Quality Product Photography Really Isn't That Hard

Do you think you have to buy styled stock photos to make your products look good? I'm here to tell you, you don't.

For a very long time I was intimidated by product photography and was convinced I couldn't get good results with my old camera and the random doodads around the house. This post is proof that it CAN be done!

Months ago I bought a set of napkins from Minted's home decor line of table linens of my pattern Dotty Chevron in the color "gulf coast." I was curious about the quality and I wanted a set. I even had a product shoot all planned out in my head to promote them.

By "all planned out" I mean I knew I wanted to use the mismatched English china that I collected while we lived in the UK and some gold cutlery that I got on super clearance from Sur la Table. Well, summer came and went and I still hadn't done anything. Last week, I finally decided it was time. After an hour of gathering my supplies and arranging everything just so, I went to turn on my camera and the batteries were dead.

#$%^&@!

After a minor tantrum, I decided to see what I could achieve using my little old iPhone 5. With a little editing in Instagram ... the photos turned out so much better than I ever thought they would!



Pretty, right?

I am a big fan of "behind the scenes" pictures, especially styled product photos so let me give you a little breakdown of the steps I took to get this final image and show you how not intimidating taking these photos really is.

See? My rather unremarkable set-up of the dresser top on on a window seat, counter cleaner and paper towel to remove dust, a desk chair to stand on, cold coffee posing as tea, extra cups and plates, ugly dead grass outside window, and pile of bed pillows on old chair. Normally, my camera and tripod would be here too but I didn't use them for this one.



































PLEASE NOTE: I am not a photographer. I am not trained in any of this stuff. I just know what I think looks good, what works for me and went with that.

1. Light: Decide what kind of light you want. It was an overcast but not dark day outside which is good for diffused natural light. I didn't use any other light sources. I probably should have propped up some white poster board on my chair to bounce light back into the scene from the bottom. It may have avoided that dark shadowing at the bottom of everything -- oh well!

2. Location: Set up near a North facing window. A photographer I talked to at the Maker's Summit last year told me Northern windows have the best and most consistent indirect light. Using that trick has worked for me so far.

If you have a camera, use a tripod! The tripod is going to be your best friend and keep you from constantly having to adjust your focus and position and give you a consistent frame to work within. I'd also recommend a remote trigger because if you drink too much coffee like me, it can be hard to push the shutter button without moving the camera. You can also try the technique of "push and hold," where you hold down the shutter button for a half second after pushing it to help eliminate any jerking motion that can move the camera.

3. Background: Use a backdrop that gives you the "feel" you want your photo to convey. I used a marble top from an antique dresser of ours (so heavy!) and moved it to the window where I wanted to shoot. Marble makes me think of high-end, clean, kitchens, which is a good backdrop for napkins and tea, no? Plus it reminded me of this humorous post.


4. Product: Think about the product you're photographing. How is it used? What are the characteristics a person using it would be looking for? In the case of these napkins, the pattern is most important with the function and feel second. I made sure to arrange them in a way that shows their potential use and the "feel" the fabric. Having three folded with some cutlery on them gives a sense of how they'll look at a set table while the unfolded one draped across the serving tray gives a sense of the fabric's texture and unfolded size.

5. Accessories: Set the scene with your accessories. Where would you find this product in real life? Gather items that have a variety of textures. A mix of matte, shiny*, metal, wood, stone, and fabric feel visually interesting and realistic. Since I had this lovely gold cutlery, I wanted to tie in more gold so I grabbed china pieces with metallic gold rims, floral elements and in soft, spring colors. I also pulled out two flower shaped brass candlesticks that I'd nabbed from a thrift store last year. In hindsight the candlesticks are not practical with this scene and could be eliminated altogether or replaced with something else more fitting, like a pretty tea tin, tea bags or sugar and cream servers.

*If you use shiny and reflective props, check that your reflection isn't distracting or obvious and for the love of Pete, wear clothes!

I realized, after posting this first photo on Instagram, that it was missing a key component. If you are photographing food related items, for heaven's sake, use food or drink in the photo. How stupid does it look to have tea cups with no tea? Also,  I didn't love this composition so I switched to a horizontal instead of the square and incorporated more items and a buttered English muffin for good measure.

6. Composition: First arrange your main product in an interesting way and NOT dead-center (unless that's the look you want). Then sprinkle in your accessory items. I stood on a chair and looked down on the layout so see how items were overlapping and where the visual weight was. Rearrange your items until you get a composition that you like. Use your camera (or in my case, phone) and take some test photos. Look at them in the frame, is your arrangement too centered? Is there a visual path for your eye to travel through the entire image with an emphasis on the main product you are trying to showcase? Are there any weird empty spots or edges where an object is not partially out of the frame or just barely touching? (See how there is an object going off each edge of this photo?) Move stuff around until you get a composition that is visually balanced but not too symmetric.

It's easy to get wrapped up in the adding of things and clutter up your composition so once you've got everything the way you like it, take the Coco Chanel approach to accessories, “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off,” and remove one accessory item before settling on a final composition.

7. Take Lots of Shots: More than you think you'll need. I always take a ton of photos, rearrange stuff and take a ton more. Make sure you zoom in on your photos now and then to check your camera's focus is on target. There is nothing worse that taking a gazillion photos and when you go to process them you realize they're out of focus or focused on the wrong thing.

When using a real camera (not a phone) play with the F-Stop and white balance and how much light you are allowing in for each photo. If you can get your lighting spot on while you take the photos you'll eliminate a lot of post-processing time. Keep in mind that your camera settings will need to change as the natural light in your space changes.

When using your phone, tap different areas of the image to see how that affects the overall lighting until you get a look that you want.

8. Edit: Get those photos off your camera and onto your computer and look at them at the size you want them to be viewed. Is your image framed the way you want? Are there any weird little blemishes you can edit out? How's the overall color of the photo? I felt my image was a little dark and cold so I lightened it using Instagram's brightness and warmth filters. A light touch is best when editing your photos this way because it's easy to change the colors of your product and then it's no longer representational of the real thing, which is obviously super bad for product photography.

While this may still seem super overwhelming, it's really a trial and error process and once you get past the "I can't possibly do this" phase into the "wow, I actually made this look good" phase you'll start to see how easy it is to take your own high-quality product photos without a lot of fancy gear and equipment.

Now get out there and give it a shot! If I can do it, I promise you can too.

Minted Art: Zebraba Tile

I'm excited to share that one of my recently launched art prints with Minted has been featured in an email highlighting the Pop Art movement as well as on the gallery wall of a very stylish beauty blogger. I'm pleased to introduce Zebraba Tile ...

shown in daffodil yellow, see more colors here

In this piece I've combined three of my favorite things: animal subject matter, the contrast of black and white, and repeating pattern. It kind of reminds me of an ink blot but with a tangible subject matter.

Pop Art email from Minted

Look at this beautifully feminine gallery wall by Teresa of Money Can Buy Lipstick! I love all those blush pink tones. Is it any wonder Pantone choose a soft pink shade as one of its Color of the Year picks for 2016?

photo from Money Can Buy Lipstick, see more soft pink prints here


All of the links above to Minted are affiliate links. I believe in the quality of Minted's prints and I'm confident in sharing their products with you. If you purchase from one of my links I will make a couple bucks, help a sister out?

That's One Cool Kid - birth announcements round-up

It's finally beginning to feel like spring! I don't know about you, but I have a TON of pregnant friends, most of whom are due with Spring babies. You know what that means? Announcing the big news to friends and families once the tiny bundles of joy arrive.

Here's a little round-up of my favorite baby announcements for new moms and dads to-be:

Pretty gold hearts and delicate calligraphy make this Welcome Bliss announcement elegant and sweet.


 I LOVE this print by Vera Bradley and now it's available on the Blooming Baby announcement!


For the type lover this Cutely Curved announcement helps your little one shine.


Check out this super cute, nursery rhyme inspired announcement From the Nursery -- I cannot get over that sweet little cow!


A delicate and classic mix of modern fonts and sweet bow perfect for a Little Lady.


Cool Kid has an infographic vibe for a modern and colorful take on the birth announcement.

Your photo is the focus with this simple and modern text based announcement.

Delicate blossoms and elegant type make your photo the center of attention of this Charming Floral design.

Bring a little nature to your message with a Cute Red Fox alongside your cute new baby.

Client Spotlight: Shanna Russell

It's been a long time since I shared a client project with you. This one is a bit of a departure from the stationery items that I frequently post. This time a good friend asked me to create a couple custom art prints for her first child's nursery.

Shanna and I met while living in England. She's an independent creative like myself working as a photographer. She is the genius behind the lens of many of the "stock" photos I use in my shops and has taken the very best pics to date of me, my hubs and our pup. While she lives in Idaho now, she wanted to imbue her son's nursery with a sense of adventure and love of travel.

Our first step toward collaboration was the Pinterest board she'd created of inspiring images.


I LOVE when clients do this, it gives me such a great sense of their aesthetic and the kinds of elements and colors that they are drawn to. I prefer the "show me" angle Pinterest allows so much more than the "tell me" of written notes.

With all of that visual stimuli in mind and her request for the "oh, what a wonderful world," quote, I was off to the digital drawing board. I knew I had to do something with a globe for the travel aspect and figured the quote would go well with that image. I also wanted to pay homage to the Russell's roots in Texas, where I knew there had to be a legion of adoring baby Russell fans just waiting to shower their love upon the little one. Shanna wasn't convinced because she had never seen any "Texas art" that she loved (this girl has the best taste, I can't say I was very surprised to hear that). Challenge accepted.

Fast forward ... check out the final prints and her chic nursery.



How cool is that vintage camera?! (Awww, big brother Chuck loves that sheepskin!)

What a sweet little corner of handmade goodness and family heirlooms.

So clever to put baby shower notes and foreign coins under a class side-table top. Plus, how cool is that textured lamp?

Sweet chevrons in blue, grey and orange. 

An old dresser is given new life as a changing table with a coat of rich glossy blue paint and new handles.

 One last look at the knock-out nursery!

Don't forget to check out Shanna's Pinterest  for tons of style inspiration and and follow her page on Facebook to keep up with her wonderful photographic work.

Cyber Monday Deals at Minted.com

If you haven't ordered your holiday cards yet, now is the time! Minted is offering 15% off AND free shipping on all holiday cards. If you're in the market for stationery gift items or art prints for those stylish friends and relatives of yours EVERYTHING else on the site is 25% off.

If you have a photo in mind for you cards, use the Minted’s Find It Fast function and see your photo in every holiday card design on the site. It makes picking your design much easier (or is it harder when everything looks good?). Use the code CYBER2013 for your holiday card discount.

Not into that "traditional" family holiday card thing? Try a card featuring your favorite furry friend. I hear pets are the new kids. ;)

If your pet wont pose in antlers in real life, they'll be happy to wear them on a card in this Reinpet design.

Don't forget mom, there is a ton of stylish, pretty and modern stationery available too! Use the code MON25 for maximum savings!

Try Chic Stripes or one of the other awesome designs available!

Now at Zazzle: Folded Holiday Photo Cards

For you early birds out there, use the discount code CARDSNPOST13 before midnight October 30th to get 50% off your holiday cards and 10% off custom postage stamps.

I've been in the Christmas spirit for at least a third of the year so far which, while awkward for my spouse, is great news for you! Not only do I have a holiday card collection available at Minted I also have a brand new collection available in the 2birdstone Zazzle shop.


























The 2013 Holiday Card Collection at Minted has LAUNCHED!

While many of you were sitting poolside/seaside/barside with fruity drinks and cold beers many of us "computer artsy" folk huddled up to our screens, sweat dripping down our backs, perched under over-worked ceiling fans attempting to choke down hot cocoa while Burl Ives assailed our ear drums and tortured our spouses/roommates/partners/neighbors. Christmas always comes early for the stationer/illustrator/graphic designer and it's hard to "get in the spirit" but somehow we managed. 

Now that it is nearing the official first day of fall, there is a slight chill in the air, and pumpkin spice lattes are flowing in the 'Bucks -- it's officially time to show off all the hard work and design agony of the past two, four, err ... six months. Let me introduce you to  ::trumpets blasting, angels singing:: Minted's 2013 holiday card collection!!

Exclusively created by Minted's global community of independent designers, this year's batch is better than ever before. With a new assortment, Minted also launches real foil-pressed holiday cards! Your holiday card is sure to sparkle, shine, and standout from the rest with Minted's new, real foil-pressed cards! You can even see the shimmer using their "See It Move" feature.


Here are a few of my personal favorites but you're welcome to browse the many pages of top-notch design and find the "One" for you. 

(Plus, if you click my any of these affiliate links and then make a purchase you'll be well-ahead in the holiday spirit of giving by helping me earn a few bucks! Sounds like a win-win if you ask me.)

























Now for the self-plug and for my moms, here are my new designs for the 2013 season.









If you're just not feeling the holidays yet, fine. Have a gander at the awesome Halloween cards and party invitations. You can even get 15% off if you use the code SPOOKY2013. 

There, feeling better now? Good.

April's First Friday Art Post: Original Prints on Etsy

Welcome to the inaugural First Friday Art Post! The first Friday of each month I'll bring you great art from around the web, kind of like my own little art walk.

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I love printmaking. In college I was lucky enough to take a printmaking class in my last semester where we learned various processes from intaglio etching to lithography to reduction woodcuts. There is something so satisfying about the printmaking process. I love all aspects of the production itself, from the mixing of inks, to setting up a system for perfect registration, to rolling plates through the press. There is nothing quite as satisfying as a drying rack full of prints, drying and waiting to be editioned.

It's no secret that I love art. This has manifested itself in a bit of an art buying habit that I don't see the need to correct (Mr. P may disagree). Etsy is one of my favorite sources for finding original prints at less than bank-breaking prices. I love that the world-wide art community is so accessible via Etsy. I can buy a piece from a local artist or from one half the world away.

Without further ado, let me showcase some of the art prints I've already purchased for myself along with some of the pieces I have my eye on this-very-moment.

Own it ...





(see more waiting to be framed in my flat file cabinet)



 Want it ...




















If you like what you see here, follow me on Etsy for more of my favorite art finds.

Don't forget to back away from the computer once in a while because it's always a great idea to support your local art community. Go to your town or city's First Friday Art Walks, and get to know those making beautiful things right in your own backyard!

Before + After: Garden Bench

This iron and wood garden bench had been living in our garage for who-knows-how-long. I asked our landlord if we could use it and he told me that his wife has forgotten about it and he didn't want her to remember so we could do whatever we wanted with it. Hooray for us!



See the results after the jump ...


The whole thing was loose but the screws were all in place. I began by taking it apart and quickly found the screws holding the iron back piece to the wood were corroded and all but one of them broke right off when I tried to take them apart.

I cleaned up the iron bits with a wire brush and sanded the boards down a bit to smooth them out. After months of deliberation I decided to paint the wood with a blue-grey garden furniture paint/stain and repaint the iron with a fresh coat of gloss black. During reassembly those broken screws came back to haunt me. I didn't have a grinder of my own so I borrowed a friend's cordless Dremmel in attempt to grind the nubs off. That didn't work so I was left with flipping the boards around so there was fresh wood to screw into. Luckily, I doubt the landlord will notice.


Here's the finished product, sadly I only have the one photo as I forgot to take a parting picture before me moved away and left it to welcome the next tenant. Maybe someday I'll snag an old garden bench of my own and try again.