Home » Featured » Starting an Online Business: Part 1 (taking pictures)

Starting an Online Business: Part 1 (taking pictures)


I am asked questions about starting an online business, well, a lot.  Sometimes I laugh because I don’t have any “business” training.  I feel like I have just faked it: tried this, added that, adjusted this, deleted that. And I still need lots of work.  However, because some of you are just starting out with a little online shop, I am totally up for sharing what I know.  But please don’t feel like my way is the only way.  Or even the right way. 


But I have a few opinions about selling online and I will share them, if interested.  And because there is more than one area to talk about, I’ll split it up.  So first…….is taking pictures.


Let’s talk about the consumer.  When someone who doesn’t know you clicks on your shop, first impressions mean a lot.  They don’t know if you’re clean or dirty, kind or dishonest, happy or cranky.  All they know is what they see in your little shop.  And I guarantee that they aren’t going to go and read the “profile blurb” about you first.  They will go and see what you’ve got.  So make all of your pictures good so that they will research your shop more, if interested.


Let me clarify something before you slump over in defeat, knowing you don’t have a super nice camera. You don’t have to have a beautiful camera with crazy good lenses.  Use what you have but maybe just change your methods a bit.


First of all……..background distractions. 


Let’s say that you are selling this super sweet little green ceramic egg-shaped bowl, with clothing labels inside. (Nope, I’m not really selling this.  It’s just an example.)  And you decide that your counter top is the perfect background for it.  So you take a few shots of it.




Good grief, can you even see the green bowl?!?!! 


Let’s point out the distractions:




If you’re going to use the counter, that’s great.  Just clear everything out of the background.  Seriously, everything.  But if you do want something else in the picture, make sure it corresponds with the product you’re selling.  For example, I could place the green bowl next to my sewing machine, or next to some scissors and a stack of fabric.  Just make sure it relates to the product.  And is tidy. 

(And I would always take a picture of the product all by itself too, as an additional image.)


Do you want to know what I use for my background 90% of the time?  A white foam poster board.  And then I zoom on in (or step closer), so the edges of the board can’t be seen.




But I use colored backgrounds too.  Most of the time it’s a piece of fabric that I lay down, or a blanket, or the grass, or a piece of wood, and sometimes even a cool plate. 

(All are past projects of mine……not actual items I have sold.)


Whatever the background is, be sure it adds to the item……and doesn’t take away from it.



Now………..product angle.


Sometimes it’s hard to tell what angle will take a good picture of your product.  My advice here, is to take lots and lots of pictures.  Try different angles, different heights……..and keep on clicking.  You can always delete digital images later.


I think at first we think it’s best to take a picture from the top.  And that’s it.  And we don’t even consider all of the empty space around the object.




Instead, zoom in (or step closer) and give that product a different angle.






See the difference?





And don’t be afraid to take several different shots of the details of your item.  The more the consumer can see, the more likely they are to get a feel for the product…….and then hopefully want to buy it.




It’s hard to get an idea of what a product is really like, without having it in your hands.  So make it easier on the consumer and take as many different angled pictures as you can.





Okay……let’s talk about lighting.


Flashes are so great.  But they really wash out your pictures.  Especially while you’re inside and it’s really dark.  And the flash just tends to bleach out the real color and detail…..making the pictures inaccurate and blah.  So unless you have all the right equipment (and flash training), the flash is out, in my opinion.



But if you take a picture inside without the flash………it can look like this:



So step outside and take a few shots.  What’s the best time of day?  Morning, evening, while it’s overcast, or in some partial shade.  Direct sun will wash out your picture too.




And then scoot in close for your shot.



But sometimes it’s either too sunny outside or it’s raining/snowing.  If you have to stay indoors, place your product right by a window or a glass door…….to get the light you need.



And then crouch down and get in close for the shot.  (Putting it up on a table/chair may be helpful too.)




Does that help?  I hope it does.  Because that’s all I’ve got.  Haha.


And I have more tips for starting an online business…….but you’ll have to wait for the next installment.



Let me know if you have specific questions too.  I’m only pulling from the common questions that I get pretty frequently… if there’s more, I’ll do my best.  However, remember what I said above……I have no real training.  So take these pointers or leave them.  They are just some that have worked well for me.



Ashley Johnston
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Ashley Johnston

Owner at Make It & Love It
Ashley Johnston is a professional DIY costume maker, sewist, crafter, and owner of Make It & Love It. She is a mom of 5 and a wife to a very patient (with my craft clutter) husband. In case you’re wondering, she always chooses crafting/sewing/designing over mopping/dusting/wiping base boards……but bathrooms/laundry/full bellies are always attended to. Whew!
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  1. Rodolfo says:

    Very usefull material! thanks! i am starting a business and this is great! thank you!

  2. illoveorange says:

    great tips! i really want to sew, still i dont have the machine yet, no idea of whats best for a beginner. Your blog is of a great help!

  3. brooke says:

    what software editor do you use for making all the cool writing around your pictures in different fonts?

  4. Heidi of Operation Organization says:

    These suggestions are really superb – just what I’ve been looking for to improve photography for future blog posts. Thanks! :)

  5. sarah Jane says:

    Lovely tips, thank you very much.

  6. Christy, momMADE says:

    momMADE is just getting started, as I love making things I find it hard to narrow down what I want to make to sell. I don’t want to get into making anything and everything. How do you decide on what to sell in your store?

  7. Sandee says:

    check out the photography improvement on my blog! thanks for the tips!!!

  8. Jo says:

    Awesome! I’ve always wished I could take photos like yours, and this is really going to help me on my way — especially youyr advice on angles. I have a tip to share for indoor lighting — clamp-on lamps from the hardware store. They cost less than $10, plus whatever you spend on lightbulbs (I use CFL’s). They’re easy to clip onto tables, drawers (pull the drawer out a few inches and clamp the lamp to the sides), bookcases, etc. I don’t point them directly at my subject, but with 2-3 I can set up decent indirect lighting.

  9. tillie says:

    thanks for the AMAZING tutorial!!! I love the way the shots turned out.

  10. Jim says:

    This is great advice for anyone starting up their own business.

  11. By Nicole says:

    LOVE this post. I just started by own little custom kids clothing shop online and have been experimenting with photos!

    Would you mind checking out my pics and letting me kmow what you think?


    1. Ashley says:

      I think the pictures are great. The composition is good, the background is un-cluttered, etc. I would try lightening up the pictures though. You can even use something free like Picasa (google it) and just lighten up each picture just a bit before uploading them. Then you can show off more of that great detail. Cute work though…….you have some really darling things!! :)

      Best of luck!

    2. By Nicole says:

      Thanks Ashley!

  12. Danielle says:

    Awesome. Loving photo tips from your blog.

  13. Mandy says:

    I love the photo tips!! thanks!

  14. Carissa says:

    Good info, thanks! I’m not doing a business, but this is excellent advice for taking regular blog pictures too :)

  15. Caren says:

    When you set up shop, do you make more of one of each item? Say you’re selling a green flower ring. Do you make 10 of them and then list one? Or do you just make one and list it? And if you’re going to start a shop, how many items should you have for sale before you open up?

  16. Candace says:

    I live in Alaska and with the winter coming, we have about 4 hours of sunlight. It comes up about 11 and goes down about 2…what would be the best way to work with lighting if you don’t have much sunlight? I will be using the white posterboard idea though, never thought of that!

  17. Steph says:

    Thank you so much!!! You do such an amazing job and honestly it is so sweet of you to share your talents and insight with the rest of us :)

  18. Kelsey says:

    I agree… pictures are everything when selling online! I also use posterboard… or wrapping paper, or anything I can find!

  19. Lindsy says:

    Thank you! I recently started a blog and have really been struggling with taking good photos. Of course, I would like to blame everything on my basic point-and-shoot, but I have no technique to begin with. I looked at a few photography books, but it was a little too much for me. Something straightforward (and visually appealing) like this is exactly what I needed!

  20. Carrie says:


    On a different note than taking pictures … but whe do you purchase your labels. I have searched many online companies but would love to know who you use since they look like they are of high quality. Thanks!!

  21. marlene says:

    Thanks for this great post … taking photos of my items is one of my worst “jobs” ever, which is why I don’t post a lot in my Etsy store. I need to take your advice and go for it. Thanks!

  22. stefanie says:

    Great advice!

  23. gelinyolu says:

    soooo useful… thanks :) I’m looking forward the read next tips !

  24. sangeetha says:

    Awesome tip… thank you so much for your help.. :)

  25. Kip O'Krongly says:

    Woah, you totally read my mind. I was just thinking this afternoon: I wonder how Ashley takes her photographs? Weird.
    Thanks for the great post – your tip about poster board is super.

  26. Laura O. says:

    Great tips! And, I’m dying to know where you get your labels made!

    1. tina says:

      ME to!!!

  27. Asiyah says:

    Very helpful post. Usually I so excited to have finished a project that I just take the picture regardless of lighting. One question I have is about pricing. I think developing a pricing strategy that A) doesn’t run away customers and B) doesn’t keep you in the red is critical to running a sustainable business. Any thoughts you care to share on a future post?


  28. Sarah @ The Bird's Papaya says:

    I run an etsy shop for jewelry ( and often have to take up close pictures (actually, I ALWAYS do) and recently I’ve just started going outdoors. SO MUCH EASIER. My editing is minimal and the colors are more true to life. But I LOVE your foamboard idea! I’ll need to use this in the winter when using my wooden deck no longer works (although I love the look of a wood background).
    I also don’t have a “fancy” DSLR camera, just a point & shoot…but the results are great using these types of tips. Just wish I’d read them all 6 months ago before I started!
    Ah well, live & learn!

  29. Echo says:

    A tip if you DO wanna use a flash, is to try to tape a whit coffee filter over the flash it helps defuse the light. And if you really want to get good shots, but don’t have a)good weather, b) a place outside, c) any cleared space to work with, and d) you are willing to spend a little bit of money for great shots, you can order a photo light box, you can find the collapsible ones that come with lights, and a mini-tripod for around $35-40 USD on Amazon or on Think Geek online. These are very useful!

  30. sherry says:

    Thanks. They are great tips. You take great pics :-)

  31. Jane M says:

    I don’t plan on having a shop but I do want my sewing project pictures to look their best and your tips will help greatly. Thanks for taking the time to show so many details of the right and less effective ways to take pics.

  32. Maggie says:

    I love you photography tips – thank you! Your pictures are always so nice, crisp, clean, beautiful… can you also teach us how you take such beautiful pictures on your kids? I know a whole lot of it is that your kids are so dang beautiful, but you also take amazing pictures. Tips??

  33. Vanessa says:

    Great tutorial. Thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it. I kinda knew some of the stuff you talked about, but most of it I was unclear. This is going to make it better for me.

    Thank you!


  34. Clover@farrbetterlife says:

    You are quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs. It is beautiful and such great posts. Thanks alot!

  35. Gaye says:

    Hmmm! my daughter forwarded this to me ,I can understand why.You have some really great tips.Thanks for sharing.

  36. Kel says:

    Awesome!!! I don’t have a shop but still excellent advice :-)

  37. Lindsay says:

    This was an awesome photo post… I think my favorite was the photo where you pointed out all the distractions! hehe

  38. suzy says:

    These are great tips…thanks for sharing! Do you use any kind of photo editing software? Is there a free service that you would recommend? I know that there are a few out there.

    1. dana says:

      I use picnik to edit my pictures because it is free and does so much of what a lot of the purchased ones do. I love it!

    2. Suhey says:

      Picnik does not exist anymore, try Picmonkey :) is the same with different name LOL

  39. Jennifer says:

    Great tips! Thanks!!

  40. Nika says:

    Thank you for this post! :) I need it :)

  41. Laura@Laura's Crafty Life says:

    Thank you for the tips. I usually use a piece of posterboard, but I think foam board would work even better! :)

  42. katie says:

    love the ideas. i need to learn lots as i have been trying to sell things online and it just is not working so i hope to take some good stuff from what you have learned, thanks for taking the time to do this

  43. Ashley says:

    Great tips! I could never figure out how to take photos on a white background, it always blinded the photo! Since I started using natural light, things have improved! Thanks again!

  44. Katie L. says:

    Thanks for the tips! But like Hannah above, I live in MN, and we have very little natural light through the winter months. Can you recommend any type of indoor lighting that isn’t too harsh?

  45. Rosalie says:

    Thank you for doing this series. I am trying to start an etsy shop, but it is mind boggling all the different rabbit trails you go down just to learn everything they have out there that you “need to know”. A bullet list of how to do etsy would be wonderful. From setting up pay pal, to streamlining shipping to make it easy (and not a nightmare), maybe even a mock transaction with screen shots? I know there are thousands out there that have set up etsy shops, but for some reason, it’s leaving me shaking in my boots.

  46. Suzanne says:

    Thanks so much for this. I am just getting started and have only begun to take photos. I take pictures all the time of family stuff, but it is different when you want someone else to say, “Hey! I want that thing!”

  47. Laree @ Ever Heard of Euless says:

    Just hours ago, a friend approached me to help set up a website so she can direct people to what she has to sell at craft fairs. This will be priceless for both of us!

  48. Hannah says:

    Thanks for such a helpful post!! So what do you do if you live in Minnesota where winter is long and full of snow preventing you from taking pictures outdoors and you don’t get enough natural light in the house to take pictures indoors? I’m kind of worried about how I’m going to manage this winter.

    1. Samantha says:

      Hannah, I wish I could show you one of my funniest shots. I made an EASTER dress that was going to be featured on someone’s website. I knew I needed pics of it outside but it would NOT stop snowing! So I went out on the freshly shoveled sidewalk, spread out a big piece of fabric, laid out the dress, and snapped photos as fast as I could. The snow actually reflected light nicely and my shots turned out well. You might want to get a plastic table cloth to put down first and then a background board or sheet or fabric, and then just go for it. You don’t want it to be actively snowing, but you can definitely do it. My friend was in the south, so I stepped back and took some pictures of my setup with snow all around me so she could see what I was up against. We got a good laugh!

    2. Hannah says:

      I’ll have to try that this winter!! Thanks so much for the idea!

  49. Pam says:

    Excellent little help in how to make your item stand out!

  50. Esther says:

    Good advice here! The light in our bedroom is amazing (and the only room with a white wall, haha) and I use a rough wooden table as underground. Love that :-)

  51. serra says:

    for taking pictures for my etsy shop I set up a card table by a sunny window, cover the table with a fresh from the dryer white sheet (to get rid of wrinkles) and then I also cover the window with a white sheet to avoid harsh sun shadows. Words wonders!!

  52. Caley says:

    This post is so great! It’s exactly what every blogger needs to know, business blog or not! Can’t wait to see what your next tip is!

  53. Anonymous says:

    I don’t have a shop and don’t intend to start one but still like to display my projects on my blog and really appreciate the advice. Thank you!

  54. Jennifer Olland says:

    Are you talking to me? I swear this is about me! LOL It’s like a dream come true that you are gearing up for such a series!!! I think you give amazing advice and the picture post is very HELPFUL!!!! Thanks so much!

  55. Anshu says:

    Great post Ashley! I have always wondered how you get such nice pics of…well…everything.
    Now I have some idea of how you do it. I have been working on my pics with my small panasonic camera
    and I already see a world of difference between, what I used to do 6 months back and now. Hopefully,
    it will get better with your tips. Can’t wait to read more such posts from you.

  56. Jill says:

    Awesome idea for the white foam board! I normally just use a white piece of paper. Going outside is a great tip! I normally just go by a window, but outside is a much better idea! Thanks for sharing!


  57. Melissa says:

    Any tips for things that should be modeled or that are too big to fit on a posterboard? Like quilts, skirts, headbands?

    1. Diana says:

      I would love to know about photographing larger items! my pics always involve a dressform, but all the pic tips i always see are for smaller items

    2. Leslie says:

      With quilts, I would use it draped over a chair, but you could always set it up on a couch that has been covered in a white sheet. Laying things like quilts flat are ok, but you can make it better by propping it up (unless you wanted to shoot just one corner of your quilt, with one edge flipped over to show the underside)

  58. JaDe Rain says:

    What I have wondered for a long time is, what camera do you have?

    1. Anonymous says:

      Ashley answers this question in her FAQ’s tab.

    2. JaDe Rain says:

      Thanks. I had looked for it a while back and didn’t find it there. But I am glad it is now.

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Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

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