As part of our Urban Entrepreneurs series, we’ve seen many of you now taking the leap into selling your embroidered wares online. The kicker about this is… until your product arrives in your buyers hands, it is essentially entirely digital. All they have to go on for the quality of your product are your photos, so you really want to make sure they shine.
The problem is, many of us don’t have the time or the money to invest in a top-notch camera, professional lighting, and a backdrop. It’s also not usually realistic to hire someone to photograph our product for us. Luckily, with a few tips, even someone with a basic camera and a little ingenuity can make their photos look good. For these tips, I’m going to assume you don’t have any fancy camera equipment, but you’re using better than a wind up disposable, and it’s digital.
Keep in mind, I’m not a professional photographer or anything, but these tips have always helped my photos look better, and I did take at least one photography course in art college. That makes me an expert, right?
Right. Here are my tips for getting good embroidery photos on an average camera…
This is my top tip and if you’re only going to follow one, make it this one. Listen to me carefully.
Turn. Off. Your. Flash.
I’m not kidding. Unless you have a really high end camera with a flash diffuser and proper lighting, cheap flash photography is never ever going to make your piece look better. Especially on things like shiny stitches, it’s only going to make things glow and burn out detail. Not great when you’re trying to show off your killer threads. You know what does work though? Natural light. And it’s free!
Notice however that I didn’t say “sunlight”. Direct sunlight is actually not your friend in most photos. It makes your shadows and contrasts much too bright and harsh. A nice spot near a window, or in the shade, but not directly in the sun, is the key. Your colors will appear truer to life and your embroidery will look so so much the better for it.
Now, I’m not going to classify this one under “fancy equipment”, because let’s be honest, you can grab one of these for $10 at your local store, and it’s an investment worth making. If you don’t have a fancy camera with a fast shutter speed, your next best option is a stable camera on a cheap tripod. Natural light will help your photos shine, but it won’t do at all if they’re blurry.
To be honest, if I’m looking at a store on Etsy and their photos are blurred, I usually lose interest right away. It may sound unfair, but to many of your potential viewers, if you can’t take the time to take a photo that’s in focus, how much time did you take on your product? Don’t let the quality of your photos ruin the quality of your work. Focus focus focus!
Take a couple shots of each of your designs to make sure you get one that is crisp and clear. Some photo editing software can save dark or overexposed photos, but nothing will ever bring a blurry photo back into focus.
This may depend on your camera, but most point and shoots these days will at least come with some sort of macro setting. On many cameras it’s the setting that has a little flower or something equally small and dainty next to it. This tells your camera you’re trying to focus on something up close.
Why macro for embroidery? Well, if you’re spending all your time making sure your stitch outs come out beautiful and clean, you should show it off! Embroidery after all is a dimensional medium, so don’t think you always have to shoot from the top down and from far away. The rise and fall of stitches have a beautiful quality all their own. This also shows your customer just what they’re getting with the quality of your embroidery.
You’ll notice on the shot above not only was I playing with my macro setting, but in closeups like these, you can sometimes get a neat “depth of field” blur to your photos. Just make sure something is in focus, or you’re just left with a close up blur. Natural light is especially good for photos like these, because without enough light, your camera won’t be able to get a clear picture, especially up close.
So, you have your embroidery, it’s on something neat… now what? Don’t just stick it on your carpet floor and take a picture. We can tell. Give your product a story! Believe me when I say it really doesn’t have to be anything fancy.
This shot above? I wanted something dark and moody for the fairytale series, so I found some old crinkled black cloth in our warehouse and taped the top part of it up on our wall, letting the rest drape down onto the floor. Ta da! Instant photo sweep (I was sure to use a tripod on this, because I wasn’t using natural light). Other things you can use? Scrapbook or kids craft paper, which often comes with fun patterns, is also a great way to off-set your embroidery. Just make sure you don’t pick a background that competes for attention with your product.
My favorite option? A piece of white tagboard taped to the wall. Instant white background. Near a natural light source your photos will always look clean and bright and your embroidery can shine with no distractions. In a pinch, I say you can never go wrong with white.
If you’re feeling ambitious, or if your product is something that is really meant to be worn or used, you’ll probably want to photograph it doing just that. I take all kinds of photos of myself wearing our product for tutorials and such, you don’t have to hire a model, or even be one (If you’re feeling shy, crop your features out… you notice I do that a lot! I don’t always have my model face on). In many cases you can get a friend to model for you if you pay them in cookies and free embroidery. Your easiest subject? Adults. They know how to hold still and smile for the camera.
You know what always sells though? Cute kids and pets. A word of warning however… most folks know it’s hard enough to get kids to stay in one place, let along sit long enough for a good photo. If you’re going to try your hand at photographing kids or pets with your designs, you’ll probably need a camera that has a pretty fast shutter speed. What’s a fast shutter speed? This means your camera’s exposure clicks faster, and so there’s less time for it to blur. Your camera might have an automatic setting for this sometimes called “Sport”, because it’s for action shots.
The trade off with this is that your camera needs lots more light because it has so little time for it to enter the camera, so photograph near good, natural light sources. If you try a fast shot and it comes out looking really dark, go somewhere brighter. This might be one of the only times direct sunlight is your friend.
When I went to go photograph those rescue pups for our Pay It Forward series, you bet I set my camera on it’s highest shutter speed I could. Those pooches never wanted to stay still long, especially in a pose that showed off their neat embroidered bandannas. I must have taken dozens and dozens of photos of each dog just to get two or three that were in focus, well lit, and showed off the embroidery.
Free Online Photo Editing
Your final touch? Editing software!
Now don’t panic. You might be thinking “Oh no, I can’t afford Photoshop!”, but guess what? If you follow these basic tips, hopefully your photos won’t need much touch up. Maybe just a little brightening and contrast here and there. Luckily for us, there are actually plenty of places that let you do that online for free!
Flickr, the online gallery we use regularly, is free to signup and upload your photos to. The nice thing about flickr is not only is it a great place to store your photos, but they make things like rotating and editing your photos easy! Just upload your camera snaps, click “Actions” and find the tab that says “Edit Photo In Picnik”.
A note! Flickr has mentioned that the editing software Picnik will be closing soon, but they promise they’ll be replacing it with their own editing software. So I still think this tip stands.
Once in your editing software, you can use crop, exposure, and contrast to bring the best out of your photos. Crop out that little distracting toy that was sitting in the corner of your photo. Brighten up that slightly dim shot, and give it a boost of contrast to make it shine. That’s all your photos should need after you’ve taken the time to make them look their best in camera. Once you’re ready, you can re-save your photo and it’s good as new. You can then use these edited shots to post on your webpage or Etsy store.
Take the Time
So is all this worth it?
Well, it might depend on what you’re investing into your embroidery. If this is a hobby, a simple quick snapshot will help preserve your artwork in time. But if your embroidery is part of how you make a living, photos are sometimes the only way you’ve got to show off your work. You wouldn’t show up at a craft show and put everything behind dark, frosted glass would you? No!
Photos are your product until that piece arrives in its intended hands. Take the time to show your work off with as much gusto as you put into making it. I promise the effort is worth it!