Etsy images

Looking for some advice here, so please chime in.

If you’ve ever had to take images of your pots you will know that sometimes the best pots in person just don’t translate into a photo. This can be frustrating, especially if you are trying to put your best foot forward to make an impression. On the flip-side, some not so good pots can photograph really well, and may look better on a computer monitor than they do in person. So I guess there’s some good and some bad to this whole image taking adventure. The interesting thing is that for some pots you just can’t make certain viewpoints work, but something different could very well have its own photogenic charm.

One of my stumbling blocks is that I still know so little about lighting and other photography basics, so often my images turning out well is more a matter of luck than expertise. And for one glaze in particular I can’t seem to luck my way into getting good shots. They always look washed out, so I’m guessing that its something basic that I’m doing wrong. A question for another day, perhaps.

That’s not the issue I have right now. I’ve got plenty of other pots that I’d like to sell on etsy, so I don’t really need to photograph those ones. Instead, I am wondering about a strategy for which shot to use as my main image for each pot. In particular I’m thinking about mugs. The idea is that I want to make a good first impression on the ceramics filter page so that potential customers will be drawn to entering my shop. Does this mean using a standard ‘front facing’ view, or can it mean something else? An image that sells a pot on etsy is not always the one you might choose for a postcard or getting in Ceramics Monthly. The aim is probably something different in each of those cases. So this is what I’ve got:

Call me crazy but I  glaze the bottoms of pots and then wipe off small areas and wad them. This way I get to highlight the cut-off pattern with glaze, but also insure that a glazed surface will always be presented to the table surfaces it rests on. I have been horrified at the goobers and sharp crusty bits that are sometimes left on the bottoms of pots, so this is my way of taking care of business (though I’ve been looked at as quite the strange bird by some of my fellow potters, and customers don’t even seem to notice the difference. So if the people buying my pots can’t appreciate this extra bit of effort you may wonder why I bother. I guess I was so used to wadding pots for salt, soda, and woodfired kilns that doing it in an electric kiln seemed pretty natural….).

So I guess my thinking is that this underside view is what I want to present as the first image of many of my pots. To me its the most interesting. It carries so much information, but I also think the view itself can be kind of neat. Am I wasting my time? Am I making a mistake? People’s expectations are probably for the much more straightforward shot, so am I turning away potential customers by spitting in the face of convention? Will customers even see what interests me about this other view? And since these shots seem to work best on mugs (for some reason) I won’t be using it on all my pots. So another question is whether it makes sense to only do it consistently. In other words, from the front in all cases. Is a hodgepodge of first views a mistake?

I’m kind of confused, so I’d like to hear what other people think. Maybe you guys can talk some sense into me and reel me back in from the precipice….

About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
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24 Responses to Etsy images

  1. Lee Love says:

    I put inlay on the bottom of wirecut pots to make them smooth and to highlight the pattern.
    I think a profile should be first. Then the bottom. In most books of tea ware, you’ll have the primary photo be a profile, then secondary images of foot (the foot is extremely important on tea bowls) , and if you are lucky, a shot of the inside.

  2. Thanks for the insight Lee! So I guess you are saying that an etsy shop is enough like a tea ware book that I should stick with that rule of thumb. Interesting. I’ll have to think about it from that angle as well, I guess….

    My hang up is that I personally get bored with the profile when I can’t quite capture that bit of magic I know is there. I usually want the image to be something more. I want it to almost be an Art shot. But I suppose my own opinions are not always the most relevant thing. If the sole purpose of the image is to set out a specific bit of information then my desires are totally beside the point.

    Its just that in the underside view I gave there is so much more information (to my eye). The thickness and tapering contours of the handles are much more fascinating from that angle, and the delicious information from the bottom also adds something. Perhaps even the unexpectedness of the angle is appealing? But the opposite twins of appealing and appalling usually play a close game of tag with some of my pots. If I stray even a smidge in the wrong direction the evil twin will claim the pot with “Now you’re IT!”

    Of course another consideration is to simply do the expected. Why defy convention when it has been put there by people who obviously know more than I do? [I freely admit that Carter Gillies is not the sharpest knife in the drawer (egad how I embarrass myself sometimes!!!)]. And any tea ware book will have much better pots than what I’m offering up, so there must be very good reasons for ‘profile image first and then the foot’. It wouldn’t be tradition if it didn’t make some sense. I probably could do a whole lot better just falling in line and doing my best to conform. At least, that’s one way to look at it!

    Thanks again Lee!

  3. tracey says:

    If you google around there are lots of hints for Etsy product presentation. Most that I have read suggest that Etsy customers like environmental photos, pots in action so to speak. I would definitely present the profile first, detail shots should come later. I think one of the best shops presenting pottery right now is the mudstuffing shop, I love the way he presents his work. Think about who the Etsy customer is and sell to them….. also check out catalog shots from companies that sell dinnerware like Crate and Barrel, Williams Sonoma, etc. good luck, photography is such a pain!

    • Hey Tracey, thanks so much! That’s a great idea about the pots in action/catalog images. I guess I’ve been thinking too much like the images I need to take are the kind of images that I’d want on a postcard or an event poster. You are right that this is such a different requirement! Etsy is about as far as you can get from a gallery atmosphere and still be selling pots. In fact, I was just having a conversation about how different the customers are who buy pots from the different venues (Etsy, galleries, home sales, craft fairs, etc) and how there usually seems to be very little overlap. I totally have to keep that in mind! And that sounds like another post to me (Look out!).

      Thanks Tracey! You’re the best!

  4. Rebecca Anderson says:

    I think the bottom views of the mugs are great. I love the glaze on the bottom of your pots, and have certainly noticed. One of your vases is the only one I will use on my dining room table because I know it will not scratch…’s sitting there now full of coneflowers. However, I don’t think that angle showcases the incredible glaze you use as well as the upright ones. I love the form and function of your pots, but since potential customers can’t hold them in their hands, the color of the glaze will be what grabs their attention.
    Just my opinion….
    Rebecca Anderson

    • Drat! I think you are right…. I get so caught up in all the details that are interesting to me, but that totally misses the main attraction for the public, which as you say is usually the glaze. I guess I think too much like a potter in that I’m a form first kind of person. That is exactly the reminder I needed to hear. I was thinking earlier that the different view would be intriguing in its difference, but that was still a decision based on form. Glaze, glaze, glaze! Eventually I’ll get it through my stubborn head.

      Hey! And thanks for the appreciation of the bottom on that vase! Its so encouraging to hear when someone has understood the extra effort that an artist can put into things. That totally validates my doing it! When I get lazy or depressed that I’m not being understood I can actually think twice about going the extra step. I hardly ever cop out but I no longer have the excuse it seems. Thanks for standing up for me!

  5. Jim Peckham says:

    The bottom views definitely accents glaze fit on form. I would play with the lighting to see if I could attain the same fluid surface on the straight images. Walker used tin foil to reflect the light up from below on some pots. You have a tough decision.

    • Thanks Jim! This is a totally new set-up for my photo taking. I am trying to use one basic set-up to capture all the pots. In the past I tried to get the best shots possible for each pot (maybe aiming for something like what Walker does), and this meant that the angle was usually different between shots and I played around with the lighting a bit. This works fine if I’m going for that one stellar shot that I can use for a postcard or sales poster. The problem seems to be that every shot is so unique that they don’t always look like they belong together in places like an etsy shop.

      That didn’t really bother me so much until recently. I have since moved more in the direction of consistency being important for presentation. I’m not totally decided, but if you had seen my displays at the sale the other weekend you would have seen the separate glazes each grouped together. Much different from my usual mish mash…. I just think that sometimes its not always about getting the best shot but how the shot will fit the context. And that really is the lesson I’m trying to learn here. There are just so many considerations, and all these different viewpoints are incredibly illuminating. I just need to get a handle on what matters most…. And I appreciate everyone chiming in to help set me straight. Thanks Jim!

  6. I like a straight on photo when online shopping. If it’s a mug, I do like to see the liner. and this is just an idea, since Etsy gives you an About the Artist page, add a paragraph with photo about your bottoms, the process you use, and how that differentiates yours from other potter’s work?

    other than that, I’m a terrible photographer, and have sold tons of stuff I never got photographed. I do plan to build a box like the one Nick Friedman uses when I get ready to start shooting again. May it come soon!

    • It seems the straight on view is being defended by almost everyone so far. Perhaps its just the best way of telling what the item is? It doesn’t need to be the most interesting or even informative, just the most revealing of how it fits people’s expectations. I guess that’s the real lesson: Surprises only sell pots in rare circumstances.

      My profile page on etsy has a bit about me discussing beauty and my approach to making pots. I often talk about things like the bottom on each item’s individual page. It seems like I would want to keep it there since it is something specific to each of those pieces.

      Thanks for the insight!

  7. juana says:

    i think the front-facing image is probably your best first shot. once people click and want to know more, you can present the bottom view and point out all the information you see in there.

    for the initial search, etsy shoppers might be browsing quickly, looking for THE mug they want. i think they will be looking for YOUR version of the IDEA of a mug (in platonic terms), the prototype. for that first shot, i would focus on how the form and surface you present are applied to that prototype. and in my conventional mind, the prototype is that profile shot of the front-facing pot and handle. in a sea of mugs, your etsy shopper will click on your image because (first) it conforms to the idea of the mug, and (second) it looks more interesting than the rest. and they’ll click for more.

    the first front-facing image is straight-forward. the first click will follow only that visual information of form and surface on the prototype of a mug. i like the bottomshot as your secondary image because people that see it are going to be looking more closely, looking for the details, and reading your footnotes. that is the image that will make people buy your pots. and they should.

    the image of the bottom will give you more information about

    • I guess that was the question underlying this: Do you draw them in with something unexpected, or do you draw them in with the familiar and only then hook them with the unusual? That first image isn’t necessarily what will make them buy the pot but what they need to be interested in enough to click on it in the first place.

      All this discussion is definitely helping me understand the issue a lot better. All these different perspectives touch on the issue slightly differently, and its more the accumulation of ideas that is ‘selling me’ at the moment than any one in particular. And I guess that’s a good lesson in itself too! Thanks for the input!

  8. juana says:

    oops! that last line in my previous post should have been deleted before sending. please ignore it.

    also, i forgot to mention that, when done right, i LOVE the images of pots in use. in real life, pots are never under that artificial lightning, and they are meant to be with people, on tables, with food, drinks, and flowers. my favorite postcard ever was last year’s bandana pottery sale: an outside table full of beautiful pottery, good food, candles, pretty flowers, people, babies…

    • Yeah, that sounds good to me too! My next postcard will definitely be something besides the Art shot, probably the ‘in action’ shot like what you just described or a shot of hands throwing a pot on the wheel. I haven’t decided yet, but this is somewhat different from the requirements of selling individual pots on etsy. I liked Tracey’s thoughts about the catalog shots and individual in action poses. I’m thinkin’ on it!

  9. I agree with Tracy on the catalog shots in terms of Etsy, but you can mix it up some too. You get 24 pots on a page in your shop and should consider what you want the page to look like as a whole to entice visitors to stay and keep looking. For example, why not have most mugs shot in profile as expected, but just a couple with the bottem as first pic to create added interest and a pleasing overall view. Keith Phillips (mudstuffing) does this sort of thing really well. Also look at Whitney Smith and some of her nesting bowl off center shots for ideas. Experiment with it. Changing out your photos on listings if you don’t like what you’ve done is free.

    • Hey Barbara, Thanks so much for contributing your thoughts here! I think this is possibly an even better perspective: To look at the shop page itself as the primary selling medium. This seems a different issue from the way an image gets looked at on the filter page. And you are absolutely right that swapping out photos is free, so anything you get wrong is only temporary. I haven’t spent as much time recently perusing other potter’s shops, but I always loved how Brandon Phillips pages are organized. The same shot of mugs listed one after the other makes a great impression, and I think there is a lot to be said for that consistency and thematic approach. But maybe I will try what you suggest and throw a few curve balls into the line-up.

      I’m still working on it, trying to add two pots or so about every day. Once I have a better level of stock in the shop I will probably do a bit more playing around with the images.

      Thanks for the help!

  10. One more wee little thought admittedly coming from someone who is technologically challenged. Unless you’re purposely using a detail shot for your first picture, try photographing taller pieces in a horizontal format and then crop so the whole pot is visible in that first picture that you’re hoping will draw people in as they cruise through the many listings in the Ceramics and Pottery catagory. Should also look good on your shop page as a whole since the piece won’t look chopped off. (Hope that makes sense)

    • I actually think I DO understand what you are talking about. I even did it pretty much by accident until I saw the results and went for them on purpose. But I think I crop it a bit too close for the effect you are describing. I am still trying to figure out the relationship of the image itself to what gets shown in the thumbnails. All the stuff I’ve cropped looks so much better in the screen for the actual item but is often a bit cut off on the shop page and the ceramics filter. I need to play around with it some more, but thanks for the encouragement and wisdom!

  11. This blog post from LaPella Pottery was a HUGE help when I was starting up on etsy and just trying to learn the basics of photography:

    As for the various angles. Show the customer what you want them to see. I think as long as they can tell what it is from the first shot, any angle is fine. The more interesting the better, I think.

    Take a quick browse through the “ceramics and pottery” section. Note the images that stand-out to you and figure out why. Generally, I am drawn to well-lit, interesting shots. A white/neutral background. In situ product shots are great, but it can be hard to pull off a good one without looking too cluttered.

    Also, detail shots are so important! Close-up shots are great at showing off a bit of detail.

    Have fun! It is an ongoing, organic process. I’m still working on improving my photos- 4 years after opening an etsy shop. Don’t let not having the perfect photo hold you back or discourage you. Just keep practicing and moving forward!

    • I was hoping you might chime in Jeanette! I have always been impressed by the way your shop presents your items. I think your clean background helps the pots really stand out, and I like that you also mix it up with the angle of that primary image. I especially like your use of props to highlight the pots! I did notice that some of your berry bowls in the current line-up are photographed on a wooden tabletop. Looks good, but did you have any specific reasons for treating it different? I think the light wood surface doesn’t seem out of place in the shop, so I don’t think its a distraction (which it might have been with a darker color wood).

      Hey, I checked the LaPella blog post. It seems like this is mostly about how to photoshop images. I don’t have very good software I’m afraid, but I’m not sure it always flatters the work to do it this way. Do you actually wipe out most of the nuance of the backdrop on the computer? I couldn’t tell because you still seem to have the suggestion of shadows on most of the pots and props. I thought this was maybe how you were lighting the image…. I like for there to be some sense of shadow, so that the pots appears to have a spatial relationship [rather than being disembodied, which (unlike your images) is how the pots in the blog post seemed]. But maybe that’s my art school prejudice speaking. The way we were taught was to use a gradation of the background color to highlight the work. You know, the ‘classic’ Ceramics Monthly type shot. Maybe I just need to get over that way of thinking….

      Hey, the interesting thing about looking at the post was that her etsy shop had a widget right to the side of it, and not a single pot out of 49 in her current store was photographed in that way! Somewhere along the line she decided against that photoshopped look and went all rustic. Now I’m just looking for some old boards to make a photo setting with….

      • The LaPella example is extreme, I agree. (I noticed that she doesn’t use that technique anymore, too. I’m actually not too crazy about her current shots, but of course, it is all rather subjective.) I don’t use it quite like that. Here is an example that I did for one of your shots:
        (I posted it to my flickr, for lack of a better place to put it- without your permission, sorry!)
        It just color corrects and brightens. If you don’t have photoshop, there is free photo editing websites- picasa is one. I don’t have any experience with them, but I know that some etsy sellers use it.

        A great site to see the top sellers in the ceramics and pottery category on etsy:
        A quick browse through the top 15 shows that there is no one right way to do it. Gradient backdrop, white background, in situ… its all there.

        As for sizing. Etsy uses two size shots: thumbnail and gallery. The gallery view is what is seen in the treasury, on the front page, in the emails… all the “publicity” places. Thumbnail is only visible when you are looking in someones store.
        I use 1000 (wide) x 806 (h) photos. This is for the gallery view. And it gets cropped by etsy into a square for the thumbnails, so I try to keep that in mind when I am composing the photo.
        More info on size:

        And about my own shots. I’m trying to work on more catalog-y type photos. Not everything, just a few pieces. Hence the light wood and the berries and the confetti… some I like and so I don’t. I am not a photographer but am lucky to have people in my life who are. So I ask a lot of questions and try new things often.

        • Yeah, the brightened version sure looks better, and I’d definitely do that kind of correction if I were sending this off to some kind of show, but I never really intended these images to be of that quality (notice the glare ‘hot spots’ from the overhead florescents). It would take waaay too much time per pot to fiddle each image into reasonable ‘perfection’. In my mind the shots are much better than some of the ones that are selling like crazy. As you say, its mostly in the eye of the beholder and there is not one right way of doing it.

          Glad you pointed me to those etsy specifications: “Horizontal (landscape) orientation images or square images are recommended over vertical (portrait) orientation images for the first photo in the listing. This will ensure the center, focal-point of the image appears in the cropped thumbnail views.” That explains why my vertical shots keep getting cut off in the thumbnail, but I love how much better they look on the item page so I’m gonna keep doing it.

          On their recommendation for size, the reason they list a preference doesn’t seem to be an issue if your upload speed is good enough: “We do not recommend using images that are much larger than 1000 pixels square, as files this large can be difficult to upload.” It would take me far longer to resize everything I want to list than it would to wait a few extra seconds for the image to upload.

          Thanks again for all your info and for helping me out!

  12. carter,
    forgive me if i am repetitive, but it was a lot of responses to read before getting to say what i wanted to say. as a college student with just about everything needed for professional photographs provided in the university studio, i find myself turning away from the photo room with custom painted backdrops and light boxes with their 85 dollar bulbs. as a simple person, i like simple, to the point photographs. like you said, photographs that capture the sweet spots and all the right angles. my main frustration with photo room shots is the GLARE. if you have a shiny pot, it is going to show a glare, and in turn your reflection and the reflection of the camera. so much time is spent dodging the light off the “glaring” shoulder of the pot to get just one image that in the end is just going up on etsy. the method i use is just a cheap gradient paper taped to a coffee table and the wall, and the power of natural light. it makes quite nice photographs, and if you tinker with it enough, the same quality can be reached that you will get from professional equipment. as for what view to show as the main image, i have noticed irregular shots definitely gain the most attention, but i cannot swear to it making any more sales. i just tried this experiment with two nearly identical batter bowls i have. ones main image is a standard shot from the side to show the pouring lip, while the other has the bowl standing up on its side to show the interior of the bowl and a better view of the lip. the latter has twice as many views, as well as a couple hearts; however, both batter bowls are still sitting in my shop. i also tried this with similar yunomis and got the same result. in the end, from what ive learned thus far, if someone wants to buy a pot from you, they are going to buy a pot from you. the irregular view shots may attract more people to view the pot, or “heart” it, but it hasnt done much for increasing sales. to completely counteract what i just said, i like the irregular view shots as the main picture. they are interesting, unique, and set you apart from everyone else on etsy and their straight on mug images.
    for info/tips on cheap do it yourself light boxes/ easy at home photos, you should check out the blogs of my friends jeff and simon….
    hope to hear back, patrick rademaker

  13. Hey Patrick,

    Thanks for the feedback! I appreciate you slogging all the way to the end to get in your two cents worth. I just checked out your etsy shop and I really like the side view on the teabowls. I think that is a really nice shot on all of them. I am still wavering back and forth on how I want to present my own shop. Sometimes I overthink things (if you hadn’t noticed), and for the time being I’m just going to do things as straight forward and simply as possible.

    My own photo set up is pretty rudimentary. Like I said in the post, I’m still getting good shots mostly by luck, but I know that with the right pot and enough finagling I can get the shots I need for publicity. As you know, there is a lot less pressure on pot shots for etsy. I tend to be less exacting when I know I need 4 or 5 different views of the same pot. My art shots are all much more specific.

    I think you’d be pleased to know that I do all my photo work with a cheapo nikon camera, a 60 watt overhead bulb, occasionally fluorescents somewhere nearby, and sometimes the halogen work lamp in from the side. Its a mishmash of different pieces of advice and some desperate innovation on my own feeble budget. But it seems to work qualitywise when I need it.

    I hope you sell some pots! I like your work. Another woodfiring potter! Once upon a time not so very long ago I was helping fire Simon’s old original kiln out here in Georgia. Small world, isn’t it? I like your soda pots too. That’s what I did in grad school, and if I had my way I would probably be doing it today as well.

    Thanks for chiming in!

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