Taking product photos on a budget

Taking photos for on line selling is a big problem for many sellers, especially when there isn't a lot of money around to buy fancy light boxes etc.

So I thought I'd show you my photographic "studio" set up and a selection of my product shots, and explain how I get there with minimal cost.

My biggest sellers on line are small paintings for miniature collections and dolls houses. Folk who are new to mini paintings often don't know how to display them, so for my first product shot I like to show one on an easel on its own - that one usually takes centre stage in my product listings.

My easel is made out of matchsticks - the instructions for you to have a go at making your own are here.

Next I usually take a couple of context shots - here I've used one of our many Sylvanian Families rabbits in one photo and a coin in the other to give an idea of size. Sometimes I include a photo of my fingers holding the painting but the light has to be good enough for a quick snap to work well as I'm not very good at keeping still!

Alternatively I sometimes show them propped against a pebble

They look quite good don't they? So how do I do it without a light box?

My photographic "studio" is simply a piece of white watercolour paper to use as the background, a piece of white glossy foam core mountboard (or matt, as some of our friends around the world call it) to use as a reflective sheet to increase the light. and a camera on a firm surface. Depending on the light I use these in different ways.

[I only own one camera so the next 2 photos were taken with my phone camera so that I could show you my proper camera in action.]

  • If the natural light is very bad (dark clouds) I set up on a stool by the window like this, with the mountboard as the base and the watercolour paper behind. There's plenty of reflected light in this set up.

  • If the light is brighter but not sunny (white clouds) then I set up on my mantle piece with a tripod like this. I just hold the glossy mountboard so that I can adjust the angle to get the correct amount of reflected light.

  • And if the light is good (sunny day) then I don't use the glossy reflector at all.

I like to have my paintings slightly backlit - this helps make the background appear less grey. In both of these set ups the window is on the right hand side and the paintings are turned with their backs ever so slightly to the window.

And I always use either a tripod or a flat surface to put the camera on and use a 2 second delay to eliminate camera shake so that I get a nice clear image. This is SO important - if your photo is blurred how can anyone see how beautiful your product is?

While we're on the subject of cameras, I use a compact bridge camera that I was lucky enough to win,, however a simple point and shoot camera is just fine. The important thing is to be able to have that 2 second delay in between you pressing the shoot button and it taking the photo.

After taking the photos I head over to my pc and I ALWAYS do some editing in Corel Paintshop Pro, taking great care to that my photo looks as good as, but not better than, the painting. I'm very careful to make sure that my customers are not going to be disappointed - I'd far rather they thought "wow this is amazing, so much better than the online photo"!

  • I know my paintings are square or rectangular but sometimes the camera angle turns them into odd shapes - if this has happened then I perform a perspective correction.
  • I adjust the white balance, saturation, lights and darks so that the colours in the photo of the painting appear more like the real thing. This can take 10 to 15 minutes per painting to get right!
  • I crop my photo to a square to give a nice contemporary feel.

I'm sure you can do the same sort of editing in Photoshop although I've never got my head around that one. And if you don't have either of those you can download Picassa for free - there's a one click photo processing button that works wonders.

You can see how I use all three shots in my product listing here.

I really do hope that you found this article interesting and useful for your own product shots. Feel free to share with your online shop buddies, and do please leave me a comment to either let me know how you get on or to share your own top tips too!

Figures in pastel workshop

Yesterday I attended a very good workshop at the Lady Lever Gallery at Port Sunlight, run by Steve Hersey.

The subject was figures in pastel, and it was designed to accompany their current Rossetti’s Obsession exhibition, where you can see drawings and chalk sketches that Rossetti made of his muse Jane Morris. It's really interesting to see these pieces, they helped me to understand Rossetti's pre-painting process of pencil drawings, chalk tonal sketches, chalk colour sketches, all before he began his oil paintings.

In the workshop we began by looking at stick figures, dividing the body into 8 head lengths

which we then turned into block figures. I have studied these before but did have one ah-ha! moment when we used arcs (which I turned into circles as I find them easier to draw) to find joint positions.

Next we developed our block figures into robot figures and added shading, taking around 10 minutes on this. Something went wrong with the arm on the right here - I should have noticed and corrected it at the stick figure stage, but never mind, I'm pleased with the rest of it.

After a much needed coffee break, we completed 5 minute A3 sketches of each other, concentrating on proportions that we had learnt in the previous session and starting out with a stick-to-robot under-drawing.

Next Steve demonstrated a figure in pastel using an improvised sheet of paper (a piece of paper table cloth) and very basic reeves pastels, proving that you do not need specialist materials to get a good result.

And finally Steve posed for us and gave us half an hour to complete our own A3 pastel portrait. I really hate the feeling of chalk on my fingers so was not looking forward to working with pastels, but I can honestly say that we were working so fast that I didn't have time to think about it!

I really enjoyed this workshop and whilst I'm not converted to pastels, I did enjoy using them for half an hour. They create far too much dust for me to consider using them at home, I'm not overly fond of cleaning (!) and need relatively a dust free environment for my oils.