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Time Out With Tanya

Product Photography on a Budget for your Etsy or eBay Store

By Tanya Goodall Smith on June 3rd 2015

Welcome to Time Out with Tanya, where I’ve put my fast paced graphic design career on hold in favor of adventures in motherhood. I’m capturing every moment on camera, and you can come along if you’d like. Sign up for my weekly email here, so you’ll never miss a Time Out.

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Once upon a time, I had an Etsy shop. One reason I started getting serious about photography was so I could create better product photography for my Etsy store. I learned a few tricks along the way for taking great product shots on a budget. These have come in handy for selling my gear or used items on eBay as well. Now I’d like to share my tips with you for better product photography on a budget for your Etsy or eBay store.

Supplies

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Let’s talk supplies. Through the course of my photography career, I have definitely suffered through the G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) commonly experienced by new photographers. I have spent thousands on backdrop stands, backdrops, light stands, lights, modifiers, etc. In the end, I’ve found I prefer to work with the lightweight and inexpensive materials listed below. If I could go back in time, I would have saved my money for a new lens, workshop or class, like the SLR Lounge Photography 101 Workshop.

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As far as camera gear goes, with the right lighting, any DSLR will work for product photography you plan to post online. There’s a fantastic segment in our Photography 101 Workshop DVD offering tips on photographing food and products using natural light. All of the segments in that workshop were shot with a basic entry level DSLR and kit lens. I personally use a Canon 5D Mark III, but I got my start with an $800 Canon Rebel and kit lens.

Now I use a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II because the versatility of this lens allows me to work in tight spaces indoors. It also produces tack sharp images 99% of the time, and I hardly ever take this lens off my camera. For a less expensive option, I would go with a 35mm prime lens on a crop sensor camera or a 50mm prime lens on a full frame camera.

I’ve included an on-camera flash in the supplies list, but most of my examples here were created using natural light. More on using a flash toward the end of the article.

Supplies List

DSLR
Lens
Foam Core Board (I used 30×40-inch board)
T pins
5-in-1 Reflector
Polystyrene insulation boards (Home Depot)
Thread or fishing line
Spring loaded curtain rod or lightweight dowel
Spring Clamps

Optional:
Faux wood floor drop (Lollipop Props)
Burlap or other fabric
On-camera flash (Canon Speedlight or Yungono for a budget option)

The Set Up

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As previously mentioned, I’ve used backdrop stands and expensive paper rolls in the past. They work great, but they also take up a lot of space and cost a lot of money. Plus, paper or fabric backdrops get wrinkled, dirty and sometimes don’t photograph so well. I’ve found the best thing to use for small product photography backdrops is foam core board. I buy large sheets of it online or at my local craft store. You can usually find it in white, black, gray and sometimes other colors. You could always paint it or glue colored paper or fabric to it to change it up, but I’m usually happy with basic white or black.

I have an old kitchen table I don’t use anymore set up near a large window in my living room. It’s the perfect size for table top photography. I set up three sheets of foam core board as shown, which are being held up by an inexpensive clamp. Usually enough light is being reflected back on the product by the white foam core, but if I need an extra bit of light, I’ll place a 5-in-one reflector or sheet of polystyrene insulation board with the silver side acting as a reflector. The great thing about these is that they are lightweight, inexpensive, and you can prop them up against that foam core board without needing an assistant or fancy stand and clamp to hold them up.

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If you need to showcase something that won’t stand up on its own, I have a few ghetto fabulous, cheap tricks up my sleeve. For suspending handbag straps, I place a dowel, or in this case, a spring loaded curtain rod I just happened to have lying around the house, across the foam core. It’s lightweight and expandable to a larger size if needed. I just tied some string around the straps and hung it on the curtain rod. Fishing line probably would have worked better, but I didn’t have any on hand. Using what you already have in the house will save you money!

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T pins can be used to hold clothing items in place, or you can even pin them to your polystyrene or foam core boards. You just have to remove the pins in Photoshop later. This cute baby outfit from Paisley Prints wasn’t standing out on the white background and black seemed too harsh, so I pulled out my Lollipop Props faux wood floor drop and photographed it on that. It worked great! For an easy overhead shot, I just placed everything on the floor and shot from above. I brought in a little extra natural light with some reflectors and a trusty child assistant.

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I also tried photographing just the white top on a burlap fabric to add some variety and mix it up. Experimenting is the only way you’ll figure out what looks and works best. I like the texture and color this fabric adds to the image.

Trouble Shooting

One struggle the owner of the Paisley Prints Etsy shop told me she had been having with her photography was making sure the glittery bows on her outfits show up as being gold and not brown. I thought this would be one reason to delve into a little flash photography. Check out the difference between these two images below. The first is shot with natural light and the second with an on-camera flash that I simply bounced off the white ceiling above me. The glitter really pops and reads as gold instead of brownish.

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Natural light + reflector

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Natural light + reflector + on-camera flash bounced off the ceiling

If you’re serious about product photography, I highly recommend you learn how to use a flash. If anything else, it will give you the option to shoot your products during any time of the day or night and create a consistent look in your shop images. Our Lighting 101 Foundation and Light Shaping DVD Workshop will give you a good foundation using on-camera flash.

If you are not getting enough light into your shots indoors, you can take this same set up outside on an overcast day. On a sunny day, just use the scrim portion of your 5-in-1 reflector to difuse some of the harsh light shining onto your products, or find a shady spot. All of these tips are demonstrated in more detail in our Photography 101 Workshop DVD.

I hope these tips help you get better product shots for your Etsy or eBay shop. Let’s hear about your ‘Aha’ moments for improvement in the comments.

Other articles you might like:

HOW TO TAKE PROFESSIONAL BABY PORTRAITS AT HOME WITH THE LOLLIPOP PROPS LITTLE STUDIO SYSTEM

PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY FOR LARGE OBJECTS | HOW TO DO IT WITH LESS THAN YOU THINK

CREDITS: Photographs by Tanya Smith are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY OF LARGE OBJECTS | PARTS 2 & 3 TO MASTERFULLY CRAFTED PRODUCT IMAGES

USING NATURAL LIGHT FOR AUTHENTIC LOOKING FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at workstoryphotography.com.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Md Azad

    Photography micro technique should be know an Product Photographer. Image capturing technique is essential for shots. Most of the photographers captured images properly but now this time is very competitive for both photography and marketing like internet, social media & others. So you can very attractiveness your images by creating object remove and other Photoshop services to increasing your product selling locally or internationally. If you need to object remove services so you can visit to http://clippingpathadobe.com

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  2. Md Enamul

    Your product photography tips are awesome and i am agree with you ..but you can make it more perfect and stunning . some times some images are not match with the background and you have bind the products with some thing ..which will be visible on the captured image…
    so it should be removed for that reason need image editing like image background remove, object remove or clipping path, for more details or like this kinds of services visit > http://clippingpathking.com/

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  3. Yankel Adler

    nice article & nice products

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  4. John Cavan

    If you’re close enough to a craft store, look for rolls of foamies. White and black rolls of foamies are great for seamless shooting of products and they’re really cheap (less than $10) and can be cleaned up with a little bit of rubbing alcohol on a cloth. You can usually find them 3-4 feet wide and about 5 feet long. You can also get sheets in various colors and reflectiveness, making them useful for light bouncing.

    Foamies, as an aside, should be any DIY collection for photographers. I’ve built snoots, bounce cards, gobos and more with them. They’re cheap to buy, easy to shape, and actually look pretty professional when done with a bit of care. I did a blog post on these a few years ago and the post landed on DIY photography as a result.

    tl;dr Get foamies in your budget arsenal. :)

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  5. Thomas Horton

    Fishing line may actually be more problematic than using string, especially when using a flash. There are some very strong non-reflective sewing thread that would also work.

    I am not sure the T-pins would be such a good idea, especially if you have to PS them out. If you take push pins and carefully snip off the head you will end up with a short pin that is long enough to hold fabric, but a lot less intrusive in the photograph.

    You might want to reconsider using the term “ghetto”. It really does not add anything positive to the article and it might be taken the wrong way. Just a suggestion.

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  6. Paul Tucker

    Good read and helpful tips!

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