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Photos for Arts and Craft Shows

When applying to juried arts and craft shows, it is absolutely essential to have great photos. Here's how to get winning photographs for your application.

Photographing my crafts was one of the biggest struggles I went through when I first started selling my jewelry.

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

The problem was that not only was my knowledge about photography very limited, I was also trying to get good results with bad equipment (a very basic point and shoot camera, and a scanner). 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:

  • I read Steve Meltzer's amazing book, Photographing Arts, Crafts & Collectibles: Take Great Digital Photos for Portfolios, Documentation, or Selling on the Web, which helped me realize the depth of what I needed to know about crafts 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 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.
  • 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.

My New Camera

After a lot of research, and advice from my photography instructor, I ended up buyingCanon Rebel. 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, and if you decide to update the body of your camera at some point, your old the lenses will fit as long as you stick with the same brand.

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

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 unless you have some basic expertise in craft photography and the right equipment, your craft photographs will be, at best, marginally good, particularly if you are only working with a point and shoot camera. You won't get into the best juried art 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 Craft 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 absolute top tier juried arts and craft shows, they must be absolutely top notch.

Keep in Mind, You Don't KNow What You Don't Know

One benefit of working with a real expert is that you can really 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, taught in a stream of consciousness style, so she 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 (which you create by tacking up a strip of paper between your light source and the jewelry) on the jewelry. If the line 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 photos 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 because 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 arts and craft shows? Your photographer may make different choices depending upon the way your photos will be used.

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

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