Small Subjects - Great Photos
On the Internet, great photos sell products – without them items may languish without so much as a peek from a potential customer. Your photos should reflect pride in your site and the items you offer. Attractive photos signal that you mean business, literally. They should engage the viewer, enticing them to look further, to read the description, and then hit the "Purchase Now" button. The good news is that you don't have to be a professional photographer to take photos with pizzazz. Just follow a few simple rules of composition, invest in a few inexpensive items to create the right set-up and lighting, and you will be on your way to better photos in a "click" of your shutter button.
Make sure the item is presentable. If a thorough cleaning is required, take the time to do it. Plan to photograph the item so that potential buyers can "get to know it well." Remember that potential buyers cannot see, feel or touch the item in person! Plan to photograph every angle including the back stamps, marks and signatures, as well as any damage that is present; no matter how small; and/or any special features such as a special clasp on a piece of jewelry. The more visual "information," the better!
Remember that the item is the subject. A busy and colorful background is not a good choice because it tends to overwhelm the viewer, and actually detracts from the subject. When you first start taking photos of small subjects such as jewelry or small collectibles, it is best to stick with neutral background colors – white, black or blue. A good rule to remember is: a light item on a dark background and a dark item on a light background.
COMPOSITION GUIDELINE ONE:
Once you are comfortable with the above concepts, you can begin to compose photos by adding different elements to the picture, keeping in mind that a good photo will emphasize its subject and give it substantially more visual weight than the other elements in the photo. Take the time to experiment with different background materials such as textured fabrics or stone tiles. Add interest by introducing natural elements rich in patterns and neutral colors such as seashells, driftwood or riverbed stones. Keep the composition simple, but strong. You want visual "relationships" between elements – not clutter. The idea is to communicate an idea or feeling, thus placing a greater emphasis on the subject in the viewer's mind.
COMPOSITION GUIDELINE TWO:
Manipulate the Subject – the Rule of Thirds: Imagine that lines are drawn dividing your image into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Place important elements of your composition where these lines intersect. In other words, rarely is a subject presented at its best advantage dead center of the photograph. Experiment by taking a number of photos of the same subject, then shifting the elements around and/or changing the angle or level of the camera lens. Choose a vantage point that suits the subject. For small objects, it is best to get in as close to the subject as possible, which is rarely from a full standing position.
COMPOSITION GUIDELINE THREE:
Fill the Frame. What you don't want are huge areas of wasted space around a subject. The item will get lost and the viewer certainly won't be interested in something they can't see. If your camera has an optical zoom, use it. Also, make use of the crop tool to remove excess background. Most digital cameras and photo software programs have a crop feature.
The best light is soft morning light or light on an overcast day. In contrast, bright sunlight will wash out a photograph just like the flash on your camera does. Of course, taking photos outside is not always an option, so there are several different, inexpensive setups you can make yourself to create professional looking photographs with just the right lighting. What you want is diffused light or reflective light, which can be achieved in a couple of different ways:
STUDIO SET-UP ONE:
The first and easiest method is simply to place the item inside a common white plastic file box that is set on its front side with the opening facing you. The box should be located next to a window with bright sunlight, or you can use three inexpensive flood lamps: one placed above the box (500 watts) and one on each side (250 watts). This will give you a sharp photograph with few if any shadows.
STUDIO SET-UP TWO:
Another set up which will give you great jewelry photographs, is called a "drop shadow box" set up. This box is constructed from either standard lumber, or cardboard. The box is in the shape of a shadow box, with the front and top cut away. It should have a 3' by 3' shooting surface and sit on something 3' off the ground. The overhang or top of the box is made of a foam core. The shooting surface is medium gray art paper attached to the top back of the box (with clothes pins) to create a "ramp", which creates the "drop shadow" gradient effect in your photo's background. Position the floodlights as indicated in the first set up, with the center light at least 6' off the ground. To diffuse the light, clip opaque plastic sheets over the lamps. Position the camera in front of the shooting surface on an adjustable tripod, and you are ready to go!
A FEW ADDITIONAL DO'S AND DON'TS:
Never, ever use a wrinkled or stained background material. (Sounds obvious, but we've seen them used!) And for best photo quality, always take the largest size pixel photos you can, as you can always crop and resize your photos smaller later if you choose.
Be sure to take the time to get really friendly with your photo editing software. With most software you can take a good photo – and turn it into a great photo.
It takes practice. Try different set ups, different light situations and different elements, and before long you will be taking great photos.
Last Updated: April 20, 2012