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How to photograph craft: cards and notebooks

by Camilla


Over the next few weeks professional photographer Yeshen Venema will be sharing his tips on how to photograph craft, focusing on a different product type each week. First up, cards and notebooks…

Welcome to the first in my series of posts looking at different types of products, with tips on how to create great photos for your Folksy listings. First up it’s a very popular product type. I shoot more greeting cards than any other products – ok, except cushions ;-)

I’ll be breaking it down into three sections (lighting, composition and angle of shot) with some examples for each. Here we go!

It’s always good to have dynamic lighting – as in not flat. You can have dynamic lighting with a single light source, such as a window, it’s just about creating a slight gradient or variation across the scene. I often use a separate light on the background. Here only window light was used, but the card itself (A2 size) was curved upwards on the right to enhance the gradient effect. This image would look very different if the light was even.

Gradiated light creates a mood, setting your shots apart from the thousands of others online. Just make sure your product is not in the dark!

product photography tips, gradient lighting, lighting tips
Space Cat products by Bird House Press

In this next example, again only window light was used. I was careful not to have the card facing directly into the light as this would have washed out the surface. Here, depth is created by the variation in dark/light wood of the table and also the soft grey of the wall (which is actually my blu-tacked card). The soft focus on the foreground area on the table’s surface also works well to create depth – a bit of intrigue.

photography tips, natural light, product shots, yeshen venema
Letterpress greeting card, by Bird House Press

With cards and notebooks I’m careful not to include to many props because this can draw attention away from your product. In some cases, it’s just about a nice texture. In the example below I placed the notebooks in a small wooden storage box. The vintage feel of the box suited the texture of the paper stock used on the notebooks and the black text picks up on the black lino print. Be careful with black however, because it draws the eye. If these notebooks were white with red type I wouldn’t have shot them like this.

product photography tips, notebooks, how to photograph notebooks, Owl Notebook by Bird House Press

Angle of shot
To avoid distortion for the main product shot, I always shoot cards from directly side on, or from directly above. If you shoot at an odd angle, the design on the card can look strange, especially when sitting in a square frame.

product photography tips, greeting cards, how to shoot greeting cards, product shot tipsLetterpress Card by Bird House Press

In the above example, I shot from above standing on a chair using the live view on my camera’s LCD to frame the product. Depending on your camera, you may have articulated LCD screen which is very useful for these shots. If you are using a compact camera it’s likely your lens will be ultra wide angle, so rather than holding the camera close, use the zoom to avoid distortion on straight edges. Your camera phone is actually a great tool for these type of shots, especially for Instagram or tweets.

A few carefully placed props set the scene so the card is not just floating in space. Create some layers with a nice background texture and an envelope or small piece of card.

product photography tips, greeting cards, how to shoot handmade craftLetterpress Cards by Bird House Press

Above is another example, showing a direct side-on view, but this time I framed the shot with a specific crop in mind. It’s the Facebook banner ratio: 851 x 315 pixels. Figure out the crop ratios you need before you start shooting and create crop presets in your image editing programme.

Jenny Sibthorp, product photography tips, greeting cards, Yeshen Venema, Folksy
Screen-printed card by Jenny Sibthorp

Now, there are some cases when you can get creative and shoot from a different angle, if it’s not for the main product shot. Here I went low to show the detail of the print and softened the focus on the foreground to draw in the eye. Again, simple layering with card and envelope adds depth, while the low angle creates perspective.

You can see some more examples in my Cards and Stationery gallery
Also, check out my #phototip album on Flickr for more secrets: 

Next in the series will be flat textiles like bags, purses, washbags and hot water bottles. 

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Yeshen Venema is a freelance photographer, specialising in product and lifestyle photography for designer/makers. Inspired by his mother (a photojournalist in 60s Munich), he picked up a Nikon 35mm aged 13 and hasn’t stopped taking photos since. He is based in east London, but works across Europe, shooting for documentary, landscape and education commissions, and writes on the subject of photography for blogs and magazines.

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Sue Nicholls May 22, 2014 - 8:01 pm

hi this is a really useful post. I have trouble photographing my cards using a natural light source, though, as the tone of the card can look very different depending on whether the weather changes during the shoot from overcast to sunny for example meaning that the same card could appear to look like two different products in different shades. What’s the solution as I have never seen this problem discussed in articles on using natural light for photo shoots?

Nick Cockman August 6, 2014 - 2:56 pm

Just goes to show that the most flattering light for product photography is often a simple window, at the right time of days the light is incredibly flattering. I often use a simple piece of thick card on the other side of the photo from the window to bounce just a little light back into the subject to lift the details in the shadows slightly.

Selling Craft Online: How to take better photographs - June 7, 2015 - 9:27 pm

[…] How to photograph cards and notebooks […]

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