I was asked a while back on Instagram about my “photo setup.” So, I thought I’d run through the equipment and the process.
Here is the basic setup: phototent on foldable table, with three lights, one on top, one directly (adjusted as needed) shining on piece from front right, and one on left side to fill.
The phototent is from Amazon. 30 inches. 32″ would have been better as that is the size of my backdrop, which I had to trim to fit. I could also use a 48 or 60 inch one for bigger pieces. They are pretty cheap – $25.
The lights are Excelvan 2000W Photography Studio LED Lighting Kit 20×25″ Auto Pop-up Soft Box with 80″ Light Stand and 135W LED Lamp, SHOX-012 $90. It seems these are no longer available but there are many similar ones on Amazon.
I generally shoot during the morning in a bedroom with south-facing windows. As you can see, the drapes allow some natural light.
I’ve used several gradated backdrops: black to grey, darker grey to light grey etc. They tend to get scratched up if you are shooting pieces that have more natural edges and rougher bottoms, as some of mine do. So, I no longer use the expensive ones ($75-90) made in the US (or at least sold by photography stores in the US) but get cheaper ones from China whenever I am there. The quality is not as good and the colors are not as nice, particularly the gradient shift from dark to light but it is a lot cheaper. This is one of the cheaper ones. Of course, you could use a scratched one and then deal with the problem in Photoshop. But it’s a lot easier to just use a clean backdrop without any blemishes.
The camera is a Nikon D3300 which is now only $320 – you can get a whole bundle for $399 that includes tripod, additional lenses, remote, memory cards, backup battery, etc.
I suppose the reason all of this is so cheap is that nowadays you can use your phone and get similar if not better results. The latest Huawei phone even uses AI to adjust long distance night shots so you can take pictures of the moon and stars!
Using a phone definitely has advantages. You can shoot in square mode (if you are going to post to Instagram), easily edit the pics on the phone (including many of the same features you would have in Lightroom or Photoshop), and then directly upload to your Etsy site or Instagram. Since most people will be viewing the photos on their computers or their phones, that is usually more than adequate. I generally take all outside photos of my pieces with my phone.
That said, I still like to shoot with a camera and then use Lightroom to remove blemishes etc., which you can’t do yet on your phone. I also think the camera handles different lighting settings much better than the phone. The photos are more vibrant.
There are many YouTube videos and online articles that cover product photography. I don’t do anything fancy. It’s just a matter of experimenting, playing with the lights, and trying different angles until you are happy with the results. Basically, shoot in RAW, ISO 100, camera set to aperature priority, white balance set to auto (this works during morning shoots), and use a remote timer.
As far as after-shot processing goes, I use Lightroom, and again, don’t do anything fancy. I’d rather just take a better picture than spend lots of time on Photoshop since the goal is to capture the piece as it is. I start by cropping (trying to use 1×1 if possible, which it usually isn’t for the large hollow forms with tall finials), and then remove chromatic aberration, enable profile corrections, and dehaze. If needed I will play with the contrast, highlights, shadows, etc. I don’t usually adjust exposure until the end unless it is really off and I can’t just go back, adjust the lights and take a new picture.
On my phone, I use the photo editing features that come preloaded, no special apps. When I upload to Instagram, I will sometimes also use the editing features available there, most often the vignette function.
In the end, whether to use a camera or a phone really depends, at least for me, on how often you need to shoot photos and how many photos you need to have. Etsy requires 7-10 photos of the piece from every angle, as well in natural settings, with objects that will show size, etc. It was taking well over an hour to shoot a piece, edit the photos, upload, fill out all of the Etsy info (description, size, weight, price, shipping, keywords, etc.). Using the phone makes it somewhat faster.
The pictures you see here are all done with an iPhone7. The two pictures below are straight from the phone, no editing or effects other than cropping. In the second one, you can see a spot that I would have tried to clean up if I photoshopped it.
Personally I find it fun and more interesting to take some pictures with various objects. On a practical level, they allow the viewer to understand the size of the piece. I’ve often been surprised when I’ve seen some pieces in real life that I have seen in magazines or books and they turn out to be much smaller than I thought. But more importantly, I think using some “props” just opens up new creative possibilities and allows people to imagine what the piece might look like in their home. If you post a lot of pieces on Instagram, Pinterest or wherever, it also adds variety if someone goes to your page and scrolls through. Wood is beautiful, but there can be too much of a good thing so it’s nice to soften things up with some flowers or introduce some porcelain, glass or other materials to the images.
Hope this helps. No doubt many people will know much more than I do about photography. I basically just picked up what I know as I went along, largely a process of trial and error.