5 Ways to Improve Your Product Photography on a Budget

By Mary Savel

I am a leatherworker (and multi-passionate crafter: knitting, crocheting, sewing, embroidery, you name it, I love making it!) who has been selling my leathergoods and crafts online since 2008 and if there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years, it’s that you MUST have great photos of your handmade crafts if you want to successfully sell your work online.

Great product photos are the number one way for you to ensure that your customer is drawn to your products. Having great photos are so important, especially with online selling, because your customer can’t see or feel your product in person. So the job of getting your customer’s initial attention rests solely on your product photos.

It’s like a first impression. You don’t get a second chance.

How I Used to do Product Photography

Years ago, when I first started selling my leathergoods on Etsy, I was taking pictures at my studio table in a dimly lit room but I had a lot of overhead lighting so I figured I was covered.

But my photos always came out dark or sort of had an orange or yellow tone to them. They were also a bit blurry.

Not a winning combination!

[My product photography before: Yikes, it was pretty bad.]

It was really frustrating and it definitely played a big role in holding me back from making any sales on Etsy.

But over the years, I realized a few things about product photography.

Product Photography Myths

A lot of people think that you need to have a fancy camera or an elaborate lighting setup in order to take great product photos.

Some people think that you need to hire a professional photographer in order to get the really pro shots.

These things are great if you can afford them, but if you’re on a budget there are some very easy things that you can do instead to get great product photos on a budget.

And the good news is that there is no fancy equipment needed here!

Here are 5 easy smartphone photography tips that will improve your dark, blurry and shaky photos, not to mention help you increase sales of your leathergoods online.

Improve your Smartphone Product Photography

1 | Shoot using natural light as opposed to indoor lighting.

This is my biggest and best tip. If you only do one of these five things, do this one.

I live in NYC in what sometimes feels like a cave of an apartment. I have 2 large sliding glass doors but I also have very tall buildings all around me that block a good portion of the sunlight but even still, I’m able to get great product photos.

Below is a photo of my setup.

I point the camera at a wall with the sliding glass door to the right or left of whatever it is that I’m shooting.

I also make sure that the light is coming in on the side of where I have my camera positioned.

Avoid pointing the camera directly at the glass door or window, because your subject will be dark in the photo.

You don’t need a sliding glass door to capture this natural light either. You could also use a window with a table pulled up beside it.

If you live someplace where you don’t have access to a window, you can go outside to shoot your products. I’ve done this many times before as well.

I’ll pack a bag of my leathergoods that I want to shoot and some props and backdrops, head out to Central Park and make a day of it. It’s pretty fun.

If you want to take this tip one step further you can time your shoot for the optimal time of day as well.

I find that shooting in the a.m. as the sun is starting to rise to the highest point and as it’s starting to set in the afternoon are the best times to shoot, but you should experiment with this wherever you live.

Just avoid shooting when the sun is at its highest point directly overhead, otherwise, you’ll get shadows that are not going to look great in your photo.

Since I’ve stopped trying to MacGyver an at-home studio with terrible overhead lighting and instead focused more on using natural light, my photos have dramatically improved.

2 | Use a white seamless or piece of posterboard for your background.

The next thing that you can do to improve your photos and showcase your work in a professional way is to use a white or neutral background.

I see a lot of sellers on Etsy who have product shots where the product is on a desk or tabletop, but unless this is part of your brand it can look a little sloppy and be distracting for the viewer. You don’t want the potential buyer to be looking at everything else in the photo except for your product.

I am all for creating styled and lifestyle photos with my products. However, to show off the product and make it pop you’ll want some shots using a white backdrop.

The cheapest and easiest way to do this is to go to your local craft store and get a piece of white posterboard. Then take the posterboard, bend it slightly and tape the top edge to the wall and the bottom part to the floor or tabletop creating a nice curved shape.

That nice rounded poster board creates a backdrop that has zero distractions and will make your product look like it’s floating on the page.

If your products are larger, you might want to get a large roll of paper and do the same thing. I have a roll of paper that is about 5 feet wide which I purchased from a photography store (search for “seamless paper”). I use this whenever I’m shooting some of my larger handbags.

Avoid using dark-colored poster board or seamless paper that could make the product hard to see unless of course, that sort of moody and dark look is part of your branding.

3 | Use a tripod to avoid blurry photos.

I told you these were simple solutions! But hey, they work and here is why using a tripod is so easy but really helpful.

When you hold your camera in your hands and take a photo the slightest movement and even your breathing will cause you to move and the camera to shake slightly.

Even if you’ve got steady hands, you’re going to shake a bit and this shake will cause the photo to be blurry.

Blurry photos are not cute when you’re trying to show a potential customer your beautiful handcrafted products!

Also, think about this. The photo that you just snapped, while a tiny bit of blur might look okay on your smartphone’s small screen, it will stretch to double, triple or even a larger size depending on if you want to use it on your product listing or your website’s homepage.

The bigger you stretch the photo, the more blur you’re going to get.

So to eliminate the blur as much as possible and get a crisp focused photo instead, use a tripod that you can get at Best Buy or on Amazon for around $25.

Most tripods come with a little attachment that can hold your smartphone as well.

Once you’ve got your smartphone on the tripod and the tripod in place, we can take this tip one step further and set the timer on your phone.

When you push the button to take the picture, this can cause some shake as well. If you use the 3 or 10-second timer, you know that the camera is going to be perfectly still when the shutter opens and closes and captures the picture.

4| Wipe your camera lens clean

Seems like a no-brainer right? Well, you wouldn’t believe how many people forget this part and wind up with spots, smudges, and fingerprints on their photos (Believe me, because I’m speaking from personal experience on this one).

Our smartphones are in our hands about 99% of the time these days and, as a result, the lens on your camera gets smudged and dirty. Any of this dirt on the lens will come out in your photo. So simply take a cloth and wipe any dirt away before starting to shoot.

5 | Use the AE/AF function on your iPhone

AE stands for auto exposure and this is the function that you can adjust to make your photos brighter or darker.

AF stands for auto focus which controls what your camera is keeping in focus and which part isn’t.

Your camera will automatically focus and adjust the exposure if you let it, but you can control and manipulate this setting by tapping on the camera screen where you want the focus to be. You can then move your finger up and down on the little sun icon to adjust how bright or dark you want the photo to be.

If you have a few photos that you want to shoot at the same focus and exposure, hold your finger in the spot that you want your camera to focus for 3 seconds. This will lock the focus and even after you press the shutter button you’ll be able to continue to shoot with the focus and exposure that you’ve set. This is great for shooting multiple shots all at the same settings so there is consistency in your product photos.

If you’re not already using the above 5 tips in your product photography, give it a shot next time you do a shoot and see what a huge difference it will make as you can see here in my photo.


[My product photography after implementing these 5 simple steps]

We all know that selling handmade products online can be hard as it is, let alone if you don’t have great photos. Most people will scroll right past your Etsy listing if your photos are subpar.

Product photography is a big piece of the puzzle of selling your leathergoods online, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.

When selling your work online, whether it’s the 1st time or the 50th time, you not only want to think about your photos but also your product descriptions, marketing methods, and sales strategy. These are just a few of the things that you’ll do to help you increase your sales once you launch your leathergoods to the world.

There are a lot of steps to selling a product online, which is why I’ve created a checklist that walks you through start to finish, pre-launch to post-launch exactly how to sell your leathergoods.

You can get your copy of the checklist at www.lucrativeleathercraft.com.

Mary Savel teaches people how to make traditional leatherwork and how to sell their handmade work online, at craft fairs and to stores. She runs www.LeatherBeast.com, www.MarySavel.com, and lives and works out of her NYC apt that she shares with 1 boyfriend and 2 cats.


The Character Connection

The entire Weaver Leather team participates in Lodestar Guidance, a monthly character-based training program. Developed by Weaver Leather’s previous president and current chairman of the board, Paul Weaver, Lodestar Guidance is based on 48 character principles that empower our team members to live and lead effectively.

We learn about principles like thoroughness, dependability, transparency, diligence, and initiative. We know that all sounds well and good, but what difference does it make to you, our valued customer?

Aside from hiring great people, Lodestar Guidance is the #1 reason you’ll sense you’re dealing with a special company from your very first interaction. We’ve found that happy employees who make decisions rooted in character give our customers the best experience time after time.

When a member of our sales team uses discernment (seeing and understanding people, things, and situations clearly and intelligently), he can recommend products without bias that are right for you. When an employee from accounts receivable practices integrity (uncompromising, consistent commitment to what is right), she will ensure all payments are processed correctly and promptly. When a research & development coordinator is driven by motivation (the inner power pushing one toward taking action, driven by desire, passion, and ambition), she is able to take an idea and transform it into a finished product.

The connection between the character of our employees and your experience as a customer are inexplicably linked. It’s why we place an emphasis on character training and commit as a company to invest in our employees.

How to Get Found and Sell on Etsy

We’re excited to have a guest post today by Mary Savel from www.lucrativeleathercraft.com! 

Selling your leathergoods on Etsy is a great way to dip your toe into the world of online ecommerce for the first time. I say that mainly because Etsy is an easy-to-use ecommerce platform without the hassle of setting up and maintaining your own website.

Of course there are many pros to selling your leathergoods on a self-managed website, but in this article we’re going to focus on how the beginner leathergoods seller can get found and sell their leathergoods on Etsy.

Etsy Marketing Muscle

Not only is Etsy a really user-friendly ecommerce platform but it also has some serious marketing muscle behind it.

In the last year there were 34 million people who purchased something on Etsy.

That’s roughly 2.8 million buyers per month!

Etsy also invested $78 million last year in advertising with a purpose of attracting buyers to shop on Etsy. They plan on increasing this budget by 40% over the next year.

Wow, that’s a lot of muscle!

Another thing that makes Etsy a good selling platform is that Etsy doesn’t make money unless you make money. Granted they are implementing paid Plus and Premium plans in the next year, but they mainly make their money by taking a small percentage 3.5% (increasing to 5% in July 2018) of what you sell.

That means, if you’re not successful, then they’re not successful. So it’s in their best interest to provide the best marketing tools and resources for you and your store in ensure that you succeed.

All of this marketing muscle boils down to built-in traffic to your Etsy shop.

Now that doesn’t mean that you can just sit back and put your feet up once you’ve published your listing. There are some key items that you need to include in your product listings in order to get noticed in the search results by those 34 million buyers.

How to get Found on Etsy

There are many things to think about even before you decide to sell on Etsy for the first time like product photos, product pricing, determining who your ideal customer is and the development of the product itself that you’re selling. But once you’re on Etsy, you’ll want to pay special attention to these key things to include in your listing:

  • SEO-friendly product listing titles
  • Product listing descriptions that sell
  • Product tags
  • Etsy Listing Quality

These are the top 4 things to consider if you want to put your best foot forward to create the best chance for success with your Etsy shop.

And by success, I mean sales.

Creating SEO-friendly product listing titles

To get in front of buyers, you need to have a descriptive and SEO-friendly product title. SEO means Search Engine Optimization and simply refers to making sure you’ve optimized your titles or chosen the best keywords so that Google can find your listing and show it to the user who is searching for your products.

Having an optimized and descriptive title will help you get seen by both Etsy buyers and in the Google search results.

To maximize your chances of getting found this way, use specific keywords and key phrases for your product instead of broad and vague phrases. Also steer clear of using collection names that most people wouldn’t necessarily be searching for or know about.

Another thing that will get you placed higher in the search results is if you put the most important and descriptive keywords first in the title.

You can also use events in your title if it applies, like birthday gift, wedding gift, father’s day, etc.

Etsy allows you to use 140 characters for your title, so use them wisely by choosing specific keywords and phrases that you think your customer might be searching for.

For example, let’s say you have a leather wallet collection for men that comes with a monogram and it’s from your Henly Scot collection (Henly Scot was your sweet old grandfather and this collection of heritage wallets is a tribute to him).

So you create a product listing title like this: Henly Scot monogrammed leather wallet.

But most people are not going to know about your sweet grandpa nor be searching for him. You’ve also left the most important descriptor, the wallet, all the way at the end.

So instead, a description like this would be better: Men’s wallet, veg tanned leather, monogrammed, gifts for him, Father’s Day

Product listing descriptions that sell

One of the biggest things that sellers often forget is that your customer who is buying online can’t feel or touch your product so they’re relying solely on a product description that captures what this item is like in person.

It must be descriptive!

State the obvious about your product because it might actually not be so obvious to someone who has just come across your product for the very first time.

Use key phrases here as well as this help you to rank higher in Google search results.

The very first sentence of your description should be the most descriptive and important one. This is both what your shopper will read first and it’s also what will display first in the Google search results window.

If you know your customer well, you should be able to craft a specific message and tap into any pain points that your leathergoods might be solving or anticipate and speak to any objections to buying that your customer might have.

A guarantee, free returns or the hardwearing method that you used to create the item could be the thing that persuades your budget-conscious customer to go ahead and purchase.

So make sure you know your customer, as well as what they value and what they don’t value, and then craft a description around that.

Tagging Products

Product tagging is another tool that Etsy offers to sellers that is super important if you want to be found by buyers.

For best results, use multi-word tags to narrow down and get more specific about what your buyer might be searching for.

So instead of tagging “wallet” and “men’s”, tag it as “men’s wallet” or instead of “veg tan” and “wallet” use “veg tan wallet” as a tag.

Etsy allows you to use 13 tags so use them all to maximize your chances of getting seen and keep your most important and descriptive tags to the front.

If you’re still not sure how you should be tagging and need some ideas, do some tagging research. Type descriptive phases into the Etsy search bar for your item. Like Google, there will be a drop down that appears that gives you other popular search terms that people are using to find items like the one that you’ve typed into the search.

Use these new tags and see how they perform.

Buyer’s search terms that appear in both the title and tag will be ranked higher by the Etsy algorithm than if the search term is just in the title or just in the tag.

Tagging is not a perfect science, so make sure you’re checking your Etsy insights and reports often to see what is working and what is not. Keep using what is working and lose what isn’t.

Encourage clicks to boost Etsy listing quality

Etsy has an algorithm that essentially rewards sellers by placing them in the search results more often if they have good customer engagement.

They call this Etsy Listing Quality.

Etsy is looking for products that have been purchased, favorited or even just clicked on. These actions on your listing will raise your Etsy Listing Quality score and help to boost your shop in the search results.

So at the very least, encourage shoppers to click through your listing and photos to have a closer look. This small step, even if your customer doesn’t buy, will help to increase your user engagement score and register with the algorithm.

How I sell my leathergoods

Whether you choose to sell on Etsy or your own website, getting your products online is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating a sustainable leathergoods business.

There is so much that happens before that point and afterwards to sustain sales.

Having a process in place for developing your product and launching it, marketing methods and finding your ideal customer and sales strategies are just a few of the most important things that you should be spending time on in your business.

Keeping track of all of these things can be a little overwhelming so I’ve created a checklist that walks you through start to finish, my own pre-launch to post-launch strategy for how I launch and sell my leathergoods.

Download your copy of the checklist at www.LucrativeLeathercraft.com and get started selling your leathergoods for what they’re worth.


BIO: Mary Savel teaches people how to make traditional leatherwork and how to sell their handmade work online, at craft fairs and to stores. She runs www.LeatherBeast.comwww.MarySavel.com, and lives and works out of her NYC apt that she shares with 1 boyfriend and 2 cats.


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