Photography Tips for the Handmade Hustle

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Whether you’re exploring an artistic side hustle or pitching a creative startup to potential investors, selling your handmade goods, photography prints, or vintage finds online has never been easier. From smartphones to professional DSLR cameras, today’s makers and sellers often rely on both to communicate their products and brand to the online market. Regardless of what kind of camera you use, a few tips from three successful sellers are bound to help your own hustle whether it is a full-time or part-time endeavor.

Create a cohesive aesthetic for your shop that complements your brand

Whether you rely on your smartphone, mirrorless camera or DSLR, your images should complement and fall in line with one another, much like your clothing makes up an outfit or pieces of furniture make up a cohesive living space. The creation of a cohesive message communicates a stronger brand throughout your online presence, allowing your audience to get a firm grasp of who you are and what your brand communicates. Mamakaevintage features soft, natural lighting throughout the brand. White backgrounds and greenery dominate images, allowing beautiful landscape shots and soft textiles to contribute to the shop’s overall aesthetic. 

“Stylistically, my business has kind of bohemian/earthy tone, so I'm happy to shoot in the light of the apartment.” — Amber Dubois, Mamakeavintage

Amber Dubois of Mamakaevintage not only takes advantage of the beautiful natural light that spills through her apartment for lifestyle shots of her vintage finds, but uses it to her advantage to communicate her bohemian message. Whether she is holding a handmade vessel against a crisp white background or has set up a stylish #shelfie of curated goods, her Instagram account is testament to the fact that you don’t need the latest equipment for a polished and professional online shop. Sales are announced on lush green backgrounds and sprigs of leaves make their way into nearly every shot further communicating the earthy tone her shop exudes. 

Capture (and show) some behind the scene images of your creative process

Ana Maria Gonzalez is a Colombian ceramicist who utilizes not only her smartphone, but her Canon SLR with a wide-angle lens to document her process in the studio, as well as her finished intricate handmade mugs and planters for her brand, Innato Design. To differentiate her work in progress from her finished items, Gonzalez documents her process in black-and-white and photographs finished items in color. This technique allows her audience to quickly identify which images communicate process versus product without any hesitation.

“I use a lot of color and every so often throw some black-and-white pictures to show process. I only shoot with my phone when I'm working at the studio since I don't usually carry my camera with me and also since it can get a little messy, in my mind it's a lot less worse if it’s the phone getting dirty instead of the camera.” — Ana Maria Gonzalez, Innato Design

Let [the best kind of] light shine on your products

Handmade items, like woven textile art or small-scale embroidery benefit from stylized studio lighting that highlight details that otherwise can be lost in unwanted shadows with natural, sometimes uneven light. On the other hand, highly reflective items like glossy ceramics or vintage jewelry can oftentimes benefit from a more natural light to eliminate unwanted glare. While unflattering reflections can be avoided, makers and sellers can use reflection to their advantage, making vintage pieces and natural crystal elements sparkle with just the right amount of studio or natural light.  

“Photographing ceramics can be very difficult sometimes, lighting is a real struggle because of the reflection, that can also behave differently if you're photographing different-color objects. What works best [for me] is to avoid too much reflection and use natural light. I try to take my pictures about a few hours before sunset, when the sun is not the brightest but it's still there. This lighting creates a warm atmosphere and can generate very delicate side shadows to give pictures more depth.” — Ana Maria Gonzalez, Innato Design

Take multiple shots with a variety of backgrounds and angles

Most photographers will agree that you never know which image is going to look the best when judging from the back of your camera (or smartphone) screen. Take multiple shots. Set up different backgrounds. Incorporate a few props. Compare natural lighting throughout the day to studio or on-camera flash lighting to see which makes your item pop. Jillian Bremer of Sweet & Spark takes advantage of lifestyle shoots that she handles herself, as well as stylized studio shoots with a photographer. Her curated selection of vintage jewelry shines in both natural light in the “real world,” as well as in the studio, to allow customers to see the details of each piece clearly.

“Here’s a little secret, it usually takes me 10-25 shots to get ‘the one’ with the composition I like the best.” — Jillian Bremer, Sweet & Spark

Amp up the brightness

Don’t be shy when it comes to editing software. Images online have often been retouched for onscreen viewing. Brighter, higher-contrast images tend to look better and can oftentimes lead to higher sales than a shadowy image with muddier tones.

“I use a mix of my iphone6 and a Nikon D5000 for the styled product laydowns (mostly those are all me!) used on the site, in email campaigns and for social. I always try to start with a bright photo and then use editing software to amp up brightness, contrast and saturation.” — Jillian Bremer, Sweet & Spark

Whether you are new to selling your wares online or you are an established maker with a dedicated shipping station in your studio, chances are, your online presence is a work in progress. With constant improvements in camera technology and accessible editing software in combination with multiple social media outlets, establishing a brand and building an online customer base has never been easier. And if you still don’t know where to start, get inspired by those on the Internet with a clear message and cohesive presence that speaks to you and your own brand ambitions.

“Find other product or brand photography that aesthetically speaks to you. You can learn a lot from what other people are doing!” — Amber Dubois, Mamakeavintage

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