Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ardent Photography: Senior Portraits 2013

My first portrait session with my new camera was for my brother who is graduating this year.  He needed his senior portrait taken and wanted to have them done on his track down in Shelton.  He is a track and cross country runner, so the track is an important element in who he is. 

Luckily we only had to push the session out once due to rain, a problem with shooting outdoors in Western Washington during Fall.  The day we were able to shoot was lovely and the sun was sitting low in the sky as we stepped onto the track. The wind had picked up, blowing in the next storm system, but we worked around that. The session wasn't long, normally single focused sessions aren't, and we got the photograph we needed.

Portrait sessions are an interesting thing.  You need to develop an instant relationship, even if you know your subject, because you are now the photographer, not the sister, friend, wife, daughter, etc.  You have to interpret the photograph he sees in his mind, and bring it into being.  Our first attempt at this photograph was unsuccessful.  My brother was content with not having the image he wanted, but I made him explain it to me again, and in the last few moments, I had him pose again, not smiling because he liked the stern face better, lowered the camera to my feet and shot up.  I took a few shots, for obvious reasons but also because it was windy which meant more blinking. 

The shot above is the shot.  No editing necessary.  I even liked and kept the bit of vignetting the old Vivitar lens put on the picture.  The other photographs we took that day do not matter.  Whether they turned out or didn't, is of no importance, because this was the shot.

Thank you for reading,
Sarah McTernen

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Basic Guide for Opening an Online Shop

The Abstract Spider by Sarah McTernen
A friend of mine has just started up a new Etsy shop, and while offering her advice, I thought I should just blog about it.

Jumping into selling stuff online, no matter what it is, can be daunting:  key words, photographs, listing descriptions; they all take time.  Some things you won't get right at first, but it will become easier with time. 

A few tips about starting up an online shop:

1. Photographs - Don't let everybody else scare you off.  Yes, you need to have good photographs to sell items online, but you can get good pictures with a simple point and shoot camera if you follow some basic guidelines.
  • Use natural light if possible.  Even cloudy sunlight is brighter than your house lights.  Try not to use direct sunlight though because it make things look too harsh and shadows too dark.  Flashes are also typically a no-no especially if the items contains anything reflective. 
  • Model items as needed.  Clothing looks better on, so does jewelry.  Earrings look best hanging not lying flat.  Notebooks, cards, etc. look best propped up not lying flat.
  • Use props, but keep it simple.  Backgrounds should be neutral and props should not take away from the item to be sold.  Props are also not necessary but only for items that look okay lying flat.
  • Play with your camera.  It is digital.  You don't have to print the photographs, you can just delete the bad ones.  Figure out how your auto focus works.  See how close you can get before it starts focusing on the background.  Learn where the Macro button is and remember how to turn it on and off.  Items MUST be in focus, beyond anything else.
  • Play with your angles.  Don't always just shoot straight on.  Shoot above, from the side, down low.  Again, if the photograph doesn't work, just delete it, but play around with how you shoot your items until you feel very comfortable with your images.
  • White Balance - white balance affects the color of your photographs.  If you have ever taken a picture and everything looked bluish when it wasn't, it was because you were shooting with the wrong white balance.  Auto normally does a good job, but sometimes, especially with mixed light, it will get confused.  Find your white balance button and play with the settings.  Take samples shots and see which ones look more natural. 
2. Do not under charge!  Think about how much the materials cost.  Think about how much time you spent creating.  You should feel slightly uncomfortable about the price, but if you don't think it is good enough to sell, don't sell it; let practice pieces be just that.

3. Don't stand up an empty shop.  People are more likely to buy from you if you look like you are busy so try to wait until you have 10 or more items ready to start a shop.  Of course I know shops that only have one or two listings because they only make one or two specialized things (jam, furniture, etc.) but having a fuller shop makes customers feel more secure in purchasing from you.

4. Descriptions -  Explain what the items is, what it is made out of as specifically as you can, what it will be used for, what it can be used for, who will buy it.  Have a signature sign off for your listings with the name of your shop and any website, Facebook, or blog that you are also associated with. 

5. Keywords - Choose keyword phrases that people would be searching for when they stumble across your product.  Most likely people are not searching YOU out, but they are looking for something.  Think about the words you used in your description and use the "key " words in your Keywords.

6. Title - Again, use your Keywords in your title.  Yes, you are repeating yourself, but this is how you get found in search.  Still try to sound like a human instead of a robot, but you need to repeat your keywords in your title, your description and in the Keywords section.  You have 140 characters for your title, use as many of them as possible, and put the most important descriptive words first.

7. Be Active - post items daily, create treasuries, join teams or blogs that support other shop owners.  Follow people.  The more people who like your shop, the more likely you will be found by others.

So in summation:  Keep photographs simple but clear, be descriptive, and be active.

This is just a short list.  Etsy has lots of forums and articles to help shop owners and so does Handmadeology ( ). 

Thanks for reading,
Sarah McTernen