It is time for the next Community Critique! Last month I focused on how creating a cohesive visual brand through your logo and identity can make a huge difference for your business. This month we are zeroing in on investing time to create amazing photographs and showcase your handcrafted works. Natalie of Re-Wood Toys wrote in to share some great insight for Jus Shar Designs and to ask for help with her shop…
When it comes to handmade products for children, especially handmade toys, communicating quality through your photos is key to making your customer feel safe enough to shop with you. Although your product might be lovingly handcrafted if your photos don’t show equal attention to detail you’ve lost at least half of your potential market after the first click.
Before you pick up the camera and start clicking away ask yourself:
What story are you trying to communicate to your market?
In Natalie’s case we’re going to assume that the story she wants to be telling is one about the joys of a natural childhood filled with handmade toys crafted with love and care. Here is an example of an image that captures this story perfectly:
The current Re-Wood Toys photos are not communicating any part of this story loud and clear, so no matter how awesome the logo or font choices, customers are going to be confused by the messages they are getting. Imagine yourself as a potential customer…a new mom, totally overwhelmed by the amount of things to buy for your baby. You’ve read lots of things about natural parenting but you don’t really know what you need. This buyer is skittish-she’s going to click into your site and out again in two seconds if you don’t give her some reassurance. As the retailer you want to find a way to relieve her fears by telling her through your photos first that your products are safe, well made, and can fit into her life. This scenario works equally well if you switch out the new mom for anxious grandparents, discerning dads, etc…
So how do you make your photos tell a story and speak to your market?
1. Get to know your market & their style
If you are selling punky wooden skull teething toys to offbeat indie parents you are going to have a different style/story than if you are marketing cheerful, gentle toys to natural parents. The first product might require a dark palette, gritty backdrops like a graffiti filled urban wall, or lifestyle shots of tattooed mamas. For Re-Wood that story wouldn’t fit but the current photos in the shop aren’t really telling us anything about their market or style! If we go on our assumption that we’re seeking parents interested in natural play for their littles we can get an idea of their style by looking at magazines, blogs, and other shops that cater to that market. Some ideas for places you could look to for inspiration are: Pure Green Magazine, SouleMama & Taproot Magazine, Sweet Paul magazine (especially notice the beautiful way Paul styles his children’s pictures!)…Hey OMHG’ers share your suggestions for Natalie to go seeking natural parenting photo inspiration in the comments!
2. Paint a picture you can step into
In any discussion about good photography you’ll hear lighting repeated like a mantra. While good lighting is vital the best lit shot can’t prettify a badly conceived image. A great product photo tells the story of your product in a way that lets your customer envision it in their lives. The best of photos invoke an emotional response that connect us to the product and make us want to know more like the sweet example above. I want to see Re-Wood photos that show the toys being used by littles of different sizes; close ups of chubby wee hands holding tight to them in a softly lit room, siblings having a quiet moment of play in a window nook, a babe waving a toy while laying in a sweetly styled crib. These are the kind of images that will engage not just shoppers but editors (ahem, like me). In order to position your shop for press and features you need to give us a picture we can invite readers to step into and weave a story around.
Sheer adorableness from new Etsy seller woodlandtale-I predict only good things for Kate & her shop!
3. Styling is everything
Take a couple of hours to look through the shops that regularly make it to the front page on Etsy, that have over 1000 sales, or are always being featured by editors. What is it about their shops that stand out? It isn’t just their branding because plenty of successful shops have underdeveloped brands. Almost all of them have created a narrative through their pictures that invites us to explore and want to own a little bit of their awesome. They have managed to capture their products in a way that makes us want to have them for our own.They do this by styling their pictures in such a way that they tell a story and tie into the overall aesthetics of their work. Since the Re-Wood toys don’t have colour to add visual interest this needs to be done through styling.
4. Mix it up!
You want to keep a consistent style for your shop but you also want to offer your potential customers and editors variety to choose from. It is a tricky balance and Nihama absolutely nails this in her Etsy shop! Though she has a lot of listings there are only a few products-her shop is made interesting through her use of excellent lighting, colour, angles, sweet little hands, and props. Look at how she manages to give a fresh look to the same product in the four pictures above with very little actual changes to the background. Bravo Nihama!
Here are my suggestions for Natalie to take these ideas and work them into a product photo strategy for Re-Wood Toys:
1. Improving your product photography is a process of learning, failing, and learning some more. If you commit to working on it and improving a bit at a time you’ll be amazed at how you will begin to fall even more in love with your own work. It feels good to polish up something rough and make it shine! Take some time before you get started to read your camera manual and brush up on the basics of good photography (Etsy has some great resources to get your started).
2. Set a budget for beefing up your photographs! Your budget will dictate how much you can do right now-you might only be able to set aside enough to create some new backdrops or you may be able to invest in a new camera or photographer. Remember when you are budgeting to consider how investing in this vital piece of your business will lead to sales, press, and return customers if executed well. If the photos are only marginally improved you will see less profit than a drastic improvement so budget accordingly!
3. Make an inventory of your current products and list them in order of your top selling items. Choose your top 5 products as a starting point-you can work through the rest after you have a good foundation. These are going to be your five shining stars!
4. Make physical vision or Pinterest boards for each item-be sure to look for lifestyle and product images to help you gather ideas for styling your own products. Take note of the way each photo is lit and the elements that draw your eye.
5. Brainstorm detailed photo styling ideas for each product and a list of props, models, or needs for each photograph. You are going to plan at least one lifestyle shot and one product focused shop for each listing. For example: your lifestyle styling plan for this teething necklace could be a mama & baby snuggled into a cozy rocking chair with a little hand reaching out to grasp it. Your product shot could feature the necklace against a pretty blue paper backdrop with puffy white wool clouds.
6. Set photo shoot dates and plan for them! Make sure you have your props made, your models organized, your camera ready & your batteries charged. Plan for success by having the day clear of other responsibilities so you can play with taking your photos. Here are a few extra tips for capturing great images:
- Be sure to notice your light sources and plan for shooting your pictures when the light is the best. This can be especially hard during Canadian winters!
- NO HANDS! Pretty pretty please. Unless you are modelling jewellery, showing a process shot of the maker at work, or in your case have a small bebe hand for cute factor, there should be no hands in your product photos.
- Take A LOT of pictures. Don’t just grab a couple of shots and call it a day. When I photograph anything I take between 20-30+ pictures of every shot from multiple angles. Get in close, shoot it from above, zoom in, zoom out, have fun! You can always edit them afterwards. I usually keep my computer close by so I can dump the images if my camera fills up.
7. Practice, practice, practice. If you continue to push yourself to craft your photos with the same love you put into crafting your products you will improve by leaps and bounds. My first product photos are never leaving the archives of awful but I promise you that everything I have learned was through doing it over and over again.
If you just can’t muster ANY enthusiasm for all this photography goodness then I strongly urge you to shop around for a professional to help you rework your first 5 product photos. Product photography is often quite reasonable and since you will be able to use the photos for your shop, banner, and promotional materials, it would be an excellent place to invest. Once you start to see your sales improve you can reinvest some of your profit into having another 5 products photographed for you. I would still suggest even if you go this route, to do the above pieces of making vision boards, planning photo styling, and crafting a plan for your photographer. The point of all this exploration is to get clearer on your style not theirs!
Now it is your turn friends!
This post took me forever so for December I am giving myself more time to percolate and plan! So submissions for the next Community Critiques close on Monday, December 10th with the next post published the last week of December.
Ready, set, community support engage! Share your ideas & critiques for Natalie in the comments + your experiences developing a photo strategy for your products. Nothing is better than learning from others!