Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Before and After Photos - taking good photos for Etsy

So I have to admit I did a long stint helping review work for Stock photography - in a now sadly defunct site. It was a real eye opener. After you have seen 300 photos of a bunch of carrots your eyes glaze over... and then some clever bugger comes along and sends a photo of a bunch of carrots and you say, OMFG look at those carrots!!!

That's the secret of a good photo. I'm not even close to achieving that.. but I learned a lot of tricks Even when i take a great and interesting photo - I still get emails from customers saying: Oh is so much better in Real life!

I try not to spend too much time ditzing around with photos. If I spend 4 hours playing with photos - and i still pay myself - my jewelry would be Much More Expensive. And to be honest I feel its not fair. A customer isn't buying a photo. So I try and limit my "ditzing around time" to about 30 min. Less if I can. Usually I have 2 shots I might spend more time with. As well I try and use all 5 photos. Photos help sell the work.

After having sold nearly 140+ pieces - this equals about 700 photos just to etsy. Thats about 350 hours of photo time. If I was working a 40 hour week that would be over 8 wks. 2 months of work. And that won't count all the didn't-make-it photos. The ones with the hairs and dust and omg-is-that-a-fly?? on the shots.

You really want to get as close to a good photo right from the start. As important as it is to take a good photo there are a few BASICS. This little article won't help much for someone who has no idea about photography. You'll have to check some other sites to help with that.

  • 1. Exposure. If your photo is over-exposed there is not a lot you can do to correct it if all the highlights are blown out. For me personally its easier to correct under-exposure. The more over-exposed the photo is the harder it gets to correct.
  • 2. Centered - for Etsy and similar sites its really vital that your product is centered. Oh sure it can be artistically placed to one side. It can come at a slant. But if you are cutting off a section of your work or say the really pretty beads aren't show then your customer won't see them. You've got just a few chances to grab their attention - so if part of your photo is missing - chances are good they won't click to find it.
  • 3. Large as Possible - You want to fill up at least one of your photos with the product. You might not get in all of it - but get the bulk of whatever it is - in the center and Large!
  • 4. Focus. - in focus not blurry. Did you use a tripod?
  • 5. Minimal Shadows - yes. sure daylight is great - but direct sunlight causes shadows. Shadows create distortion. In the tiny thumbnails people review the shadows will look like part of your work. Use a bounce. (another photo term for you to look up). A bounce will help minimize the darkness. I have used: pie plates, pot lids, pieces of paper - as well as a store-bought Bounce. The paper works fine.
  • 6. WHITE. Anything in your photo that is white should be white. Are your whites white? If your white beads look GRAY or Yellow.. you need to get a photoshop-type program and adjust them. This is critical. If your customer thinks the beads are yellow and gets white beads they won't be pleased. I won't click on any photo of anything where the product looks gray. Brighten it up.
  • 7. Straight... this depends on the shot but a good example is the huge number of shots we use to reject because the horizon was crooked. I like things that are straight in the photo - especially if I suspect the person was trying to make it straight.
  • 8. Background. I prefer neutral backgrounds. Not too fancy. If i have to spend 40 minutes dicking around with "composing a background" - say one of lace and a pretty book etc. That is 40 minutes I could spend writing, making new jewelry, sleeping. Because these are product shots you want a good, interesting background - but not one that distracts from your work. As well if I create a photo with a book, some lace, pretty flowers - I will make sure I use that in several product shots. But here's the catch - I don't want all my pieces to have the same look. Thats why I will often use layers.
EXAMPLE -- I took this yesterday. To be honest I wasn't in the mood for taking photos, so they are kind of not my best shots. Perfect for this post though...

1. underexposed. I was being lazy and didn't set up a tripod. Hand-held at 1/30 F2.8 ISO50

2. crooked - I should have spent a bit more time laying it out. sigh.

3. strong shadows. Not terrible - but I didn't use a bounce - see above: lazy. grey.

4. bland background - bland but one of my fav's. it has a lot of black spots but I knew i'd be correcting and adding in a layer.

AFTER: time - 22 min

1. exposure fixed. used - brightness & contrast.

2. straightened (still not perfect but not bad. It is straight and cropped square. My only nitpick would be that the chain is more exposed on the left. shrug).

3. shadows minimized. Cloned out most of the strong ones and dodge out others.

4. background was okay but I added a layer of texture. I did this because I use that textured paper a lot and want something different. Plus - this is a "mechanical" piece. The original background was subtle and organic. I wanted something a bit more textured. In a larger version - clickclick on it - the On-Off switch looks 3d. It does stand a bit forward of the chain so thats okay.

5. cropped - this will be the main photo in when I upload the photo. I look at the photos reduced to 30%. If they look interesting when they are tiny .. thats great. Sites like etsy want squares. Since I was a bit lazy I added some of the background to the right side of the photo. Really I should add a bit more to the bottom so it is centered - but I've hit my 20 min time limit. This will be the main photo in the Etsy upload.

one thing I did that isn't the best is along the left side of the switch it is a wee bit blurry. Thats an editing issue I will correct. later. maybe. but because there will be 4 other photos I won't worry too much. This recycled necklace is made out of different electronic elements. Steampunk jewelry 0r cyberpunk jewelry or maybe just some real geek jewelry. And yeah, the switch does work. :D

Do let me know if you liked this article!


Thursday, September 10, 2009

What is Steampunk Jewelry? and WTF is steampunk anyway? Science Fiction Dreams....

Sometimes I stumble around when I try and explain "what is steampunk" or why do I call my "steampunk jewelry". I'm sure for many "steampunk jewelers" they see it as a "victorian influenced jewelry" - Victoriana, New Gothic, something-with-watchparts, a Trend.

For me its a lot more personal.

I write Science Fiction / Horror short stories(and gawds, some has even sold) while I'm pounding at the SF novel(s). I've also created jewelry since my teens - which was like 1000 yrs ago. I even made watch-part Victoriana jewelry in 1993 for a gallery in Montreal. (it didn't sell. lol. "too odd").

So Steampunk jewelry - and the cyberpunk jewelry - is a personal style. But I get asked all the time about "why I call it steampunk.. and wtf does that mean?" I also get asked "what influenes your style?"

I tell people i make: Steampunk Jewelry. Cyberpunk Jewelry... Geek jewelry. To me it is basically all the same - its what i make - from the one thing that has influenced my entire life, that I read, watch, fan, and create.

Its all really one source.
Science Fiction.
I'm very familiar with the literary end of the genre of Steampunk and Cyberpunk. I'm a Science Fiction addict. Read it. Write it. Watch it. Talk about it. Start Communities about it. About the genre and sub-genres too. And Steampunk is a sub-genre - of literature - Of Science Fiction. (oh sure lets just start a debate if Science Fiction qualifies as literature? Pull out your gloves!). I still have my 100s of books bought in the 1980s. I've read SF since I was old enough to read. But the authors of my youth are still beloved. K.W. Jeter (Dr. Adder still scares me). Gibson (always). Sterling. Cadigan. And of course that new guy, Richard Morgan.
Steampunk and Cyberpunk. Wild. Alternate histories. Dystopic. Brilliant. It has evolved out of books like many of the ideas created by William Gibson - its muted - and gone wild on the world. Its Memed. Its broken out. And the ever so helpful wiki also sums it up nicely: "Steampunk is often associated with cyberpunk and shares a similar fanbase and theme of rebellion, but developed as a separate movement (though both have considerable influence on each other)."
So I had quit making jewelry for oh.. 8 years. 10ys? Carpel Tunnel got so bad that I would wake up with numb hands - so I bid goodbye to all the bead work. Masks, beads, watch parts, bones, etc all got tossed into a Very Large Heavy Box. And stored.
And then a few years ago someone said, "hey what do you think of this piece of jewelry?" It was a photo of a chunk of crap. ::cough:: whoops. It was a $25 rusty washer on a chain, glued to something, iirc, not crap. Not good eitehr. And I immediately thought, wow. I could make something much better than that.

I was working in a Geek Shop at the time. Tech support. Web-hosting tech support for a backbone provider. I'd been there since 2000. I went home that night and dragged out my Piles Of Beading Crap, sorted through masks (once-upon-a-time I was a maskmaker), and found the stuff from 1990+. Watch parts. Gears. But since then I'd also accumulated a packrat-on-crack variety of Computer bits, findings, electronica, hardware and whatnot. Shiny bits.

And at that moment I thought: once upon a time I made this stuff. I still love it. There's gotta be a way to combine the things I love: geekery in all its flavors, Science Fiction, Cyberpunk, Steampunk (though i didn't quite know to call it that yet), TheInternetz, ComputerCrap, hardware, gears, bones (yeah i have this thing for bones and have a collection), everything...

all into something. Something new and for me, personally exciting.

I wanted to create again: items of adornment, curios, small sculpture. I wanted to make new works that were beautiful. And somehow I wanted to merge it with all those influences of my life. So I started making jewelry again.
Its steampunk, cyberpunk, geekery. And hopefully its beautiful, and elegant, and sometimes I think it shows how much I love what i do and where it comes from. Sometimes it is a bit scary, strange and peculiar. At least it isn't boring.
And maybe next time someone asks I can point them to this post and I can ask, "ever read any Gibson?". Maybe I'll say, "couldn't you see someon in Blade Runner wearing this?".
And maybe one day I'll be watching some ultra-cool SF movie, and someone will be wearing a slick piece of old tech turned into Cyberpunk - one of my own vacuum tube necklaces, a pair of magnetic switch earrings or some bone & clock gear creation - and I'll think: finally. Yeah.
Some time when they turn one of Richard Morgan's books into a fantastic movie, they'll think: wow, we need some real science fiction jewelry, something cutting edge, unusual and wild.
Now thats the dream. ;)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

CyberPunk Teminator sculpture: Spiny Rat skull - something completely different!

Sometimes it isn't just about jewelry - it is about creating something radical and different... I guess this qualifies. Natural history..or perhaps Un-natural History? Well, you won't find this on etsy - it sold before it was even completed. lol

The concept here encompasses the mythos of the "Terminator" movie series. Why restrict the creation of cyber-monsters to humans? Here this skull shows a bit of steampunk and cyberpunk influences - two genres of Science Fiction that have influenced countless movies. This piece was has a strong literary influence as well - this was inspired by a short story by Kat Eason, where rats and re-engineered werewolves fight among the remains of a future city.

This skull is from a South American spiny rat (family Echimyidae). I carefully wired the jaws to open and close and the wires come through the where the optic nerves were - and thread through the base of the skull. All together it took about 15 hours to complete. Tiny watch parts were set into the bone, including two watch rubies.

I really love how the teeth look in the profile piece. You can see how deep they are set into the skull. Science fiction and a love of intricate and tiny things has influenced my life - not just in what I read but what I create. Steampunk jewelry but also the cyberpunk sculpture as well.

Monday, September 7, 2009

jewel beetle wings and other steampunk things

I spent a part of yesterday drilling out beelte wings. They really look fantastic. Plus.. i love drilling things - funny but true. I even made myself a version of this necklace ::GASP:: = something I rarely do.

The colours are really stunning. I never thought I would wear chrome green.. lol. its GREEN but how amazing really. Depending on the light there is hints of yellow as well as hints of an incredible blue.

I have been really busy this weekend. I even got a fanpage up on Facebook - shocking but true! so far a few of my friends/ ex-coworkers have joined which is kind of fun.