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Photos for Arts and Craft Shows

Take your own photos or hire a pro? How will you get the kind of quality photos you need for juried art show applications?

If you're applying to juried arts and craft shows, you need fantastic photos. There's no way around it.

A professional photographer, particularly one who knows what art show jurors want, will give you great results. If you want to do the job yourself, you'll need to have the right gear and invest some time in developing your photography skills.

Whatever you decide, don't let mediocre photos stop you from being accepted into good craft shows.

Photographing my crafts was one of the biggest struggles I went through when I started selling handmade jewelry back in 2006.

I read everything I could find on the subject, but most of what I read over-simplified things and was not helpful. I struggled to take decent pictures, and I'm sure I missed out on some good shows because my photos were not great.

The problem was twofold. Not only was my knowledge about photography very limited, but also, I was trying to get good results with bad equipment (a very basic point and shoot camera, and a scanner - yes, it was a few years ago!). I'm sure a great photographer could get good results with a bad camera, but I certainly could not.

If only I had known then what I know now...

I encountered two big turning points in my quest to figure out how to get decent photos of my crafts:

  1. I read Steve Meltzer's book, Photographing Arts, Crafts & Collectibles, which helped me realize the depth of what I needed to know about craft photography. Nothing else I had read on the subject went anywhere near the kind of detail necessary to get great craft photos. In fact, once I finished reading Photographing Arts, Crafts & Collectibles, I was completely annoyed at all of the other articles I had read that implied I could take jury-worthy photos without much skill or without investing in the right equipment. I wasted so much time struggling unnecessarily when all I needed was the right information.
  2. I bought a digital SLR camera, and, at the same time, I took an introduction to photography course with an absolutely amazing local photographer. Working with the new camera under the direction of my teacher helped me to understand the depth of what there is to know about taking great photos and the importance of having the right tools and techniques to do the job.

Here's What I've LEarned about Taking Great PHotos To Get Into Arts and Craft Shows

My DSLR Camera

After a lot of research, and advice from my photography instructor, I ended up buying a Canon Rebel DSLR camera. I got the previous year's model because the next year's model had just come out. I figured I didn't need the absolute newest camera technology, and I got a great deal since it was the previous year's model.

According to my teacher, Nikons are also good cameras.

Just choose whichever brand makes sense for you, and stick to that brand because your lenses are what end up costing the most money. If you decide to update the body of your camera at some point, your old lenses will fit as long as you stick with the same brand.

It may be tempting to try to save money by taking your own photos.

You may get into some of the smaller, less competitive juried arts and craft shows with so-so photos, but if you don't have some basic expertise in craft photography and the right equipment, your craft photographs will be, at best, marginally good. You won't get into the best juried shows with craft photos that are only marginally good.

It may seem unfair that great products can be excluded from great craft shows due to mediocre photography; however, it's a fact. In the most competitive juried art shows, and in more competitive categories, so-so photography can be enough to exclude you from the competition.

Remember, the photos you submit are the only things the jury has to assess your work, so the pictures must really show your work in the absolutely best possible light. Professional photographers know how to set up lighting, backgrounds and composition to create photographs that do that for you.

Be Very Honest With YOurself About The Quality Of Your Photos

When you have limited knowledge of photography and a very basic camera, taking your own craft photos is perfectly acceptable if you want to catalog your work for your own reference.

If you have your own digital SLR camera and a good knowledge about photography (and how to use all of the mysterious settings on your fancy camera), you'll probably get away with taking your own photos for mid-level juried art shows, and probably for selling your crafts online.

But when your photos will be used to to get your work into the top tier juried arts and craft shows, they must be absolutely top notch.

You Don't KNow What You Don't Know

One benefit of working with a real expert is that you discover what you don't know about a subject.

I was struck by that realization when I took my intro to photography course.

My instructor, who is a wonderful, accomplished photographer and a fascinating teacher, threw out all kinds of fascinating tidbits throughout the course.

She talked about techniques and conventions in photography - things I had never come across in all of my craft photography research - that only a pro would know.

Things like:

  • A portrait is not technically correct if the eyes do not each have a highlight at about 10:00 or 2:00.
  • When photographing silver jewelry, there must be a dark shadow line on the jewelry. You create that line by tacking up a strip of paper between your light source and the jewelry. If the shadow is not there, the image is not technically correct.
  • When photographing horses, all legs must be either on the ground or in the air. If there is a mixture of legs raised and on the ground, the photo is technically incorrect.

I wasn't rushing out to create technically correct photos of horses, but hearing all of those little bits of wisdom she could just instantly draw on was extremely instructive. It made me realize the depth of knowledge that a good, experienced photographer brings to a photo shoot.

Until you really dive into a subject, you just don't know what you don't know.

Deciding Whether You Can Take Your Own Photos, Or If You Are REady to Hire a Pro...

You may hesitate to pay the money to have your crafts photographed professionally for craft show applications, but in the end, if you fail to get your great products into great shows because of poor photography, there is no cost savings because you've lost all of the income potential in selling at top tier shows.

Money spent on great photos for your craft show applications when you're ready for high-level shows is an investment that will help you gain acceptance into the most competitive juried art shows with the greatest earning potential.

When you choose a photographer, ask whether he or she has experience photographing items for craft show applications.

Keep in mind that photographing objects requires a different set of skills and considerations than photographing people, so the photographer who did a great job with your wedding pictures may not be the person who is most suited to take photos for your application to juried arts and craft shows.

Also, be clear about the ways you will use the photos. Will they be used to sell your crafts online, or will they be used for applications to juried shows? Your photographer may make different choices depending upon the way your photos will be used.

Whatever choices you make about photographing your crafts, be honest with yourself, and be sure that you are not limiting the potential of your business with mediocre photography.

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