If you're sick of the sight of your craft photos, don't fret: there are ways to reinvigorate them. Today we're going to talk about five things you can do that are simple and achievable at home without expensive equipment. Yes, you'll have to re‑shoot, and that takes time and effort, but I promise it will be worth it.
1. Improve the Light
It can't be said often enough that the best way to improve photos is to improve the quality of light.
Light is improved when it is softened. Hard light causes harsh shadows, but it can be turned into soft light and gentle shadows by diffusion. Diffusion makes the light source appear larger, and a larger light source will always be softer and more flattering than a smaller one.
Examples of hard light include direct sunlight and on-camera flash. Clouds are natural diffusers of sunlight, and you can also diffuse direct sunlight by using semi‑transparent white paper or fabric adhered to a window or placed between your setting and the light source.
If you'd like to learn more about working with window light, take a look at this previous tutorial. In the examples below I compare the effect of soft and hard light.
The light source was sunlight diffused by cloud cover. The shadows are soft and subtle, and the background is rich and acts as a great platform to showcase the necklace.
The light source was direct sunlight. The shadows are dark and harsh and the background is bleached. In the previous example, the markings on the chalkboard were faint and contributed to a slightly textured background that didn't overwhelm the necklace. Here, the markings are highlighted by the sun and have become a messy distraction.
2. Try a New Camera Mode
You should see benefits by switching from automatic mode to a preset camera mode, then from a preset mode to a semi-automatic, and then finally from a semi‑automatic mode to manual mode.
For example, moving from automatic mode to macro mode can improve close-up composition; moving from landscape mode to aperture priority (usually expressed as Av or A) can help you achieve a blurred background (depth of field); and moving from aperture priority to manual mode gives you the freedom of selecting any settings you like to allow as much light as possible into the camera.
Practicing using non-automatic modes will often mean more time spent without using on-camera flash. (Automatic and some preset camera modes usually don’t allow the flash to be turned off.) This is the best way to learn about the different camera settings that affect exposure—aperture, shutter and ISO—and you should start to see the different effects they each have on your photos.
If you’re shooting in low light and absolutely need to use on-camera flash, it can be softened with a diffuser (by using white paper or plastic) but it may still be a relatively small, directional and hard light source.
In the examples below I’ve compared manual mode (where I have complete control over the camera’s basic settings) to full automatic mode (where I have no control over those settings, including the pop-up flash) in the same light conditions.
With more control over how much soft light enters the lens, it’s possible to show fine detail and create a more sumptuous looking photo.
With less control, and the forced use of on-camera flash, some details are lost in the reflection and high-shine effect of the flash. Once again, the harsh light washes out the background, which in no way aligns with the quality and beauty of the necklace.
3. Simplify and Declutter
Freshen up your photos by removing some information. If you’ve been using props, remove them and place the focus entirely on your craft. Behind the scenes, use handy and inexpensive cleaning tools to remove any dust, threads or other unnecessary and distracting information from the scene. A lint remover/roller and lens cleaner are two useful items to have in your bag.
I love coloured backgrounds —they can be very effective and fun to work with, especially if they match the tones in your craft or of your brand—but if your craft is already full of detail and colour, like this necklace, a coloured background may be too much. The extra information (colour) clutters up your photo and acts as a distraction. Below is an example of a neutral background (a soft black) versus a brightly coloured background that just doesn't work with this necklace.
The soft black background (chalkboard) lets the details of the necklace stand out.
The purple background (card) is quite jarring and doesn't suit the necklace.
4. Use a Reflector
The simple addition of a piece of white card on the opposite side of the light source can brighten up a photo. It’s especially helpful if you just want to even out the exposure of a scene or gently highlight the side of your craft opposite the light source. In the examples below, neither is right or wrong—they're just different.
Slightly darker on camera left, which is the side opposite the light source.
More balanced exposure on both sides as the light bounces off the reflector (held on camera left, opposite the light source) and onto that side of the scene.
5. Show Scale
As online shoppers, we know how beneficial it is to see how small or large an object is. It helps us to make the decision about whether it's right or wrong for our needs, and then whether to purchase.
Sure, we can work it out using the measurements that the maker provides in the product description, but it’s easier to imagine if we can actually see it worn. There are some situations for which it’s necessary, for example, clothing and jewellery for sale online, and it’s also really helpful to see the scale of certain projects on blogs before we attempt to DIY.
Grouping products can help to show scale, but the best way to show scale for wearable crafts is to use a model. Your model needs to look comfortable wearing your craft. Keep the distractions to a minimum to maintain focus on your craft.
Below, the necklace isn't touched by clothing or hair—this is deliberate to ensure we focus on the essential information: how beautiful it looks and what size it is.
Now, Start Shooting!
Take some of these ideas and schedule time to plan new photos. Enlist a friend to model, and practice using your camera until you know it back-to-front. Come back when you're done and tell us how you got on. Good luck!
Beaded necklace by Ayala Bar. Thank you to Erin, my friend, for modelling.