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Crafts: For art's sake, take great pictures of it

Today's artists and crafters use the Internet not only to promote themselves, but to sell their wares. Good-quality images sell a product; inferior images don't.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Today's artists and crafters use the Internet not only to promote themselves, but to sell their wares. Good-quality images sell a product; inferior images don't.

So it makes business sense to learn a few tricks of the photographic trade.

Whether your subject is curios or objets d'art, look for the best natural light and a simple background before launching into a photo shoot, advises Me Ra Koh, a Takoma, Wash., photographer and author of "Your Baby in Pictures" (Amphoto Books, 2011).

"Get everything out of the background that doesn't enhance the story you're trying to tell," says Koh. "It only takes a second to move a pop can for a photo that's going to last a lifetime."

And ditch your automatic flash, which creates harsh lighting.

"The built-in flash is evil," says Koh. "It's never going to be a flattering shot."

If you're photographing your wares inside, put your back to a window, with the photo subject facing the outdoor light.

Outside, skip the picturesque park in favor of the parking lot.

"Grass sucks up sunlight. It bounces green," says Koh. "We end up looking darker in the photo than what we actually see."

The gray tones of gravel and cement, on the other hand, provide a neutral color that bounces up flattering light and fills in shadows on artwork.

William Dohman, who sells wooden signs and scenic images at his store, Oh Dier, at the online marketplace, is an architect and self-taught photographer who plans each photo shoot in his St. Paul, Minn., studio. Dohman likes to photograph his products in front of old buildings, which imbue his images with texture and color.

But don't overuse those backgrounds, he warns; it can look busy.

Heidi Adnum begins with lighting in her book, "The Crafter's Guide to Taking Great Photos" (Interweave Books, 2011). She, too, recommends natural, diffused light for product shoots, and urges crafters to learn how to work with it.

"We just see light as light until we start to understand it better," says Adnum, of Newcastle, Australia.

Other tips from her book:

— Shoot outside on a cloudy day. Shade provides naturally diffused light.

— Inside, use a light tent - a box that acts as a mini-studio -- if shooting near a window is not possible. Crafters can make their own.

— If you must use artificial light, go for cheap, household lamps such as a desk lamp with an adjustable head. Make sure the bulb is white and that you diffuse the light. To diffuse light, use sheer white parchment paper or a white shower curtain.

Emily Free Wilson, a ceramics artist in Helena, Mont., needs to take professional-quality images of her colorful vases and dinnerware to post on her website, Free Ceramics, and at an Etsy shop of the same name. She thinks it was the quality of her images that landed her pottery on the cover of a recent issue of Ceramics Monthly magazine.

Her secret weapon? A white-to-black gradation backdrop that creates an optical illusion: white in the foreground and black in the background. It adds depth to an image.

"The artwork has a stronger presence, like it's on stage," says Wilson. "It's a really nice little trick."

If a photo needs help, Photoshop can come to the rescue. But experts caution against relying on the software to turn an average image into a dazzler.

For Koh, it's a time issue: She'd rather take the time to set up a great shot than clean it up later. "Good photographs don't need . to be saturated with 'what I did in Photoshop'," Koh says.

Adnum recommends using Photoshop to crop out distractions, or add graphics or text - especially handy for describing products on Etsy - but that's it.

"If you're selling an item based on a photograph, and your photograph makes your item look different, there's a risk (the buyer) will be disappointed," she says. "Ultimately, I think you want to keep your photograph as simple as possible, and convey the messages that you want to and show your product in its best light."

If Photoshop is necessary, Adnum's book includes a chapter on some basics. There are Photoshop tutorials online and companies that offer online classes.

These photographic and editing techniques serve a new era: that of passing images not hand-by-hand but via the Internet.

"Everyone has a 'share' button," says Jodi Friedman, of West Bloomfield, Mich., whose MCP Actions sells Photoshop shortcuts online. It's worth it these days to learn how to take better pictures, she says: "The whole world sees them."