Hope you’re well and that you’re having a nice week so far! I’ve been busy tiling the kitchen (you KNOW there’ll be a blog to follow) Anyway, before I go off discussing gold grout and champagne edging (I know!)… for this week I thought we could talk about editing photos?!
One of the joys of my job is taking the pictures of all the fun and colourful products. It’s something that I really enjoy and something I’m constantly developing and learning. I get a lot of questions about taking and editing pictures as I think that it’s one of the tricky things to get your head around when you start, but once you crack it, it really is a great help for a small businesses, especially online since it’s the best way to communicate with your customer.
Make a Plan
When taking photos it’s always a good idea to have some sort of plan. I like to set aside a morning/afternoon to take them so try to plan out as many as I can for that time while I’ve got all the equipment out. I generally do this by making a list of ideas (‘blue blanket on bed, me holding pink footstool, Flat lay of christmas products’ Etc) and then decide on the settings.
Where & What
When considering settings it’s important to consider the light – my studio is brighter in the afternoon so if I photograph anything in there it’s always in the afternoon. Lighting is so important as it can really make or break an image and when you’ve got good light and a cracking set up you hardly need to edit. The above images were taken in my studio in the afternoon, the left is unedited and the right is the finished article which was just brightened a fraction so super quick to edit…ta da!
Once I know where I’m shooting them (hopefully a few in the same place otherwise there’s a trail of destruction around the whole house as I’m a ‘get them all done then tidy’ kinda gal), I then think about the set up, props and colours that are going to be used. Again these are important, the props in the image above really set the scene and ground it. I’d like to say I’m organised enough to put all the props in a neat pile so I can grab them when I need them but realistically I set up the picture then roam around searching for ‘something that would look normal on the bedside table’.
What’s the goal?
This is also a good stage to think about where you’ll be using these images – I tend to use simple and clear images for the website/product listing and more fun, interesting shots for social media. If it’s a shot for the product listing it’s best to keep it really clear and obvious to communicate what you’re selling to your customers, you can use one set up and take all angles, zoom in and out and really show off the detail – all in one setting. Social media pictures can be more playful/less structured/whatever your vibe is – social media is great for setting the tone of your brand as a whole. If you’re a luxury brand then take some setting shots of beautiful, quality set ups that depict that… you don’t necessarily show your products in a salesy way (if that makes any sense?!). If you sell dog collars, not every image needs to be of a dog collar, take other photos of dogs and walks and pets and naps and accessories all in a similar style with a similar vibe that really send a message about who you are as a brand and what you’re about – dog collars may be your product but they aren’t your brand, there’s more to your brand than that. (I might have just got a little lost in that analogy)
I want my brand to feel fun, friendly, colourful and luxurious so each picture I take needs to be about 1 of those things.
This image was taken after my Birthday for Instagram, there is a blanket in it but it’s not to main event. It fits with my brand because, well… tea and cake. it’s hopefully a little fun and it was relevant at the time.
All the Gear
Once you have a vague plan of the images you want to take it’s time to shoot them. I use an Olympus Pen camera (recommended to me by Lust Living and I’ve never looked back) with a remote shutter and always use a tripod (I think mine was about £15 from amazon, nothing special and it does the job nicely – this one is similar *Amazon Tripod*). I take most of my images square (1:1) as the format for most platforms is square however it is worth bearing in mind that not all of them are, for instance Etsy use square photos for product listings but the gallery shows them as rectangles so that’s something to remember when taking product photos specifically for Etsy listings.
Setting up the shot
Take your time to set up the shot – it’s much better to spend half an hour setting up and looking at it through the lens, seeing what works and what doesn’t, tweaking and then taking it, ending up with 5 similar but slightly tweaked photos than going snap happy, taking 100 photos of basically the same thing and then changing one vase, then starting again – you’ll always wade through and no doubt end up choosing one of the last ones anyway before deleting all the rest…so spend time considering before you hit the button. You’ll have less to wade through and it’ll help you focus on exactly what is working and what isn’t. (Having said that, I take a lot more photos if I’m in them as my face is guaranteed to be doing something weird in 90% of them…a bed is much more photogenic than I am!)
Setting up the shot so you can just tweak…. the only thing that changed here was me.
On To Editing
Once you’ve got your shot it’s time to edit. The main thing to always bear in mind if you’re a small business taking pictures of your product, is that they need to be as true as possible. Of course colours appear differently on different screens (and it’s always worth mentioning that on your product listing if the colour is crucial to your item) so I always try to edit as little as possible assuming that the raw image is as close to real life as possible. This again really emphasises how important it is that you get the set up right, that’s where your time should be spend so that editing is quick, easy and minimal.
- Crop – it’s best to set up the image perfectly cropped however sometimes it’s nice to capture more than you need and crop it down (for Etsy for instance.)
- Brightness – generally I increase the brightness of my images but a lot of this can be done on your camera too.
- Contrast – sometimes I pop the contrast up or down a little to make the products pop (but not too much that it becomes distorted!)
- Blur – occasionally I’ll blur something out like the cover of a book or lights in the background if it’s a little prominent.
- Healing – the healing tool is useful for editing out rogue plug sockets or nails in the wall and is easy to use on photoshop and snapped (below)
That really is all there is to it! to do these things I use…
I use photoshop quite a lot but there’s nothing you can’t do with an app these days. Danielle from Sienna and I does brilliant newsletters and blogs about photo editing apps and adding touches of magic to your images so she’s your girl for fun touches. I just use a few basic apps…
Other ways to add interest
For social media in particular it’s fun to add some more interest, you don’t just need to point and shoot – you could mix it up and add interest by using videos. A few simple and fun things to try are:
- Stop Motions
Videos of you at work, showing details, discussing how somethings done are all really interesting to other people. You can use complicated editing processes but it’s also nice to keep it simple – film them on a camera or on your phone, in good light and just crop it down and publish.
Hyper lapses are great fun for showing something being made/put together etc. They are basically just a sped up video. It sound obvious but when you really think about it – it’s about showing a longer process and speeding that up. Just consider what would be interesting in that format – There’s no point hyper lapsing me typing this blog for instance, you’ll just see a lot of typing and tea drinking, but me knitting a blanket from start to finish where you can see it growing and coming together is always fun (I think anyway!) Kerry Lockwood did a lovely hyperlaspe last year of her styling out a shelving unit and it’s always stuck with me because it was fun and interesting to watch. They’re a great way to show something developing and there’s always something you can show – illustrations, hanging wallpaper, embroidery, styling a room etc. Instagram have an app you can download and I think most smartphones have it on their cameras now too.
Stop motions are also a blast and when done well are totally engaging. They’re essentially just a series of photos put together (like a flip book) instead of a video, so you’re showing something happening over a lot of images. The best part of that is that you can make magic happen because not every moment is captured so you could look at a pencil and then the next shot – it’s in your hand. It’s a great way to bring inanimate objects to life. Bookish Bronte and of course All That is She do them really well. The hard part is to keep everything around the scene as still as possible so that your focus is in the right place. If the edge of a rug keeps moving it will be really obvious in the final cut. From my experience with stop motions I find that small movements between shots are best so that it doesn’t go too fast and I try to take all the images as quickly as possible so that the lighting doesn’t change too much and therefore minimal editing is required. There’s a setting on instagram stories for stop motions but it only allows I think 20 shots in each one (as maxes out at 15 seconds since it’s designed for stories) so I use Momento app which you just plop all your images into then you can alter the speed, direction of loop etc.
Boomerangs are also great fun – they basically take a short clip and play it, then reverse it so it boomerangs back and forth – right way, reverse etc… but again just think about WHY you’d use a boomerang. When considered they can work so well but often I think that they’re kind of redundant if i’m honest. If you have a product and you boomerang you holding it or moving with it slightly…why not just take a picture of it? it’ll be clearer and the focus would be on the product more. (I’ve clearly got beef with peoples pointless boomerangs! haha) I think the best boomerangs are clever so if you dropped a load of buttons but made sure your face was smug so that when it reverses, it looks like you’re Mary Poppin’sing them up. Or if you cycle past a wall so that your moving back and forth on the bike, or this gem by @Alinavalitova. My advice on boomerangs is to really consider WHY and when you’ve got a good reason it’ll be awesome rather than just a head tilt (cue 20 of my head tilt boomerangs on stories)
So really it’s all about the set up and as little editing as possible to keep it real. Spend some time planning and preening, use good natural light and be as creative as possible….Sometimes photos are just snapped and they’re magic and that’s fantastic (always a good day!) it’s also lovely when it’s that raw and real… but a lot of the time creating interesting and appealing content is a considered process. It’s hard to force yourself to be creative but I try to use my time when I’m in the shower or driving (or tiling :p) to think about what I could photograph and what props I could use with it. Those stolen moments are more fun than sitting at a desk and telling yourself ‘right, now think of something great’ which isn’t often a success story.
As always be original, that is the best way to create good images, recreating other peoples is never as much fun, and if you do then don’t forget to credit the original photographer for being your inspiration.
There you have it
I really hope that’s helpful!! If you have any other apps, comments, suggestions or methods please do let me know in the comments – it’s fun to share what we know and help each other. Happy snapping you guys!