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Crafty Business Week – Photo Tips for Crafters

Reported by Jessica Ripley


Before writing this article I read many others online that give tips for taking the best photos possible when it comes to capturing our creations. We crafters sure are a bunch that really like to share our work! There is a ton of great information out there on everything from creating your own photo studio, to camera settings, what equipment (like lenses and flashes) will take better photos, and what Photoshop tweaks will improve them. I also spent time browsing some of my favorite blogs studying their photos to find out which appeal to me and why. I mean let’s face it, good writing is great, but when it comes to crafts it is the eye candy that keeps readers interested and brings them back again and again.

Keeping the amount of information out there in mind, I would never presume to know better or more than those that have already written about the subject matter, (the only thing I’ll ever claim to be an expert in is eating chocolate). However, after all that reading, browsing, and the experience I myself have as a craft blogger, I’ve compiled that information into five steps toward success when it comes to taking really great photos of crafts for posting on the Web.

It is important to note that you do not need fancy equipment or an expensive photo editing program to get high quality photos of your projects. You will hear about DSLR cameras, light boxes, and editing with Photoshop that seem to be the key factor to beautiful photos. While it is true that these items definitely can help you get great photographs, they are not the secret. You can do just as much with a point and shoot, good technique, and a bit of free editing help. Keep these five points in mind, and you’ll be one of those that we get to enjoy some wonderful eye candy from too.

1. Go outside and turn off the flash.
Natural light is always better when it comes to photos, whether they are of a craft project or a person. It is just more flattering than a harsh flash. If going outside is not possible, identify a spot in your home that gets great natural light from a window.

Here’s an example of a project near a window in my home that gets the most light vs. the exact same location at night with a flash:


A definite difference!

If you have to take a photo indoors at night, bring as much light to your subject as possible with lamps, but that is where it gets tricky and you must do a bit more to get the best photo, such as adjusting white balance on your camera if possible to get rid of that incandescent lamp yellow hue, or setting up a light box, have a fancy flash, etc. I prefer to just follow this number one rule and not worry about all that extra tweaking to a photo, that takes up time when I could be crafting!

2. Setting the stage is important.
How this is done can vary from individual to individual, but it is important to think about. Personally, I find photos that show a project in its intended use (such as an apron around a waist with a few utensils in the pocket, a framed piece on the wall in a home over a dresser, or a pillow on a love seat with a coordinating blanket draped nearby) much more interesting to look at than an object on a monochrome background. For example, this garden stake looks prettier in a garden rather than lying on my craft table.


However, I have done both so know this can depend on a project too. Here’s an example where I preferred to show an iPod Cozy for what it was rather than in a photo where it could have been lost on a person.


The main thing to consider when photographing your projects is what appeals to you (get to searching your favorite craft blogs for examples if you aren’t sure).

When choosing a background or other items to enhance the project itself, it is also important to be sure that the colors are complimentary, and that they do not distract from the main focus of the photo. Great examples of the use of props can be found by perusing the craft ideas section at Martha Stewart’s website. They are truly staging experts. While we all can’t have her prop room, it sure does give way to some inspiring ideas for taking photos!

3. Shoot and shoot and shoot some more.
Once the location is determined and the stage is set, take lots of photos. In the digital age where we are blessed with huge memory cards I can sometimes take 30-40 photos of a project before I consider this step complete.

Be sure to include close ups, further away shots (especially if you are showing the project in use like mentioned above), and shots at angles to keep it interesting to the eye. Here’s an example on a recent project for our review of the Epiphany Button Studio which shows detail as well as the full project:


There is no rule that to show off a project you can only do it with one photo. Especially when it comes to selling your creations. Buyers and readers alike want to see that beautiful detail.

4. Editing is necessary.
Editing is a bit like the icing on the cake. The slightest tweaks can improve an image just enough to make it great rather than just OK. I use Photoshop Elements, however it is not necessary to have expensive software. Reviewed on Craft Critique, Picnik is an online site that provides wonderful free editing tools which I highly recommend.

When editing photos of crafts, consider these 4 basic steps:

  • Adjust the lighting. Even small tweaks to levels, or brightness and contrast, can dramatically improve the appeal of a photo. Just be careful not to take this step too far or your photo will have too much “noise” and not look as natural.
  • Consider bumping up the color saturation 5-10%. Especially after adjusting lighting, this can give your project some pop. But again, don’t take this too far, especially if you are selling the item. It should remain true to what it is in real life (but there isn’t anything wrong with adding a little pop to catch the eye).
  • Crop. If you didn’t frame the shot exactly as you liked, crop it. Also consider cropping the shot into a square, which often looks better in an online format.
  • Re-size before uploading. This step is extremely important when sharing photos online. The larger your photo, the longer it will take it to load on someone else’s computer, and for some readers this can be a frustrating deal breaker. A good rule of thumb is no bigger than 600 pixels wide or tall.

5. There is more to posting than “publish”.
Once you have completed all the above and are left with the best possible photo to show off your creation, there is more you can do in order to enhance your photo behind the scenes.

First, give the photo a more descriptive file name when saving it. For example, rather than naming a photo “detail shot 1”, name it “blue pillow made with Amy Butler fabric detail shot 1”. Also, after uploading a photo to the web it is given a code which includes “ALT” tags. Whatever appears in these ALT tags (which look like alt=”description here”) is what readers see while a photo is loading, and what search engines see while looking for images as well. Change the wording between the two quotation marks to a better description of your project. When doing so, keep in mind what you would search for in Google if you were looking for a similar project.

Taking both of these steps exponentially increases the chance of a search engine finding your post, and as a result drives more traffic to your site.

As mentioned above these are tips and tricks you are sure to have heard before, but that are certainly the basic keys to success and deserve reiterating when you wish to share your work online.

We would love to hear from you any other tips you may have learned, or if you wish to further elaborate on any of those above. Share with us in the comments how you get the best photo possible of your crafts!

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Vendor Spotlight: Wacom Bamboo Craft Tablet

Reported by Jessica Ripley

There are those certain items in the store that we daydream about. We visit the aisle they are in, probably pick them up and read the box, but then put them back down because well… do we really need it? And then we decide to let it remain a daydream for now.

That was my relationship with a Wacom Tablet until I was granted the most wonderful opportunity to review the Bamboo Craft. I had heard of the tablets and their capabilities, but since I wasn’t a digital designer per-se and felt like I could get by okay with what I did do using my mouse, I hadn’t thought it a necessary purchase.

But now that I’ve had the time to play with this amazingly fun piece of technology, that thought would pretty much be the same as “Well I have scissors, so do I really need a paper punch?” Yes! Yes I do!

It’s always hard to touch on every single aspect of either a tech tool like this or software, but I’ve included some of the main points and highlights in the review below as to what convinced me.

In the Box:

As listed on Wacom’s website:

  • Bamboo Craft tablet
  • Bamboo Craft pen
  • Quick Start guide
  • Installation CD (includes driver software, interactive tutorial and user’s manual)
  • Software DVD (containing Adobe® Photoshop® Elements 7.0 Win/6.0 Mac, Corel® Painter™ Essentials 4.0, Nik® Color Efex Pro™ 3.0 WE3)
  • DVD with 26 scrapbooking lessons from Jane Conner-ziser and a library of digital craft embellishments
  • Offer for free 8″ x 8″ photo album from Shutterfly
  • Offer for free online store from Café Press
  • Offer for free one-year subscription to Scrapbooking & Beyond Magazine
  • Offer for free online training with DigitalScrapbookPlace.com

That is a lot! And so much too. For the price of what I might just only pay for the tablet, also included is great software to use it with like Photoshop Elements. If you haven’t made the jump into purchasing really great photo editing software yet, this just may be the reason you should. Not to mention the fun free offers that come with the tablet as well (in the form of coupon codes to use online).

Installation (Technical Mumbo Jumbo):

The Wacom Bamboo Craft Tablet works with both PCs and Macs. System requirements are PC Windows 7, Vista or XP with Service Pack 2, Mac, or Mac OS X (10.4.8 or higher). You will also need a color display, powered USB port, and a CD/DVD drive. Installing the software and tablet is extremely easy. Simply place the installation CD into your computer’s drive, plug the tablet into a standard USB port, and follow the prompts to get up and running. I installed the software on both my Desktop PC (running on Windows 7) and my Laptop PC (running on Vista). It installs quickly, in about 5 minutes.

The tablet is ambidextrous, you can set up the orientation for whether you are right or left handed. The cord is also nice and long as you can see in the photo above, so there is ample room to play with setting up the tablet to fit your work space. It measures approximately 10″ x 7″, though the area where you can actually gesture and write is smaller, about 5″ x 3.5″ for gesturing and 6″ x 3.5″ for the pen (both proved to be plenty large for me).

Getting Started:

After installation is complete, the fun can begin! Well almost. I’m one that normally wants to jump right in and start playing with a new toy rather than read through the manual or instructions, but not only is that step necessary in order to getting started with the tablet, some practice is needed as well. I highly recommend going through the tutorials, otherwise it can be a bit frustrating at first to get used to the gestures and movements.

There are two sections for the tutorials, one for gesturing with your fingers, and one geared toward using the pen.

Gesture movements will be very familiar to anyone with a touch screen device (such as a smart phone) as they are very similar (think pinch-out to zoom for example). In this way, the tablet is basically an enlarged track pad (what tracks cursor movements on a laptop). While using the pen is my preferred method for doing just about everything on the tablet, being able to gesture as well makes it such a fantastic tool for my laptop. I’ll never leave home without it in my laptop bag again.

Pen movements are extremely easy as well, and don’t have as much of a learning curve as gesturing does. I was surprised to learn that when using the pen to move a cursor around the screen you don’t actually touch the pen tip to the table surface, it only needs to be a little off the surface (we’re talking millimeters) to work. Touching the pen to the surface is like a mouse click, and works the same as left clicking does (tap one to click, twice to double click, hold to drag and select). The pen and gesture movements are fully customizable, everything from pen pressure to speed can be set to your tastes.


I actually was a little frustrated with the performance speed at first, I thought it was slow, until I realized I could customize it for me. Thinking I had to crank it up all the way I did so, and that was way too fast! So I was then easily able to find a happy medium.

There are also 2 buttons on the pen itself, and 4 buttons on the tablet which you can customize to whatever you would like. These are called “Express Keys”. For example, I’ve customized some of mine to be a right click and un-do, and even programmed one of the Express Keys to open up Photoshop Elements. Just another way the tablet can make your digital editing or web surfing that much easier.

The tutorials on the installation CD are very helpful and enough to get you going. There are even smiley faces along the way when you practice a gesture correctly, and sad faces if you don’t. You also won’t be moved along to the next step in a tutorial until you correctly perform the gesture or pen stroke you have been taught (though you can cheat and skip ahead too if you know you understand and want to just move on… cheater). While these tutorials are fine, I found the video tutorials by Jane Conner-zier included with the tablet on a separate CD to be much more helpful.


These are actually geared toward digital scrapbooking, and made the technical necessary movements of the pen make more sense to me.

After I completed the basic tutorials I did some general playing around, and kept thinking how beneficial it might be if I could actually share those experiences with you via a few screen videos. So I’ve done so. Below is a brief intro to one of the Wacom Tablet’s features, and then we’ll get into the crafty applications.


Using the tablet and software, a few highlights:


As mentioned above, the tablet comes with some most excellent software, included Photoshop Elements 7, Corel Painter Essentials 4, and Nik Color Efex Pro 3. While the versions of PSE and Corel Painter that are included are the full versions (seriously, wahoo), it’s important to note that the Nik Color Efex is just a sampling of 3 available filters to whet your appetite for them.

I primarily use Photoshop Elements to edit photos, and was anxious to try out the tablet using the pen on a specific technique, extraction. I found that using the pen in extracting an object worked wonderfully, much easier for me than using a traditional mouse. Here’s a video which shows the process taking place on my computer screen:

I had never used Corel Painter before so am not as familiar with what I should try in the software using the tablet, however I can tell you that it is so much fun! Navigation is easy, and pen strokes are picked up just like paint strokes on a canvas. This is a program I will be playing with a lot in the future!

And speaking of canvas, it’s worth mentioning that the tablet surface was designed to mimic the feel of writing on paper and absolutely delivers on that. It’s very comfortable and doesn’t feel slippery or anything like that at all.

I also wanted to briefly show you one of the filters that comes with the Color Efex software, I’m not sure I’m that tempted to buy the full expensive version of Color Efex, but it is fun to use the samples:


When it comes to digital scrapbooking, I again primarily use Photoshop Elements. Just in case you are unfamiliar with even the basics of digital scrapbooking however, that is no reason to think the tablet isn’t for you! As mentioned above it comes complete with a CD of tutorials geared towards using the tablet for just that, as well as online training at DigitalScrapbookPlace.com. Wacom has even included several digital kits to get you started right away:



Utilizing the pen when creating a digital page is just as easy as using a traditional mouse, and then some. I found my navigation faster and my strokes more precise. One thing I wanted to try in particular was adding my own hand writing to a digital page. Here’s a video showing that process:

(Digital supplies used in the above video by Bluebird Chic at Misstiina)

While I have to admit I’m not completely thrilled with the result of my handwritten date, I can also tell you that it’s 10 times better than when I first picked up the pen, and that I know with practice it will just get better.

Finally, I wanted to use the tablet to create a hybrid element. I also wanted to try it out in an art program which didn’t come included with it, so decided on regular old “MS Paint” Here’s a look at my experience in doing so:

It worked great! Not saying my artwork is great, but you know what I mean.

Here’s the finished hybrid project once I printed my flowers out, a cute little storage pouch for the tablet itself so it stays safe while traveling in my laptop bag, which it will be doing often!



In Summary:

I’ll be honest, of course didn’t expect I’d not like the tablet when it arrived, however I can also say I didn’t expect to like it so much due to all the wonderful things that come with it. At a price of around $129 it seems steep at first (hence always putting it back on the shelf) but the software that comes with the tablet more than accounts for the cost and then some. If you already have Photoshop Elements and Corel Painter, it may not be as wonderful a bargain, but in that respect, if you do have those programs already the tablet will enhance their performance for you, increasing their value. It’s an easy to use, fun, capable piece of technology, and I highly recommend it.

It’s difficult to sum up the pros and cons for something that has so much to it, but here’s a few in general.

Pros:

  • Delivers big-time on what is advertised, including making navigation in programs (and on the web) fast and fun, and enhancing ability to create digitally or edit photos.
  • Comes with full versions of 2 excellent photo editing programs, Photoshop Elements 7 and Corel Painter Essentials 4.
  • Takes a lap top’s capability up a notch, acting as a larger track pad for finger gestures.

Cons:

  • This is not a “jump right in and be an expert” tool. It takes practice and patience in order to fully utilize what it can do, and can be frustrating at first.
  • Price might be a factor if you already own the software which it comes with, thus reducing the overall bargain (or if you would want a higher version of either of those).
  • If you are not a big photo editor or digital scrapbooker, this may not be something you would get as much enjoyment out of as someone who is.

Now I’d love to hear what you think. Do you own a Wacom Bamboo Craft Tablet and love it or no? Have you picked one up and put it down before and didn’t buy one? Tell us your thoughts and let’s discuss.

Disclosure

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Vendor Spotlight & GIVEAWAY: Picture Keeper

Reported by Susan Reidy

Do you remember film cameras? Do you remember being discriminatory in what you photographed? Yeah, me neither.

Even since buying my first digital camera, my picture taking has, well, what’s more than quadrupled? It’s Christmas, take photos. Birthdays, take photos. New shoes, take photos. The cat looks cute, take photos. You get the idea.

What’s worse than the fact I have thousands of photos, is that they are spread across three laptops. And *gasp* my back up system is virtually non-existent.

Picture Keeper to the rescue! This handy USB plugs into your computer, finds all the photos and copies them. There’s no software to install, and it just takes a few clicks to back up all those priceless (well, most of them) images. It works on PCs (compatible with Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 2000) and Macs (compatible with OS 10.3.x and above, and Linux 2.6 and above), and can be used on more than one computer.

Three sizes are available — a 4 GB that holds up to 4,000 photos; an 8 GB that holds up to 8,000 photos; and a 16 GB that holds up to 16,000 photos. The amount of photos it can store assumes a photo size of 1 MB per image. So in theory, the Picture Keeper may hold less, or in some cases more, than the listed amounts.

If you don’t know what size you need, there are simple steps on the Picture Keeper web site to help you figure that part out.

The folks at Picture Keeper sent me the 16 GB to try out. I opened it up, read the brief instructions (more detailed directions, including frequently asked questions, are available online and additional help is a toll-free call away), and was ready to get started with laptop #1.

I followed the recommendation to delete unwanted images before using Picture Keeper, in order to preserve space. This seriously took me longer than it took Picture Keeper to back up my images. But I had some duplicates and old images that I should have gotten rid of long ago.

After that was done, I plugged Picture Keeper in. This screen popped up and I hit Ok. Laptop #1 is a PC with Windows XP.


On the next screen, I clicked “Start Backup.” From this screen, you can also sign up for a monthly email that will remind you to backup, view the photos on your Picture Keeper, and set up more advanced options (more on that later).


Picture Keeper said it was searching for photos, and then quickly started backing up. On my first laptop, it found 1,030 photos.


It took about seven minutes for Picture Keeper to download all those photos. When it was done, the screen below came up, telling me I still had 88% of my space remaining. That was good news since I still had many more photos to back up.


Once the backup was complete, I took a stroll through the photos now stored on the Picture Keeper. There were still some images I didn’t want backed up, and a few duplicates I missed, so I deleted those directly off the Picture Keeper. I was very excited to see that it had sorted the photos in the exact same way I sorted them on my PC.

Next up was my second laptop, which has most of my photos. It’s affectionately referred to as the “clunker” given its mammoth size and advanced age (for a computer). Picture Keeper told me it found 5,759 images on that machine. The download got through about 1,000 photos and my laptop overheated and shut itself down. Did I mention that I call it clunker?

I wasn’t sure how Picture Keeper would react to a download that stopped mid-stream. Much to my delight, when I restarted the computer, it asked me if I wanted to resume the download. Now, it only had 4,782 photos left to download. This took about 40 minutes, and I still have 57% of space available on my Picture Keeper.

I again scrolled through the images on the Picture Keeper, just to double check it got them all and to see how it would organize images from two computers. It separated the images from each computer into separate files, using the name of the computer as the file name.

Download times are the longest the first time you use Picture Keeper. After the initial download, each time you plug it in, it will only download new images or images that have changed since the last download.

I really like this feature. No longer will I back up files twice, for fear I forgot them the first time around. Picture Keeper will take care of that for me.

I like the flexibility of Picture Keeper — you can keep it simple and use the default settings, or you can go into the options menu and change things up a little bit. For example, you can have it back up different types of files and search in different drives for images to back up.

And, if you actually want to print some of those photos, the Picture Keeper will work in photo kiosks at your favorite developer. There’s even a lanyard, if you want to wear your Picture Keeper. You can also plug it into digital photo frames, and actually look at some of those photos.

Overall, I found this much simpler to use than backing up with CDs, which means I will be more likely to stay on top of those massive amounts of photos. I liked that it found the photos itself, stored them the same way I do on my laptops and could be used on more than one computer.

I feel so much better that I have my photos backed up, especially the ones from that clunker.

Pros:

  • Simple to use, no software to download.
  • Can be used at store kiosks and in digital photo frames.
  • Downloads photos and organizes them the same way you do on your computer.
  • In the options menu, you can add file types and directories.
  • Help is available online and through a toll-free number.
  • Free email reminders to back up once a month.


Cons
:

  • You have to clean up your computer first, deleting duplicates and images you don’t want (but you probably should be doing this anyway).
  • There’s no where to write down what images, years, events, etc. are stored on the Picture Keeper. But as a crafter, I’m sure I can find a way to take care of this.

The 4 GB Picture Keeper retails for $29.99; the 8 GB for $59.99 and the 16 GB for $99.99.

*READER DISCOUNT*
10% off the price of any Picture Keeper AND FREE SHIPPING for the Craft Critique readers; enter coupon code PKBFF during checkout!

GIVEAWAY!!
Picture Keeper is giving away a FREE 16 GB Picture Keeper to one of our readers! Leave a comment on any Vendor Spotlight: Picture Keeper post (there will be 2), and tell us how many photos you have lurking on your computer that need backing up! One comment per person, per article, please. Winner will be drawn on Sunday June 6, 2010 at noon CST.

Disclosure

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!