Monday, June 20, 2011

Tech Talk for Non Techies - Picture Perfect Photography Tips

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Welcome to our Tech Talk for Non Techies mini-series.  Some of the most frequent questions that I receive from friends (both real and virtual in the handmade community) are about websites, blogs, photo editing, HTML and all things "nerd".  To help you on your way to better blogs, flashier Facebook, wicked websites and all that jazz, Tech Talk for Non Techies is a little mini-series here at Creativity Unmasked with "tech talk" for regular people, just like me.  Requests for post topics are (as with everything here at Creativity Unmasked) always welcome.  Today, we tackle photography.


If you are trying to sell your creations on-line, photographs are your most powerful tool.  You don't need a small fortune in camera equipment and editing software to take a good picture.  Want crisp, clear, bright and attractive pictures?  Try these tips:
Focus. There is NOTHING worse than trying to sell a product that can't be seen. Unless you are selling something large, use the macro setting on your camera. The macro setting is usually found under a flower symbol on most cameras. If you are shooting in macro but have the shakes, try a mini tripod (you can get some very inexpensive tripods for small cameras) or rest your elbows on something sturdy while you take your photos.

Lighten Up.   Very few products look their best with a dark and dreary grey colour cast. You can adjust your exposure and white balance in your camera, or adjust after the fact using editing software on your computer.  Be careful not to "overexpose" your picture and wash out the colour.  A little tough of lightening with a hit of contrast to recover the shadows is quick and simple, and there are some great free tools available, like Google's Picasa, that you can use if you don't already have software.

Let it Shine. Natural light is great, just be careful about  direct sunlight, reflections and shadows.  Alternatively, light boxes are inexpensive options for small items like jewellery.  You can buy one or build your own.

Steal the Show. This is about your product. Try to avoid busy backgrounds that might distract from your beautiful creation and make sure that you have a contracting background so that your image pops. If you are using fabric, make sure that it is tidy and wrinkle free.  Other options include scrapbook paper, wallpaper, tile, wood - get creative!

Mix it Up.  You get to upload multiple photos to most handicraft sites, so play around and mix thing up.  Take photos from the top, side, front, back, angled, close-up details, whole item, item in scale, item in use... Be sure to take plenty of shots of each item so that you have tons of choice in listing (and blogging, facebooking, etc).  Need to do some cropping or editing?  There are some great free tools available, like Google's Picasa, that you can use if you don't already have software.
 
Set up Shop.  Remember that shoppers will look at your shop gallery, so try to be consistent (but not necessarily matching) in your photo style and backgrounds so that your shop has a nice cohesive look. Your gallery picture (photo number one) needs to catch attention, so make sure it is a great shot that calls out to be opened to see more.
Want to learn more?  Try the Etsy photography tips page.  For a detailed tech talk from an expert Etsy seller and photographer, you learn more about camera types, photography basics, key elements to improve your photographs for your Etsy shop, and how to solve some common problems. If you are an Etsy user and haven't yet discovered the wealth of resources on the community, blog and (my fav) straight to your email via newsletter (signup under your account settings) then you are missing out.  Not sure where to start?  Try the Etsy Seller's Handbook.  Ready to take it to a whole new level?  Invest in a self-learning book, check out the free photography resources and tutorials online, or enroll in a course or workshop. Most importantly, practice and have fun!
Converting beauty to science and back again. Digital image files may be composed of pixels, geometric vector data, or a combination of both. Whatever the format, the files are rasterised for most monitor and screen displays. Rasterised means that the data is ordered into a rectangular grid of pixels in columns and rows, with pixel consisting of numbers representing brightness and color as building blocks of the big picture - literally.  File size is a function of the number of pixels and the colour depth of the pixels. The greater the number of pixels, the greater the image resolution, and the larger the file. Image compression decreases the overall size of a file for email or upload, and usually comes at a compromise of size versus image quality.  There are hundreds of image file types, both only a handful of very common formats (at least for now!).  PNG and JPEG formats are commonly used to display images on the Internet.  Here are some common photo terms, what they are, and when/why you might want to use them: 
RAW is the generic term applied to raw (as captured) image formats available on some digital cameras. These formats record maximum image data as captured by the camera and is the preferred working format for most photographers, but you will need to edit the RAW files. Convert the file to a user-friendly format for final use after editing. Uses: Take pictures in RAW format if you want maximum digital data for future editing, but editing will be a must!
JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) is a compression method for raster files, and most digital cameras can save images in JPEG format. Although this is a compression format, high quality JPEGs are still great and are perhaps the most widely used/accepted image format at this time. Quality will degrade incrementally if the picture is repeatedly edited and saved.  Uses: Take pictures in JPEG format if you want to keep download/editing/upload simple.  Use JPEG as a final format when editing, emailing, uploading etc as it is easy to use and widely recognised by software and browsers.
TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) is great for editing pictures before saving as lossy formats, like JPEG, for the final distribution.  It is a good format for professional printing, but not for general uploading or use since TIFF image format is not widely supported by web browsers. Uses: Save your work-in-progress and archive final edits as TIFF and you can return for future editing without worrying about JPEG data loss.
PSD (Photoshop Document) is great for editing pictures before saving as lossy formats, like JPEG, for the final distribution.  It is a good format for printing if you have the software, but not for uploading or distribution (unless it is to a fellow Photoshop user). Uses: Save your work-in-progress and archive final edits as PSD and you can return for future editing without worrying about JPEG data loss. This works particularly well if you are using RAW files, Smart Objects, or layered edits.
PNG (Portable Network Graphics) is handy for editing pictures, but (in my opinion) they are most useful as a file format of choice for final use in transparent background images, such as shapes and watermarks. Uses: Great for transparent backgrounds.
GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) is limited to an 8-bit palette (256 colors) and is better suited to graphics than pictures, but it supports animation and is still widely used to provide image animation effects.  Uses: Large plain graphics, animated graphics.
BMP (Windows bitmap) handles graphics files within the Microsoft Windows Operating System. Typically, BMP files are large and uncompressed. Uses: File conversion.
EXIF (Exchangeable Image File Format) is additional metadata incorporated in the image-writing software used in most cameras to record and share image metadata such as camera settings, time and date, shutter speed, exposure, image size,etc.  Be careful - some cameras (such as your mobile phone) may include personal information that you would prefer to remove before sharing publicly for safety - such as your geographical location or even home address!

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