Three Tips for Photographing Small Things

Megan here!  I have some very exciting news to share today.  After three long years, my boyfriend finally received his MFA in Photography.  He’d always dreamed of becoming a professor at a prestigious art school but due to the recession, the colleges weren’t hiring.  So instead, he’s decided to become a professor for makers who want to take gorgeous photographs of their products.

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Today he’s sharing his best tips on how to photograph small things like jewelry.  This is something a lot of makers struggle with because their product is either out of focus or it appears as teeny tiny in the final image.  I think you’ll learn a lot so let’s get started!

When I photograph a small item, there are a few requirements I keep in mind to ensure I get a stunning photograph that grabs people’s attention.  First, I want to have nice, soft lighting because harsh shadows and highlights are distracting on small items. The last thing you want is for the shadow from your piece to overpower the piece itself. Second, I want to get close enough to the item so that the details appear large in the final image. If your customer can’t see the details, they won’t feel confident about hitting the ‘buy’ button because they don’t quite know what they’re getting. And lastly, it is very important to me to show the scale of small items because if you start to show things larger than life-size, it can be hard to discern the actual size and that also decreases your customer’s confidence that they know what they’re buying.

Create Nice, Even Lighting

To get nice, even lighting when photographing something small, I use one or two lights and diffuse them with tracing paper. For shiny or metal objects, I place one light on the left and one light on the right, both pointing at the subject. For other items, I simply use one light from above. Then, to diffuse the light, I place tracing paper between the light and subject.  The easiest way to do this is to stretch some tracing paper over a thin metal picture frame.  Once you tape it over the frame, you can keep it like that and always have it handy for your photo shoots.  It’s a trick professional photographers use when in a pinch or when they don’t want to shell out the money for a ‘professional’ diffuser.

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Wine charm by Lingering Daydreams using a diffuser to create even lighting.

Show the Scale

Showing the scale is important with any product and even more so if it is small. To show the scale, one strategy is to put the object in an environment where it makes sense and where its size can be compared to the things around it. Another way to show scale is to put the object in someone’s hand. While hands vary in size, we understand what the average hand size is and can easily imagine it is our hand in the photo with the product. Psychologists have actually proven that photographing someone wearing a ring or holding a book sans any identifying features such as a face, help sell the product better.  Think of those beach calendars where all you see are someone’s feet and the ocean.  Another great example of this strategy is Apple’s advertisement for the iPad 2. They show how much slimmer the newer model is by placing it in a model’s hand and you immediately imagine what it would be like to hold yourself.

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Close up of Studio MME’s brooches using a macro lens.

Get in Close with the Macro Setting

Virtually all point and shoot cameras, and many other cameras, have a built in macro setting. The macro setting enables the lens to focus on close up subjects. This mode is accessed by the button with the flower symbol. Normally your camera may not focus on something less than a meter away but with this mode on your camera will have the ability to focus with the lens just few centimeters away from the subject.

In the dSLR world, you will find zoom lenses with macro settings and prime or non-zoom lenses that are designed as macro lenses. This is indicated on the focus ring of the lens by the word Macro. Most often it is as easy to use as turning the focus ring toward the word macro. All lenses have a minimum focusing distance that varies depending on the type of lens you own and that distance can be found in the owner’s manual under tech specs.

A way to make a non-macro lens into a macro lens is with a close up filter. This is a special filter that screws onto the front lens that allows the camera to focus on much closer subjects.

Want even more information on how to make your photography eye-catching to customers? Check out The Create & Thrive Guide to Product Photography, which covers basic photography processes that eliminate these common mistakes and help make your products pop thanks to composition, backgrounds, and lighting.

There’s No Shame in Outsourcing

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Seaside Mirror Locket – a collaboration between Studio MME and Polarity

It’s an unspoken myth but when we start out we can’t help but feel that every single part of our product and every step of our business needs to be done solely by you.  We have to design, produce, package, ship, market, and handle all the legal stuff all by our lonesome.  If we let someone help us or have another artist make part of our product, we think our item is no longer ‘handmade’ or that we’re no longer a small business.

But here’s the truth: outsourcing is acceptable.  Heck, it’s even encouraged.

I don’t mean you should be sending your dress fabric out to a Chinese factory to be sewn.  Nor should you hire unpaid interns to do the brunt of your work.

Outsourcing can be much more beautiful than that.  Outsourcing for you could mean:

  • Having a printer print your artwork on paper, tote bags, t-shirts, etc.
  • Having someone sew purses alongside you.  (There’s no reason you can’t have your help come in to your studio.)
  • Having a group of your favorite fans sew embroidery patterns for you before a trade show or photo shoot.
  • Having another artist construct the basic element of your product, such as ear wires or a necklace chain.
  • Having someone take charge of packaging and shipping your products.

Outsourcing doesn’t mean going for cheap.  It means making decisions to save you time and energy so that you can focus on what your customers most value about your work.  Is it your ear wires they’re raving about or the beautiful design of the earrings?  Is it your sewing skills they admire or your eye for putting fabrics together?  Is it your product people swoon over or your brown paper packaging?

The full-time makers you see online got where they are today because they know they don’t have the time or energy to do everything themselves and thus they found someone else to do the parts of their business least exciting for them.  Outsourcing not only allows you to grow your business but it allows you to collaborate and add products you couldn’t make on your own.

For example, I’ve teamed up with a jeweller to create a set of lockets featuring my work and a maker with a laser-engraving machine to make a set of lasercut pins.  If I’d stuck with the myth that I have to make every single thing entirely by myself, I would never have been able to make such well-crafted products.  (Believe me, it would have taken me a decade to learn the welding skills the jeweller has.)

So look over your offerings today and see what someone else could do.  You don’t have to take any immediate steps.  Just realizing that you don’t have to do it all is a big leap.

Success Stories ~ Hania of Moose Design

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Hania of Moose Design

Since I can barely sew in a straight line well enough to hem my pants, when I find a maker who creates handbags that look like they belong in a museum, I’m instantly enthralled and want to chat them up.  That’s exactly how I found Hania, the entrepreneur behind Moose Design.  She’s based in Poland and sews the most amazing handbags characterized by minimalist style and originality.  I think you’ll really enjoy her interview today.

Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far?

As a child I loved to sew, embroider, and draw porterty. Creation always gives me a lot of fun. That’s way I decided to become an architect. I graduated architectural studies and started to work in an architectural office. Unfortunately, in that profession creation was only a small part of the whole process…too small for me. After a few years working in architecture offices, I decided to change something in my life. I quit work and I started designing handbags.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your business?

When I decided to change my life and run my own company making bags, I needed to become a boss of my own company instead of simply being a worker doing jobs requested by someone else. I think that has been the biggest challenge for me so far.

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Felt Bag with Leather Handles – Fox Bag

What has been the biggest ‘fist-pump’/successful moment for you so far?

It was when I started to cooperate with foreign companies (e.g. from Belgium, UK, Germany, etc.). At the beginning I planned a small business selling bags only in Poland, but it turned out that there were a lot of requests from abroad for my bags and with that I’m really happy.

Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found the time for?

Of course there are lot of ideas in my head I wish I had time for but there are so many things to do right now that I need to take care of. I’m planning now to hire my first employee. It will be a big step for me.

Are there times when your creativity and inspiration seem to disappear? How do you handle that?

I like running. It helps me rest and clear my mind. Then when I’m tired after a long run, before I fall asleep a new ideas comes to my mind easily.

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White Cotton Tote Handbag – Seal Handbag

How do you balance your work with the rest of your life ~ what does a typical day in your life look like?

I wake up, go out of my bedroom, turn left into the next door and I’m already at work 🙂 My home is also my workshop. It cuts both ways. I can walk in sweats all day but as I don’t have to rush to work, I have big problems to wake up and get started.

I’m a seamstress, designer and manager in one person that’s way my day is a bit crazy and chaotic. I answer on e-mails, order materials and of course sew and design handbags.

What has been the best marketing move you’ve ever made for your own business?

I believe the decision that I made to cooperate with a professional and talented photographer was a really good idea and had a big influence on my business. I believe that a great photo is needed to attract the attention of customers and sell an item.  (Megan here – I think you can agree with me that Hania’s photographs are absolutely breathtaking!)

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Gray Cotton Tote Handbag – Bear Bag

What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful creative business?

You work needs to be your passion; you do not need anything else.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

I hope to develop my business, have a big workshop, and cooperate with shops from all over the world.

You can find more of Hania’s work online at:

Her website: www.moose-design.eu
Her Etsy Shop: www.etsy.com/shop/MOOSEdesignBAGS
Her facebook fanpage: www.facebook.com/MOOSEdesignBAGS

Our New Favorite Tool – Stitch Labs

As makers we have lots of physical tools in our studios but for our online business needs, there are some great tools you should look into getting for your virtual toolbox.  I’m constantly looking for new apps and websites to help me work smarter, not harder, and today I wanted to share a new tool that I found.  It looks really cool and I can’t wait to try it out.

Let me introduce you to Stitch Labs!

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I heard about Stitch Labs almost a year ago and when it first came out I thought it was simply an online inventory system.  Being at a point where I was making everything to order, I didn’t think I needed an inventory let alone an online one.  Well, times change and so has Stitch Labs.  It’s now so much more than just an inventory system.

Okay, so what does it do?

  • Creates cloud-based inventory systems that can be exported to Google drive or Excel.  This sounds pretty cool, especially if you would like to know how many of each product you have in stores across the country.
  • It syncs with Amazon, Etsy, BigCommerce, Shopify, Storenvy, using Spark Pay, ECWID, or other online platforms to manage your inventory, sales, AND invoices.  Cool, right!?
  • Okay, it gets better because it also creates reports based on all of that data.  I admit that reports sound boring but these ones are super-colorful (which we makers love because we’re such visual people), and it helps you see where and when you’re making money.  No more guessing about which product is your best seller or which online platform sells the most.
  • You can use Stitch Labs to send invoices.  For those of you who wholesale, this is a great function because you can continue to keep everything in one place.
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Sounds pretty good right?  Well, there’s one last thing that I know you’ll like: you get to start for free!  Obviously for more bells and whistles, you’ll pay but it’s definitely worth a peek at the free version to see if it helps you feel more decisive and confident in your business.

I’d love to know if you already use Stitch Labs and what you think of it.

A Simple Retirement Plan for the Self-employed

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{Forest Patchwork Wallet by Faith on Earth}

It occurred to me a while ago that I was not doing anything to plan for my retirement.

Of course, I never really plan on ‘retiring’ per se – I think I’ll be one of those people who’s doing some sort of work till the day I die – simply because otherwise, I’d get terribly bored.

However, it seems only common sense to ensure I have enough money for my old age should something prevent me from being an internet-savvy old woman, right?

If you’re a passionate, self-employed entrepreneur, I’ll bet you probably have the same dreams for your old age. But do you have a retirement plan in place in case you can’t work forever?

Now, Nick and I do own a house in England, so that’s one part of our retirement plan, but that in and of itself won’t be enough to see us through. We need to start putting money away for the future, and as the breadwinner, it’s my responsibility to make sure this is happening.

I’m not an anti-money-creative-type. I actually thrive on the money side of my business. I love knowing how much I’m earning week-to-week, knowing how much I’m spending.

I love setting money goals.

We keep on top of all the business income and expenditures so we always know where we’re at – and if you don’t, I HIGHLY recommend you start. Because if you don’t know what’s going on in the financial side of your business, it’s my opinion that you don’t have a business, you have a hobby.

So, the fact I’ve let this slide for the last few years is surprising, and something I’m relieved to have taken the time to think about.

Like the rest of my fellow Aussies, I have a Superannuation account (or Super, as we call it). For those of you outside of Australia, Super is a government-mandated retirement fund that every working Australian must have, and their employers are legally bound to contribute money into this account on their behalf.

So, I have some money in a Super fund from when I had a ‘regular’ job – but I haven’t remembered to put any additional funds in there for the last few years that I’ve been self-employed.

BIG money fail on my part.

However, unless you want to go to the trouble of putting together a self-managed Super fund, you don’t have a whole lot of control over where your money goes – my Super fund is managed by a company who invest the money on my behalf. And considering how many people near retirement age lost a huge chunk of their Super with the last GFC, I’m actually not all that keen on putting all my retirement eggs in the share market basket.

So, I’ve done the simplest, easiest thing to start off with – set up an automatic savings plan.

At the moment, $200 a month goes straight from my regular account into a dedicated retirement savings account that receives a good interest rate.

Simple.

The key here? You need to make sure it’s HARD to get the money out of your retirement account. You need to basically forget that money exists.

There are a few great online bank accounts you can get here in Australia that meet these conditions – like an ING or UBank account (I have accounts with both for different reasons). If you have one of these accounts, you can make sure your retirement money is completely separate from your regular money, and you don’t have a keycard that lets you access it.

We’re also lucky here in Oz to not have completely horrendous interest rates at the moment (horrendously low, I mean) – you can get an account with that will give you around 5% p.a. return (at least at first…).

That might not sound like much, but check this out:

compound-interest-rates-for-retirement

If I just put that $200 a month away in a regular account, I’d have just $69,600 by the time I hit 60. With a 6% interest rate (I’m assuming it will be more and less than this over the years, but it’s a nice believable average) I end up with $183,512.

Pretty amazing. And all for just putting aside $200 a month over 29 years, and never touching the capital.

If you want to play around with this calculator yourself, you can find it here.

Another important piece of the puzzle is my Super – I can’t totally neglect that.

However, I don’t want to put lots of money in there because 1) I only have a very basic level of control over where that money is invested 2) I can’t access that money until retirement age.

As much as I never, ever want to touch my retirement account, I still have the security in knowing it’s there should something catastrophic befall me and Nick, and we desperately need the money – for a life-saving operation, or some such.

But, I’d be missing out if I didn’t take advantage of the Australian Government’s Co-Contribution Scheme.

“The superannuation (super) co-contribution is a government initiative to help eligible individuals boost their super savings for the future.

If you are a low or middle-income earner, you can take advantage of the super co-contribution payment by making eligible personal super contributions to your super fund or retirement savings account (RSA). The government will then match up to $1,000 of your personal super contributions.

You don’t need to apply. If you’re eligible, all you need to do is make eligible personal super contributions to your super fund or RSA and lodge an income tax return.”

So, let’s add to my plan – putting $1000 per year into my Super, to get what is basically a free additional $1000 from the government each year towards my retirement. I’m kicking myself that I’ve let that slip through the cracks for a few years now.

After writing this all down and getting it straight in my head, I’m feeling a lot better about my long-term financial future.

So, in short, my plan is:

1. Set up a $200 auto-payment per month that goes into a ‘forget-about-it’ retirement account.

2. Put $1000 into my Super account at the end of each financial year to take advantage of the Australian Government’s Co-Contribution Scheme.

3. Care for our current investments to ensure they’re giving us the best return possible (house rent and shares).

So, that’s my take on a simple retirement plan for the self-employed.

At least, it’s a start!

If you’re self-employed, do you have a retirement plan in place? Or is it something you need to get done?

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