One thing I've heard over and over again from handmade sellers is the challenge of knowing how to properly style their DIY product photos. What props to use, when, and how many?

It's super tough to know the balance between interesting but not too much, and how to make sure your product is still the star of the show.

Figuring that out is what today’s post is all about.

Let's get started!

First things first. When picking props for your photos, you need to defer to your branding.

If you're not sure about your branding, there's no better time to figure it out! Because it really does make a huge difference in your business.

Having a clear brand message will attract the right customers who will love your stuff, have no issue with your price point, and will buy from you again and again.

Plus, it'll make your business stand out from crowd, and with a clear identity you'll exude a level of confidence and professionalism in your business that others in your category may not.

I'm not going to get into the details of branding, because that's a big topic all on it's own. But don't worry, you'll still be given a lot to think about here.

Some general things to consider when it comes to props is:

- Quality. You want your products to come across as high quality, so your props need to be too. Read: No fake flowers. Choose props that have been well-made, or are natural, so they speak to the quality of your product.

-  Keep it simple. One or two props will do. Seriously. Any more and your image will be cluttered, busy, and your customers will be overwhelmed. Don’t fall into the trap of adding this, and that, and oh maybe this too… Stop. Just one or two is more than enough. I promise.

- Choose props that are a fit for your brand and will appeal to your ideal customers. Here’s the part where know your brand and who you’re selling to is going to go a long way. If your brand is all about being eco-friendly and your ideal customer values that, you’ll want to avoid using props that are harmful to the environment.

- The function of props is to assist in creating emotion and desire in your customers. Associating your product with the right props will grab the attention of your ideal customers and make them want to buy. Example: if your ideal customer is a coffee lover, having a beautiful latte pictured with your product is going to make your product stand out.

- They are your product's supporting characters. Props shouldn’t overwhelmed, distract, or take away from your product. If a shopper is more intrigued by the props than your product, you’ve missed the mark. You should always choose props that don’t make the shopper wonder what exactly is for sale.

- Your product should always be front and center. This is a great way to make sure that your customers know what’s for sale and what they should be looking at. If your product fill more of the frame than anything else, and is right up front and in the middle of your photo, it will leave little doubt that it’s the star of the show.

And a quick word about backgrounds. Backgrounds are separate from props, but they've been a hot topic lately so I'll give you a quick tip.

Ditch the white background.

There's this rumour going around that backgrounds need to be white. That's a reeeeally old guideline that has long since passed. Read about that in this blog post.

Seek out backgrounds that are a good fit for your brand. If white is a good fit for your brand and you can nail your exposure and make a white background look awesome, you go for it.

But otherwise, seek out neutral, textured backgrounds that are a good fit for your branding.

Here’s a great way to figure out what props are a good fit for your products. Grab a pen and paper and jot down the answer to the following question: If your product had supporting characters, what would that be? What "goes" with your product?

Example: Scarves. Supporting characters could be a mug of cocoa, a twig of winter berries, a book, pine cones, etc.

Growing and running a business can be expensive, so finding free or cheap ways to enhance your DIY product photos can be a HUGE savings.

We all need to invest in our business if we want to succeed, it’s inevitable. But it’s also important to invest wisely and save where you can. Product photography can get really expensive, really fast, even if you’re DIYing it. Equipment can come with huge price tags, and often can be complicated to learn.

I’ve put together a shortlist of my favourite free or cheap tools for DIY product photos for handmade sellers. Check ‘em out!

  1. Natural Light

Despite having quite a bit of lighting equipment myself, I always prefer to use natural light whenever possible. Because, if you can get it right, it looks the best.

Natural light tends to render colours quite accurately, and is soft and even (if your setup is right). Set up your shooting space next to a bright window without any direct sunbeams filtering through for that dreamy natural light.

  1. Foam Board

To make the most of that bright window + natural light setup, use white foam boards to contain the light to your shooting area. You can add one or two white foam boards to surround your product (behind it and on the side opposite the window) to majorly brighten up the space and avoid those strong shadows that can occur on the side of your product opposite the window.

You can also use white foam board to block off surroundings to reduce reflections on shiny products, as a background for a flat lay, and to hold a piece of poster board for a seamless background. Hot tip: tape some L brackets (for shelving) to the back of your foam boards so they stand upright and can easily be moved around.

  1. Contact Paper

Yes, that stuff that goes inside of drawers.

Contact paper comes in loads of different colours and patterns, with marble being my favourite. You can affix the contact to a piece of foam board for an attractive background for your products. Make sure you select a pattern that’s neutral and not too busy. It should show off your product, not steal the show. Also be sure to get a matte finish and not glossy. Glossy finishes will create an unsightly glare in your photos.

  1. Stuff Around Your House (Props)

Great news! You don’t have to buy a whole bunch of cute props for your product photos. First of all, you should only be using one or two props for your product listing photos. Any more and you start to draw attention away from your product. Second, I bet your house and/or yard is packed FULL of props you could use for your photos.

Some of my very favourite props are simply plants. I love to grab plant life from outside and bring it inside to add a little colour and life to my photos. A well placed sprig of lavender can go a long way! You may even have some house plants that would be a good fit. Succulents are perfect for product photos!

If plants aren’t your thing or aren’t a good fit for your brand, I’m will to bet there are any number of other things around your home that would be perfect, depending on your products. A cute coffee mug or pen, a piece of ribbon, a nice jewelry dish, and so on can all make great props for your product photos. For more info on where to find props for your product photos, click here.

  1. Smartphone Lux Meter

Quite possibly my favourite free tool - a lux meter app for your smartphone. You can download them for free on your iPhone or Android device and, using the camera sensor, they detect the amount of light in an area (aka lux). For product photography, a reading of 1000 lux or higher is ideal.

My picks for free lux meters are Galactica Lux Meter for iPhone and Lux Meter (Light Meter) for Android. Simply download the free app, open it up, and place the camera of your phone near where your product would be when you’re photographing it. The reading should indicate 1000 lux or higher. If not, add some white foam boards to strengthen the light, take readings in other areas of your home at different times of day, or try moving your lights closer if you’re using studio lighting. Keep experimenting until you get a decent reading.

And that’s it, friends! My top 5 free or cheap tools for DIY product photography. Do you have any to add to the list? If so, drop them in the comments!

Hello friends. In last week’s post we talked about how to style the perfect flat lay, so it just seems natural to follow that up with where to source props for your product photos. I’m talking real, tangible places you can scout to get awesome props for your images. It’s a lot easier than you think, and if you’re planning ahead you can grab some pretty sweet items at some pretty sweet deals – or better yet, free. Check it out.

The Clearance Section

Ahhhh, the clearance section. My very favourite place in just about any store. I have spent far more time than I care to say in the clearance section of my favourite stores. Here are a few that offer up awesome selections for styling your photos:

Chapters/Barnes & Noble

Chapters is my absolute favourite store for my photo styling needs. And reading needs. And to fulfill my need for pretty things. And Starbucks. But anyway, Chapters always has a section in their store for clearance and these things are often pretty little home or stationary items. It’s a great place to check out. Sorry in advance if you spend way more than you intended (I usually do). For my American friends: Barnes & Noble is a similar type of store, so check it out (and let me know how it goes). Bonus: You can shop online too.

Sidenote: Chapters is a supporter of handmade business and I have a few friends who've had their lines picked up by Chapters.  I shop there as often as I can, because I too am a huge supporter of handmade business (and you should be too!).

Michaels

Not all Michaels stores have a clearance section, but they frequently have awesome markdowns, great coupons, and a section for odds and ends that are great for photo styling. I’ve gotten really cute notebooks, mini clipboards, scrapbook paper, cute pens, and lots more there. Definitely worth a look.

Target

Give me a moment to grieve the loss of Target in Canada. It may have been two years ago that they closed, but I still feel a sense of loss. For my American readers, Target (as you no doubt know) has a fantastic section for odds and ends and lots of great clearance items.

Homesense/HomeGoods

Always awesome deals here, and they have super cute stuff. I could drop a lot at Homesense if I didn’t have self-control (or if my significant other didn’t rein me). Their home décor section is rife with unique items and they have really cool office accessories too. The last time I was there I scored some gold binder clips and huge gold paper clips. They had rose gold too. I highly recommend scouting them out.

I also recommend checking these stores/sections out on a regular basis. If you know your brand vibe and values, and/or have defined brand colours, you can easily pick up what will be a good fit for future use even if you don’t have a particular need for them at that time. If you’re not sure where to start in terms of defining your branding for your photography, check out my free downloadable styling planner with 90+ props ideas and stay tuned for next week’s post which is all about creating photos that fit your branding.

Poppin.com

Poppin.com is a website that's fantastic for grabbing your brand-specific colours in a large variety of office accessories. The website is SO FUN. You can shop by colour or what items you’re interested in. Turquoise scissors? Yes, please!

Nature

Depending on your branding, picking up a few things on a nature walk might be exactly what you need. Nature is abundant with fantastic things you can use to style and give life your photos. Examples include moss, stones, bark, ferns, wildflowers, twigs, pussy willows… You see where I’m going with this.

Grocery Store

Again, this one will depend on your branding, but there are loads of awesome accents to be found in the grocery store’s produce section. Sliced lemons, a bowl of shiny red apples, cherries, limes, oranges, and the like can bring a lot of character and feel to a photo.

Your Own Home

Never underestimate the value of finding styling props in your own home. From home décor items to cute coffee mugs, our homes are chock blocked full of things we can use to style photos. For example, you might have a really beautiful vase that would look great in some photos (bonus points if it has flowers in it). Or, you may have a set of wooden bowls that would look great with your products. You might have a vintage camera in the attic your forgot about, or perhaps an old wooden crate that perfectly fits your brand vibe. It’s important to be open-minded and keep your branding in mind. Walk around your house and look at your things through a new lens (first figuratively then literally). You’ll be surprised how much you find!

The Flower Shop or Your Garden

I’m a straight up sucker for succulents. I love the texture and colour of them and I especially like that they’re difficult to kill by accident which strangely seems to happen to a lot of the plants I own. I have a few succulents I keep “on staff” for photo styling and when not at work making a photo look great, they hang out in my office. In addition to succulents, there is a huge selection of plants for styling at your local flower shop or greenhouse. Fresh cut flowers, ivy, dried lavender… There are lots to pick from. Even better, if you’re so inclined to have some growing in your yard, you can pick straight from there.

Do you have any tips on where to get props for styling? I’d love to hear them!

Until next week,

Amy

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