15 Sep 2010

I’d really rather just be making pretty things

As I was uploading some newly prepared photographs to my web site earlier, I noticed that the image file list had passed 2500 files. That’s just the photograph directory for my listed products for sale, which currently counts at just over 422 items.

Granted, not all of those are items actually still for sale, a significant proportion of those (probably about 30%) are now sold and remain on the site in the ‘sold’ category to serve as a gallery of past work and potentially items that can be re-made to order if required. But it set me to thinking about the body of work – and investment of time – this represents.

Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

When I photograph an item to sell, I need 5 photographs to list on Etsy and so aim to produce more finished images than this, so that I can choose the best, in terms of image and photographic quality (sharpness, exposure, depth of field, colour etc.), angles and an all round impression of the product available. My own site will allow me to add as many photographs as I want, so I set off with the aim of taking something like 20 photographs of an item and post processing and finishing around 8 or so of them and then choosing the best of those to use.

I like to show pieces on a variety of background colours, as well as different angles. After all, buyers will potentially wear them against a varied range of skin tones and hair colouring and adjacent to an infinitely variable selection of fabrics.

It is my habit to produce at least 2 finished versions of each selected image – one each for Etsy and my own shop (required at different sizes) and usually one image per piece of jewellery that becomes a photo business card – where I like the views enough and they’re the right proportions for the artwork. I sometimes produce additional variants to use elsewhere or for print publications too.

Photographs of suitable proportions, that look like they’ll print nicely, are made into artwork for my photo business cards, which I print and laminate myself so that I can keep adding current designs to those in use.

I often take many ‘similars’ – views from the same angle, for example, but with focus placed in a different spot within the image to create different visual effects or highlight particular details of the design. I often bracket the exposure to see which looks best once on the computer – especially important with reflective silver pieces – as is a lot of trial and error in creating decent and controlled reflections.

Polished silver is especially problematic, if it reflects the light too much, it burns out to white, devoid of detail and if you get something reflected, it might not be something you’d want the world to see, so trial and error in creating appropriate reflections is sometimes the only way. Various pieces of black paper were held adjacent with this image to put detail and form into the polished surfaces.

So I tend to end up with a whole collection of images of a given piece, which I know in advance will be seriously whittled down to the quantity I hope to finally publish.

Sometimes I like to deliberately use a shallow depth of field, with a low perspective to give emphasis to a particular feature or just add drama.

So I was curious to calculate how much work this represents. If I allowed 15 minutes per finished published image as a rough guestimate, this gave rise to a total of 625 hours of work for my 2500 published images – which is nearly 16 full time 40 hour working weeks. So if I were to settle down now and start on the task, I’d maybe be finished in time to celebrate New Years Eve. This also serves to illustrate the vital need for a habitual and reliable data back up strategy – a few minutes a day could save you a whole world of hurt in the future – but it’s an oversight that you only tend to make the once – often a very hard lesson learned.

Add to this the further time necessary to measure each piece and keep a record of this information and then write this into a meaningful search engine friendly description with marketing value and then the further time to actually bring it all together on a web page (and possibly several, that may require different formats), with links to associated products and ensure that is is spelled correctly and error free, you can see just how much of an investment it time it all represents.

And of course, all of this time has to be accounted for in terms of both your working weekly schedule (as does accounting, cleaning, stock control, tool maintenance, materials purchasing etc. etc.) and how you price finished pieces. It might take you an hour to make something, but if it takes another hour to photograph it, edit the images, write the description, research details on the materials used, measure it and present it on your sales venue of choice, that time also needs to be taken into consideration. If it’s a design that you can repeat often and make plenty of, obviously that investment may be spread over several sales, but for one-off pieces, it can potentially be as much time as you spent on making it, so all of this needs to be considered within your pricing structure.

I’ve said many times that the quality of work (irrespective of the craft items themselves, this is in addition to that work) shown by artisan sellers undertaking this task is of a very high standard indeed. We each need to be accomplished photographers, copy writers, marketing and promotional gurus and also be fully informed on matters such as postal and shipping methods and often our own tax accountants too.

We also need to be accomplished at gift presentation once sold. I address environmental concerns by making most of my own packaging materials, often up-cycling materials I already have to hand. In this case, I’ve sewn these fabric keepsake pouches from what were quality home furnishing fabric samples from when I had a sewing shop. I make the ribbon rosebuds too – my tutorial for them is in the blog.

Many high street retailers with web sites can’t even come close to the detail and quality of presentation many individual and independent artisan and craft sellers manage – often on top of full time employment- where such retailers will employ a whole army of suitably qualified and dedicated personnel to do the myriad of tasks we all need to master individually.

So kudos to the accomplished and talented members of hand made community, that could teach high profile retailers a thing or two!

6 thoughts on “I’d really rather just be making pretty things

  1. This post was really useful, thank you for sharing.

    I also wanted to thank you for the ‘alt tag’ infomation you posted on my blog, it’s not something that I had thought about before and I’m going to get to work straight away.

  2. Excellent article Boo. I have redone my photos so often and in the process of totally revamping again – many man hours too expensive to build into price of article. definitely has an effect – if photos are good when I am browsing shops I will stop and look. I like doing treasuries too and find that so many items are lovely but so poorly photographed that i cannot use them. Thanks for taking time to write it. Lorna

  3. I have found a love of photography through hours spent taking pictures of jewellery, which is a plus point. I know that handmade online means you have to have brilliant photographs so I try hard at that every time.

    I think the handmade community should be very proud of the standard of photography, especially as the high street is lacking so far behind.

  4. Thanks both. I hope I haven’t put you off Fiona – but it just goes to illustrate that there’s a great deal more to getting your work in front of people than just making something pretty – and that time needs to be allowed for in both scheduling and pricing.

    I’m not sure how quality of presentation relates to sales, I think it’s certainly necessary to show the piece the best you can, but I’m not sure my sales have improved as my pictures have. And this week I’ve sold several old pieces with very inferior photos, so who knows. 😉

  5. Now I know why I haven’t started my online shop yet! A really thoughtful post. I’m sure the time spent on photos must translate into sales.

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