the 5 c’s of photo styling with kim ludy of trampoline

As you know, I’m in the early, early stages of setting up my own stationery shop. Even before I needed to take product photos, I started taking photos for Mint, and at first they were not pretty. Over the past year my photography skills have improved a lot (practice!), but I’d like to get better at it since presentation is so important for the exposure and success of your business. To help, I looked for someone who didn’t have a photography background but who excelled at her own product photography. Cue Kim Ludy! Whether you need some photo tips for a shop, a blog, or just for fun, you’ll learn a lot from Kim’s photo styling tips.

Hi there. I’m Kim from Trampoline, an Etsy store where I sell lots of beautiful vintage and antiques and my original art. I have been collecting and “arranging” things for as long as I can remember (the ability to appreciate beauty and good design was passed down from my design savvy mother and danish-style collecting grandmother).

My love for beautiful things has taken me down many career paths, from Visual Fashion Merchandiser to Catering Director and Floral Designer. Now a garden and landscape designer in the summer months, I was looking for a creative outlet to fill the long Northeast winters. So, last January, when a brick and mortar shop proved to be financially out of reach, I decided to open a shop on Etsy. I realized early on that in order to be successful online, I would need to take some really great product photos in order to get the exposure I needed and bring the business as close to an in-person shopping experience as I possibly could.

The first, and most important, thing you can do is to expose yourself to as many online shops, design magazines and photo blogs as you can. Narrow them down to a handful that represent your style, and the style you would like your shop/products to reflect. Study how the designer or shop owner displays his or her merchandise and take mental notes… use them as a sort of study guide, not a copy, for your own shop. I decided early that I wanted to learn to achieve a look that read “fresh”, “clean” and simple. Stay true to yourself and your product, but also recognize what sells. I have summed up the steps I went through in those first few months as a guide for taking better photos. You don’t need formal photography training (I have none), in order to create a really beautiful and attention-getting shop.

Here’s how I achieved the look…. {after the jump}

The Five “C’s” to creating a Beautiful Shop

1. Camera

Even the most expensive camera, under the wrong conditions, will take mediocre pictures. That said, I cannot stress enough… take your photos in filtered NATURAL LIGHT. I take most of my photos in an east facing room in the morning or early afternoon. I’ll wait, intentionally, for a sunny day and take as many shots as I can.

I use a digital SLR camera… an original Canon Digital Rebel with a stock lens. I don’t think you need expensive equipment to get great shots. I have seen some really nice photos taken with simple point and shoot cameras. They key is in the number of pixels and the ability of the camera to zoom in, with clarity, for close up shots. I think a point and shoot camera with a minimum of 6 or 7 mega pixels, a good auto focus and a 4x zoom is fine. A digital SLR with these qualities, plus the ability to adjust settings, even better. Get the best lens you can afford… a 50mm is great for shooting product photos.

If you are a novice and have the ability to adjust your settings, even the most basic digital cameras today do. Set your white balance and ISO to automatic. I take pictures on the largest size setting so that I can crop them later without the worry of distortion. I never, ever, use a flash or attempt to photograph at night.

2. Clarity

One of the biggest turn-offs for me is to look at a blurry product photo. Because our buyers are shopping virtually, and can’t appreciate the tactile qualities of our merchandise, it is absolutely essential to present a picture that is clear and crisp. This isn’t to say that some creative license can’t be taken to play with the graininess or mood of the photo, but at least one close up should be able to communicate the true texture, color and details of a piece.

Some causes of blurriness are low light, camera shake, or focusing too close/far for your camera’s ability. You can sharpen a photo somewhat with post processing software, but you really want to start with the clearest possible shot. Some shop owners will use a tripod to get a steadier shot, but I prefer the flexibility of hand holding the camera.

3. Composition and Crop

This is where your photographic personality can really shine through. One of my goals when I developed my shop was to create vignettes in which I could showcase how a particular object might look in a buyer’s home. Because we are selling online, these vignettes become our shop windows, our table displays.

There is no right or wrong way to compose a photo. It really all depends on what looks good to your own eye. Some people like to feature just one or two objects in the frame, others like the look of a more controlled chaos. My taste falls somewhere in between. I add things with a similar look and feel to the item being sold and then I take things away and edit out as needed, similar to when you design a room. I like to combine some of my vintage and antique things with more modern lighting and furniture pieces to create a nice contrast.  I also always include at least one individual photo of the item for sale.  I treat it as a sort of portrait for the piece.

When cropping or framing the photo, consider shooting from unique angles…. from above, at the same level or off center so only a portion shows. Try highlighting a detail that sets the product apart or that might otherwise go overlooked. If you feel more comfortable taking a more conventional approach, remember that you can also crop later with post processing software. Shoot the same object in different locations and with different props to get the look you want. I can take, on average, 12-14 photos to end up with 4 or 5 I like.

I am fortunate to have a large yard and garden, a few simple furniture pieces and house full of many years worth of collections from which to choose props. But if you don’t, one trick is to use a few staple pieces for staging and other products for sale in your shop as props for the featured item for sale. This cross-marketing is a great way to increase the visibility of your merchandise. Hit tag sales and thrift stores for inexpensive props. Raid your kitchen, bedroom or basement. Pull from items in your home that you are particularly fond of. I find that if you stage your product photos the way you like to decorate your home, it makes things familiar and easy.

4. Color

Color is another very personal aspect of photography. All you have to do is browse through Etsy’s many varied shops to see the way different shop owners use color to achieve their own “look”. I tend to shoot with a more neutral background and just small pops of color here and there. My taste, and many of the things in my shop, leans towards texture and detail, rather than color. But when I do feature color, I like it to take center stage. Using colors from the opposite ends of the color wheel, or color combinations that are slightly “off” is a great way to create a unique look. My current favorite pairings are lavender and red, and turquoise and chartreuse.

It is really important to depict the color of a product in its truest form. Buyers don’t want to be surprised when an item they receive is markedly different from what they saw in your shop. It can be tempting to over or under saturate to achieve a look, but here is the rare occasion when it’s more important to put your creativity aside, and let the product speak for itself.

5. Consistency

One of the nicest things that can happen when I enter someone’s shop is the feeling I get from just being there. It’s how it all comes together… the products, colors, styles… to form the whole atmospheric package. This is a little harder to achieve in an online shop, but not impossible. If you really focus on honing the styles, colors and overall look of your products, the atmosphere that you are trying to achieve is sure to follow. Again, from a personal perspective, I try (though I think it happens naturally) to stay true to my personal style and maintain the look I envisioned from the start… clean, simple, fresh, and current. I veer away from purchasing things that are too far a cry away from ‘the look’, because I know in the long run, it will be harder to merchandise and meld into the shop’s overall appearance.

I try to photograph under the same lighting conditions and to feature some of the same furniture as a backdrop because I feel it creates an air of familiarity in which to feature new pieces. It’s what makes my shop recognizable and is a from of branding in and of itself.  It can be difficult though to maintain this cohesive look without monotony setting in, so I’ll bring in new props, photograph in a different space or throw in something contrasting and against the grain to shake things up a bit. I have a tendency to get a little out of hand on the day of a “shoot”… it takes no time at all for my whole house to get turned upside down (I’m working on this…)

After you have gone through the 5 C’s checklist there’s just one more thing… practice, practice! My shop was ready to go two months before I actually launched it because I wanted to make sure my product shots were just right. I spend a lot of time taking mental pictures and mapping out new ways to style my products… in the morning before I get out of bed, or late at night before I fall asleep. When shopping for the store, I try to buy things with a specific photo shoot in mind.

There is a bit of a learning curve, but even a new photographer can end up with really fantastic photographs. Make the effort to stage your photographs, take as many shots as time allows and be prepared to spend twice that editing the photos afterward for color, clarity and crop. I got the basics down in a few months, but I’m learning more with every new photo shoot. I’m pretty convinced anyone can bring their own sense of style to their shop… now pick up that camera and go make something beautiful!

Thanks for the wonderful tips, Kim! Be sure to visit Trampoline for more inspiration.

77 Responses to “the 5 c’s of photo styling with kim ludy of trampoline”

Nikko Moy

July 6, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Wonderful photos + great blog post. I have something to add to the 5 c’s:

6. A beautifully minimal environment with fantastic white walls (not to mention great taste in furniture and decor- wink).

~Nikko

linsey

July 7, 2009 at 2:17 am

thank you so much for this. i used to sort of ignore the whole “how to take better photos…” articles because i have a point&shoot but the advice here works well for me as too! now off to create and shoot!

kristy

July 7, 2009 at 9:12 am

Thank you for these wonderful and super-useful tips! Beautiful photos indeed!! Congratulations on your style and photographic eye!

.amanda.

July 7, 2009 at 12:06 pm

le sigh. I have hearted so many of your listing, not because I wanted the item, but because your images are so stinking beautiful!

xo to you!

RobbieLee

July 8, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Thank you for posting this! It will prove to be very helpful, I’m sure! The photos were great and the content was very detailed! Thanks again!

Ursula

July 13, 2009 at 2:20 pm

This is so concise and sums up pretty much my learning experience as well from when I had my vintage Etsy shop. Photoshop used to be my nemesis, but now it is my best friend! Great post!

Linda

July 14, 2009 at 10:56 pm

Love that black lamp in the pic under consistency. Just wondering if you could please tell me the name of the lamp, or where you got it from.

Thank you!!

Bess

July 23, 2009 at 8:37 am

Thanks for posting this advice, it is really interesting and thorough. I’m certainly going to start collecting props and experimenting with styling a bit!!

Jamie

July 26, 2009 at 2:44 am

Very nice article! Thank you. I also have a canon digital rebel and I swear that camera can make anything and anyone beautiful! But I love the lighting and the tone of your photos. Very dreamy and pretty.

DesertNana

September 20, 2009 at 11:02 pm

The absolute BEST product photo article or directions I have had the pleasure of reading!
KIM should teach THE CLASS for how to shoot your shop!!
I Thank You so Kindly,
~Hugs
DesertNana

Susan Linnet Cox

November 27, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Hi, I ‘d like to refer to this article on my blog, theinvisiblestylist – it’s such a nice comprehensive article and I’ve long admired the photos on etsy. May I have your permission, and maybe use a photo with credit? thank you.

Mitzi Curi

December 16, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Your tips are exactly what I need to follow right now to improve my photography. I just love setting up vignettes but have had difficulty with lighting and clarity of the photos. I’ll start practicing tonight!

ThiliBlooms

February 8, 2010 at 9:03 am

Thank you so much for this post!!! I`m new at all this.. I just started a blog and soon I`ll open an etsy shop :) and this is SO helpful!! You take beautiful photos! Congrats on all your work! I love it!
Have a wonderful day,
Thili

elfinity

February 26, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Oh wow, thank you so much for this post! I just found it via Modish Biz link.
I’ve been feeling so down and disheartened about my shop, and it was so helpful and encouraging to read this post – there are such good tips here! I especially found the idea of keeping the photos consistent in look and feel very useful.

Patricia

March 5, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Ellie, thank you for featuring Kim here on your blog, and Kim, thank you for the very clear and concise styling and photo tips. I especially am responding to your ideas about color.

Ellie, I haven’t visited for a while, and there have been some amazing changes to your blog. Everything continues to look fantastic. There’s so much great design inspiration and fun stuff to peruse.

Indounik

September 26, 2010 at 7:01 am

In a word: mint. That applies to Kim’s great tips, the beautiful fotos, and, since this is my first visit, your lovely blog. Thanks for sharing the wisdom.

Shannon

September 26, 2010 at 3:40 pm

These are all so true…especially the practice practice practice aspect! If natural lighting, even on the brightest days, isn’t an option (like for myself, I shoot at work and no matter how bright it is outside, it gets filterers out quite a lot by the time it reaches inside the building) one or two inexpensive lamps with OTT 60W bulbs lightly filtered would help enhance the natural lighting. The OTT bulbs are more than good enough. You don’t need expensive day bulbs at all or special lamps!

Rain Harbison

February 2, 2011 at 8:41 pm

This was an awesome article. I can’t wait for tomorrow (when the sun is right) to start taking new photos of my creations. Not only was this informative, but it was very well written and your pictures are excellent. Good job, and thanks!

elizabeth g shelton designsbyegs@hotmail.com designsbyegs@meylah.com

March 18, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Hi, This is truly an informative and interesting article, but, most of all, your photos are so outstanding. I hope someday to look at my shots and feel the way I do when I look at yours. I’m in awe. Thanks. Peace, elizabeth

MyUnionJack

July 12, 2011 at 6:49 am

Great post! I have recently become very interested in food styling and photography, but there is obviously a lot of cross over when shooting product close ups. Thank you for the useful tips.

Emily Jeffords

October 3, 2012 at 4:18 pm

This is so helpful, thank you! I’m going to add a link to this post to this months #blogbrunch twitter discussion if you don’t mind! We’re talking about staging and styling. Your tips are perfect!!

Emily Jeffords
@BeautifulHello

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