I'm a writer and vintage junkie transplant from Baltimore to WV. Interests include Etsy, crafting, melmac dinnerware, and archaeology.
How to Take Good Photos for Successful Selling on Etsy
Photographs matter. Etsy, like any other online store, is a visual marketplace. Here, I will share examples of photograph dos and don'ts and show you the standard quality of photos that you should be using in your Etsy shop or any online store.
1. Learn to Use Natural Light
Backgrounds and lighting can make or break your photograph. In their how-tos and posting guides, Etsy has always suggested that you take photographs in natural light. And, after years of failing at this, I'm here to tell you that they are right.
You want to accurately depict your item for your customer. Not only is natural light prettier, but using it makes the photograph clear enough so that potential buyers can see realistic details of what they are buying.
2. Don't Use the Flash
Taking images in a dark or dimly lit area means that you have to use a flash, which can add a fake or faux tint or shadow to your item. It can also discolor your item or alter its texture or details.
Chances are you will need to only use a flash in dim or poorly lit lighting circumstances. This bad lighting scenario can then create glare and bad shadows. It can often tone down the natural color, making it look "off" or even "fuzzy," both of which make details hard to see clearly.
The wrenches above were both taken with an Apple IPhone 8 Plus, but against different backgrounds: one in the early morning in natural light with the curtain open (right), and the other in the evening with a flash (left). As you can see it looks like I have applied antiquing filters to the one on the left, when in fact this effect was mostly due to poor lighting and bad choice of background.
3. Use Historical Staging to Appeal to the Buyer
Many people choose to use relevant or natural backgrounds, and this may actually help sell your item when it is staged. A natural or historical background is one trick that is often not discussed. Consider using a background or setting that shows the history of the item or enhances its provenance.
For instance, if you collected beach rocks and had them sitting in the sand, that's a subconscious reminder to the buyer of where they came from.
If you are a potter, showing your pottery on the potter's wheel after they are fired would show off where they were made, subconsciously revealing your authentic creative process.
4. Use Natural Staging Techniques
Natural staging techniques send a clear picture to the buyer to show the buyer where this item would fit into their life.
For instance, a shelf decoration can be photographed on a shelf instead of on a coffee table. A cookbook for sale can be placed in the kitchen or on a bookshelf rather than sitting outside on a bench. A finished coat rack for sale may be hung on the wall to show how it would appear in use, rather than photographed sitting on a workbench.
Perhaps the easiest way to think of this is that clothing may be displayed on an actual model or mannequin rather than draped on a table. If you apply this rule to all items, you can naturally stage them.
5. Use Models
Using models is another form of naturally staging an item, as the potential customer can obtain a clearer feel of how the item would look or fit on them. This is an obvious choice for all vintage or handmade clothing or bags, but can also be used with jewelry.
6. Using Contrasting Backgrounds (Color Staging)
Staging your item onto backgrounds that help the contrast and focal point of an item can be obtained with colors that contrast. Hard to photograph items may photograph better on colors that make them pop. Often times a light object will pop against a dark background, and vice versa.
7. Use Complimentary Backgrounds (Subtle Staging)
Using complimentary backgrounds may just enhance the "look and feel" of the item. You can add ribbon, lace, flowers, or something "to pretty up your photograph." This is not particularly overwhelming, but just enhances the item.
8. Use Props (Staging)
Using props to create groupings, or using background props, may enhance your item's desirability and make it more visually appealing.
Pairing the right staging items can also apply the principles I discussed earlier (like creating a contrast of color, or showing how an item would look naturally in the home.)
9. Use "Adjust Thumbnail" Under Shop Manager
If you have mastered all the art of your photographs, it's important to remember that a great deal of shoppers use their phones or tablets, not always a PC. If you have ever visited your Etsy store using an iPhone, you will notice that the icons of items for sale are much smaller on the phone. Sometimes, your item may be aligned incorrectly within the box based on the centering of your photograph.
This is important to fix. Below, click the thumbnails of the images and I'll walk you through how to fix it.
Note: Only the first photo is adjustable. Don't like that one? Then simply move your photos around while you are in the listing page. Whatever photo is in the first position, will be the one you can "adjust the thumbnail."
10. Remember That Less Is More
Etsy's top sellers got there by building a great reputation for desirable items, excellent customer service, and the best prices. I noticed that one thing is certain: Less is More.
All online sellers should consider the "less is more" rule, in essence, quality over quantity of photographs. Although Etsy gives you ten possible photograph slots, three excellent photos would be better than ten grainy, fuzzy, unclear images.
To learn more about improving your listings on Etsy, read "10 Tips for Selling on Etsy: Avoid Common Seller Mistakes."
More Sales for the Etsy Seller
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer
Leave me a comment, with your Etsy shop.
Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer (author) from Hedgesville, WV on July 10, 2021:
Lynsey Hart from Lanarkshire on May 31, 2020:
Thanks again for more great tips on etsy selling and making everything looking fabulous for the listings.
Matthew Hornbostel on January 17, 2020:
Nice ideas. Hadn't thought of the notion of the item's origin or materials being used as the background of the photo. But it is a great way to tell a sort of story.
I am an artist and a digital artist too, not just handmade, so after all my learning with studio art and photography and video courses and references I should have put far more thought into the photos on my Etsy shop than I did initially.
I really need to post more photos as there aren't very many on my store per item at the moment. Many of my listings currently only have one adequate but not especially artful picture! That is a mistake, especially given how nice many of my items could look when positioned in a good setting. Maybe a sense of the size of the items would be useful as well, objects placed in context can help express the scale of the item visually, versus a painting not in a context just against a flat color backdrop.
I will second the note about contrast, the more your item stands out from what is behind it the more it will draw attention to what traits the item has that the backdrop lacks. A bright shiny reflective item against black, especially with lights cast onto it at various angles from behind the camera, could work great. But color is only one way to build contrast. A shallow depth of field (a small object set right up close to camera with a distant out of focus background) can add that contrast too and similarly saturation can be used effectively. If the item is colorful, set it against a relatively neutral tan or grayish background.
Also note the way Etsy's site is designed - the images are themselves set against a backdrop white by default on the Etsy app which has major implications for contrast.
For example, one of my most popular artworks on Etsy is a floral art, colorful flowers painted against black. But I don't think it is my best listing at all! It nonetheless grabs a lot of views. I had considered its being small and cheap as a draw, or that people just happened to want floral art. But the contrast vs. white is, I suspect, why the thumbnail grabs eyes.
Which is an interesting possibility that you just led me to realize!
Anyway, thanks for the reminder of the importance of good photography. I will soon put that to better use on my shop.