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We all have gifts and strengths as they pertain to those gifts. My gift is photography; my strength is in botanical and travel photography. My strength is not product photography!

I have done product photography over the years for myself and for friends (notably friends who design fab jewelry), but the process is often fraught with fuss and frustration.

My media goddess recently needed some updated product shots to include with some magazine submissions we’re making.

What started as “Oh, just pull together some images for Nan. You have some on the computer, silly!” ended up as….

“Oh, crap. This stuff looks BAD. Google how other people do it. Other people use textured backdrops and clothespins? OMG. What time does Ben Franklin open? 10a? WHAT?! WHY THE HELL ARE THEY CLOSED FOR INVENTORY TODAY?????!!!! Now what?! Where is Jo-Ann-Fabric? Oh, *phew* got everything I need. I know I have a staple gun somewhere. What?! The staples come out the OTHER end? Thank God I missed an artery. *whew* Done with THAT. Yes. Just put holes in your freshly-painted plaster wall. No one will notice unless they’re feeling the length of the wall. Except for you. You will notice them every time you sit down at your desk. Get over it.”

Yeah…..that’s how my day went yesterday.

Here’s a look at some ways you can photograph stationery (or paper goods, in general) – and my .02 on how to get it done.

Controlled Light

This is how it all began for me. Got a light cube and the lights and the tripod…the whole get up years ago. Artfully arrange the products in the cube and *presto* ….you get something that looks like this:

Note cards in a light cube

Note cards photographed in a light cube

Don’t get me wrong: the cube and the lights and the whole shebang come in handy – especially when it comes to photographing small items – or if you want a nice, uniform background so you can easily digitally clip your images later.

But, do you really want the same look over and over and over and over?

I don’t.

So, before I tackled yesterday’s photo shoot, I Googled (typical!) and found some handy suggestions.

Use Whatever Surface is Handy

Actually, I didn’t have to Google for THIS one (ha!). Seriously. If you have good natural light, utilize it.

"Lowcountry" collection note cards and enclosure cards

The shot is a loosely “merchandised” arrangement of note cards simply photographed on my studio desk.

Fabric Backgrounds

Now, I’m all for giving credit where credit is due…but I forgot to bookmark a link that I found that I really liked.  In a nutshell: the author suggested that you use textured fabric backgrounds. Below is a recreation of what I discovered yesterday.

To keep the cost down, the author suggested that you find a fabric store with a decent remnant selection. I found some inexpensive colored burlap and neutral linen fabric.

To minimize wrinkles, she suggested stapling the fabric to cardboard. She used cake bottoms; I used cardboard from broken down boxes (roughly 16″x24″ pieces).

Place the fabric under the cardboard and staple the it to the cardboard with a staple gun:

Wrap the cardboard in fabric

Keep pulling the fabric taut as you staple your way around the border (note: make sure you have the staple gun pointed the right way. I am not liable for your inability to staple safely!!):

Staple around the border

If you’re going to do one, you may as well make a bunch! That way, you have a nice stash for future shoots.

great palette of textured fabrics

Once I was done with that…I was ready to roll. Here are a couple shots:

"By the Shore" collection note cards on fabric background

"Starfish" note card on fabric background

Note: on both of these images, in addition to using the background, I am also using a prop or two to show scale: a pen and a little sea shell. Customers want to gauge what they’re getting; a few well-chosen props will go a long way in helping set scale.

“The Clothesline”

I LOVE this look, which I found at the CassiaBeck store on Etsy. She did a great job of utilizing natural light with a simple, elegant presentation.

This is where you need a bit of “hole-in-the-wall” tolerance. I loved the look so much, I sort of almost had no problem putting thumbtacks into my freshly-painted plaster wall. Almost.

"Into the Garden" note card collection

PS: found the mini clothespins at J0-Ann Fabric, but they’re probably available at any crafts store (Hobby Lobby, Ben Franklin, Michael’s, etc).

Stage a Vignette

What I like about this type of product shot is that even though it can be the most maddening in terms of staging, it can often be the most rewarding in terms of results (I am not an equation/math/logic person at all, but there is probably some sort of corollary hidden in that sentence).

The shots give the product a little bit of life….clients can see “how to” use it, etc.

Some examples:

Show a note being written in a card....

Set up a pretty desk scene: calendar, note card, enclosure card...ready to go!

Enclosure cards look more festive next to curled ribbon!

Bookmark in a vintage book - v.1

Bookmark in a vintage book - v.2


I am always interested in learning new ways to do this better, so if you have suggestions, please share! I am all ears!