Hints for Getting the Lighting Right in Your Etsy Photos

No doubt about it, whether you’re photographing an aging actress or a tea towel on which you’ve embroidered the periodic table, Etsy product photos need good lighting. Without it, your camera simply can’t capture the color and texture of your piece.

Use natural light

You don’t need to start selling your plasma to afford to buy an expensive lighting rig. The fact is, when it comes to photographing the goodies you’ve made for your Etsy shop, natural lighting — even when outside on an overcast day — is best. It’s by far the most flattering light source. In addition, it enables you to capture the colors and texture of your piece.

Avoid the dark

Unless you live with the Inuits and it’s that season when the sun never sets, shooting at night is a bad idea — most notably because simply not much natural light is available.

Instead, you want to photograph during the “golden hours.” No, we’re not recommending that you shoot during reruns of The Golden Girls. We’re encouraging you to use the natural light available in the early morning, right after the sun rises, or near sunset, when the sun is low in the sky. You’ll find the natural light during these periods to be as flattering as 4-inch heels.

Avoid direct sunlight

Direct sunlight can overexpose your photo, washing it out. If you can’t avoid direct sunlight (people in Nevada, we’re talking to you), try diffusing the light — for example, positioning a sheer curtain between the sun and the piece you’re photographing.

[Credit: Photo courtesy of Angela at the Etsy shop TeenyBunny]
Credit: Photo courtesy of Angela at the Etsy shop TeenyBunny

Notice how the diffused light in the second image softens the whole shot.

[Credit: Photo courtesy of Rebecca Lang]
Credit: Photo courtesy of Rebecca Lang

Another option you can try when you can’t avoid direct sunlight is positioning your piece so that the sun is behind it. This technique creates a warm glow around the edges. In this scenario, you may need to use reflectors or, as a last resort, your flash. If you must use your flash, diffuse it to avoid casting harsh shadows on your piece.

How to use reflectors

For the love of all that’s holy, if you can avoid it, don’t use your flash when photographing items for your Etsy shop — unless harsh shadows, glare, reflections, and a generally flat appearance will somehow enhance your item’s salability.

If you simply cannot achieve the necessary exposure without using your flash, consider covering the flash with tracing paper, white facial tissue, or some other sheer material to diffuse it.

Even better, instead of using your flash, you can put reflectors to work. Use white walls or other home-grown reflective items (think white poster board, a hanging bed sheet, or, for a brighter reflection, a mirror) to “bounce” light onto your piece. Notice that the first image, for which a reflector wasn’t used, is darker and a wee bit muddy; its colors just don’t stand out.

[Credit: Photograph courtesy of Allison Strine]
Credit: Photograph courtesy of Allison Strine

In contrast, the face of the angel in the second image pops a bit more, for an overall brighter, happier look.

[Credit: Photograph courtesy of Allison Strine]
Credit: Photograph courtesy of Allison Strine

Especially if you craft wee things — jewelry, personalized guitar picks, pet portraits on grains of rice — you may want to consider using a light tent. A light tent, sometimes called a light box, is a small structure made of transparent white fabric or plastic in which you place your item to photograph it. Light tents can be used with natural light or a simple lighting kit.

Alternatively, you can build your own for a song. Etsy has some helpful hints.

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