16 September 2009

Choosing a Background for Craft Photography

Backgrounds can be as important as your subject matter.  Important because if you are not careful they can completely out stage your subject resulting in a confused and weak image.

Can you imagine a bride and groom being happy to have their photos taken round the back of the church by the wheely bins just because that's where the light was best?  I'm not suggesting that the photos you use on your blog or for your craft photography are quite so important as wedding pictures, but they do deserve a little time and effort to make sure they attract rather than detract from the subject.  (especially if they are advertising your hard work)

When taking any photograph, whether it is of your garden, your kids or a finished piece you are ready to sell giving some extra thought to the background can make a huge difference to the final image.  I touched on this in my piece about composition, sometimes just changing position (or lying on the floor in the case above!) is all you need to do but when you are photographing crafts for sale it may need a bit more thought as the background you choose can affect the exposure, colour intensity and the general feel of the piece you are selling.

I use a white background to photograph my work.  This is because my wristlets and bead kits are really colourful and brightly patterned and I think anything other than white would make the image too busy.  I also want my shop to have consistent, branded look, so I chose white and I have stuck with it, I also use white as the background for my blog, to try and continue the theme of bright colours on a white background.  As you can see I don't use a studio, just a tripod, natural diffused light, a white board and a reflector made of tin foil!  Below is one of the images from this mini session, showing you don't need expensive equipment to achieve good results.


I would actively encourage a new seller to try out as many backgrounds as possible to find one that suits their products best, but I would also add that you need to think about the extra time you might have to spend styling the background, if it's your gorgeous country kitchen - is it always immaculate, does it get great light in the winter aswell?  In my opinion consistency is key to making your online shop gallery look proffessional.
Even the most ecclectic items can look like part of a 'family' if they are photographed with consistency, equally you can add character to a set of similar items by adjusting the background.  Take a look at this very talented Folksy seller's work Owl on the Sill , she has not limited herself to one background, she uses 2 or 3 even for one piece but she has maintained a consistent composition and style alongside quality close up photographs. I think I'd recognise one of her pieces immediately in a photo line-up, which is what's important.

Complimentary Backgrounds
It may be that the background forms the 'story' of the piece or that it adds another complimentary dimension for the viewer to unconsiously take in.  For example using slate or rocks as a background can imbue us with the notion of natural strength and durability.  Or using the fragile pages from an antique book gives us the feeling of great value and age.  The choice of background maybe purely to contrast with your object, making it stand out, for exampl shiny metals seem to look great against driftwood.
These earrings from Jezebel Charms are detailed pieces but the choice of background which is also very detailed does not detract from the earrings but emphasises their steampunk style, giving them age and character.

If you chose to use a plain background, you may need to include something to give scale, it can be done surreptitiously without detracting from the image, a ruler shot isn't always necessary!   I use coins with my coin purses, they show it's function but they also add scale.  Likewise with something such as a knitting bag, it would be nice to see it with needles nearby.

Large Objects

The ideas are limitless for small objects but things get a lot trickier with larger objects or indeed oddly shaped objects.  Try and use the same principles as with small objects but  if the background itself can't be consistent then try to keep the style consistent.   For online selling you could always use cropped in pictures of important details thus eliminating the background for the first gallery image and then full frame pictures in the remaining slots.  Using a large aperture to blur backgrounds can also help, allowing your subject to really pop out, especially if you are forced to use a particularly busy backdrop, see my post about depth of field for advice on this. 


A few final points to consider when choosing your background.

  • A plain white backgrounds is great in most situations, but can make dark objects recede from the viewer and can affect your exposure if you are not careful with metering. (in most cases any issues can be remedied when editing your images)
  • Black backgrounds absorb light so you will get rid of unwanted reflections sometimes this can make very shiny objects appear to merge with the background.  However it can also add drama and make bright colours look very intense. 
  • Intense and bright colours - these can really make a shot zing but beware that the subject is still visible and not drowned out by all that colour!
  • Colours all have an effect on each other so experiment with different coloured backgrounds and coloured objects on a small scale before investing in anything large or expensive.
  • I think that a graduated background can work really well, having the subject sitting in the lighter area in the forground with the background seeming to dissapear as it gets gradually darker.  I have managed to achieve this affect with natural light, but I would like to make this more consistent with my photography so  I am looking to buy a graduated background. I will be sure to make a post about my discoveries!

Thanks for reading this week, I look forward to your comments, my other photography tips can be found here