the shopper imagine what it will smell like. The background also adds interest and fits with their branding, without becoming distracting.
Be sure your product photos are crisp and clear. If your hand was shaky, the camera isn’t focused or your lens is dirty, you’ll end up with blurry photos. This not only hides all your product’s details, it looks incredibly unprofessional. If you’re using the camera on your phone, give the lens a quick wipe first. Fingerprints on it can make photos look a little hazy.
Jules says: And seriously, you can buy a tripod (for your smart phone or DSLR) for so cheap these days, it’s silly not to. Or simply steady yourself and/or your camera by setting it on a table, or leaning on a wall.
Ensure the colors of your handmade product come across in the photo. Poor lighting (too dim or too bright) can alter the way a color looks in a photo and using too many fancy finishing effects can leave a shopper wondering if what they receive is the same item they saw online.
Be sure you don’t mix too many colors in your product photos either. If your item is colorful, a white background will compliment it while a colored or slightly darker background may help a lighter colored object stand out.
Jules says: If you’re editing your product photos in a program like Photoshop after the fact, you can do some mild color correction, but don’t go overboard. If you do, you risk changing the color of your products so much that your buyers will be disappointed. This happened to me! I bought a small ceramic dish that appeared to be white with a black edge. When it arrived in the mail, the edge was more of a dark moss green. I felt deceived!
Last but not least, keep the look of your product photos consistent. Use the same background, create the same vibe or apply the same effect to all of your photos to create consistency and a strong brand. You want people to recognize a photo of yours in their feed without having to see the account name it’s posted under.
Jules says:You may not think of your little handmade craft business as a “brand” but it is and should be. Creating a cohesive feed and beautiful photography are big pieces of building that brand.
TYPES OF PRODUCT PHOTOS TO INCREASE SALES
If you’re trying to sell your handmade products through a website or social media, chances are you can’t do it with one product photo. People are a little more skeptical when they’re shopping online since they can’t touch the item, will be paying for shipping and may not be able to return it. I’ll personally look at all photography…more than once, read the description and let it sit in my basket for a few minutes before I commit and hit that BUY button.
You need to put your shoppers at ease by providing as much detail as possible through your product photography. Sure you can communicate details through your description but you know the saying; a picture is worth a thousand words!
In almost all cases, you should be posting more than one photo of your handmade products. Consider what you would examine to decide if a product were a fit for you if you saw it in a store. You may want the following photos for your online listings:
- Thumbnail photo – this is the first product photo an online shopper will see. It should be clean and simple but have interest. Maybe it’s cropped in a creative way or shown with a couple of props.
- Basic photos – if your item looks different from multiple angles, you should have a photo for each side/angle. Consider when you’re shopping for shoes online. For each shoe, they show it from the front, side, back, and top. It really helps you imagine how the shoe will look on.
- Lifestyle photo – remember this tip. You want to help shoppers imagine wearing or using your handmade products. You may show how the item can be worn or displayed in a home.
- Important details – if there are any other small details that can’t be seen without zooming in or might not add to the look of the product but adds to the functionality, include those. Get some close-up shots to show the texture, quality or added benefits of your handmade product.
Jules says: If you’re selling on a site like Etsy, use up all photo spaces. Using Erin’s examples above, that will be easy. But having multiple photos of one product in a variety of ways also helps you create a consistent social media schedule. Win-win!
The Whimsy Way makes use of all 6 image spaces to show off all the details of their handmade Journal. The props add color, interest and perspective so the shopper gets a good idea of the notebook’s size.