by Lisa McGrimmon
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.
You might get away with doing your own product photography for applications to smaller, less competitive craft shows. But, if you want to get into the most competitive craft shows, you need spectacular photos.
If you want to do the job yourself, you'll need to have the right gear, and you'll need to invest some time to develop 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 my business 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. If I had paid a local pro photographer to take some photos of my best work, I'm sure I would have made back the cost of that photo session in sales at better shows.
My 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!).
Great photographers can get good results with a bad camera, but I certainly could not.
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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 bought and read Steve Meltzer's fabulous book Photographing Arts, Crafts & Collectibles which helped me realize the real 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 learn what was 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. I thought I was a hopeless photographer. It turns out, I just needed to keep digging to find the right information.
I bought a DSLR 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.
I also got a first-hand lesson in the value of working with a pro photographer.
For the last class of the session, my teacher invited the class out to her farm to practice our photography in a beautiful country setting. She set up a shot with a classmate as a model, and we all took our best photos using settings our teacher recommended.
My teacher took some photos, too. Then we looked at everyone's photos.
Guess whose pictures were by far the best.
The teacher, of course.
We were all photographing the same subject with the same instructions, but if you compared the photos, you could easily tell which ones were taken by the teacher and which ones were taken by the students.
You may be tempted to try to save money by taking your own photos. However, that decision could keep you out of some of the best craft shows.
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 may get into some smaller, less competitive juried arts and craft shows with marginally good amateur photos.
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 because of mediocre photography. If you're not entering the show as a photographer, why should your application be judged on your photography skills?
Unfortunately, it's a fact.
In the most competitive juried art shows, and in more competitive categories, like jewelry and painting, so-so product 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.
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 the right equipment, and you've invested some time developing your photography skills, you'll probably get away with taking your own photos for:
But when your photos will be used to to get your work into the very top tier juried arts and craft shows, they must be absolutely top notch.
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 was an accomplished photographer and a wonderful teacher, threw out all kinds of fascinating tidbits throughout the course.
She talked about techniques and conventions in photography. These were things I had never come across in all of my craft photography research, and things only a pro would know.
For example, she shared that:
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.
If you're operating your business on a tight budget, you may hesitate to pay the money to have your crafts photographed professionally for craft show applications. Do keep in mind, 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.
When you're ready to sell at high-level shows, money spent on great photos for your craft show applications 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 photos may not be the person who is most suited to take photos for your application to juried arts and craft shows.
Also, when you speak with your photographer, 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.