- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2012

Today’s artists and crafters use the Internet not only to promote themselves, but also to sell their wares. Good-quality images sell a product; inferior images don’t.

So it makes business sense to learn a few tricks of the photographic trade.

Whether your subject is curios or objets d’art, look for the best natural light and a simple background before launching into a photo shoot, advised Me Ra Koh, a Takoma, Wash., photographer and author of “Your Baby in Pictures.”

“Get everything out of the background that doesn’t enhance the story you’re trying to tell,” Ms. Koh said. “It only takes a second to move a pop can for a photo that’s going to last a lifetime.”

Also ditch your automatic flash, which creates harsh lighting.

“The built-in flash is evil,” Ms. Koh said. “It’s never going to be a flattering shot.”

If you’re photographing your wares inside, put your back to a window, with the photo subject facing the outdoor light.

Outside, skip the picturesque park in favor of the parking lot.

“Grass sucks up sunlight. It bounces green,” Ms. Koh said. “We end up looking darker in the photo than what we actually see.”

The gray tones of gravel and cement, on the other hand, provide a neutral color that bounces up flattering light and fills in shadows on artwork.

William Dohman, who sells wooden signs and scenic images at his store, Oh Dier, at the online marketplace Etsy.com, is an architect and self-taught photographer who plans each photo shoot in his St. Paul, Minn., studio. Mr. Dohman likes to photograph his products in front of old buildings, which imbue his images with texture and color.

But don’t overuse those backgrounds, he warned; it can look busy.

Heidi Adnum begins with lighting in her book “The Crafter’s Guide to Taking Great Photos.” She, too, recommends using natural, diffused light for product shoots and urges crafters to learn how to work with it.

“We just see light as light until we start to understand it better,” said Ms. Adnum, of Newcastle, Australia.

Other tips from her book:

• Shoot outside on a cloudy day. Shade provides naturally diffused light.

• Inside, use a light tent - a box that acts as a ministudio - if shooting near a window is not possible. Crafters can make their own.

• If you must use artificial light, go for cheap household lamps such as a desk lamp with an adjustable head. Make sure the bulb is white and that you diffuse the light. To diffuse light, use sheer white parchment paper or a white shower curtain.

Emily Free Wilson, a ceramics artist in Helena, Mont., needs to take professional-quality images of her colorful vases and dinnerware to post on her website, Free Ceramics, and at an Etsy shop of the same name. She said she thinks it was the quality of her images that landed her pottery on the cover of a recent issue of Ceramics Monthly magazine.

Her secret weapon? A white-to-black gradation backdrop that creates an optical illusion: white in the foreground and black in the background. It adds depth to an image.

“The artwork has a stronger presence, like it’s on stage,” Ms. Wilson said. “It’s a really nice little trick.”

If a photo needs help, Photoshop can come to the rescue. But experts caution against relying on the software to turn an average image into a dazzler.

For Ms. Koh, it’s a time issue: She’d rather take the time to set up a great shot than clean it up later.

Ms. Adnum recommended using Photoshop to crop out distractions or add graphics or text - especially handy for describing products on Etsy - but that’s it.

“If you’re selling an item based on a photograph, and your photograph makes your item look different, there’s a risk [the buyer] will be disappointed,” she said. “Ultimately, I think you want to keep your photograph as simple as possible and convey the messages that you want to and show your product in its best light.”


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