Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Making Friends With Your Camera: How to Improve Your Etsy Photos With Equipment You Already Own

"Cameras don't take pictures, photographers do.
Cameras are just another artist's tool."

I love this quote from Ken Rockwell.

I was browsing the web for helpful advice for how I could improve the photos in my Etsy shop when I found his article and the title was literally, "Your Camera Doesn't Matter." I had originally planned for this post to be a compilation of the top 5 cameras for Etsy sellers or something like that, when I realized that even if I went out and purchased a $3000 Canon right now, there would still be no guarantee that my photos would look like something out of a magazine. Plus, it would take me forever to figure out how to use the thing and all that time lost is time away from blog & jewelry business, which is a big no-can-do. When my kids are napping, I only have 2 HOURS. Period. Time is a precious commodity in my world. Like most of you out there, it is also something that I can't afford to waste.

Does it really matter how expensive or high-tech my camera is? No. My stash of equipment has ranged from a wind-up convenience store camera to an archaic floppy disk dinosaur. For the past ten or so years, I've been using my trusty Kodak 12 megapixel pocket cam. It fits in my purse, it's light, durable and when my son runs around the house shouting, "say cheese", it has proven to be indestructible.

In my past experience, through high school, college, internships and blogging for local non-profit arts organizations, taking good pictures is just another way of making good pictures. Whether it's a photo or a pencil sketch, the first step is learning to see. How can you learn to see? Simple. Look for the most attractive feature of your item (i.e. the pendant) and bring out that beauty via a well composed, well lit photograph so that your viewers/customers can appreciate your work.

So, make friends with your camera, whether it's crappy or cool, remember it's just a tool. (The rhyme wasn't intended, but I couldn't resist!)

Just know, that even if all you have is cell phone, work it! Here is an entire article devoted to tips and tricks for making your cell phone pictures even better. So, don't worry. Your creativity will flourish within the constraints.

Aqua Teardrop Necklace, Frosted Seafoam Dangle Necklace, Wire Wrapped Teardrop, Mint Necklace, Sea Foam Necklace, Simple Jewelry
Teardrop Necklace by Waterwaif
How to Improve Your Etsy Photos:
  • Create good compositions. Your photos set the mood for your shop. Avoid a ton of clutter and background fluff. Is it really necessary to photograph your knitted socks with a cactus, cup of coffee and a laptop? Which one are you selling? Make it clear to the consumer what they are purchasing. Your Etsy shop shouldn't be a page out of "Where's Waldo?" it's a catalog featuring your special talents. KISS (Keep It Simple Sweetheart!) Place your item for sale on a muted surface (wood, clean paper, marble slab, sand or a book page). Avoid using fabric. You might not see them at first, but there are specks of dust, lint and even wrinkles on the surface 99% of the time. Get close to your subject. Take multiple shots. And trust your eye. You'll know which pictures stand out from the rest when you upload them on your computer. 
  • Use the Rule of Thirds. Imagine a grid of nine squares on top of your image. Instagram allows you to see this grid automatically when you upload a photo, but when you are on your own with your grandpappy's old Kodak from 1983, chances are...that grid isn't there. You may want to place your subject in any one of those squares, but the RULE is to place the focal points where the lines intersect. This article explains it all.
  • Use natural light. The sun is the best lamp in our solar system. Pure white light contains all the colors of the rainbow. When your handmade items are placed near a window or outdoors, the natural colors of your items can be seen in their truest form.
My Equipment:

  1. My Kodak
  2. A woven basket found at a thrift store
  3. A sheet of paper I bought for $0.59 at Michaels
  4. Various wooden surfaces: the floor, a tea tray, the lid to a cigar box, the tabletop
  5. When my houseplants bloom or if I take cuttings from the garden, I'll use an occasional flower
My home studio is located on my dining room table. The patio window is right behind me, so I have the benefit of bright, brilliant sunlight from about 11am-4pm. In those few hours, I try to take as many photos as I can. On cloudy, overcast days however, I usually get nothing good out of a shoot. Getting it right is sometimes a waiting game. You're waiting for a quiet moment, for the kids to be asleep, for the clouds to move across the sun, for that second (or third) cup of coffee to kick in. If I am taking really close close-ups, I'll use a paintbrush instead of my hands to move the beads or claps into just the right place. You will find what works best for you with a little trial and error.

Beautiful amethyst pendant from Kiss the Future
While staging your Etsy shoot, please remember to NEVER...(if you can)...EVER...
  • Use the flash. Blaaarrrghh! This isn't 1920! If you don't have to burn out a lightbulb or place a hood over your head every time you take a photo, turn your flash off, please! It could create harsh reflections that change the look of your photo. White light is so fresh and airy, why not use it?
  • Place your items directly below an incandescent light such as a table lamp. This causes a weird yellow glare that smothers your subject matter like mustard on a soft pretzel. Yuck.
  • Be afraid to ask your friends to model. For the shy Etsy sellers out there, go ahead and take a leap of faith & friendship. You have a 50-50 chance of actually working with a model you already know and trust. "Hey, would you like to be featured on my Etsy shop?" You'd be surprised at the responses you'll receive!

Mens Cowl. Chunky Handknit in Dark Charcoal Gray. Cozy, Soft, Warm, Snuggly. Classic Knitted.
KerreraSkye uses a variety of models for her cowls. This guy could be a friend, neighbor, relative, coworker. Nearly every item has a different model. It almost makes it fun seeing the newest faces.
These earrings were photographed on the lid of my toolbox. The flower is from a spider plant I keep in the kitchen window. Since I used Bali beads in my jewelry, the idea was to bring a tropical flair to the image with a bit of foliage.

In the end, the most important thing to remember is to keep trying.
If your photo isn't working, start over. I am constantly doing research and keeping my eyes open for inspiration. I even started a Pinterest board called P H O T O just for organizing new ideas about how to photograph my jewelry. Also, when you are browsing your favorites on Etsy, jot down notes about what you like about the photos you see. Keep a journal. You should start seeing improvements in your work in no time!

xoxo jamillah

Monday, March 28, 2016

Jewelry for a Cause: ADORN DIASPORA Update

Black and White Shell Necklace // Handmade by Alison Moses
I'm still reeling from this past weekend's amazing creative session with the founder of ADORN DiasporaTM , Alison Moses! Together, we are looking forward to good things to come as we begin the process of launching ADORN across multiple web platforms and planning events where YOU can get involved!

ADORN DiasporaTM is not your ordinary jewelry business. Their mission is to help the children of Vidigal, a shantytown in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. With every purchase, a portion of the proceeds will go towards books and other essential school supplies for the library of SER Alzira de Aleluia. SER is a non-governmental organization dedicated to educating children and empowering adults in the Vidigal community.

Check back soon for more updates!

xoxo jamillah

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

ADORN DIASPORA: Jewelry Fundraiser with Alison Moses

Handmade prayer + meditation beads
Three days ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Alison Moses at the private debut of her African-fashioned, handmade jewelry: The 2016 Carnival Collection. Based in Kensington, Maryland, Moses uses a variety of shells, exotic woods and beads in her work, including colorful agate stones native to Brazil. As part of her consistent fundraising efforts on behalf of Adorn DiasporaTM, a non-profit organization whose aid reaches within the African Diaspora in Brazil and the wider Americas, a portion of each sale will be donated to the Favela Vidigal in Rio de Janiero.
Favela Vidigal // Rio de Janiero, Brazil

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Weekend DIY: Build an Easy Coat Rack

Kids are messy.
And when you walk in the door after a long day with sleepy, bumbling, crying toddlers who only want to race over to their toys and continue playing, well...the mess becomes a living thing that grows like a fungus all around you. My kids don't care one bit about removing their coats, hats and shoes, and then neatly placing them on their appropriately marked cubby holes. They're immune to the mountain of outdoor gear rising in the corner like Kilimanjaro.

Which is why I decided to spruce up the front entrance of my house by building an easy coat rack! It's time to put an end to the madness.

48in long wood beam (2.5in wide x about 3/4in thick)
6 hooks with screws
rough grit sandpaper & fine grit sandpaper
a rag
paint, wood stain, or clear polyurethane & a dropcloth
4 screws 2in long (at least twice the thickness of the wood)
handheld screwdriver
power drill
measuring tape

Step #1: Prepare
Visit your local hardware store and purchase what supplies you don't already have at home. Strosniders sells wood beams and 3/4in trim strips for around $5. Since it was 8ft long, I asked them to cut it in half, which they were happy to do. Also purchase around 6 hooks of your choice. Cabinet knobs work great too. (I used some antique copper hooks previously purchased from Target.)

Step #2: Sand
Go outside and put on an apron or wear bummy clothes for this step. Sawdust blows around like baking flour and sticks to everything! Wear a mask and goggles too. Using rough grit sandpaper, rub all over the wood...mostly on the prettiest side, which will be the 'front'. Get those edges nice and smooth. Splinters hurt! Take your time and make sure to blunt the corners of the beam. Remove any stickers or staples. Go over it again with a finer grit sandpaper and then remove all the dust with a rag.

*If you wanted to add some color to your coat rack, now is the time to lay down a dropc loth
and apply a coat of paint, polyurethane or wood stain to the front and side edges. I like the unfinished look of my project, so I'm keeping mine bare.

Step #3: Measure
(Once your paint/stain has dried completely) using a measuring tape or ruler, space your hooks evenly across the beam. Mine are spaced 7 inches apart. Using a little 4th grade math, I calculated the entire length of the coat rack was 48in...divide by 6 hooks = 8. Since the thickness of each hook is around 3/4 of an inch, I placed one hook on the beam every 7 inches and it worked out pretty well. You could also measure by eye.

Using a pencil, mark the wood at 7in intervals. Then mark it again 1/2in from the top so the hooks will line up evenly with one another. If you are using round knobs, center them instead of following the 1/2in rule. Mark where all the screw holes are.

On the left, right edges, and center, mark where your installation screws will be. Space them evenly apart, equidistant from the edge, about 1/2in.

Step #4: Drill
This is the fun part. I love tools, especially power tools. When I moved into my first home 3 years ago, I ran out and bought a drill kit to celebrate! Put back on your goggles and drill all the pre-marked screw holes using a narrow bit, about 3/32in. Use a handheld screwdriver to attach all the hooks to your beam.

Step #5: Install
Find the spot in your home where you would like to hang your coat rack. Place it at the desired height on your wall, center it if necessary, and mark that point with a pencil. Set your coat rack aside for the moment.

If you don't have a level, measure from the floor upwards to your pencil mark. Note that measurement. Mine was 66in, so I drew two spots on the wall 66in high. Connecting those lines with your tape measure, draw a line between them. Now your coat rack should hang nice and straight. Be sure to drill your screws directly into the wall stud, or use wall anchors if you are drilling into gypsum. This may be a two person job. It never hurts to have a helper hold the rack in place while you drill. And voila! Stand back to admire your brand new, 100% handmade coat rack!

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