Taking a lot of product photos at once, whether you’re updating your listings or creating new ones, can be hugely time consuming, but in this post I’m going to give you some awesome timesaving tips for DIY product photography.
The key to quickly get those product photos ready for your listings is preparation.
The planning phase of the photoshoot is the most important in ensuring a quick workflow. Planning involves know exactly what photos of each product you need, gathering your props, setting up your shooting space, and double checking your equipment to make sure it’s in working order.
2. Take your photos sequentially
Once you’ve planned your photoshoot, including background, props, shot list, etc, and you’ve got your block of time set aside, it’s time to start taking those photos. You want to take your photos sequentially, ie, photograph all images of all product in one setup, before moving onto the next setup.
Example: You make jewelry. You’re going to take roughly the same images of each of your pieces for the sake of cohesiveness, right?
So what you’re going to do is set up the scene for the first shot (perhaps your main image), then shoot all of your product on that setup one after another. This should go fairly quickly. If you are going to take several shots on that background, do them now. For example, the product in it’s entirety, three different angles, one close up detail shot. Done. Next product.
Then, prepare your setup for the next shots (styled shots perhaps). Shoot them all at the same, simply swapping out the pieces.
And that is how to photograph a lot of photos in a short period of time.
That’s great! But what about editing them all? That’s gotta take forever right?
3. Edit for a quick workflow
Let’s take all of those main image photos you just took. They all have very similar tones, right? Same basic colours, same background, and in need of the same editing tweaks. You can edit the first photo in that set (adjust the tones and the colour balance), and then select all the photos in that set (by shift+clicking on the last photo in the set). Once you’ve selected all of the photos you want to apply the edit to, simply click the “Sync…” button below the Develop panel and click “Check All” to select all of the edits you want to copy to the others photo. Click “OK” and bam! All of those photos are now edited. Slick. Fast.
Also with Lightroom, you can very quickly export all of the photos you’ve just edited by making sure they’re all selected and then export them. At that time you can set the size you want them all to be. They’ll all be saved at once and ready to be uploaded to your shop.
Easy peasy lemon squeezy, right?
One of my most frequently asked questions is what size and ratio Etsy product listing photos should be. Sizing and ratio is very important when it comes to your Etsy product photos, so in this post I’ll be covering the best sizing for etsy, including these topics:
The ratio refers to how wide the image is compared to how tall it is (eg, 1:1, 5:4, 4:3, etc). You set your ratio when you crop your photo in your editing process either on your computer or your smartphone, or within your camera when you take the actual photo.
Size refers to how many pixels wide and how many pixels tall your photo is. This can be adjusted when editing, but needs to be at least a certain size when captured (more on that in moment).
So why do we even care about this?
The ratio is important for two reasons.
One, when someone searches Etsy, or views your shop, the “gallery images” that are meant to capture the attention of shoppers are a ratio of 4:3 (so slightly wider than they are tall). If the photos you upload aren’t a 4:3 ratio, you risk your product being cut off and not shown in its entirety. The search results are a crucial opportunity to capture the attention of shoppers, and with part of your product not even been seen, there’s a good chance you’ll be passed over.
Two, if your product photos in your product listings are all different ratios, that will produce unsightly spaces above and below, or on the sides, of some of your photos. The “container” for your product photos will fit the largest photo, so anything smaller will show space around it.
The size (pixels) of your photo is also important, as it affects the quality of your photo especially when viewed with the zoom tool. Your photos should be 2700px along the long edge. For the best size and quality with a 4:3 ratio, your photo would be 2700 pixels wide and 2025 pixels tall. This size is perfect for Etsy's recommendations, and will allow you optimize the image for web.
Ratio: Your ratio should be 4:3.*
This means your photo will be wider than it is tall. It's a perfect size for Etsy, as this is the ratio of the thumbnails that appear in the search and in your shop view - which means your entire photo will be shown and none of your product will be cut off.
*NOTE: It appears as of April 2022 that Etsy's thumbnails have reverted back to a 5:4 ratio on both web and mobile, but I have been in touch with Etsy and they are not changing their recommendation of 4:3 as of yet. Just be aware when uploading your images and verify that your product appears fully in the thumbnail at both a 4:3 and 5:4 ratio.
Size (in pixels): 2700px wide by 2025px tall
This maintains your 4:3 ratio and ensures your photo is large enough that it will still look great when viewed with the zoom tool.
Keep in mind - your customers need to see great, high quality photos in order to feel like they're making an informed purchase. That means that if you want customers to click on your listing when it pops up in the search, they need to be able to see the whole photo (and not have parts of it cut off due to incorrect ratio).
That also means that when they enlarge your photo and/or use the zoom tool, they need to see a sharp, crisp image that shows off the details of your product - not a pixelated, low quality photo that makes your product look low quality too.
IMPORTANT: You cannot enlarge your photos after they're taken. When the photo is captured by your camera it must already be larger than your finished image. To ensure your photos are captured at a large enough size, check your camera settings. If you are using an iPhone the native size of image captured isn’t changeable, but it is large enough at 4032 x 3024 px.
Watch my YouTube video on how to re-size your images in Photoshop and Lightroom
In order for web images to load quickly (so potential customers don't lose interest), your images should be a small enough file size to load quickly. A good rule of thumb is to for the images to be 1MB or less.
To ensure your images are 1MB or less, always save your images in jpeg and if you need it, you can reduce the quality of the jpeg down to 80% without losing quality.
Watch my YouTube video on how to optimize your images for web
It is a widely-held misconception that your images should be 72 dpi.
The dpi of an image has no impact whatsoever on a digital images. It doesn't impact the image's resolution, or it's file size. It's a metric that only applies to print media, and thus isn't even uploaded with your image to the web. So you don't need to worry about what the dpi is. 72 is fine. So is 300. So is 3000. It makes no difference to digital images.
Want to edit you photos quickly and effortlessly? Check out the Lightroom Presets here.
And there you have it! The complete low down on the best sizing for Etsy product photos. Have a question? Drop it below!
Growing and running a business can be expensive, so finding free or cheap ways to enhance your DIY product photos can be a HUGE savings.
We all need to invest in our business if we want to succeed, it’s inevitable. But it’s also important to invest wisely and save where you can. Product photography can get really expensive, really fast, even if you’re DIYing it. Equipment can come with huge price tags, and often can be complicated to learn.
I’ve put together a shortlist of my favourite free or cheap tools for DIY product photos for handmade sellers. Check ‘em out!
Despite having quite a bit of lighting equipment myself, I always prefer to use natural light whenever possible. Because, if you can get it right, it looks the best.
Natural light tends to render colours quite accurately, and is soft and even (if your setup is right). Set up your shooting space next to a bright window without any direct sunbeams filtering through for that dreamy natural light.
To make the most of that bright window + natural light setup, use white foam boards to contain the light to your shooting area. You can add one or two white foam boards to surround your product (behind it and on the side opposite the window) to majorly brighten up the space and avoid those strong shadows that can occur on the side of your product opposite the window.
You can also use white foam board to block off surroundings to reduce reflections on shiny products, as a background for a flat lay, and to hold a piece of poster board for a seamless background. Hot tip: tape some L brackets (for shelving) to the back of your foam boards so they stand upright and can easily be moved around.
Yes, that stuff that goes inside of drawers.
Contact paper comes in loads of different colours and patterns, with marble being my favourite. You can affix the contact to a piece of foam board for an attractive background for your products. Make sure you select a pattern that’s neutral and not too busy. It should show off your product, not steal the show. Also be sure to get a matte finish and not glossy. Glossy finishes will create an unsightly glare in your photos.
Great news! You don’t have to buy a whole bunch of cute props for your product photos. First of all, you should only be using one or two props for your product listing photos. Any more and you start to draw attention away from your product. Second, I bet your house and/or yard is packed FULL of props you could use for your photos.
Some of my very favourite props are simply plants. I love to grab plant life from outside and bring it inside to add a little colour and life to my photos. A well placed sprig of lavender can go a long way! You may even have some house plants that would be a good fit. Succulents are perfect for product photos!
If plants aren’t your thing or aren’t a good fit for your brand, I’m will to bet there are any number of other things around your home that would be perfect, depending on your products. A cute coffee mug or pen, a piece of ribbon, a nice jewelry dish, and so on can all make great props for your product photos. For more info on where to find props for your product photos, click here.
Quite possibly my favourite free tool - a lux meter app for your smartphone. You can download them for free on your iPhone or Android device and, using the camera sensor, they detect the amount of light in an area (aka lux). For product photography, a reading of 1000 lux or higher is ideal.
My picks for free lux meters are Galactica Lux Meter for iPhone and Lux Meter (Light Meter) for Android. Simply download the free app, open it up, and place the camera of your phone near where your product would be when you’re photographing it. The reading should indicate 1000 lux or higher. If not, add some white foam boards to strengthen the light, take readings in other areas of your home at different times of day, or try moving your lights closer if you’re using studio lighting. Keep experimenting until you get a decent reading.
And that’s it, friends! My top 5 free or cheap tools for DIY product photography. Do you have any to add to the list? If so, drop them in the comments!
Hey there handmade seller!
If you’re just joining us for the first time, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Amy and I’m a product photographer and educator teaching handmade sellers just like you how to rock their own product photos for their online shops.
‘Cause here’s the thing - I’m about to break some serious news here - without great product photos, your online shop probably won’t succeed. I know, that’s some tough love right there. But I said it because I want you to succeed and because I believe in you. (read all about why product photography is so important in this post)
The good news is that you are not doomed to a life of dreadful DIY product photos and no sales. I’m here to help you transform those “meh” product photos into photos that’ll have shoppers hitting the add-to-cart button faster than you can say “cha-ching”.
The topic of product photography is vast, overwhelming, and often confusing. There’s sooooo much information out there and, let’s be honest, it’s really not directed to you as a handmade seller. That’s why it’s full of technical jargon you don’t understand.
Every resource you’ll find here on my blog and on my YouTube channel was developed with you in mind. It’s the nitty gritty - no muss, no fuss, just exactly what you need to know to start taking great DIY product photos, and quickly.
Because, guess what? Product photography doesn’t have to be super complicated. Once you learn a streamlined and simplified photography process, you’ll be amazed at how your photos will transform.
So let’s get started!
When it comes to photography, lighting is everything. Literally. The word photography is derived from the greek “photo” meaning light and “graphy” meaning drawing - so, drawing with light. Hence its importance.
But it’s not just words. A photograph is made from the light that comes through the shutter of a camera to hit the sensor. So, great light = great photo.
Light should be soft and even, plenty bright (but not too bright), and the right colour (ie, daylight). Try photographing your product next to a bright window with white foam boards bouncing the light back towards your product. (pictured below)
News flash: Your background doesn’t have to be white.
So many makers think that their backgrounds have to be white, and it’s simply not true. Neutral? Yes. White? No.
If you like a white background, and you’re able to capture it well on camera, that’s great! Don’t change a thing. But so many handmade sellers struggle to take a great photo on a white background and if they’d just let it go, life would be so much easier. So I’m giving you permission. Let it go.
When choosing a background, pick something that is neutral and subtle. Textures are also a nice. Backgrounds like dark wood, white washed wood, marble, slate, beadboard, etc are all great option.
When determining which is right for you, think about your products, your branding, and your ideal customer. Your background should be a fit for all those things. (read more about how your branding play into your product photo in this post)
When it comes to props, you need to keep it really simple. One or two props are plenty. When it comes to social media and brand photos, you can incorporate more props, but for product listing photos it’s important no to do too much. Too many props confuse buyers, clutters up your shot, and will have people moving on pretty fast. You want your props to be “supporting characters” to your product, not steal the show.
When it comes to choosing props, the same rules apply as they did for the background. They should be a fit for your product, brand, and speak to your ideal customer.
Want to grab my list of 90+ Prop Ideas? Click here!
Take care to photograph your products at the correct angle. If not composed properly, the angle can distort the image and make your product look strange or misrepresent it. Photographing your product as a flat lay (“bird’s eye view”) or straight on (“eye level”) is a good place to start.
When arranging props, keep them off to the side and/or in the background. It should be very clear what is for sale in the image and your props shouldn’t take attention away from your product.
Yes, you must edit your photos. A photo isn’t truly complete until it’s edited. Back in the film days, the development process was when images were fine-tuned. In these digital days, the editing process is the same idea. Sure, your digital camera does a bit of this work for you. But it’s just a piece of equipment and its abilities are limited. You don’t let your washing machine pick out your outfits do you? I didn’t think so.
So edit those photos! One of my most commonly asked question is what editing programs and apps I recommend. I recommend Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, available for $9.99 USD a month through the Adobe Photography CC subscription. They are the industry standard when it comes to photo editing and they allow you to embed a colour profile, which is extremely important when it comes to product photos.
Edit your photos for correct tones, size and ratio, and white balance while avoiding faux pas like oversaturation and harsh contrast (read about other editing mistakes in this blog post).
And there you have it! You’re already on your way to better DIY product photos.
Got a question? Pop it in the comments!
Until next time,
Having great product photos for Etsy and your handmade shop is really important. Like, really.
If you want to run a sustainable, legit handmade business, good product photos are one of the major keys to your Etsy success. Other things are important, like SEO, customer service, and actually having a great product, but without good photos none of those things will matter much.
Here are 6 reasons why having awesome product photos is so important for your Etsy shop:
When someone walks into a store and finds something they want to buy, think about what they do. They pick it. They feel it. They turn it over and look at it from different angles. They might smell it. If it opens, they’ll look inside.
Your photos should cover all of those different things that you think a person would do if they were buying your products in person. Help them imagine the feel of your product by capturing the texture of it in a close-up shot. Take photos of it from a variety of different angles. If it has a sense, style one of the photos with something that brings to mind that scent.
Your product photos are subconsciously (if not consciously) telling your customers what they can expect from the quality of your products. You may have the best quality product out there, but without high quality product photos no one will ever know.
When shoppers see a beautiful, well-lit, tastefully styled, and properly edited product photo, that screams “HIGH QUALITY, BUY ME, I’M AWESOME!” Poorly light, strangely styled, and improperly edited (or not edited at all) photos say “I’m not even worth a decent product photo. If you buy me at all, don’t pay more than a few bucks.” That could be farthest thing from the truth, but in the online space, people really do judge a book by it’s cover. In a sea of shops on Etsy, you want to be sure your product stands out.
So essentially, for better or worse, your product photos are speaking to quality of your product. What are you photos saying about your products?
In the vastness of the worldwide web, people are inundated with images non-stop. You can’t even scroll Facebook without having an ad pushed in your face every sixth post. Mediocre photos will quickly get lost amongst the noise of the internet, causing your photos, your products, and your shop to be overlooked. Your images need to stand out and make you recognizable - in a good way!
Some of the biggest breakthroughs for small businesses come from being featured, whether it’s by Etsy, a blogger, or an influencer. Some of my own students have had massive success being featured by bloggers with millions of followers. Those kinds of opportunity can be real game changers for your handmade business - but good photos are a must.
Just like customers are attracted to good product photos, so are those who looks for products to feature. Having good photos makes is easy for influencers to feature you. They can simply share your already awesome photo.
Not only do great product photos attract customers in general, they attract the right ones. Properly styled photos, high quality photos will exude the vibe of your brand and call out to customers who will want to buy your stuff. From the props use you, to your background, to your lifestyle photos - if all of your photos are consistent in their brand messaging, you will consistently attract your ideal customer.
For example, if you ideal customer is adventurous, outdoorsy, and environmentally conscious your photos should include environmentally-friendly props, lifestyle photos outside, and other tools that outdoorsy folks are into to compliment your product. Then, the next time your ideal customer is browsing Etsy (or Pinterest, or Instagram, etc), your photo (and product) will jump out at them.
Having photos that are clear, well-lit, properly edited, and portraying the colours of your product accurately makes it easy for customers to get a accurate sense of your product. Without those qualities in your product photos, customers can easily be mislead into thinking your product is different than how it really is.
For example, if the colours in your photo are off due to incorrect white or a lack of embedded colour profile, your customer may think they’re ordering a purple shirt when it’s really a blue shirt. Before you know it you’ll be facing a return and/or a bad review.
Colour is only one way you need to properly showcase your product. You also need to demonstrate qualities like texture, additional details or features, and the size of your product. You can do all this with different camera angles, special techniques, and by styling your product photos with a prop whose size is commonly known.
If you’re feeling a bit panicky about your product photos right now and the thoughts “I’m doomed” is running through your head - don’t worry! I’ve got your back.
Stay tuned to this blog, my YouTube channel, and join my free private Facebook group for more tips, trainings, and tutorials on how you can rock your product photos for Etsy.
Hello all! You may have noticed that things have been a bit quiet around here the past few weeks. That's one of the reasons I have this awesome guest post on how to optimize your product photos for search here for ya. Things have been quiet because our little one made his appearance in our lives two weeks ahead of schedule. I've taken some time to settle into life with a newborn and am now ready to get back to work. Oh, photos of the little one are plentiful over on my Instagram if you're interested.
Today's post comes from the brilliant mind of e-commerce marketing strategist, Katherine Raz, of Small Craft Advisory. I've no doubt that you all will find her advice on how to optimize your product photos for search helpful and valuable. Read on to learn more about how you can increase the visibility of your products in search engines through image optimization.
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” Search engine optimization is the practice of including important keywords in your website copy and formatting the content on your website according to best practices. Doing so will increase your website's chance of appearing higher in the search engine rankings than your competitors. If done right, search engine optimization (and the subsequent search traffic) can be a big source of free, evergreen traffic to your website.
When optimizing their content for search, people tend to forget that images are content too. If formatted and tagged correctly, images on your website can help boost your search traffic and get your website ranking higher in the search engine results pages.
(The search engine we’re usually referring to in SEO is Google, but other search engines include Etsy, Pinterest, YouTube — any place where you’re working to get your content to rise to the top!)
But let’s take a step back. To understand how images can help with SEO, It’s important to understand a little bit about how SEO works in general.
First, while keywords are extremely important in the practice of SEO, it’s even more important to understand your goals for search. It's also important to understand the likelihood of achieving those goals based on your competition. If, for example, all you sell on your website are red sweaters, the likelihood of you ranking in Google for the term “red sweater” is pretty nil. You’ll never beat out the heavy hitters like Target, Macy’s, Amazon, Pinterest and Etsy.
However if you sell red sweaters for hairless cats, you’re much more likely to rank for that term because not as many businesses are selling hairless cat sweaters or trying to rank for those keywords.
Once you realize this, your keywords become obvious. What are you trying to rank for? “Red sweater for hairless cat” of course!
The second important thing to remember: each page on your website can only rank for one keyword, so pick the most important keyword or string of keywords for each page. Got that? One page = one keyword or key phrase. This means a single page can’t rank for both “purple rain boots for french bulldog” and “red sweater for hairless cat.” Pick one term for each page.
There are 5 places you’re adding keywords to a web page to optimize it for search. These are the places Google looks for keywords that tell it what a page is about.
Image alt text is where SEO for images comes in. It appears in the back end code. It is not the image file name, but rather a description you give the image that explains it to a person is using a screen reader. This is where you include important keywords to describe your image.
Match the keywords or phrases in the alt text to the keywords or phrases you’re trying to get the page itself to rank for.
While there may be different places to edit the image alt text depending on your CMS, the tag looks like this in the code:
This alt text is being used on a page trying to rank for “hairless cat red sweater.” Why not just use those keywords verbatim? Because of the screen reader element, you’re writing copy for people who are visually impaired. You don’t want to “keyword stuff” your alt text. It should appear as natural language that describes what is in the picture for those who cannot see the pictures themselves. Finding the balance between keywords and natural language in alt text is tricky, but you must do it!
While it’s up for debate whether Google looks at captions or file names for keywords, it’s a good idea to include your important keywords in both file names and captions if it makes sense to do so. It can’t hurt!
Images with alt text that includes important keywords will help you page rank for that important term. It will also help your image rank in the all-important Google Image Search results.
Images can hurt your search performance, too. All the optimization in the world won’t help if your page load times are ridiculously slow. One of the main culprits in slow page load times? Image file sizes that are too big! Make sure that your images are saved and uploaded using the proper file sizes for the web. You can test the load time of your website in Google’s Page Speed Test tool: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/
Here you can find out if you’re using images that are too big and that are slowing down your page load times. Slow page load times result in penalties from Google that lower your results in the search rankings. You'll want to fix those images right away if you can.
- Image alt tags are 1 of 5 places you can include keywords to help a page rank for a keyword in Google
- Optimizing image alt tags will help your images appear in the Google Image Search results and will help your page rank for a keyword
- Match the keywords in the alt tag to the keyword you’re trying to get the page to rank for overall
- Remember: one page, one keyword
- Go ahead and include your keywords in the file name and captions, too — can’t hurt!
- Make sure your image file sizes are appropriate for the web and that images aren’t slowing down your page load times
There you have it! Now you're fully equipped to optimize your product photos for search. I can already hear your ranking higher in the search! 😉
Until next time,
You’ve gone through the process of planning and taking your photos – good job! – and now it’s time to edit them. Here’s the thing. Editing is a careful craft. You can easily take a great shot and ruin it with poor editing. Additionally, when editing images for the purpose of selling products, there are a few important things to keep in mind. Below are the top 5 mistakes I see handmade sellers make when editing product photos – and how to fix it.
First of all – you really must edit your product photos. If your skillset of taking photos is pretty solid, you may not have to edit much, but it’s still important to crop, resize, adjust levels, etc. If you’re wondering what on Earth I’m taking about right now, never fear – there are future posts coming up very soon that address the basics of editing product photos in easy, simplified steps. Until then, rest assured – you need to be touching up your photos. If not, you’re going to end up with lackluster and drab images that do nothing to sell your work. If you want to stay tuned for the upcoming post regarding editing basics, sign up for my emails on the side menu.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to punch up the colours in your images. However, it’s really important that this is done carefully and tastefully. Oversaturated images look cheesy and cheap. So, NOT the message you want to send about your biz and products. You are better served by using the “vibrance” adjustment tool as opposed to “saturation”, as it will give your colours a punch without overdoing it.
This is one of my pet peeves when it comes to edited images: The overuse of vignetting. What is vignetting, you ask? I have provided an image below of an example of an excessive vignetting that I’ve applied to one of my images for the sake this post. Vignetting is a natural occurrence that happens when photographing images with interchangeable lenses due to lens distortion. A subtle dark vignetting can look cool on an editorial image; S-U-B-T-L-E being the key word in this sentence. A common mistake in editing is overdoing the vignetting, and it is especially inappropriate in product images. Even worse – applying a lightening vignetting (white) around the edges. Cringe-worthy. With product photos, it is best to avoid adding vignettes at all.
I understand the desire to add watermarks to your image. Image theft is a real thing. However, when you’re dealing with image of your products, watermarks take away from the goal of your image – to attract customers to your work and sell that product.
Having a small, subtle mark in the bottom corner of your photo is usually acceptable if you feel compelled to mark your image in some way. But keep in mind that images that get the most attention for your biz are often images that become featured – by blogs, on the Etsy front page, on Pinterest, etc. Images with distracting watermarks are not the ones being featured.
It’s also important to keep in mind that as a product-based seller, your business asset is your product, not your images. If you’re a photographer or you design digital prints, you should not be sharing the pure digital version of your image with or without a watermark. I recommend using digital mockups to show what your work will look like framed and on the wall. That way your potential customers have an opportunity to see your work in action, as opposed to sharing the actual image with a huge watermark splashed over it.
This one is reeeeally important. When selling products, you need to give your customers a true sense of the colour they can expect from said product. Adding colour filters affects the colour portrayal of your product. Also important to know, colour filters when not done properly (which takes a lot of skill and advanced editing) look really cheesy and cheap. The best way to ensure correct colour balance in a photo is through the use of a grey card (which will be covered in an upcoming post), but you can also use the colour balance option in your editing program to ensure that the whites are actually white, blacks are actually black, and true greys are neutral. Lots more to come on colour balance in a future post, so please stay tuned.
Now that you’re aware of these crucial editing mistakes and how to avoid them, you are well on your way to cranking out beautiful product images.
Until next time,
I hear this all the time from creative entrepreneurs: "Taking photos drives me crazy. I don’t know what I’m doing. Why do my photos look like crap?"
I know your frustration. Honestly, I do. It’s how I feel when I try to DIY my own website. Sometimes I get a little ragey. One day I will have a web designer on staff so I never have to look at code again. But in the meantime, I’m asking the experts how I can do better. And that’s what this blog is all about: To help YOU do better with your product and brand photos.
There are many components to taking a good brand photo. So much content is going to be shared here in this blog (and let’s not forget my upcoming webinars and e-course) so I want to keep the information in simple, broken-down chunks. Streamlined information will make your life easier and will allow you to implement these tools with more ease.
Today we will discuss the ever-popular flat lay and how you can start styling your flat lays like a pro.
What is a flat lay?
A flat lay is an image taken straight down from above. A birds-eye view, if you will. While technically speaking a flat lay can simply be a photo of a single thing laying flat, the real bones of a flat lay comes in the styling. By styling I mean the props and items that you add to the photos to give it a more branded and editorial feel, to provoke more interest. At the bottom of this email you will see a link for a free download that includes a styling planner for your flat lay and a list of over 90 props ideas, so be sure to grab that.
With those suggestions in mind, let’s move on to our top five tips for styling an awesome flat lay.
1. Keep your branding at the forefront of your mind.
Your brand vibe & values are of utmost importance when selecting props and creating your flat lays. If your vibe is very earthy and natural it is unlikely that you will style your image with say, bottles of nail polish. Consider some words that come to mind when you think about your brand – Modern? Comfort? Luxury? Feminine? Alternative? Edgy? Your brand should always guide your prop selection.
2. Use props that make sense.
When styling your flat lay, keep in mind what makes sense. If you’re a blogger having a day at the beach and you want a pretty flat lay to go along with that, consider what makes sense for a beach day. Sunglasses, yes. Towel, yes. Beach bag, yes. Stilettos? Nope. A purse? Naw. No one takes their purse to the beach. That’s what the beach bag is for.
Carefully consider the “genre” or category that your flat lay would fall into and ensure you’re selecting props that would also belong in that category.
3. Carefully select your background.
Your background can add as much to the flat lay as the actual props you use. It can also detract from the image if it’s not a great call. With current trends followers, clients, and customers tend to be most drawn to white, wood, or marble backgrounds. White backgrounds can be created with white bristol board or foam board. Wood backgrounds can be a desktop, a wood floor, or a deck surface. Do be careful of the tone of the wood – some wood, like hardwood floors in older homes, can be very yellowish and does not translate well in a flat lay. The important take away here is that the background should be simple, clean, and allow your products and props to do the muscle work.
4. Carefully arrange your props.
First, consider the dimensions of your image. Is this shot for Instagram and will be square? Perhaps it will be a Facebook cover photo and will be very short and very wide. Or will it be a more standard 4:6 ratio? Planning ahead will help you arrange your props appropriately to ensure you get the most out of your image.
Next, consider the feeling you want your image to give off. Clean, organized perfection? Effortlessly chic and casual? You can either arrange your props in a linear fashion with right angles, or you can arrange them as if they just happened to land in that way and look perfectly fabulous. Both options are great – just depends on how you want the feel of the photo to roll out.
5. Keep it simple.
Perhaps my most valuable tip – keep it simple. Your flat-lay does not need to have 10 different items. Some of the most beautiful flat lays contain just a focal point (ie, a product), and one other styling element. The more you add, the busier it gets, and the more places there are for the eye to go. When it gets too overwhelming to look at, your audience is going to shut off their interest and move on. It’s much more valuable to pick one or two perfect styling pieces that compliment your focal point to keep your audience coming back for more.
Bonus flat lay tip!
Proper lighting is everything.
I won’t delve into too much depth on this subject, because I covered it a bit before in this blog post and will be getting into the more technical aspects of lighting in future posts. But I would be remiss if I didn’t stress it again here. Proper lighting is absolutely instrumental in creating an attractive flat lay. This can be achieved with natural or artificial light, but it must be bright and diffused, meaning the light must not be direct from the source. Some examples of great light sources include next to a bright window (without a direct sunbeam streaming through), a lightbox with lights shining through thin white material, or lights with softboxes. If all this lighting talk feels overwhelming, don’t worry – there are future posts coming your way that will help you master great lighting.
Awesome news! While DSLR cameras are awesome (as per this article here), you can TOTALLY create great DIY product photos with your smartphone. There's an important key to successfully taking awesome product photos with your smartphone, and I'm going to share it with you right now.
While there are numerous methods with which you can achieve better DIY product photos with your smartphone (I’ll leave the others for future posts), there is none more valuable than this.
The key to better DIY product photos with your smartphone is light.
Really, light is the key to all photos. Quite literally, light is our number tool when capturing images. The reason it’s even more important with smartphones is because with them, we lack the tools to manipulate the light to our advantage.
With DSLR cameras we have the option of changing the cameras setting to allow more light in and those beasts are designed to retain high quality detail in lower light situations; we have three options for allowing in more light (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO) but when it comes to smartphone cameras, they adjust their internal settings automatically, mostly by cranking up the ISO to brighten the image.
Unfortunately, smartphones really don't handle higher ISOs very well. The problem with higher ISO is that it reduces image quality and creates image noise, which is a graininess that is undesirable in just about any situation, except for perhaps in Film Noir.
Bonus tip: While bright light is key, we need to seek out bright diffused light, as opposed to direct light. Direct light creates strong highlights (bright spots) and harsh shadows, both of which will take away from the quality of the product and usually makes it look cheap.
So what can be done?
Get yourself in a brightly lit area, but not direct sunlight. We can’t change the way the cameras in our smartphones function, but we can change our environment.
Below is a photo I took for the purpose of demonstrating my point. Side note, my prop for this lesson today is a pair of earrings I bought at a market in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. They’re made of wood from local trees and Lucite. I highly recommend checking out their Etsy shop.
This first photo is an example of undesirable low lighting. Is it the worst ever? Not quite. But is it the quality that you want to share with your clients or customers? Heck no. The colour is kind of funky, the detail and quality is poor, the image isn’t sharp or crisp. I even threw some greenery to solidify the point that styling it won’t help.
Below is an example of swinging the pendulum far to the opposite side and going for direct light. The direct light from the midday sun creates unwelcome highlights and harsh shadows that detract from the quality of the product. Not cool. Direct light is almost always best to be avoided.
What did I do next? I moved out of the sunlight and into a different room. A room with large windows and bright, indirect light. By the way, the room I used is my office and the wood background in the photo is the surface of my new desk. Love it!
See the difference? It’s huge! This photo is crisp, it shows off the detail in the earrings, and it’s not hard on the eyes. This photo speaks to not only a higher quality image, but a higher quality product.
Add in some greenery for styling and hello there, you’ve got an Instagram ready image to share with your following.
An additional note: While you can definitely take great DIY product photos with your smartphone, there are limits that ultimately will make it tough to do so consistently. I recommend that all serious handmade sellers make it a goal to eventually invest in a DSLR camera for their product photos. Check out my post on choosing the best camera for your DIY product photography for more info.
If you have any questions regarding today’s tip, drop it in the comments!