Monday, April 28, 2014

A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words

You don't take a photograph, you make it.
- Ansel Adams

I've learned lately that there is definitely a difference between "taking" a photograph and "making" one.  The latter requires a lot more work than I ever dreamed.  I've never been a great photographer.  Oh, I've read books like Digital Photograph for Dummies, and even took a half-day hands-on course.  It all went right over my head...terms like depth of focus and white balance and shutter speed went in one ear and out the other.  Things got much better once I embraced my camera-illiteracy.  Compensation comes in the form of a fancy-shmancy DSLR that is decidedly smarter than I am, and on which I rely to make up for my many shortcomings.  For a long time, things were good in picture-land.

That's because with kids, the combo of ignorance and good equipment works pretty well for me.  Big and Little never stand still for pictures anyway.  So the fact that I didn't know an f-stop from a truck stop was never a big problem until I realized that a jewelry business wasn't going to work out too well if I couldn't show my pieces to potential customers.

This was one of my original attempts.  I was all about the backgrounds, and props.  Notice the pinkish white blob in the upper right hand corner - that's the petal of a fairly ugly silk rose.  And the lovely, crinkly purple paper I let Big and Little talk me into (in their defense, it didn't take much convincing...I was thinking my business color scheme, sparkly like fairies, all that jazz).  Would you buy this piece?  I wouldn't, and I 1) made it, and 2) consider it one of my favorites!  But this was the look of my entire Etsy shop when I opened it and I thought I'd done this amazing thing, finally getting everything photographed and cohesive.

After a couple of weeks, during which time I actually managed to sell a couple of items in spite of the photographs, I realized I needed to step up my game.  A lot of Googling tips and tricks helped me decide to simplify things.

Round two turned my dining room table into a photography studio. Immediately I noticed one thing...the background made a difference. Without the deep purple and the sparkly glare, my pieces stood out more.  I still couldn't let go of my prop obsession, which had me painting twigs I scavenged in the yard and using them.   You know, because of that princess in the woods thing (I mean, the company is called Fairietale Designs, after all).  Sleeping Beauty lived in a cottage in the woods, Snow White escaped to them, Merida followed the will o' the wisps through woods, Rapunzel's tower was hidden in the forest.

Well, it sort of made sense and seemed appropriate at the time.  The shop still didn't have that clean, as-close-to-professional as I was going to get look that I wanted, that I saw in so many other shops.  I decided to try again.  This time I used a new approach...clean, simple, outdoors in natural light.  Nothing fancy, just me, my camera, and the jewelry.  What I didn't realize was just how much went into this "simple looking" way of making a picture...the right time of day, knowing where the light was coming from, the dreaded "white balance" (which I'm honestly still faking any true knowledge of!).

This is where I am now.  Perfect? Far from it.  But light years from those original photos!  When I look at my shop, I'm happy with what I see.  It's cohesive.  It's clean.  What jumps out at you is the jewelry, not the colors or the staging or the props.

I'll still never be a pro.  I trash far more pictures then I keep, and I'm grateful if an hour's work yields one or two decent pictures.  But I'm learning.  And as I try to teach my girls, that's what life is all about.  You can teach an old dog new tricks (or, more accurately, the new dog can teach herself as long as she wants to learn).  I hope that Big and Little eventually understand and embrace that idea for themselves.

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