Saturday, May 12, 2012

Photography for online sellers - white background, part 1

Do you think white background is boring?
This is exactly what I thought not such a long time ago.  Because, to tell the truth, white background is a bit boring – and yet there is no better one you could choose for your product photography.

In this article I will try to explain shortly why it is good to use white background for your items, in the next one I will give you some tips for obtaining it.

Pendant from Nurrgula Jewelry
The very important thing to remember is the difference between artistic and product photography (and also that advertising photography and product photography are two completely different things. Advertising photography falls under the artistic category, to be clear).   
I love the way one of my teachers put it: ‘artistic photography is about photography, product photography is about products”. That means that in product photography your only concern should be to present your product in the best possible way AND make the photo easy to be used for catalogs, presentations etc.  – and for treasuries, if we are speaking of Etsy.
This is all there is to product photography, not more. 
Cuff bracelet from Decoromana
I will focus on Etsy for a bit, as the photography on Etsy is quite specific. 
Many sellers have chosen to have pretty pictures rather than good product photography, so you can see lots of story-telling photos, photos crowded with props, or those that are supposed to make the viewer emotional about the featured items. That is all very fine, I like some of those photos a lot, the problem is – with such photography the chances of becoming a successful seller are rather small, unless you are in such a small niche that the photography just doesn’t matter. Or unless you have an established brand already and people are buying from you because of your name more than because of your photos.
And why is it so? The answer is quite simple. 

Imagine, you are determined to buy a piece of jewelry. A necklace, let’s say, and you are prepared to spend quite some money on it. Will you buy it from a shop that has pretty pictures, but the necklaces cannot be clearly seen, or from a one with photography that maybe is not that eye-catching at the first glance, but presents the jewelry very well and you can see the necklace in detail? 

Of course, you do not need a white background to be able to show your items clearly - but the advantage of white is that it is neutral and does not act on people's emotions. They see just your item and don't build a story around it, which in many cases is good since the mood you choose for your photos might not be appealing to everyone in the way you would like it to. 
Also, on white it is easier to show the true colors of your items, which - at least to me - is quite important.

Felt wallet from morion
In order to start selling you need to have some audience, and in order to get the audience, you need to be found.
Have you ever thought that the backgrounds of your photos can actually help you in becoming popular on a selling platform, or on the Internet in general?

Today it is not enough to have beautiful items in your shop. The market is flooded with everything you could possibly think of, so you have to use every tool possible to make yourself visible. Which means, you have to promote yourself.
Now, I am not going to discuss promotion here, but I am going to explain how using white backgrounds for your photos can play a significant role in promoting your items.

Let's go back to Etsy and its treasuries. It is quite simple - the more treasuries are featuring your items, the better for you and your shop. Also, being in a lot of treasuries is the easiest (and for many sellers the only) way to make it to Etsy's Front Page - but I have to disappoint you, having beautiful items is not enough to get into treasuries, not to mention the ones that end up on the FP.

The truth is, many curators prefer photos on very light background, and that for a few reasons, of which I will name just two:
One: Etsy itself prefers light backgrounds for its Front Page, so the people aiming for heaving their treasuries featured will not use dark photos eagerly
Two: it is much easier to put together a treasury where all the photos are on a light background. If a curator is making few treasuries a day, which very often is the case, they do not want to spend more than 10 to 15 minutes on each one - and that I can tell from my own experience as a curator.

Felted necklace from DevikaFelt
All I have said above is to point out the advantages of photographing your items on white backgrounds, which does not mean everybody has to switch to white. 
If you have any reasons for keeping your backgrounds dark, or you just love theatrical photography so much that you just can't give it up, it's all right - as long as you realize that this might have some impact on your shop's results and your choice is staying conscious. But even then you should consider having at least one of each item's photos on a perfectly white background - and that is because, strangely enough, there is life outside Etsy as well.

The life outside Etsy consists of blogs, magazines and catalogues that feature things having to do with art, crafts, lifestyle, and so on - and 99 out of a 100 editors will only choose items photographed on white. The reason for this is very simple: white color is used for the internet pages most often, and the photos are expected to be blending in without any seams. So very often it happens that editors come across something that they would like to feature, but they don't - just because of the time they would have to spend on editing the photos.
And don't count on the editors contacting you and asking for sending a photo on white - unless you are the only person in the world that has got a certain product, they will find something else fitting their material before you can say Jack Robinson. Just be ready for someone visiting your shop/blog/site and have some nice images on perfect white waiting for them.

Earrings from cardioceras
So, these were some of the good sides of using white backgrounds in your product photography.
The bad side is that getting them clean with the camera only is not very easy if you don't have a studio - but there are many tricks that you can use while editing your photos. 
In my next article I will explain how to use both, your camera and software, in order to achieve perfectly white backgrounds.


  1. I can't wait for the next article as I have problems with making my white background really white.

  2. Dzięki jagna, ciekawe argumenty, przekonałaś mnie. Niecierpliwie czekam na nastepny artykuł;-)))

  3. Wonderful post ! Can't wait for the next one *jump jump* !

  4. fantastic article! Thank You :)))

  5. Great article, Jagna, congrats! Looking forward to reading the next step! Hugs, A&F

  6. Can´t wait for the next article!

  7. Can´t wait for the next article!

  8. Very interesting post. Thanks for refering to one of my works..

  9. Thank you for an interesting article! Can't wait for the next part :-)


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