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How To Take Great Photos On a Tight Budget

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    • 62 posts
    July 31, 2015 11:04 PM EDT

    posted by Vintage Vault   9-14-2014

    I have recently received several compliments on my item photos from several other Villagers so I thought I would share my process.

    Like most of us, I'm limited on money. space and time. The first thing I do is build up a bunch of items that I want to list so I can shoot photos all on one or two days. I build up a big pile in the corner of my dining area until I can't stand looking at it anymore and then drag out the photo equipment. 

    I live in a small condo so I don't have room for a lot of stuff. Basically my kitchen table is my studio. I did however, invest in a few decent pieces of equipment that make all the difference.

    Camera- I use a Nikon DSLR D40. Priced new these can run around 500 dollars. Don't freak! I couldn't afford that kind of upfront investment either and I don't like credit cards so I shopped around at local pawn shops until I found a camera I like and put it on layaway. I got it for around 250 and was able to make payments that fit my budget. Plus a reputable pawn shop will give you a limited warranty. 


    If you want to stay with the small hand held digital cameras, which are still very good products, I would recommend investing in a better grade brand such as Olympus or Nikon and also a small tripod to stabilize your shots.

     Lighting- I am fortunate enough to have a photographer friend who gave me one of his light boxes. It looks like this:You can buy them off Ebay for relatively cheap. They have kits with lights as well for under 50 dollars. I like this box because the home made one I used in the beginning was cumbersome, fell apart all the time and was hard to store. This type folds down and pops up for easy storage and fits perfectly on my small kitchen table. I use a box to prop items up higher into the center of the light box and a white sheet to cover the box. Often I will use a small black or dark colored box on which I sit the particular item because it helps the camera read the item better. 


    Lamps- I use 2 garage style clamp lamps that look like this:

    I bought them at a garage sale for a buck each but you can get them at Home Depot or any hardware store or Ebay. I have 2 stands that I also bought for 50 cents each to which I mount the lamps. I am thinking of investing in one of the kits I saw on EBay that comes with the lamps but since I am since a cheapskate I will really have to ponder that option.

    What is important here is the kind of bulbs you use for the lamps. You want to go down to Home Depot or Ace hardware or even online and get Daylight Incandescent Bulbs. It will give you white lighting. If you use regular bulbs for the lighting, your photos will all look dull and yellow. The bulbs are about 12 to 20 bucks each but they will last several years and well worth the investment. 

    Sometimes I use the lamps on the side of the box so the light is shining through the material and sometimes pull them out front and have them shining directly on the product. I also have a ceiling light above the box that I turn on to get a nice down cast glow. Sometimes I open the blinds to get some natural lighting as well but I have to be careful of shadows. Experimenting is the best way to learn! 

    I try not to use a bunch of backdrop items to fancy up my photos such as lace or flowers. For me personally,  I find it to be a distraction from the piece and can get in the way seasonally. By that I mean if you use a bunch of daisies as props around your item, come Christmas time that photo is going to look out of place  For me, I just find lots of background stuff to be distracting and takes away from the item you are listing. 

    As I'm shooting my pictures I make sure I have a notebook, measuring tape and magnifying glass with me. I take notes on each item as I shoot it so I have ready information for later on when I do each listing. I also note any flaws the piece might have so I don't forget it later on and make notes about value or reference on the piece. I also start putting together a working title for the item  which I will test later on using searches to see if it fits the bill. 

    Next,  I am going to download my pictures into the computer. I catalog each group by the day I shot them. That way later on when I have to find a particular photo I can look for that month, day and year grouping and it makes it easier to find. I can also keep track of how long I have had a piece kicking around and maybe its time dump the old photos and retake or consider putting the piece into the dud file. Hey, not everything's a winner!

    I use Picasa from Google to edit the photos because a) it is free and I am cheap and b) it is quick and easy to use.

    It's important to crop your photo as closely as possible getting rid of all extra space around the photo. One of the features I like most about Picase is the straighten feature. You can level out your photo so the item is well centered. I recommend straightening before you crop. You can fine tune by adjusting the contrast and light and shadow. I try not to over do it and use the item itself as a rule of them. Does the coloring actually look like the item? If its too far off the mark I back up and adjust.

    As a last tip for listing your item, which will help pull it up in searches, is that you want to title your first photo the same name as your listing title. So for example, I am going to list a set of measuring cups by the brand and style and call them Tender Heart Bee Hive Stacking Measuring Cups because that is what I think people will search for when looking for this type of item. So I name my first and best photo with the same title so the image itself can be picked up in searches. 

    I hope some of this helps. Images are so crucial to the impact of your item listing. I;m certainly not a professional photographer by any means but I am fortunate enough to have friends and relatives who fit into that category and I am not afraid to pick their brains for help. It took me a little time to put together my process and equipment but the small financial investment and the time investment has paid off with great results! Thanks for reading this and if you have any questions send me a message and I will do my best to answer! 

    • 30 posts
    February 5, 2016 6:10 PM EST

    This was very informative, after 17 years you would think I would have done this already!!  lol

  • February 5, 2016 9:37 PM EST

    I struggle daily with taking pictures.  I have a light box but find it very difficult to work with.  I guess my first mistake was not knowing how to shine the lights on stuff.  There was no instructions on how or where to place the lights.  My biggest issue I think are my photos turning pink.  Give me any other color but not Pink!!  I'll have to give your way a go and see what happens.  

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge!



  • February 6, 2016 3:10 PM EST

    I don't know about the pink -- but never ever use red for the surface on which you're placing your items, or as the background.

    I made my own light box with a metal frame and white t-shirts. It can be a pain to use and is always too small for something large. You place the lights wherever you need so as to reduce any shadows under the item as much as possible. Direct strong light is what creates the shadows -- you use the light box sides to "filter" the light so it's not strong enough to make shadows.Aim the lights from the front, or from the front and more above, or from the sides but closer to the front.

    I think the shadow reduction is absolutely the most important job. You can edit contrast and color but the shadows can't be edited out. It's important to have them gone as much as possible especially if you're on Ruby Lane and using their "AIP" requirement.

    I don't have room for the garage lamps, so I picked up a couple of clamp-on household gooseneck student lamps at tag sales, the WalMart type stores also sell them $3 - $4 each. The tip on the type of bulbs is really helpful, as indoor (yellow and warm) and outdoor (blue and cold) lighting is very different. Try the "DAYLIGHT" bulbs instead of standard household bulbs.  If everything else fails, take your camera to a camera shop, explain the problem and buy a "filter" for it, so your pictures will have the correct lighting in them.

    If all else fails, set up outdoors on an overcast day when there are no shadows and take a lot of pictures before the sun comes back out !

    Another thing you can try that can be helpful is a "Filler Flash."  This is forcing the flash to operate, even if the setting is bright enough to not necessarily need one.  A filler flash should ensure there are no shadows underneath your object. 

    As for the photos, I number my items for inventory. I include the inventory number as part of the file photo name so the photos can be immediately found by just clicking the START button and doing a search.

    Also, when editing, it's an immense help for me to make my first picture one showing the item with its numbered tag. I have many lookalike items and the tag photo acts like a page divider for me.

    Thanks for the tip on Picasa - I will have to check it out ! I am relying on a terrific but 10 year old software program that one of these days won't understand the new technology.  I only want to do simple things: cut/paste, copy, enlarge/reduce, crop, fill in color and stitch pictures together.  I don't want to have to learn how to use a bunch of "layers" and complicated things like that.


    This post was edited by Jane Time's Treasures LLC at February 6, 2016 3:14 PM EST