Product Photo Props

Final-Bird-Fudge

Now say that three times – real fast! But seriously, though, there is much to be said for giving some creative time to selecting the props that you use in your product photography. I am fortunate in that I don’t typically need props for my products, other than engaging my pets as models. But what do you do if you really need to “stage” your products to show them at their best?

My first suggestion is to just take a look around you.  You know your product, so look both online and in brick and mortar stores to see how your product type is displayed, and decide which models would serve you best.  Magazines are also a great source of inspiration.

Black-mannequin-DSC02490Great Jewelry Display

For example, do you sell jewelry or clothing?  Would a mannequin like the one above work well for an overall jewelry display?   For individual jewelry pieces, would a beautiful slab of stone, or a piece of tile or wood work as a backdrop for your products?  Look at products sold on Etsy.   Which photos catch your eye and make you want to purchase?  Taking great photos for online selling is essential, but before the product shots you need to gather the props.

Final-White-Fudge-NewRound White Plate, Vase, and Paper Lace Props

My daughter recently asked me to assist with some photography of her food (sweets) that she wants to sell online.  The first thing I did was search for some great props.  What a fun assignment!  I found plates, cups, silverware, and a couple of pretty little dish towels that work beautifully to help show off the fudge and other sweets she wants to sell.  I even used a very small vase and some rosemary twigs from the garden for some of the photo shoots.

Small-Fudge-Honey-400pxWhite Oval Platter and Celtic Honey Jar Props

For one set of photos I used some little vintage children’s blocks with lettering.  Search your home and what you already have on hand, or borrow items from family or friends to use as props.  The photo above has a Celtic design honey jar from Scotland that I have owned for many years.  You can find amazing things at antique shops as photo props; the little bit of nostalgia they provide for photos makes them quite charming!

Final-Food-PropsColorful Food Props

Have fun gathering!

 

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Instagram-Ten Reasons to #Love

Final-Instagram-ProfileAhh…social media.  An absolute must for business owners, and an addiction for others.  My route to social media use was certainly business oriented, and after using different ones now for several years I definitely have my favorites.  I started with a Facebook business page, which seemed like a fairly easy transition from a personal Facebook page.  Twitter came next, although it is actually more difficult for me to write short tweets sometimes than blog posts.  After a friend suggested I try Pinterest I found myself hooked on this social media, although I think of it more as visual bookmarks and don’t find myself engaging in the social media part as much.  Then came Instagram.  My Instagram.  Why had I not explored it further at an earlier date?  I love photography, so this social media just seemed like a very natural fit for me.  It is definitely now ranked as my favorite social media.

Here are ten great reasons to love Instagram:

1.  It actually works as social media.  Meaning that you really can easily engage with other Instagram users.  The Instagram app allows you to quickly scroll through your feed and “heart” user photos you like and leave comments.  It is easy to make friends from around the world!

2.  As with Facebook, you are able to easily read through all comments so that interaction between users is encouraged.  Just type the @ symbol in front of a friend/users name in the comments section of any feed so they are pointed to a particular photo!

3.  Like Twitter, hashtags are used to quickly identify keywords for a photo, or to identify the photo with a particular group.  I have a hashtag that I assign to photos that I want to appear in my Instagram feed on my website.  Very easy to do!

4.  Like Pinterest, the photos are truly amazing – stunning in their beauty.  And while Pinterest boards typically contain photos from many different users/sources, Instagram allows you to focus more on an individual photographer’s work.

5.  Instagram is a photographer’s mecca.  While you may add photos to Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, Instagram was really designed by photographers, for photographers.  So if photography is your thing, this is the social media for you!

6.  No writing required, other than the hashtags.  You can write a brief (or longer) description if you want, and some great Instagrammers do, but you certainly don’t have to.  Writing pressure off!

7.  This social media actually encourages you to LEARN a skill – how to be a better photographer.  With photo editing apps like Mextures, folks share their formulas for their photo filters on Instagram, thereby sharing their techniques.  And often they share a list of the photo editing apps they have used.

8.  How did they do it?  Look at different feeds and try to figure out how a particular photo was created.  Then download some new photo editing apps and try to recreate a photo you see.  I guarantee you will become a better photographer just by doing this!   Also sometimes photos are made available for others to submit their edits to.  Great interactions!!

9.  It is the perfect way to visually display your products for a business.  I use my feed for all my photography, but have seen some businesses beautifully display their goods using their Instagram accounts.

10.  Other services, like Printstagram work with your Instagram photos for printing purposes.  Create business cards, magnets, calendars, posters, t-shirts, and prints for yourself or your business.  Can’t do that with Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.  The folks at Facebook took a look, and purchased Instagram in April 2012!  Smart move.

Crafts and Fairs

Austin-Expo-Booth

Well, the recent Austin Pet Expo I attended is over.  I have been reluctant to attend a big event like this, and I think I now remember why – they are a lot, and I mean a lot, of work!  It was a fun event and I handed out dozens of business cards and met lots of pets and their owners.  I think the best thing about any in-person event is getting to meet folks directly and talk about your products/business.  And you get really great feedback.  People tell you what they do – and don’t – like, and why.  I consider all input good and informative, letting it serve as a basis for possible product refinement and new creations.  One thing I saw at the event was people carrying their small breed dogs in slings, so when I find time that may very well be my next new design!  My best seller at the expo was my new pet idBandanas, which I will be writing more about soon.

One really neat thing I finally was able to use at the pet expo was my Shopify card reader.  I used it on my iPad (after first testing it at home), and it worked beautifully.  Honestly it worked so well that I think I could just sell things from anywhere, just like you see in the commercials.  Perhaps I should carry it, along with my new pet bandanas, in my purse.  Hmmm…

I also know that I don’t want to do a really large event like this again.  I think something much smaller, and even closer to home, would work much better for me.  I would be interested in attending a fair that only requires a 6′ folding table and a couple of chairs, along with a limited number of my smaller products  like bandanas, toys, blankets, and crate mats.  I don’t want to think that all my preparation work and extra things I had to purchase or create for this event will be wasted by not having another event, I just want to keep it smaller and more manageable.  I am certain that there will be at least one local fall craft fair that will suit me perfectly!

That being said, my other decision since the Expo ended is to put my crafts back on Etsy. Etsy admittedly has the greatest global marketplace, and has been the best overall venue for me.  It worked for me prior to blogging, social media, and attending any craft events, and that’s really saying something.  I do still hope that in time my new shop website will replace my Etsy shop, but for now products will be listed in both locations.  I will be spending time the next couple of weeks getting everything re-listed on Etsy, with product descriptions that match those on my new site.  Fall has always been an especially busy time for me as a crafter, and I know that September is sneaking up quickly.

The best comment I received at the Austin Pet Expo-

Your creations take pet products to a whole ‘nother level!

Glad you think so!

 

Shopify vs WordPress-Spanning the Bridge

Final-Whidbey-Bridge-1

As some of you know, I recently moved my sassmuffins.com website to Shopify.  I made the decision to do this so that I could better showcase my pet products.  And while I still think I made the best decision for my business, I can’t say the “switch” has been the smoothest transition.

I have had a self-hosted WordPress account, one that gave me a fair amount of flexibility with my blogging, since the summer of 2012.  As my annual renewal for this self-hosted site was due in March, I rather quickly looked at other options out there to make the best business choice.  After researching the available e-commerce venues, I decided to go with Shopify.   They had a lot of product options I did not have, and were noted for their great customer service.  And, their monthly fees were reasonable for the number of products I would be listing (limit of 100 products).

I also decided that as a short interim solution, I would move my posts to a free WordPress account.  This would give me additional time to work at my own pace on the new Shopify site.  This part actually went rather well, with a couple of very major exceptions.   Apparently 99.9% of people move from a free account to a self-hosted account, not the other way around.  And you can export/import your subscribers from a  free to a self-hosted WordPress account, NOT the other way around.  In fact if you have subscribers via email, you will simply loose them with this transition.  That’s what happened to me; I lost several hundred subscribers.  And those that had me on their feed are not longer seeing me.  Double blow!

The second major issue with moving a blog is that photos don’t actually transfer.  Meaning, they may show up on the new site – but only so long as they are linking back to the old site!  Since my self-hosted WordPress account would be closing, I knew I had to add photos from two years worth of posts into the media files of my new free WordPress account.  Since I rather love photos, this took a great deal of time.  This is also something I need to do over time with my new Shopify account, just in case this free WordPress account is ever closed.

Shopify did take a little time to learn; there are certainly differences from WordPress, but overall the setup and creation are much easier.  I think that is because you are working off of a preselected template, which really helps.  I definitely love the way my products are now showcased, and that I have a cart that is visible within any screen on the site.

So here’s the rub.  If you only want a blog, go with WordPress.  If you want a shop, go with Shopify.  If you want both – well maybe you know of a better solution, but WordPress doesn’t do a good job with products, and Shopify definitely has limitations with a blog.

With Shopify you can’t receive notices of a new post.  Everything within their system is, logically, set up for a ‘customer’ list, not a ‘subscriber’ list.  As such I have signed up with MailChimp (yep more to learn) to be able to send out regular newsletters to those that sign up to receive them on my sassmuffins.com website.  Certainly more effort on my part…create the posts and also a newsletter, although I am looking forward to creating my first one.   And once again a loss of hundreds of post subscribers!  And although there is a  Shopify app ($5 per month) that would automatically download all my WordPress posts to Shopify, to see any comments you are linked back to the WordPress account.  Ridiculous!  You end up with comments on the WordPress site, and other comments (on the same post) on the Shopify site.

My first thought was just to keep the free WordPress account as an archive of older posts, but I have since decided to put all my posts on both sites, manually.   Sometimes I may only put excerpts of full posts on my WordPress account.  This way those that want to  follow my blog may do so via this method; certainly my hope is that most will choose to sign up for the newsletter on my Shopify site.  Certainly folks are welcome to do both!  Either way, I encourage everyone to see my new sassmuffins.com website.  It showcases photography and products beautifully!

Have you found any great solutions to your shop vs blogging issues?

Where’s The Chocolate?

Chocolate-Cookie

My friend at We Live In a Flat had notified me via my Facebook page that something was amiss with my website.  She said, “I went to your home page and it has a bunch of words there that I think shouldn’t be there.”  I took a look at my website both on my laptop computer and via my smart phone, but couldn’t see any problems.  That is until I decided last Friday night that I would also take a look at the site via our desktop computer.

Uh-oh.

There they were, the words that shouldn’t be there, for all the world to see.  Words like Viagra and Cialis, words that have nothing to do with my pet products.   My website had been hacked (but don’t worry, it’s clean now)!

For a moment I felt like I was standing in front of the Lost in Space robot (yes I’m that old).  The accordion limbed metal contraption was wildly swinging it’s arms and yelling danger, danger, just like it did on our 1960’s television set when I was a kid.

Then I did the only reasonable thing I could do in the face of an unforeseen technology disaster –

I searched for chocolate.

After all, it was Valentine’s Day and that is what I was supposed to be doing, right?  Then I did the next most important thing, and phoned IX Web Hosting.  This is the thing I love most about having my WordPress site self-hosted, and that is having a host that’s available 24/7 by phone.  They immediately wrote up a ticket to clean my site and sent it to their security department.

After talking to them I decided my next step was to better educate myself on what had just happened, and to make some suggested changes.   IX Web Hosting  informed me that websites get hacked often (really???), and that typically the “bad guy” gains access through third party plugins or themes that are not secure.  They told me that I could help by making sure WordPress, my themes, and any of my plugins were updated, and that I also needed to go ahead and delete any plugins that were not going to be used.  Don’t just deactivate them, delete them.  And of course I needed to change my passwords.  So I went to work.  Here is an interesting article about WordPress hacks.

I woke up on Saturday morning feeling a little better about everything, until I received a big red warning message from AVG that my site had been compromised.  Now it was not even accessible, and yet my ticket from my web hosting said my site was clean.

Now where did that chocolate go to?

AVG-Warning-Photo

I made another phone call to my host server folks, who assured me my site was clean, but that it had probably been blacklisted by different web security companies (like AVG, Norton, etc.), and they then sent me an email with instructions on how to verify my site through Google so that I would no longer be blacklisted.  I completed the verification portion of those instructions, but the bold red warning still appeared when I tried to access my site.  So I went on another online educational hunt.  This was after, of course, I-

Found more chocolate.

More-Chocolate

And then I found – eureka! – a company designed just for my current technology nightmare.  The company is Sucuri, and they claim to be the de facto standard in website malware monitoring and cleanup.  And they also remove your reputable site from all the blacklisting that happens after your site has been attacked.  I signed up and had a response from them within 4 minutes.  Seriously.  And they continued to amaze me as we worked through the process together.  Although my host had indeed cleaned my site, these guys helped me get removed from the blacklists (yes, that’s plural, as there are about 7 of them).  They also added their own WordPress plugin, Sucuri Security, to my site.  I also chose to add Wordfence, another great (and free) plugin to assist in protecting my site.

Although I was somewhat reluctant to post this article (don’t want anyone not coming to my site…it’s clean), I also want to help any others who happen to be in this unfortunate situation with their website or personal blog, or who want to strengthen their website against attacks.

Now, I wonder what happened to all that chocolate…