Product Photo Props

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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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Where’s The Chocolate?

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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…

Photography for Etsy

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I have been asked before about how I take photos for my Etsy product listings, so I thought I would take you through my process step-by-step.  One of the things that makes Etsy such a great community is the willingness of sellers there to help each other out!  Hopefully you will find some useful information within this post/video, even if you are not on Etsy.  Also be sure to do a search in the Etsy Seller Handbook for some super photography tips, and if you are into photography via your smart phone, my friend at “We Live in a Flat” has some fantastic phone app tutorials!

To start, I use my Sony Nex C-3 digital camera, along with Photoshop (older vs CS2) for my product listing photos.  Although I definitely love my iPhone with it’s apps, I find I get the best detail work from my Sony camera.  One of the best things I did after getting my digital camera/Photoshop was buy a couple of good photography books.  My favorite is “Photoshop CS4 Workflow” by Tim Grey.  Although it was for a newer version of Photoshop, it taught me the basics about keeping my photos organized and saved for later use.  After reading this book a couple of times, I developed a quick “cheat sheet” for editing/saving my photos.  Although I no longer need that list, it was indispensable when I first set up my Etsy shop!

Here are the steps I use when creating my Etsy product listings, with a video of the full process.  With photographing pets I will say that I always take photos with good daylight (windows at my back) and never, ever use flash.  I take most photos on my bedspread because it is an off-white matelasse fabric which gives a nice white background to start.  Taking photos when pets are most cooperative (i.e. not too close to dinner time) is also a good idea!  And be sure to take LOTS of photos; you can always discard the ones you don’t want to keep.

1.  Make a copy of chosen original photo and move to my desktop (this way my true original is always intact).

2. Open File>Save As, and rename photo “Master [Photo Name].”, then save to Photoshop (psd) format.  Notice that photo is renamed in top left-hand corner.

3.  Go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels.  Click ok to leave layer settings as is.  Using the little triangles on the graph adjust by dragging triangles to “match” graph, and click ok.  In this case I needed to pull the small right-hand triangle in toward center of the graph, which made the photo much lighter.  This small step will do WONDERS for most photographs, which are usually too dark.

4.  Go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Brightness/Contrast, click ok for layer settings, and adjust to your liking.  I usually increase the contrast and brighten the photo slightly more.  Just be sure the photo doesn’t get washed out.

5.  Repeat Go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer with Hue/Saturation and Color Balance to your liking.  Increasing the yellow slightly in the Color Balance section will warm up your photos if you think they are too “blue”.  In more recent versions of Photoshop I believe you can do all these adjustments via bar sliders on your screen, but this is how I have to do it with my older Photoshop version.

6.  Now within my Layers Panel I click the icon to ‘Create a New Layer’.  Rename this layer “Dodge”.  From the left hand Tool box select “Brush Tool”.  Leave the brush settings as is, with Normal mode and 100% Opacity.  From the color picker change the color to White.  You will use your computer keyboard bracket symbols to increase and decrease the size of the brush tool.  What you are going to do now is white out any unnecessary background in your photo, which will give a very polished, professional look to your listings.

7.  I complete a quick overview of the photo for any small corrections needed.  With the Background layer highlighted, select the clone stamp tool from the tools menu, then hit ‘Alt’ on your keyboard and click your mouse once in the area you want to copy the pixels from, then click once with the mouse to the area you want to paste pixels into.  Repeat as needed.

8.  Do a final save on your fully edited Photoshop master, then go to Image>Duplicate to duplicate the image.

9.  Crop the image to 850 px wide by 550 px tall (160 resolution) for Etsy (cropping as you choose), then go to Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask and sharpen about 100%.  Leave “Preview” checked to see your changes.

10.  Save for Web, noting the image size in bottom left-hand corner of your screen (try to keep at 100 K or smaller).  Change name of file to “Final [Photo Name]”.  Image will be saved as a JPEG.  It is this cropped/sharpened image that will be used on your Etsy listing.  Your original Master photo will remain intact with Photoshop edits in case you want to crop to a different size/resolution later, for example if you want to produce your photo as a print.

Hope this helps and if you have questions, please ask in comments!

Alphabet News

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Recently I purchased some great Japanese alphabet fabric.  It’s a very nice black & white print, and I will be using it as an option for adding a pet’s name to the surface of my pet beds.  This was my first request for a custom pet name using this fabric, and I think it turned out very nice.  It has a kind of Anthropologie look to it, don’t you think?

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Color Inspiration

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Design Seeds “Puppy Tints”

As we head towards a new year and new beginnings, I wanted to introduce you to a (new to me) design site for pure color inspiration!  It is called Design Seeds, and I actually came across it via Pinterest.

At first, and probably like many, I thought that the color swatches beautifully matched with photography were paint color cards.  Instead, they are the creation of designer Jessica, who states that her color cards “are a modern interpretation of her original color journals.”  I think they are just brilliant!  And I suppose that if you wanted paint colors to match, you could easily take one of these color cards to your local store, choose your paint brand, and have the color “matched” that way.  I think these little bits of color inspiration could be used in SO many ways throughout the home, garden, and for craft creations.  I have certainly used photographs before to pull colors to create my pet products.  Here are some beautiful samples of Jessica’s color swatches.

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 Feathered Hues
BerriedPalette
 Berried Palette

FloweredPalette

 Flowered Palette

ColorFresh_2

 Color Fresh

Visit Design Seeds to see all the many beautiful color palettes.  You can search by both color value and by theme.  And the “Fresh Hues” link on the site takes you to the blog for even more color inspiration.  Here’s to a colorful start to the New Year!