Holiday Gift Guide Feature Challenge: Photo Inspiration + Tips Series

The Maker City is launching its first-ever Holiday Gift Guide! We're selecting high-quality products made in Knoxville to inspire shopping locally this holiday season. We're choosing products and makers with exceptional photos, easy-to-navigate shops, and stellar selling reputations. 

To help you up your photo game this holiday season...

We want to help YOU take awesome photos. On October 25 - 27, we hosted a 3-day Instagram photo inspiration + tips series. This is the full series we posted to Instagram, featuring the photos that inspired the tips! 

Candid shots are the stuff of dreams on Instagram

@smartandbecker demonstrates the visually-engaging yet business appropriate imagery that represents her work AND her style. Here are a few tips to capture yourself candidly - even if you don't have a photographer handy - for promoting your work and products on Instagram

Setup: Choose a well (naturally) lit space, orient yourself and the object(s) you want to focus on toward the light source (like a window), and choose a few different angles to try.

  1. Set your smartphone or DSLR to a 10-second timer
  2. Position yourself in a 'naturally candid' position, as if you were making, packing, building, or handling one of your products or displays
  3. Move as slowly as you possibly can in the motion of what you're candidly capturing
  4. Do this a few times until you create a clear, visually appealing, representative photo of yourself and your style.

Bonus: Ask a friend or photographer very nicely (and pay them if you can) to take these candid shots with your phone or a DSLR camera. This photo was taken by 👉@markwlilly


Who loves a gorgeous flat lay?

For products that are flat enough or can lay on their side, the #flatlay is a surefire way to get your photos noticed and LOVED by people you didn’t even know saw your work. With a little inspiration from the folks at @knoxchox, here are a few tips to create a flat lay with your products:

  1. When setting up your flat lay, don't be afraid to move furniture! Get a flat surface that's evenly lit by a natural light source (a window). The best times to photograph are in the earlier morning, later evening, and on cloudier days.
  2. Have a few ideas in mind for your flat lay - get inspiration on Instagram, Pinterest, or just by a simple google search
  3. Choose 2 - 10 products to "style" your product with, make sure your product is central to the eye and unobstructed by other items
  4. When choosing items, think about what your customers might associate or use alongside your product. Would you think to have chocolate while working at your desk on a Friday afternoon? 🙋 We would!
  5. Arrange your items around your product naturally, but neatly. This takes a bit of time to get the hang of, but give yourself a whole minute to look at your setup: Is anything crowding another item? Is there busyness or one section that's distracting? Play around with the spacing of your items until it *feels right*
  6. Position your DSLR or smartphone completely flat (horizontal) over your flat lay - it's perfectly finde if some parts of some items are cut out of the frame. Most shoot flay lays in square photo mode, but don't feel confined to this one option. 
  7. Nine times out of nine, stand on a chair.
  8. Take a few different angles, including closer and farther from your flat lay, and review in an upright position once you're satisfied with all the options you explored. 

Option, options, options!

Showing off all the different products you can in one photo can either be busy or the BEST. When you arrange your products in a complimentary way, showing variations in color - style - size, you’re drawing your viewer into your world.

Featuring @erickaryba, here are some tips to help you create arrangements that include multiple products in one shot:

  • For multiple options in the same size / scope: Try arranging your products in a shape or pattern, similar to this photo, that shows the diversity of options but also creates a visually appealing experience for your customer
  • For multiple sizes of similar product: Arrange your pieces the way you would a group picture - shorter in the front, taller in the back, but windowed so we can see everyone's face (or, most prominent product feature)
  • For multiple options of the same product: Consider who or what is modeling your product. Bring a collection of those subjects together and adorn them with your product, like multiple babies wearing an array of onesies, that nearly overwhelm the viewer with options but keep them sucked in see how different each one really is. 

Show what you make IN ACTION!

@beardenleather is slaying the style with a feed full of photos featuring their product in motion. As a bonus, their photos feature a person just like you or me! Whether you have a model in mind or want to hop in front of the camera yourself, here are a few tips to create engaging photos of your products in action:

Ask yourself, what is the purpose of my product? 

  • To serve: show a photo of your product performing its service, like a teapot brewing tea or a headband holding hair back
  • To please: capture a person genuinely enjoying your product, as one might snuggle with a knitted blanket or admire a work of art
  • To share: illustrate for your customers how your product brings people together, like a gathering around a vintage record player or many hands dipping chips into a handmade salsa bowl

A post shared by Opal Design (@opaldesignshop) on

Up close and personal

We want to see a close up of what you’ve made. We want to experience the detail and effort, the craftsmanship, the way the light reflects off your products. Yes - it can be that romantic!

With a gorgeous example from @opaldesignshop, here are a few tips to maximize your close-shots to help your customers fall in love with your product:

  1. Make sure that your "focus point" in your camera or smart photo is focused on the most stellar part of your product. This will draw the eye to that point and make it crystal clear.
  2. If you don't have the brightest light, use a tripod and self-timer for your photo so your depressing the shutter button doesn't shake the camera and disrupt the photo clarity.
  3. Make sure all of your product is in focus unless you're artistically meaning for some of the details to be obscured. You can make this happen by ensuring your product is squarely facing the camera or, on a DSLR, that your aperture is set above 6.3 (google that!)
  4. If you edit your photos, be sure to turn the 'sharpness' up a bit and, if necessary, the 'clarity' as well
  5. Frame your product with an organic or otherwise neutral substance. It could be seasonal, like the fir tree in this photo, or with some relationship to your product like having a linen tea towel under a teacup. 

A post shared by w e s t e m o r y (@west.emory) on

Putting on the finishing touches

Not only is @west.emory‘s product gorgeously styled, the photo itself has a feel to it that’s well crafted to fit the maker’s style. Can you see it? A slight fade, sharp definition, muted colors, and bright contrast. These are the characteristics of a strong Edit (filter / crop / tweaks included). Before you post your photos, it’s imperative to make sure they’re “finished”.

Whether you’re a pro photo-finisher or you’ve never edited a photo until now, here is a checklist to go through to see if your editing process is at its best:

• Check out some of the most-loved editing apps in the App Store (available for Android as well, in most cases): @vsco  - @googlesnapseed  - @instagram 

• When working with Filters, as many do, choosing just 1 that fits your "aesthetic", or visual feel of your photos, is akin to having a brand with special fonts and color scheme. So, look through your options in each of these editors and see if a Filter could be right for your photos

• Filters can be customized by how "strong" they are and tweaked to highlight bright spots, create moody shadows, and so much more. 

• Think about the style of your products as you get ready to edit - Do they feel bright, ethereal, or faded? Are they darker, moodier, grittier, or contrasted? Play around with different styles and trust your judgement when you feel like you've found "the one"

Make sure your product photos meet these three criteria: 

1. Clear, sharp, without distortion or low-quality pixelation

2. Well-lit, even in a moody photo, so we can clearly identify your product

3. Consistent with the style of your other photos, so that your customers know they're coming from the same shop


Where does your product live?

Can it be worn, used to eat a drink, hung on a wall, function as a tool, accent a room? Displaying your product as it will exist in your customer’s life helps them visualize owning the product before they’ve even thought to purchase.

@blushandhoneypaper gives us the chance to visualize just how lovely their product will look when framed and displayed at home. This photo is crisp, bright, not too busy, but balanced and homey feeling.

Here are a few tips for creating photos that put your product in your customers’ lives:

  • Take a sample of your work, or if it's a one of a kind piece, gently arrange it into a few places in your own home, the home of a friend, or at a public place that doesn't mind you taking photos
  • Be sure to check that your product is well lit, there are no reflections or visual distractions, and that you can get a clear photo of your product comfortably
  • Capture a few different angles of each product in each space. For example: A coffee mug next to a French Press brewing fresh coffee; a shirt hanging on a stylish clothing rack
  • Consider where the product might be displayed: Hang a framed illustration on the wall or place a small statue on a side table
  • Show the item 'doing its job': A lamp illuminating a room or a handmade spoon full of scrumptious stew
  • Ask your friends, family, and customers to tell you how and where they use their product. This will help you get more in touch with them and get inspiration for new ways to show your product in its natural environment. 

Share your photos with us! Hashtag #themakercity on Instagram and follow us @themakercity.

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