Struggling with composition? Stuck for ideas? Tried everything but nothing's working? If you're having trouble taking photographs of your craft, maybe it's time to go back to the basics of composition: orientation, framing, and perspective, along with detail and background selection. I've got these covered in today's tutorial.
1. Consider Orientation
How do you plan to use your photos? The final destination for your photos, such as your online shop or blog, should influence their composition. Orientation, (whether the photo is taken in portrait/vertical layout or landscape/horizontal layout) is an important element of composition.
For example, if you’re selling on Etsy, the orientation for the headline (or thumbnail) photo on the homepage is currently landscape/horizontal. So if the photo you use for the headline image is in portrait orientation, it will be cropped to a landscape image for the homepage thumbnail. This may result in some of your product being out of frame in the thumbnail version.
For Etsy sellers, adding and displaying your first/headline photo will be more straightforward if it was shot in landscape orientation. Changes to your photo in the thumbnail format will be most obvious if the photo was uploaded in portrait orientation. It is possible to turn an image from portrait to landscape orientation in post-production by using the crop tool, but you may find that there’s not enough room on the sides of the image to keep all of your craft in the frame.
2. Frame the Photo
It’s important to treat the viewfinder or LCD screen on your camera as if it were a frame around your photo. When you look at the setting, adjust your position and/or the position of the lens until you’ve filled it with meaningful information. You may need to adjust the position of your craft and/or zoom in until unimportant and distracting information is removed and the focus is on your craft.
Composition Without Framing
Here’s an example of a photo that’s poorly framed. It's too wide, shows the sides of the box and the dark background, and will have to be cropped down to size in post-production.
Composition With Framing
In comparison, this photo is framed more tightly and neatly to remove the edges of the box and the dark background. This was achieved by moving the camera slightly closer to the earrings and zooming in the lens. It doesn’t require any cropping or re‑framing in post-production.
3. Experiment With Perspective
When thinking about perspective in composition, there are lots of options—you can try just about any angle you can think of.
My first tip is to keep the perspective of your viewer, who may be your customer. Think about how they would look at it if they were to see it in a shop.
My second tip is always to flatter your craft. Let's say your craft is handmade earrings and you're using a model; it would be unflattering (to both the model and your craft) to shoot from a perspective below the face and angle the lens up towards the chin, nose and ears. To get started, try straight on and side on.
Composition from straight on shows the front of an object at the level of the object. If the object is flat, or if the detail is mainly found at the top, straight-on composition can also be achieved from directly above the object. The best place to start is by focusing the lens on the middle of the object.
Straight-on composition with central focus is also the way to accurately show the shape of large or symmetrical objects, such as quilts, frames and furniture. It’s also a great way to keep consistent focus with more than one object, as they’re both/all positioned at the same level.
Shooting from side on shows your craft in more depth and can convey more detail. Adjust the angle to show more or less of your craft.
Side-on composition is a great technique for larger objects like furniture, and for flat objects such as stationery and jewellery. When combined with soft lighting, side on is another way to show fine detail and features.
Side-on composition of more than one object will usually result in one object being in sharp focus and the other/s blurred. Learn a little more about depth of field and how to maintain focus in this Tuts+ tutorial.
In the example below, the lens was pointed towards the soft light source (shade); this is how to keep the object(s) at the back of the frame well-lit, even if they are deliberately blurred.
4. Get Up Close
The details of your craft, such as the weave or print of fabric, contrast stitching, or the softness of knitwear, are bound to be beautiful and most appealing to customers. Getting close to your craft to show fine detail not only attracts the customer but also offers them information on materials and quality, and can reassure them about an online purchase of an object "unseen".
To shoot up close to your craft, get as close to it as your camera will allow before losing focus. Try macro mode and the zoom feature, too, and if you need more stability, use the timer or a tripod. If you can’t get as close as you’d like with your camera—it’s vital to keep the shot in focus and sharp—just get as close as possible, and crop down the image later in post-production.
5. Try a New Background
Background selection is important. It can convey mood and brand aesthetic, so what you choose needs to match the look and feel of your craft.
A soft, white, neutral background is popular because it is extremely versatile for display in online shops, blogs and press features. It doesn’t detract or distract from the object in any way, that is, by colour, texture or other detail. So, as usual, that is the best place to start.
If you’d like to try something new, there are plenty of backgrounds to choose from. Just be sure to pick one that suits your craft and brand. Aged wood is shown above, and fabric and chalkboard are shown below. You can see a host more in my tutorial 10 Great Backgrounds for Beautiful Craft Photography.
Now, Start Shooting!
Why not take your craft and camera and walk through these steps, one by one? You might be pleased with the results. Good luck!
Handwoven earrings by ThreeFiveEightyFive.