Stylin' 101: How to create amazing product photos.

by Becka of Bliss in a Teacup

red cottage pillow by enhabiten

I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that one of the main reasons I pick up a magazine, or read a design/style blog is for the photos. Oh, the photos! Not only do they offer inspiration, but it's also so lovely to dream about living in all these beautiful spaces created by very talented art deparments, editors and professional stagers. And, that's just it, they're created. Sometimes we do get a peek into people's homes, but quite often the little vignettes we see are put together just for that photo shoot, and purely by the fact that we do pick up these magazines and dream about diving into the living spaces, we know they've done their jobs well.

Styling your product photos is so important, as it shows off the item you're selling in the best possible way, and helps to create a desire in browsers to want to attain it. The good news is, you don't have to work for a fancy magazine in order to style your products well, anyone can do it really, and one of the best parts about that is, those who buy your items will feel like they can create beautiful homes, outfits or displays with your products also. Here's some tips on Stylin' 101 (along with more drool-worthy photos..).

floral cotton lawn needle case by fieldguided

1. Signature Style

One of the ways I am most likely to remember an Etsy store is through their photos, especially if they have managed to communicate a really strong sense of their style. What is your aesthetic? Do you like a sleek and simple look? What colour palettes are you drawn to? Are you into Scandinavian design or folk art? Or is an eclectic collection of vintage curiosities more your thing? Take a look around your house, inspiration board, magazine collection and of course the products you make, and you should have a pretty good idea of the answer to this question. Start collecting props that speak to the design style you have in mind - fabric, buttons, pillows, cameras, plates, kitchen utensils, stationary, flowers, furniture...anything! When I started staging photos for Bliss in a Teacup, I used all things that were already on display or in use in my house, as naturally they already reflected my design sense. You only need a few things that you can rotate throughout your various product shots. By doing this with both your props, colours you include and choices of background, you're going to create a sense of cohesiveness and continuity in your store, and in turn create a visual impression on browsers. Another great place to find props is while thrifting, and of course you can also use your other products!

top left: linen pincushion by namolio, top right: mugs in blueberry by skinnylaminx

bottom left: vintage hardsider suitcase by ethanollie, bottom right: wild badger cufflinks by makeit

2. Center Stage

Now that you have an idea of what props you'll be using, it's time to stage your photos. Again, this comes down to personal preference. Some people like to keep it really simple with little to no props, or just a background of some sort. Some people (myself included) like to create little scenes or vignettes around a particular product, in the way someone might display it in their home. Remember, this is your shop window! Try to choose props or backgrounds that don't overwhelm your product, so that whatever you're selling is still the focus of the shot. Also, think about what props go well with what you're selling and enhance people's understanding of what it is. For example, a bookmark might be sitting atop an old vintage novel, that delicious smelling vanilla soap would look great with some white blossoms and vanilla beans nearby, and the sweet little coin purse you've sewn may have a few coins, some lip balm or your keys peeking out. Your items don't necessarily have to be in use, think of it like a window display with a collection of things arranged together to tell a story (right about now I highly recommend taking a peek at the amazing Three Potato Four if you haven't already, I guarantee you will be inspired by their beautiful product photography and styling!).

Now that you've played around with staging, you're going to want to decide if you want to go for a close up or wide shot. Or both! Again, no rules but a close up or tight shot might be reserved for smaller objects such as jewellery (and also close ups of detail on big items) and a wide shot for your larger items (and the little vignettes you create). If you are photographing small items using a tighter shot, consider just using an interesting background and leave it at that. Things like old books, lightly patterned or textured fabric, tablecloths, doilies, wooden surfaces (tables, desks, cutting boards), wallpaper and stationary all provide a little bit of interest without overwhelming smaller products. If you do want to add a few props or photograph your small items with a wider shot, I would recommend (physically) setting your product slightly apart from the props and focus in on the product, much like what Anabela has done with her needle case up there.

top left: custom Circle The Date tee via chakrapennywhistle, top right: Equinox Flat via HydraHeart bottom: Cable Knit Mug Cozy via waysideviolet

3. Use it or lose it.

So, I know I just said that you don't have to photograph your products in use, doing so is not only an easy way to style your photos, but it also helps your potential customers fully understand what you're selling. This is especially so with clothing or anything where they might want to see how something fits. It also enables customers to imagine themselves wearing or using it, or how it could fit in their house, on their wall or couch. In terms of clothing having a model always helps, but it is definitely not a necessity. There are many online stores that don't do this and their clothes still look fantastic. Take a look at Dear Golden Vintage or Allen Company Inc. who use both dress forms and coat hangers to show off their vintage wares. Super simple, but they do the job well. You could even try something similar but also include a few props. Perhaps a picture or two on the wall, a little side table with books and trinkets on it, or a stack of suitcases.

left: Briefcase in Russet Brown via jennydesign, right: The Emperor Seat via StillNovoDesign

4. White Out

Up until now, I've worked from the assumption that you want to use backgrounds, props and sets. However there is some really beautiful and simple product photography out there using just a simple while background or lightbox. The good thing about this type of product shot is that your products really stand out and pop, but for me I find it just a little bit trickier. This is mostly because your photos need to both have great lighting, and be really crisp and clear as the product is the entire focus of the shot. It's most definitely not impossible though! A tripod and a bit of practice should be all you need!

Thigh High Lace Up Legwarmers by Sannica

I hope this post has been helpful for you all, if even just to give you the inspiration and confidence to work on your product photos. My final and most important tip is this, there are no rules. There is no right or wrong way to style your photos. I've had both praise and criticism for my product photography, and when it comes down to it, I can only go with photos that I love and am happy with. With all the great photography out there, there is a definite temptation to try and emulate other sellers, and while there is nothing wrong with this people want to see your point of view and will respond to the styling that you really love. Good luck friends, I'm sure you'll all be great!

Jan Halvarson


Veda said...

Thanks so much for this wonderful post! it really helps people like me who want to take some good shots with my art!


yardage girl said...

This is so helpful - thankyou so much! I'm just about to start an etsy shop, so the timing is perfect!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post, lots of really good tips, this is so helpful, thank you! Off to put them into practice...

tractorgirl said...

thanks so much. It all makes so much sense, it's what I've been playing around with, but now it's a definite.

Sarah E said...

Wow! Fantastic post! What a helpful way to break it all down!

I do have to say, I find it most helpful as a customer when shops combine styles -- as in, they might have one well-styled shot with props, and then two or three of just the product, showing various angles, close-ups, etc.

cupcake studio said...

Great styling tips...thanks so much!

ethanollie said...

nice work becka!

TheNightJar said...

love those badger cuffs- awesome ; )

Victoire said...

omg, those leg-warmers are mind-blowing!!

Anne-Marie said...

Thank you so much for the great tips. I agree - photography makes (or breaks) it for blogs, stores, catalogs or online stores. Your tip about having a distinctive style is such a good one - after all, people remember tasteful quirks more than perfection bland. =)

Lynda said...

Thanks for this great post. Taking pictures is so tricky. We bought a tent and even though it has helped, it doesn't always work out. I'm off to check all of your links. Thanks so much for this article.

illana Burk said...

Awesome article! Thanks a bunch! I'm planning to link back to it in my biz tip series on Thursday.