Friday, March 28, 2008

How Do I Take My Product Photos? A tutorial.

I frequently receive requests on this topic so I thought I’d take the time to blog about it. I’m no photographer by any stretch, however I do strive for good color and sharp images. Not all my photos are great. In fact, each one is probably flawed by some standards, but I do think each product is accurately represented to the best of my ability.

When I first began photographing products I was more consumed with composition than lighting. Good composition doesn’t mean squat if you can’t see the product. As a result, I’ve eliminated most unnecessary clutter from my photographs and focus (no pun intended) on good, or at least decent, lighting. And never, ever, ever use your camera’s flash!

Natural vs Artificial Lighting
There are two schools of thought on this and I subscribe to both. Natural lighting is normally my preference but I rarely have access to good quality natural light. What I mean is if it’s not slightly diffused morning light (ideal), I’m not interested. Direct, midday, and afternoon natural light is totally unacceptable. Products end up with sharp shadows, a dark side, glare, or a cast of unwanted color (afternoon light). Unless you’re one to crop around the entire product, which I am not, I would avoid direct sunlight from any angle.

Natural Light - Before:

Natural Light - After:

Adjusting to reduce the color shift in afternoon light is far too time consuming since most of my product photos represent the actual item for sale and not a prototype.

Midday light is great if you have a light studio. A light studio is a cube made from thin white fabric held taught by a wire frame and purchased for $50+ online from many different sellers. Or, it can be easily constructed from a large cardboard box with white tissue papers substituting for the white fabric. The purpose of the photo cube is to diffuse that harsh direct sunlight thereby avoiding those harsh shadows created by direct sunlight.

Because I have limited access to natural light and because I live and work on an extremely windy hill, I have invested in an indoor light studio. It sounds much more grandiose than what it actually is. It all began with a small “hillbilly photo cube” (hey, I live in Kentucky!) that I constructed using a cardboard box and tissue paper and 2 desk lamps with (*gasp*) incandescent bulbs.

Knowing this is an unsatisfactory arrangement (the bulbs were all wrong and the light cube too fragile!), I eventually asked for a photo cube and invested in better bulbs. I still use the 2 desk lamps, but you can see from my photos the end result is not half bad.

Hillbilly Photo Cube:

Than you to Marisa of ElegantSnobbery for allowing me to link to her tutorial on "How to Make A light Cube".

Here’s what I use:
- 2 Desklamps with arms (Walmart)
- GE EnergySmart DAYLIGHT bulbs, 100 watt (Walmart or home improvement store)
- Photo Cube
- Props (off-white sketch paper, dictionary, scrabble tiles, etc.)
- Camera

And here's the set-up.

Light bulb:

Click to enlarge this set-up pic:

Here's how I do it:

My digital camera (Olympus Camedia C-765) allows me to use a Macro setting (tulip icon), and I select either ISO 200 or 400. (What is ISO?) The higher the ISO the more light the camera will lens will let in (slower shutter speed). Brighter situations will tolerate a lower ISO setting.

The photo cube allows me to have the front and the top open. I have one desk lamp over the top of the top of the cube shining down over the product (about 10-12 inches above it). The second desk lamp is on the opposite side of the cube and shines through the side of the cube toward the front and side of the product. All other artificial light in the room is normally turned off in order to avoid unwanted glare.

Because I use the macro setting, I can get really close up to the subject. If you don’t have a macro setting, don’t try to get too close and lose focus. I would rather not list an item than list an item with an out of focus photo. The quality of your photos is what helps turn a visitor into a buyer.

Once I have my photos taken (and I normally take about 8 of each item)I pass them through Photoshop for a number of reasons. First, when you’re working with the macro setting every little piece of lint shows up in the photo! So I normally go through the photo and clean up the stray lint specs and smudges on the props being careful to leave the product untouched.

Next, I’ll want to adjust the curves. I do this with just about everything I photograph. What this does is make everything brighter without washing it out. I make a minor adjustment to brighten the image then I adjust the contrast.

Adjusting Curves:

Lastly, I check the levels and make adjustments to the lighter end of things. I want to be sure my whites are white and bright and not grey and dingy looking.

Adjusting Levels - Before:

Adjusting Levels - After:

The end result is true to my eye on my monitor in both color and vibrancy just as the original is in the palm of my hand.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I will answer as best I can.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

How to make a gorgeous scrabble tile pendant with Annie Howes

There are many way to crack a nut, and so there are with creating Scrabble Tile Pendants. Each way has it’s own wonderful benefits. Here I’ll share with you the basics of creating your very own Scrabble tile pendants using two different methods of sealing and coating them.

First, you need the obvious…a Scrabble tile! These can be found all over Ebay and Etsy. And some pretty paper, trimmed to a bit larger than the Scrabble tile.

Next, you need an adhesive. Glamour Seal makes a great and inexpensive non-toxic adhesive that can be used on most paper types, including ink jet prints. It won't smear your ink. Use it as both an adhesive and to seal your paper.

I use a paint brush to apply a nice coat of Glamour Seal. Not too much because I don’t want a goopy mess, but just enough to be sure I have nice and even coverage.

Then I apply a precut square just larger than the Scrabble tile to the surface of the tile, pressing firmly and evenly to ensure no air pockets remain between the paper and tile. If you have a bone folder or similar tool, use it to gently squeeze out any air pockets.

Let the adhesive dry. Once dried, turn the scrabble tile paper-side down and using a sharp X-acto or similar blade, carefully trim the paper from all 4 sides.

Next, using Glamour Seal, apply a thin coat to seal the top and trimmed edges of the paper. Let dry. At this point you may use either the non-toxic Glamour Glaze (water based), or an Epoxy Resin, such as Luxe Resin. If you've heard of Ice Resin, you should try Luxe Resin and save a few dollars. I promise, it's just as nice.

Glamour Glaze, Diamond Glaze and 3D Crystal Lacquer are fun and non-toxic hobby sealants that produce a shiny clear coating on Scrabble Tiles. Because they're both non-toxic no special requirements are needed to protect yourself from harmful fumes. It has a short, fixed drying time that’s not affected by a room’s temperature, but they are affected by humidity. They're inferior products as far as product longevity and durability because they will deteriorate if exposed to even the smallest amount of water, such as rain or other splashing.

Luxe Resin, is a high-quality jewelry-grade resin that is safe to use. Luxe has a preferred temperature range (around 80 degrees) and takes about 24 hours to cure. I cure mine in my glass kiln that I warm briefly before popping them in. Alternatively, you could use a toaster oven as long as you make sure it doesn't get too hot. Jewelry-grade epoxy resin will not yellow with age and won’t be damaged by raindrops or poolside splashing. Just don't soak in water as the wood tile will absorb water.

Depending on the method you use to coat your Scrabble tile, you will either coat with a Glaze and wait the appropriate duration for it to dry, or use an Epoxy Resin.

When using Luxe Resin here are a few helpful tips:
Mix the required minimum amount even if it means waste. Most epoxy resins need a minimum mass for the chemical reaction to take place. It’s better to waste a little resin than to waste hours of time and a heap of Scrabble tiles!

Mix slowly and carefully. Warm your resin so it flows easily. Let it sit for a few minutes prior to applying to the tiles. By letting it sit some of the bubbles will float to the surface and dissipate.

Pour to a new container without scraping the sides and the stir stick. Toss out the stir stick and use a fresh stick. The heavier resin that has clung to the stick and the sides of the mixing cup will contaminate the delicate balance of the mixed resin and cause your pieces to not cure.

I use a craft stick (short popsicle stick) to apply the resin to the tile a drop at a time, gently spreading it to the edges. I find the surface tension helpful in keeping it all in check. I place each tile on a flat surface, such as a 6”x8” smooth ceramic bath tile.

Let each tile “rest” for a couple of minutes to let the bubble surface. Take a torch (one of those grill lighters) and pass it close to the surface of the tile. Be careful not to leave soot on the resin! This is a quick way to remove the bubbles. Use a toothpick to remove remaining bubbles.

To cure, I warm a dedicated toaster oven for about 1 minute then turn it off. I place the ceramic tile that my Scrabble tiles are on into the toaster oven and let it sit for several hours. This helps keep any lint off the tiles and the latent heat speeds the curing time.

Once your Scrabble tile has dried or cured it’s time to create a pendant out of it using one of two methods.

First, using a nail file or a piece of fine grit sand paper, gently smooth the edges of your pendant. This is helpful to remove any adhesive or coating that may have gone astray.

Method 1 is to drill a hole for a jump ring. Using at least a 9mm jump ring, this can be accomplished by drilling a hold through the tile and carefully expanding the jump ring through the hole. This takes practice. I use a bead reamer to gently file away the backside of the tile to slightly enlarge the hole. Insert the jump ring at the front of the tile using jewelry pliers. Gently push forward and your jump ring should slide right through.

The easier and simpler method is to attach a bail to it. The best bails to use are those designed for Dichroic glass pendants. Aanraku is what most artists use and can be found all over the internet, including both of my online shops. Using E6000 glue you can easily bind the bail to the back of the tile.

Click here for a more complete tutorial in PDF format.

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial! I’d love to hear from you and see your lovely works!

All of the supplies to make these gorgeous Scrabble tiles can be found in either of my shops:
Annie Howes Keepsakes and Annie Howes Keepsakes on Etsy

Other projects you might enjoy:

 Glass Pendant Tutorial  Luxe Resin Pendant Tutorial

FAM Spring Fling WINNERS!!!

The FAM Spring Fling has been a real success! We had 50 participants in the last 2 weeks! I want to thank each and every entry for being a part of this Fabulous Spring Fling event! Winners will be contacted within the next week with your unique FAMBucks Codes along with instructions on how to redeem them in participating FAM stores on Etsy.

The following Etsy members are the winners of the 2008 Spring Fling Event!




Thank you again for your participation and for making this Scavenger Hunt such a success and so much fun!!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Etsy Mini... The Basics

So what's this business about an Etsy Mini? What does it do and how do I get one? You can't browse the forum on Etsy without coming across a post by some poor soul asking questions about the Etsy Mini, where to find it, where to put it, and what it does. Relax, I'm here to help!

The Etsy Mini is a widget, which is also probably Greek to some of you, but it's a nifty little javascript or Flash code that can be placed on websites, blogs, or social networking pages to actively display some of the items in your Etsy shop. To see an example of the Etsy Mini, look at the beginning of this post or in the right hand column of this blog and you'll see my Etsy Mini. Click on any image and you go directly to that product in my Etsy store. Nifty, no?

So where do you get your Etsy Mini? It's pretty simple once you've made your first Etsy Mini and it takes only a couple of seconds (internet connection depending!) to create this handy little widget. Follow these steps and you'll be on your way to Etsy Mini Land.

1. Log into Etsy and click on your "My Etsy" button at the top of the page.

2. Scroll down and click on the "Etsy Mini" link located at the bottom of the left column.

3. Select your options. Columns are vertical, rows are horizontal. Select these based on where you plan to use your Etsy Mini.

4. Copy the code that's appropriate for your needs.

Now that was simple!

Is it Spring Yet?

A quick little post to share one of the most beautiful images of the year. This gorgeous photo was taken by my 9 year old daughter. It's a beautiful reminder that winter doesn't last forever. This deep purple crocus blossomed beneath a Weeping Cherry tree in front of our house. The tree suffered frost damage a year ago and the jury is still out on it's survival.

This week I have several artists I want to blog about. I have a cute apron made by AndreaBaker, gorgeous earrings made by PinkFireDesigns, 2 beautiful prints by ElegantSnobbery, another print by HidenSeek which I won by commenting on an awesome blog called The Downtown Boutique, and a gorgeous green bracelet and earring set made by CrystalTrinkets. All of these shops are located on Etsy and I look forward to sharing these great finds with everyone.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

TGIF Friday Sale!

It may still be Thursday, but I've just announced in my store on Etsy a T.G.I.F. sale just for you! Buy any Scrabble Tile pendant and the shipping is on me! That's over 10% savings on a single pendant purchase.

I adore creating these little bits of beauty. Each Scrabble Tile pendant is made from a drawing or from acid free art paper, either Italian or Japanese, and is decoupaged onto a reclaimed Scrabble game piece. I seal the paper before covering with a generous amount of jewelry grade resin which makes them splash proof. I've also encased a small Swarovski crystal flatback embellishment on several of the pendant designs just to make them sparkle!

Each colorful pendant includes a 16" or 18" stainless steel bead chain (optional sterling silver bead chain upgrade is available for purchase separately), and has an attached silver or gold plated bail.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Fabulous Artistic Moms Spring Fling Event! March 10 – March 24, 2008

You know you’re a player! And you’re in luck because we have the game for you! A little Spring Fling Scavenger Hunt promotional game FAM-style, where each of us have hidden a little green frog in one of our Etsy listings, or find the text “famfrog” in the item description. All you need to do is find one of those frogs in five different participating shops, submit your answers to BAMDesigns and you’ll be entered to win one of several FAMtastic prizes! In addition to the FAM Spring Fling Scavenger Hunt, all purchases made through the participating FAM Shops on Etsy (please scroll down for shop links) will automatically be entered in the drawing.


Each participating store has hidden the image of our FAM Frog or the text “famfrogs” in one or more of their listings or listing photos. Find the frog image or text in 5 participating shops and be entered for a chance to win! All purchases made from participating shops during the promotion will also be entered into the drawing.

Send your guesses to: BamDesigns on Etsy and include the following information:

- Your Name
- Your Etsy Username
- The URL to the item where you found the frog!- You need just one frog from 5 different shops!

Drawing will be held on March 26, 2008. The winners will be notified by convo or email. All entrants agree to have their names announced in the Etsy forums and on blogs.


The prizes being awarded are FAM Bucks which are coupons used in participating FAM stores on Etsy. FAM Bucks are codes that entitle the bearer to receive discounts in participating FAM stores. FAM Bucks allow the winner to choose their prize from participating FAM stores!

Grand Prize: $50
Runner Up (x3): $20
Honorable Mention (x19): $10

Participating FAM Spring Fling shops on Etsy:


Sunday, March 2, 2008

BellaJean on Etsy

I love coming across fun items for my 9 year old daughter. Among those fun and cute items are these absolutely charming fabric button ponies from BellaJean on Etsy. I was extremely fortunate to have picked these up not too long ago playing a Saturday Night game on Etsy where sellers may choose to give away one of their products at insanely inexpensive prices.

Bellajean's shop is chock full of colorful cuteness. Apart from the ponies, the store is filled with handmade earrings, bobbies, clips, and a few postcards with a nostalgic feel. It's a cute shop and another fantastic find on Etsy!