#NOFILTER Q&A: How to Get the Perfect Photos

The first question kicking off the #nofilter Q&A is from Vicki and Aaron Schafer: ” How do you get such perfect pictures of your work? Staging supplies? Do you photoshop your walls and mirrors? Camera? Lighting? Your pictures are off the charts amazing! 😍 how and or where did you learn it all?

Answer: there are a lot of elements that come into play when getting that scroll stopping photo you see of my finished pieces. I began taking pics of my pieces to sell from my cell phone camera in my living room at weird angles, much like what you see on marketplace and craigslist. It wasn’t until I started seeing all of these amazing photos in some of the furniture painting groups that I began understanding there was another level to staging I had no clue about. These magazine worthy photos were so stunning that it made me curious about how they were achieved. Did these people just have beautiful homes full of perfect rooms? How was I going to compete with that having limited space in a 2 bedroom apartment with no bare wall to use at all?

In the beginning

I don’t have a big home. I don’t have a lot of space. What I do is create the illusion that I do. You don’t need tons of expensive photography equipment and staging props to get stunning photos. Much like tv shows build a set to make it look like the actors are inside of a home, you make a set around your piece just for the photo. Use what you have available for staging. The best investment you can make for staging props is flowers, vases, and mirrors. There are a lot of creative ways people have used in making fake walls and floors in places like their basement or foyer. As they say, fake it til you make it.

I take advantage of clearance sales at Hobby Lobby and Michaels to get their silk flowers. I pick out a diverse range of colors. You don’t have to have a ton of decor at your disposal to stage but it does help having the perfect decor that sets the vibe your piece is trying to exude. You know, wood and metal stuff for MCM, baskets and macrame for boho, rustic signs and crates for farmhouse, and ect. I have a whole closet just for my staging props now but it’s not an absolute must when staging. Utilize what you have. 

The cameras on your cell phones are perfectly adequate when taking product photos. Paired with some tweaking on photoshop, you can get nice, crisp photos. I have invested in a camera. I bought myself a mirrorless, digital camera. I have the Sony a7 mark ii. I spent a lot of time researching digital cameras before I decided which one was right for me. I would recommend a DSLR for your first camera because you can sync photos onto your computer and phone via wifi, easily and it’s just pretty much point and shoot. You don’t have to be a photographer to use one. The benefit is higher resolution photos so you don’t get the grainy pics you can sometimes get on your phone when you try to sharpen the image. It allows for more versatility for photoshop too. A lot of my pieces are very detailed so being able to take sharp, closeup photos has been a huge plus for me like the faux marble foyer table I did. I was able to capture the subtle colors and veining with my camera. However, photoshop and your cellphone can do wonders. I still take photos on my phone.

I have a white wall and floor to use for staging, however, it wasn’t always that way. Before we moved, I had not one spare wall to use so I had to be creative and use white bead board/paneling from Lowe’s as a fake background. It worked. It was better then a messy background full of clutter. You can get fake backdrops for fairly cheap on Amazon. The only thing I would worry about is the wrinkling but a nice white backdrop is the best foil for presenting your piece. It allows it to be the center focus.
There are a lot of differing opinions when it comes to staging walls and inside versus outside. I’m open to a lot of interpretations and I feel whatever works for your image the best and fits your style is what is most important. Just keep in mind that various selling platforms have different requirements. Chairish, for example requires you to have nothing on your furniture as they like to photoshop out everything but your piece. Some platforms require inside staging. Do what’s best for your business.

Photoshop is a big component for me when it comes to getting the perfect pic. I have had to teach myself basic photoshop tools. I’m still learning and have a lot to learn but I’m miles away from knowing nothing. You don’t have to buy photoshop software. You can download free apps on your phone to tweak photos. I recommend: photoshop express, snapseed, and adobe photoshop mix as the essentials. You can add your watermark, change the color, exposure, and perspective of your photos on them for free. There are articles you can read about how to use them. The raw photos I take looks nothing like the photos I show you where they are watermarked and the lighting is perfect. I do my own mirror replacements on photoshop. I decided to invest in a subscription to use PicMonkey. It’s like adobe just simpler and cheaper. I’m not a graphics designer or professional photographer so I don’t need all the fancy options adobe offers. Maybe someday when I learn more I will but right now it would just be a waste of money for me to only use 1/4 of adobe’s capabilities for the full price. I don’t like replacing the floors and walls if I don’t have to. I believe the less photoshopping, the more natural your photo looks so I prefer doing as much as I can in reality. However, you can get people to do mirror, floor, and background replacements for fairly cheap if you need it. Most charge $5 per photo. I offer very basic photoshop services for those needing it. You can find other experts on fiverr, etsy, and freelancer.

I finally invested in lighting equipment after being exasperated with the fickle winter light. Living in CO, the light can be perfect and then gone in 5 minutes. It’s frustrating when I am staging and have everything in place but have to wait for the light to come back. I have 2 large windows in my staging room but if the light is too direct, it makes your photo overexposed with shadows and if it’s too dark, you have shadows and weird coloring. The best is bright, indirect light for nice, crisp pics. I have a soft box lighting kit with 2 stands. I like that there’s 4 bulbs inside so I can adjust the brightness to my liking with the switches on the back. I have mine just set up because it’s a pain to break down and set up again. I’ll attach the link to it in the comments. It makes a huge difference for the coloring of my photos. I don’t have the yellow cast to them anymore. It’s now just pure white. Again, you can just use natural light for photos but a lighting kit allows you to get great photos anytime of the day.

Lastly, I cannot stress how much expert help I’ve gotten for my photos. You need the extra eyes for help with staging. It’s overwhelming sometimes trying to get the right balance in staging. Having a neutral pair of eyes tell you what looks off and what looks right saves you so much time. If I were to do it alone, it would take me days to stage. I would end up going through all of my decor trying to find the perfect scene much like when you are trying to dress for a date and you end up trying every outfit possible just to go with what you tried on first. As a mother, I don’t have unlimited time to move around stuff and hang things on my wall. My photos have improved by tenfold because I have expert stagers tell me what props work and what doesn’t. There are staging groups on facebook that can help you. Some you pay for, some are free. I don’t like posting several options up on a huge furniture group asking which one is best and getting a million different opinions, most not very helpful and based on personal preference. I’d rather get right to the point and have someone who knows what they’re talking about to guide me in the right direction. It has been a huge timesaver for me to have expert stagers help me. You may find it frustrating and not worth it to spend a few hours moving around props and getting the right angles, which is fine. A lot of people find staging to be the most challenging part of selling. Personally, when my pieces sell and I no longer have them with me, what remains is my photos as a testament to my work. Photos last forever and document what you have done and are capable of doing so isn’t it worth the extra time and money to get that drool inducing shot? You can use it over and over again to entice future buyers and promote your business.

Wow, that was long winded but I wanted to be concise in explaining. There’s more I haven’t talked about concerning photoshop and staging but it would take a book to get into all the specifics. My biggest advice for you is to use your time and money wisely where you will get the most impact and most long-lasting results.