Wednesday, October 7, 2009

EB How-To Series: Session 1: Photography and You

In this new series, we here at EB will help you make the most of your Etsy store by being your Rosetta Stone of the ways of Etsy so you have the knowledge you need to get the notice you deserve!

Session 1: Photography and You:

Unless your items fit into the personal aesthetics of Etsy Staff you don't get featured. You pretty much need to make the 40 things a couple people in the office love to get that free public handjob and sloppy fumbled tongue kiss from Etsy.

But, if you don't make those 40 items you will need to make your photos look like those of the studios they love to at least get them to cop a feel.

  • Sales make you sad: Recruit that 14 year old goth waifish, pale, malnourished & depressed family member to model your items. The more you can get her to look like she will turn into dust if touched by sunlight or blown over on a soft breeze the better your pic will be! Remember: More eyeliner = more views!
  • Kitschy Kitschy CooCoo: Add a unrelated item of kitsch as a bit of pictorial scenery. Selling jewelry? Put in a He-man action figure! Better yet, She Ra! Bonus points if you can work in some irony, after all nothing says "Look at my gorgeous handmade cereal bowl" like sitting it next to a crocheted piece of toast with a smiley face, or a spoon with the word BITCH engraved on it.
  • More is more: Group your item in an artsy still life with many items not for sale so the viewer has to look at your item page to see what you are selling (any view is a good view!). Better yet, stuff them all into a beaten vintage soda crate so it looks like you pulled it out of the crazy cat lady's trash.
  • View to a Kill: Pictures shot at weird angles make photos more artsy. Try shooting your pictures hanging from the ceiling upside down, and one handed! Nothing says quality craftsmanship like making your buyer cock their head at a 45 degree angle and close one eye.
  • Close, closer, closest!: Test your buyer's powers of deduction by getting the oh so important first picture to be a macro so close that it causes their eyes to cross. This disorientation might well last several minutes, and in that time they might accidently click the "Buy" button trying to escape before blindness sets in.
  • Blur the Facts: Focus on one square inch of your item, letting the rest of the shot blur to the point that it looks like a network news program blurred it's identity to protect it from mob retribution.
If you have more photo tips, add them to the comments!

Look for more lessons in coming weeks. Next time we'll touch on What cheap elements to add to items to make admin nipples perk up and say howdy.


K9 said...

this was hilarious - and its hard to think of a photo trend you didnt describe.

amazing featured seller today. OMG so unique of a vision: moss terrariums!

whats next? one of the 25 people who print pages of keep calm and carry on as a featured seller?

hey! i gotta idea! mustache terrariums!

I'm through. said...

You forgot to mention grey backgrounds, off center shots and hangers.

The constant "advice" about improving photos that gets bandied about the forums on a regular basis is almost sadistic and probably leaves a lot of sellers with perfectly adequate photos feeling like crap.

Yes, good photos are important but sellers on eBay can sell quite a bit with mediocre photos...because there are actually customers shopping there. Taking better photos is always something to strive for, but it doesn't matter one bit if potential buyers can't even find your item in the goddamn search.

And some sellers take excellent photos of incredibly derivative and poorly executed items.

I have grown tired of the etsy aesthetic (such as it is).

grumpy said...

For God's sake, at most ONE actual colour. And you better make it muted. Colours are scary and weird and will cause the Etsy office drones to cower under their desks in terror.

RRobin said...

Bag, Bigger, Biggest: If you are selling a purse or suitcase, have your model hold it out at arm's length in front of herself, and shoot it so her hands and the bag dwarf the rest of her body.

RRobin said...

Tell Me How Long: Never shoot necklaces on a real person or a mannequin. Rather, crumple them up and lay them artfully over some open books and old lace. Avoid at all costs showing how the necklace looks when somebody is actually wearing it.

RRobin said...

Best Foot Sideways: Always shoot vintage shoes straight on from the front, in front of a wall with painted wooden molding, and worn by a model standing with her weight on one foot and the other turned slightly inward.

ashooter said...

more tips..

- shoot everything on a stark white background. Even stark white items.

- have your model wear a cowl. If you sell dog clothes, have your model hold the dog while wearing a cowl. If you sell jewelry, be sure they are on a cowl background* *this supercedes my first rule.

- use faux bois in as many photos as possible. Admin will lose their freakin' minds.

- in reference to aforementioned model with cowl, make sure only her torso is viewable. this makes admin gleeful.

foxaz said...

Lingerie? Try getting up close and personal with the model, and make sure to include at least one shot of her butt cheeks hanging out. Crotch shots are also good.

Make absolutely sure that your models are not OLD. Old is BAD.

If selling clothes, make sure the model is in a cold room so her nipples will show through the fabric. Use cleavage of any kind to your best advantage.

Imwithya said...

Oh man, these are all so true... unfortunately.

UnderageSite said...

Photos are supposed to show the potential customer what you are selling.
Unfortunately, a lot of the photos Admins pick for the FP are there, apparently, to sell the photo.
If you can't see the item from all angles and realistically, you may not get what you think you're getting.
It's supposed to be INFORMATIONAL. Oops, they forgot what the photos are for.

If that crap gets sold, and the customer is not thrilled, that could be your last sale to that person. There aren't enough brand new suckers to support a business that isn't coming clean with what they are selling, and there aren't enough babies with money. They get the money from their parents. Adults with $$ are not interested in a lot of this ironic, pathetic crap.
The adults with $ and taste are the ones that make good customers-- for SELLERS-- but of course, the kids are more easily duped, so go after that market instead.

Old Hippie Bitch said...

Stones rock: Displaying your stuff on stones and rocks shows you love nature. In fact, the rocks are more important than your product, so spend less time creating and more time finding good rocks.

Poverty rocks: Take your waif models to the seediest part of town, so you can shoot them against paint-peeled walls, crumbling brick walls or graffiti-filled walls. You may live with your parents on a cul de sac, but your tough photos will say, "I have street cred."

meggitymegs said...

Re: K9's mention of today's featured artist...

I thought one of the criteria was supposed to be that you can keep up with the increase in sales? This person has 3 listings!

And about photos, color is acceptable only as long as it is accompanying something gray.

I'm through. said...

RRobin, so true, LMAO. I completely forgot about the shoe thing. Why not shove your fist up a hat while you're at it. That's how everyone is wearin' em these days.

The main thing is to find the most successful sellers in your category and immediately start ripping off their photo style. I have actually gasped out loud at some of the blatant copying that occurs on etsy and I'm not easily shocked.

For a site with so many artistes and creative types, there sure is a lack of originality. And yes, the white backgrounds- not for EVERYTHING please. It somehow reminds me of shopping at the Sanrio store when I was a kid.

lessa said...


You forgot that in this case 'old' generally means over the age of 24.


I know. They look like cute little terrariums so nothing against the seller, BUT didn't we have a moss terrarium seller as a featured weller just a couple months back. Seems fairly recent for the wide variety of stuff found on Etsy.

All Wired Up TOO said...

LMAO here! ty bitches! You made my day?!

RRobin said...

foxaz said...

Make absolutely sure that your models are not OLD. Old is BAD.


...and remember that OLD begins at 24.

forum rubbernecker said...

Sigh.....I, at times, have actually tried to come up with products that I think Etsy staff would like. Not gonna lie. :-) But I was actually wondering the other day if I am more likely to sell something that is Etsy's aesthetic because they will almost for sure feature it, or whether it's something that will sell because the public at large would like it. Huge divide between those two lines of thinking--meaning Etsy's aesthetic sells because it's featured and other things sell, because, well, they're nice things. Every day I rack my brain trying to figure out what to focus on. Believe me, it's a high like no other when an Etsy staff takes a liking to your stuff. But then you have to think, would it sell at a craft fair, could it be wholesaled, could it be licensed? And those things are probably more important in the long run. But every day it's an internal battle.

And as far as photos in general, some day, I want to see a FAT CHICK on the FP.

Getting ready to Grovel said...

You didn't mention color, or lack thereof.

The Righteous One said...

Just want to remind all posters that Anonymous (in that you don't choose any sort of name or moniker) is frowned upon and calling out Etsy shops for flagging is not our bag. We appreciate being kept abreast of blatant resellers and wholesalers, but those comments won't be put through for public view.

MonkeybuttPowder said...

A hand knit cowl neck sweater in violet ombre shades with built in belly bump terrariums! For those of us that want to create and grow life without the commitment.

if you're super edgy you can order the additional hand crafted porcelain foetus sculpture for your wearable belly terrarium.

Max said...

And people wonder why the photos they took following the Etsy advice from the Dorque and Treehouse have somehow blacklisted them from CraftGawker and Trunkt.

Nation! Don't follow trends developed by 20-somethings who didn't at least graduate with degrees in either Marketing or Art!

Why do so many people clamor to follow the advice of doofus hipster kids?


I can understand the sheepish following of the home-schooling-fanatic-righty-anti-evolution-libertarian-anarchists who just want to follow someone who isn't Someone.

But really, the rest of us should know better.

moonstonelover said...

Love this post. Make sure that your first pic of jewelry is so blurry that you can't tell what it is. Also make sure that your jewelry has leaves, trees and/or animals. Actually, Etsy already has it's favs, so don't bother even trying to fit their merchandising themes. For example, opal is the october birthstone, but there's moonstone in the GG. Moonstone is the alternative birthstone for June - pearl. But because the Etsy favorites decided to tag moonstone as october and opal, they included a lot of moonstone for october. ugh. you can't win for trying. no matter what - i've just about given up.

Now the moonstone items are lovely, and I'm not calling out or faulting the sellers, but it just made it obvious to me that it is totally pointless to ever be featured on Etsy.

Anyway, this made me chuckle until i realized how true it was.

life-during-wartime said...

I laughed when I saw advice to 'Etsyfy' your photos (I think that was the phrase) in the forums today. Pics are not supposed to just show an item sitting there being itself, like on Ebay, they said. What an idea for a blog -- the quest for the ultimate etsyfied photo!

JMTolman said...

Oh man, the color rule (or lack of) is so true. I've come to accept I'll never be featured on the FP because I use a lot of bright colors in my work.

The weird angles have always bugged me. Do you want to show your product, or your arty photograph? It can't be both.

The Funny One said...


Snarky photos accompany snarky descriptions, since it's a Brooklyn disease. Poverty rocks in NYC because NYC fashionistas ran out of new ideas years ago, and being flip is a consequence of reading the Dorque like an actual "How To"!

And remember to remove the factory tags before you snap your pix (yeah, Etsy never checks, but it's tacky all the same.

wisearse said...

I love this post!!! I can't tell you how many times I've looked at the front page photos and thought "what tf are they trying to sell in these photos?" I can't tell what's product and what's prop. one more ruffly thing and I swear...... ...vintage....myarse.... it's all vintage when you're 13 years old

design shop said...

This is so true! And if your item is not something a 19 year old would use you have no chance.

lessa said...


There is a necklace on the front page right now that is draped over the spine of a book.

Robstalker said...

Isn't the terrarium chick Rob K's girlfriend?

sark said...

I enjoy an arty photo from time to time... but then I have an art degree.

If anyone at etsy has any sort of degree proclaiming any affiliation with art or marketing, I'm guessing it's from University of Phoenix -- or that thing you see in infomercials about how you can teach yourself to draw from correspondence courses.

I enjoy arty photos, but not when I'm look at what is otherwise a glorified catalog. Etsy is retail via mail order. Anyone can delude themselves all they want about "movements" — it's still mail order retails (except for the handful of graphic designers, and you already know you're in the statistical margin of error).

Every time I see some moron on the forums telling people to improve their "photos" — it is such a turn-off. The morons who say this kind of thing to people naive enough to buy into never even check out that person's shop 99% of the time. There was a great thread months ago from a seller who had like 300 sales asking why they were never featured anywhere... and some moron popped into the thread to offer them advice about photos as to why their sales might be super low. It was funny to read the OP slyly castigate them for their ignorance.

If you took a photography class, you would see that most of those photos suck monkey balls.

The term is parallax, and it's a no-no in the real world: because it demonstrates that the person who took the picture doesn't know shit about composition...

And then there's all this bullshit about lighting and lightboxes and buying the world's most expensive lamp to photograph those $4.00 earring that you made from metal findings from JoAnns... You know, the best guitarist can play the greatest music on the crappiest instrument. It's called a desk lamp Mother****ers. Go to the lightbulb section and find the "natural light" bulb. Learn to use upper lefthand light (like they do for catalogs)... whole project costs maybe $14.00... plus, you can use the desk lamp as a desk lamp.

Every time I read a thread on the etsy forums with some moron trolling out that "improve your photos and maybe you'll get featured" line of BS — I just want to punch them in the face and then critique their usually horrendous photos.

Like stop telling other people that they take shitty photos; especially those of us who don't use photos (points to self, glances over at scanner, flits eyes at photoshop icon... ah flat stuff).

I hate seeing greeting cards photographed at weird angles. When I buy cards at a store I don't stand there and Vogue in the aisle when I make my purchases.

Combustion Glassworks said...


there is a seller who is on the FP three times a day and her pictures are the epitome of SHIT. it actually look like her camera is malfunctioning or completely broke. And her sales SHOW that it pays off.

and the worst part is that all 5 of them are like that! There is no clear, definitive picture of wtf you are buying... and people BUY IT!

my pictures will never make it to the FP because they are, omg, Colorful! and clear as to what they are..

Combustion Glassworks said...

and furthermore.. after the whole Bingo fiasco last year, i had some very nasty convoes with a FP favorite.

She had the BALLS to tell me,a glass artist, that if I took the time to take at least 25 pictures to get the extra special one, i would be featured more often, like her. I take about a 100 pictures pf each item to get the fun default, the blank white background, and the ruler shot. And i think my photos are GREAT.

It wasnt at all because she makes trite, boring shit and then drapes it over muted backgrounds and takes shitty macro shots of it, not at all ;p

This is a GREAT article, and the comments on it are SO true.. this is one i really wish admin would look at.

MadebyM**** said...

I don't mind an artsy photo for one of the shots (enough to catch your eye and/or interest) but then have the "real" shots that show you what it is and the different angles/sides. As to the FP, I'll never make it there, even if I did have awesome photos, Etsyfied or not, because I am not in the Etsy clique or selling what's trendy this week. Sorry, I'm just not into wearing resin pendants shaped like food with sparkles as a necklace. My daughters used to wear that stuff when they were 5 years old....but back to the Etsyfied photography....they have to be a pale, muted color on a white or grey background...period!

The Funny One said...

Goes to show that no matter what you list or how you arrange your wacky pix, the only way you're gonna sell on Etsy is if Etsy picks you for 24/7 free promotions on their (THEIR) front page, gg's, FS, dorkies, weekly emails, tweets, and then promotes you again tomorrow, next week, and next month.

If Etsy doesn't promote you (for free) ad nauseum and with witty repartee including "oh how cute is this!", you don' sell. Period.

out of focus said...

Hilarious post! But I think for every "rule" you have, there's a few people who can pull it off (and of course many more who can't). For example, with some items, I do think it makes them more enticing to put them in context--e.g., a vintage vase on a mantle with a few other items to help potential buyers imagine it in their house, and then the other shots, text, and title clearly show what's being sold. A shallow depth of field can also work to highlight a particularly gorgeous bead. The problem for me (as others have said) is when none of the shots show you what you're getting.

HOWDY said...

Two words: Return Customers. Thank God for them.
The feedback should say "so much more beautiful than I imagined!". that's when it's about the WORK, not the kiscthy photo play.

There's always somebody giving somebody shitty photo advice in the forums. Gets so I only read the closed threads for fun.

forum rubbernecker said...

I hate seeing greeting cards photographed at weird angles. When I buy cards at a store I don't stand there and Vogue in the aisle when I make my purchases.

You now owe me a keyboard.

make it work for you said...

thefunnyone, I get what you're saying, but it's your (generic you, not you specifically!) own fault if you aren't selling on etsy, at least in part. People shouldn't rely on etsy traffic alone. There are several sellers in my genre who sell TONS and have never been on the FP, in a GG, in the Storque, etc. They bring in customers from their own websites, or from advertisements, and other means. Sure, it helps to be featured often (and there's where I agree with you), but it's certainly not the only way to get sales on Etsy. And, those features definitely do not always result in sales.

Beige Lover said...

I love you bitches.

Tips for improvement? Wash everything in a luscious coat of white and BEIGE. Ohhh beigy beige beige, I salivate over your bland buyer magnetism.

Rtisan said...

"There are several sellers in my genre who sell TONS and have never been on the FP, in a GG, in the Storque, etc. They bring in customers from their own websites, or from advertisements, and other means."

True. What makes me wonder: what the fuck do they need Etsy for, then? I'll answer my own question: because when you are in biz you leave no stone unturned. Etsy is just one of the stones.

There are a lot of people who are artists and craftspersons, not professional business people, and the bite here is that Etsy started out as a site for them. NOW, only a pro or a favorite can make any money on Etsy.
Etsy as it was has been gone for a long time, but the only ones who know it are the people who have been around for a few years. The newbies are daily sucked into all this Etsy bullshit. It's their "brand": they just don't live up to it.

Tania said...

I keep my photography simple. No trinkets, no doodads. Yes, I have an in focus macro shot, no, my necklaces aren't on a mannequin, but I sell consistently with zero front page exposure.

Won't see that ever again since they went to the front page grey/monochromatic/subdued thing they seem to ALWAYS list.

Photography shouldn't take more than the actual creation of the piece.

I've seen people who slap their items into a flatbed scanner, so they're fuzzy and hazy, and I guess it works for them, more power to em.

grumpy said...

"There are several sellers in my genre who sell TONS and have never been on the FP, in a GG, in the Storque, etc. They bring in customers from their own websites, or from advertisements, and other means."

Yep, or they are selling a product in a niche where there are plenty of buyers and not a lot of sellers. And sensible promotion targeted to actual buyers Out There on the internet, not endless twittering to a bunch of people who are also trying to sell and not buying. Or posting a zillion times in the forums, which gets you a great audience of...other people trying to sell their shit. Or spending your entire profit margin renewing your whole shop 3 times a day because it totally gets more views and hearts, dude, and surely the sales will eventually show up...eventually...

whyohwhy said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this delightful reading treat. You rock.

I changed my photos to meet their recommended criteria. Started using natural light and blah backgrounds. Then I did get some front pages... only a few... the item usually sells so fast, it's not like having it up all anyway.

You would think that was crazy when I had already sold 5,000+ items when I changed my photos. But for some reason I had this fantasy that they would like me and I would finally be part of their high school clique. Sadly, they still do not like me. I'll never be part of their dang club.

(Good thing my new and returning customers like me.)

And now I could just kick myself now for changing because I sit around waiting for the right light for perfect shots. WTF was I thinking??

What a mind f*ck.

Brass Monkey Designs said...

Okay...I did laugh about the sulky looking, heroin chic, goth chicks who model stuff. My daughter has decided that sulky looks more cool and now I can't get her to smile to save my life. LOL

What I want to know is, why the models all are pigeon-toed. I had friends who slept with leg braces to correct that sort of thing, back in the it suddenly fashionable now to have bad posture? :oP

As for the cock-eyed angles, I have to confess that I love taking my photos on an angle. It's more eye-catching AND it's a good way to get the entire product into the perfect square format. If you have a portrait or landscape format for your photo, then the square frame either cuts off the top and bottom or both sides.

BadCat said...

I worked my a$$ off on photos, it never paid off. That was just one minor reason why I left the site. Add in crappy SEO, a saturated jewelry category, resellers...etc.

Here is my blog post on why I said:

"Sayonara Etsy"

Chicalessia said...

Wonderful post! I love it! :)

marcelly said...

so well written and so bloody right!

Rtisan said...

badcat, everything you said in your blog is EXACTLY THE TRUTH.

Betsy B. said...

Very funny post and so true! The main problem for me is the disappointment. Lack of individuality
is spoiling Etsy. People want to fit into a certain mold there....with their photos and their products. I really hated seeing all the shops that began to have their item photos looking exactly the same. Same backgrounds,same style. And my biggest pet photo of the back of the product.

Diddo said...

This post is so funny. As a relatively new seller I too have noticed that grey washed out photo look . As someone said, Etsy should be regarded as a mail order catalog, and the photos should give a realistic view of the product. I personally use a flash with manual settings to give my stuff the accurate coloring, grey overcast natural light is both overrated and overused IMO.

Libby said...

Late to this but better late than never. OMG!!ROFLMAO!! Great post and great's all too true, especially about what I call the train tunnel photos. One macro detail and the rest is a mystery buried in darkness.

Oh and the waifs. Oy vey! Waifs with sideburns and red bumps modeling stuff. On their bodies. On their ears. Around their necks. You think I'm gonna buy that? Not even for my waifish younger relatives.

I'm sure an almost dead waif lying on filthy urban decay floor with jagged hole in distance modeling ripped and torn but perfectly tailored size xs blouse without bra and alert nips shot from hip level would give admin an orgasm and be on FP again and again.

I am a proud user of a flat bed scanner which takes the most gorgeous pix. I have the kind of scanner used by naturalists. I sell vintage beads and jewelry and you can see exactly what you are getting. I have no chance of being on the front page because I am so unhip, colorful, and my descriptions are educational. And you know what? I am not gonna change.

SMSK said...

I love this post. Hell, I love this blog. I have retaken my photos many times, I've never professed to be a photographer; but want nice pictures....however a lot of the stuff featured on etsy looks so....commercial lately - but quirky. In a forced way.

I use lots of color in my background - prints actually, b/c I want my shop items to be FUN. Not the same as everyone else.

And I Strongly dislike* seeing Keep Calm & carry on..and owls. It was cute the first time. Not so cute the 1,000. Something gets featured & a ton of peopl jump on the bandwagon.

Traesche said...

Love this!

I keep trying to shoot the EtsyPerfect photo but I just can't help it that they have color and that they're too much in focus. I give up.

It is such a relief to me that I have realized now that I will never be featured by Etsy on their FP or as a featured artist, nowhere, nothing. I thought there was something I was missing, something that if I just could find the secret...

Now the stress is gone. I'm free! Free to do my own personal best, to meet my own standards, to stand apart from the EtsyGroupies and do it MY way.

Thanks everyone!

Mary said...

"Recruit that 14 year old goth waifish, pale, malnourished & depressed family member to model your items."

I have to disagree on this one. "Goth" is not, and has never been a trend on Etsy, much to the chagrin of all the goths I know that sell there, myself included. We have been screaming long ago for a "Goth" or "Dark" category, and all that we've got is the "Steampunk" gift guide, many of whose items would not qualify as "Goth" among the people of the subculture. Hell, our holiday by definition is Halloween and we don't even get promoted then. And I am not talking cute bats and flying withces. I am talking gore-y, bloody and disturbing items. Yes, they exist on Etsy too. Only now with the "vampire" trend some of our work has got some exposure...