Wanderlust Framed Painted Leaf

Etsy #DifferenceMakesUs Small Business Contest

I recently entered Etsy’s #DifferenceMakesUs small business contest for a shot at winning $10,000 to put towards advancing South Ranch Creative. It’s a long shot. A very, very long one, and yet one I need to make. I pushed off applying for weeks with the thought in my head that there was no chance, so why waste the time? That my shop wasn’t real enough, big enough, or successful enough to be deserving of a $10,000 prize. But I was wrong. This is the year I want to stop telling myself I’m not ready or not successful enough yet. So here it goes.

The contest required a simple answering of three questions, upon which I would receive a url to share and start gathering votes for my shop. The shops with the 1st and 2nd highest votes at the end of the contest (April 6th, 2017) will win $10,000 and $3,000, respectively to put towards their shop. I wanted to share with you all my extended answers to the questions after realizing that I was only allowed 1000 characters per question on the actual application… I had typed almost triple that for each…

 

Briefly tell us about your business and what makes it different. Details could include how you got started, what makes your business stand out, or how difference has helped your business and others.

I’ve always been a creator. As a toddler, I drew a yellow cat that was actually recognizable as such. It had ears, stick legs, even whiskers. In elementary school, I blew around ink through a straw to create trees. In middle school, I wrote poems and made trompe l’oeil drawings and drew funny dragons. In high school I learned film photography and how to paint in oil. In college I studied graphic design. I learned screen printing, made sculptures, built furniture, laser cut posters, and started growing all the plants I could fit in my temporary home.

I’m not an artist. I’m not a designer. I’m a creator. It’s in my blood to take pieces, to take materials, and to create something new out of it. And until college, my motivating factor beyond personal satisfaction was simply to create what the world deemed “beautiful”. To create awe and wonder. But two moments in college changed me. Though I am a creator, to create is not my purpose. It’s a means to my life purpose, something which I am still in the infancy of learning. And learning that purpose began freshman year when I discovered a nonprofit, Invisible Children, and took an environmental class on climate change. These two events were significant at the time to me no doubt, but I certainly did not realize just how much the course of my life would be changed by these events over the next five years. It perhaps was not seen to the naked eye, but my heart was changing. My mind, once solely focused on the narrow scope of my own existence, was now obsessed with humanity, past and present, and the preservation of future life in a sustainable and peaceful way. Everything was about more than just me. I became an activist. I volunteered. I started making lifestyle changes to be more sustainable and create less waste. I paid attention to the things I bought and what they supported.

At the end of college I knew working for a big agency wasn’t for me, but I realized that if I were to be so critical about the brands I was already purchasing from, I had to make sure that anything I sold didn’t negate my own views on environmentalism, sustainability, and human rights. I started South Ranch Creative in 2015 as a means to sell my creations. My creations varied: paintings, wood burned home goods and art, screen prints, natural wall art, and more. But what brought and continues to bring my work together now is my love of nature and my interest in empowering individuals and advocating for the causes I care about.

I create because I like it. I create because it incites awe in others. I create because I can send a message. But the reason I sell my creations, and hope to turn it into a full time occupation, is because I want to redefine what it means to sell things for a living. After listening, relistening, and listening again to Charlie Kaufman’s Screenwriters Lecture, I’ve found such a powerful truth in these words about what it means to sell things for a living:

“People are starving. They may not know it because they’re being fed mass produced garbage. The packaging is colourful and loud, but it’s produced in the same factories that make Pop Tarts and iPads, by people sitting around thinking, ‘What can we do to get people to buy more of these?’ And they’re very good at their jobs. But that’s what it is you’re getting, because that’s what they’re making. They’re selling you something. And the world is built on this now.”

And it hurt me as a creator to listen to these words but at the same time I recognized just how true they were. And I don’t want to be part of it.

 

How would you use the Etsy Small Business Contest money to scale your business in a big way this year?

I would use the Etsy Small Business Contest money to scale up my ability to do more than just sell my work for a living. My dream for South Ranch Creative is eliminate the stream of waste in packaging, create products that use natural or reclaimed materials whenever possible, and develop a business model focused on creating quality products that last and will be cherished for years to come, thus reducing a consumer need/desire to constantly buy new things. While I am currently working towards some of these goals already such as using biodegradable packaging tape and materials or organic natural fiber clothing, with a limited amount of funds to invest in my business, I am not currently able to go as far as I would like.

This money would help me research the best ways to create art without creating waste, and then implement those findings. Because much of what I sell is online and must be shipped, I am most interested in using a portion of these funds specifically to invest in entirely recyclable and/or biodegradable packaging for my products… both for shipping and any display packaging or labels. Secondly, I would like to invest in my screen printing equipment and supplies to ensure that I won’t be using excess water or energy, creating excess waste, or flushing chemicals down the drain during my process of creating. This includes a filtration system for when washing and cleaning my screens and a chemical recirculation system that would allow me to reuse the same chemicals again and again. It would also include research and application of the most sustainable and eco friendly inks and paints to work with. For screen printing, this means finding the best non-toxic, water-based inks to use on only natural fiber fabrics. For painting in oil, gouache, or acrylic, this means avoiding paints that use highly toxic pigments to create their color and finding safer alternatives.

Creating a business model that isn’t dependent on creating needless waste is by far the biggest and most important thing I can do this year for my business.

 

Describe a truly special moment you’ve had with a buyer. Did they request an extra special item? Inspire a successful new product? We can’t wait to hear!

My most special moment with a buyer was actually with several buyers. My hometown is in rural central Maryland and in late July 2016, a horrible flood ravaged the nearby main street of Historic Ellicott City. Old Ellicott City had always been a favorite place of mine to spend weekends shopping at the local small businesses, go hunting for antiques with my mom, and peruse the various art galleries with pride at knowing some of the great artists within them. Main Street was home and meant so much to me and I know countless others. The destruction of this flood was astonishing and numbing. Two lives were lost. So many shop owners lost everything. They are still rebuilding.

But the aftermath was also one of the most beautiful outpourings of support I have ever witnessed. The community rallied in every way to raise funds to rebuild, help with the cleanup effort, and donate supplies and services. I wanted to do my part and that meant creating. I illustrated what Old Ellicott City meant to me and sold posters and tshirts of my illustration of some of my favorite buildings and landmarks… including the man that blew giant bubbles outside the toy store every weekend since I can remember. I donated 80% of my profits to the Ellicott City Partnership to help rebuild and was able to raise over $2,600 for the cause. While this is a tiny fraction of what was needed to rebuild, I could see just how much this meant to those who were buying my work. I received so many words and messages of thanks and appreciation and nostalgia over some of the landmarks pictured in my illustration. It was so incredibly heartwarming to how I could use my art to truly make a difference not only monetarily for this cause but also emotionally. This event has since inspired me to begin another series of works focused on particular issues I care about that donate a portion of the proceeds towards related nonprofits.

 


 

Thank you so much for all the support over the last year and a half, and I hope you can support me and my dreams for bettering South Ranch Creative! In order to vote, all you need is an email address and you only have to vote once! It ends April 6th, so if you’d like to vote and/or share, it would mean so much to me and you can do so here: http://wshe.es/7YXq6zJs

#DifferenceMakesUs

-B

Learn 7 tricks to taking beautiful product photos for Etsy, your blog, or your online store without spending extra time or money. | by South Ranch Creative

7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy or your Blog

Without Spending Extra Time or Money.

 

If you sell on Etsy or your own business website, you know that product photography is hugely important to the success of your shop. Most of your customers are used to shopping through professionally photographed websites and product shoots, and expect to see the same level of quality when they come across your shop online. Unfortunately most Etsy and small online sellers are not professional photographers and in running a shop singlehandedly, they don’t have the time or money to ensure that their shots are pixel perfect. I’ve created this short guide for small time sellers with tips and tricks on how to make the most of your photoshoots, using supplies you likely already have lying around! You’ll save time, money, and the headache of trying to plan out exactly what need ahead of time.

 

1. Bring in some life.

There’s nothing more boring than a stale, lifeless photograph of your product on a plain background with no props. Particularly if you sell any sort of goods for the home, you’d better think about adding in some visual interest that enhances and doesn’t detract from the awesomeness that is the product you’re selling. One of my favorite ways to add some life to my product photography is to actually… bring in… life. For clothing and accessory sellers, this could mean someone wearing or holding your product. For home good sellers, this could holding or interacting with your product, but also could mean plants! I find greenery and plant life serves as a great prop for tons of my listings, and it’s so versatile! It comes in all shapes and textures and colors. It can serve as a background or as a prop to highlight your product. Also, with natural, reclaimed, and organic products becoming more and more desired every day, putting natural, reclaimed, or organic props in your product shots might not be such a bad idea.

 

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Bring in some life.

Boss Lady mug by Jennie Brown Creative

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Bring in some life.

“Cheers” Mountain Coasters by South Ranch Creative

Now, there are exceptions to every rule, and tons of shops on Etsy and elsewhere are wildly successful using tactics like a minimalist approach where nothing but the product is in the photograph. I’ve found this to be much harder to pull off for the average or novice photographer because things like lighting and color must be just perfect in order for this type of approach to work, but if this is the style you want, go for it! The best thing to do when photographing your work is to take way more pictures than you would ever think necessary and try everything. Try out using the props and then remove everything but your product from view and compare shots side by side later. Trying it all out once will help you make better and more informed decisions about your product photography in the future!

 

2. Light, light, light.

Light is a powerful tool in photography. It can make a good photograph look great, or it can make a great setup look terrible. I always strive to use natural light in my product shots, whether I am indoor or out. The times I’ve had to supplement with artificial lights, you can definitely tell that my photographs suffered, and here’s why.

 

Indoor lighting usually is not bright enough. Whether you use a quality smartphone to take your photographs or a DSLR camera, you probably have struggled with grainy pictures at some point in the past. That’s because compared to the massive amount of light that the sun provides during the day, indoor lights just can’t compete. Even on a partly cloudy or cloudy day, you’re probably better off shooting outside. Flash is an option for indoor photography, but if you’re like me and don’t want to take the effort to get it just perfect and not blow out everything in the frame, you usually stay away from it.

 

Indoor lights cast weird color hues on your photographs. I know, I know, white balance is a thing, and a lot of smart phones and cameras can do it automatically! Typically indoors, you are going to have a bunch more yellow light in your photographs than you would outside, unless of course you only use florescent lighting which can have problems of its own. Personally I find that the camera either overcompensates or undercompensates, and you end up with yellow, orange, or blue-cast pictures. Now with a good camera, this is something you may be able to go back and fix in Photoshop, but remember, we’re trying to save time here so you can get back to making and selling!

 

Check out these examples below to see how natural light can drastically improve your product photography and save you time editing later:

 

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Light, light, light.

Unedited Indoor Light Product Photo

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Light, light, light.

Unedited indoor product photo with natural light.

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Light, light, light.

Unedited outdoor product photo with natural light.

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Light, light, light.

Edited Indoor Light Product Photo

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Light, light, light.

Edited indoor product photo with natural light.

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Light, light, light.

Edited outdoor product photo with natural light.

Indoor lighting makes shadows your biggest enemy. Have you ever tried to photograph your work from above and gotten frustrated that your shadow or your camera’s shadow is blocking the picture? Have you then brought in other lights to try and offset this, and created these huge, awful shadows because the angle of the light was too low? Dealing with lighting in the home can make you want to pull your hair out. Sure, you can pay for an expensive studio shot setup, with all different types of light to offset this, or you can shoot outside! The great thing about shooting outdoors is that you have light coming from so many more directions, often eliminating the strange shadows you get from one-dimensional lighting in the home. You’ll still have to consider the time of day and how cloudy it is outside, but overall I find it to be much easier. Sunlight is free, anyway!

3. Color is key.

A big mistake a lot of Etsy and online sellers can tend to make is not considering color strongly enough when photographing their products. Not only can it help show your product in the best light possible, but it can create a mood and set the tone for your whole shop! A super easy and very effective method is to choose one or two highlight colors for your product shots, and use white as your main color. That might mean taking all your photographs on a white background and letting the color of your product bring life into the shop. It could mean using a few of the same props or props that are the same color across all your photos, so that the viewer senses a strong theme and brand.

 

Other ways sellers deal with color is by using the same filter on all of their photographs. Now, please be cautious if you want to do this. It has to make sense with your brand, and don’t put it at 100% and way overkill the effect. You can find some great and more subtle ones online that you can use in Photoshop, and it will help create this visual connection between your products. You could also use saturation as a tool. I don’t mean editing the saturation in a photo editing software, but I mean creating product shots that feature bright, high color products, backgrounds, or props. This is the method I currently use, however I intend to switch over to a more minimal look soon, as I believe it fits better with my brand.

 

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Color is key.

Pidge Pidge uses only the color of its products to create a commanding and consistent visual language across its shop.

 

4. Remember what your subject is.

Props and backgrounds can be a great way to show your product in its best light. But always be cautious about overwhelming the viewer with too much information. You want him or her to immediately know what you’re selling, and not to be distracted by a really interesting prop you’re using. I’ve often fallen into the trap of taking a great photograph at an interesting angle, and gone back to realize that I was no longer photographing the work. The subject of the photograph had shifted to a mug I was using as a prop because the picture looked nice, but my work wasn’t the main subject of the picture anymore. Typically you want your product to be the biggest element in the photograph, and for it to be near or in the center. I would not recommend ever photographing your work in a way that crops it outside the picture plane. The picture may look great, but buyers want to see what you’re selling and that’s hard to do when they can’t see the whole product!

 

I know this dinosaur planter is super cute and fun, but I made the mistake of having it be the focus of my photo and not my actual product! You’ll see that my product is even blurred here while the dinosaur is in focus. Makes for a fun photograph but not a product photo. The image on the right is much cleaner and clearly displays my product as the main focus.

 

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Remember what your subject is.

Prop-focused photography.

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Remember what your subject is.

Product-focused photography.

 

5. Think about angles.

Consideration of the angle your photograph is taken is an often underappreciated element to your work. When I go into an online shop, I love to see all of the products photographed from the same angle, and usually that means looking straight down on or across from the subject. This means either a 0 or 90 degree angle from the ground. I think these are good angles to shoot as because it captures your product from the most objective point of view. Adding in angles and different levels of focus and blur can create really great and dramatic pictures, but it’s not typically appropriate for this situation. These angles are also great for encompassing your entire subject in the shot, which we talked about in Step 4.

 

Now what are angled shots great for? Detail detail detail. I highly recommend taking angled and zoomed in shots of your products to show in some of the secondary pictures you show of your product. These can give the customer a sense of the level of detail in a product, it’s texture, or simply show it at the angle you might most commonly see it once actually in use. For example, if you are looking to buy a chandelier or hanging light fixture, you want to see it photographed from the side when you are shopping because that angle gives you the highest level of detail in one picture, letting you see what it really looks like. Once you click on the item, however, I would want to maybe see the chandelier from the bottom or from an angle taken from below because that is the angle you will most commonly view the product, and you want to make sure it looks good.

 

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Think about angles.

Great primary product shot taken directly above the piece.

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Think about angles.

Beautiful close up shot taken at an angle shows detail and texture.

 

 

6. Show it in use.

Depending on your product, you may or may not want to show it in use as your primary image. For clothing, I always recommend showing it in use in your primary photograph unless you are going with an extremely minimalist approach. Nobody wants to see you knit hat on a foam mannequin head. It doesn’t tell us anything about what it would look like on a real person, and you get a lifeless photograph as a result.

 

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Show it in use.

Handwoven pendant necklace by Pidge Pidge

 

For home products, you might consider a more minimal approach to displaying your work before showing it in use in one of your secondary photographs. This goes back to not distracting your viewer, but it depends entirely on what your product is. Think carefully about what your target customer would want to see initially when browsing through a list of products? What would make him or her click on your shop and not the listing above or beside you? Having at least one photograph that shows your product in use or in an environment that it might appear once purchased is a great way to sell your work. As a buyer myself, it really helps me get a sense of how I would use the product and how it would fit in my home or wardrobe.

 

7. Be consistent.

Be consistent is Step 7 because it is the most important aspect of your product photography to create a strong and consistent visual language across your brand. You can take stellar photos and still look like a novice seller if you have a mish mash of styles in your photography. If you take your photos from a specific angle, take all of your primary product photos from that angle. If you use a white background, use it in all of your shots. This applies to every previous step I’ve mentioned, because customers love a consistent brand where they know what they can expect.

 

Taking these steps into consideration when photographing your products can easily and dramatically increase the quality of your photographs while not busting your budget or taking up too much of your precious time. Often simple and small changes can go a long way, so try out a few different things, see what you like and what’s working, and practice! It’s fine if you don’t think you have perfect photographs yet, I certainly don’t! But if you practice implementing the same strategies and techniques for every product, you will not only get a consistent look but you will get better and better at doing so every time! What is your favorite tool for getting high-quality product photography? I’d love to hear your suggestions, too!

 

Keep creating,

 

-B

 

Artist + designer + lover of plants. Come hang with me & my aloe plant, Al, as we bring back a love of handmade to your business, nonprofit, or upcoming party ✌

Welcome to the South Ranch.

I feel like it’s customary and required to share a little bit about myself, tell ya’ll what I do and why, and give a little schpiel about my shop that makes you want to go and buy all the things. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

 

Hi, my name is Becca and I am the creative behind South Ranch Creative. What is a creative? To me, a creative is someone who isn’t just good at painting, or drawing, or writing, or thinking outside the box. A creative dabbles, and as someone who naturally sees beauty, elegance, and communication better than your non-creative, he/she has a small leg up when entering new creative ventures. And I LOVE to learn new things. So I start new creative ventures a lot.

 

So that leaves the South Ranch. Well friends, that is my home! I live in a sleepy rural town on 4 1/2 acres, where the biggest news of the week is when a set of teens take their horses through the McDonald’s drive-thru (not kidding). My home has been such a big influence on my work from the beginning. Not everyone has the opportunity to take fallen tree branches, old fence posts, and barbed wire from out in their yard and create a whole set of wedding decorations with it!

 

Wedding arch and table marker photographs courtesy of Summer Kelley Photography.

 

I am a recent graduate of Virginia Tech (GO HOKIES!) in Visual Communication Design and decided to start doing freelance as well as sell my arts and crafts in an attempt to eventually make a life out of it. You might say that I didn’t exactly “fit in” to your classic design agency lifestyle; I wanted to do something that was more meaningful to myself. This means working for nonprofits and not giant corporate agencies, for individuals of passion and not companies just wanting to sell you something. This means making the happiest day of someone’s life just a little more special, or creating work out of found, recycled, or reclaimed materials instead of buying new. In case you haven’t gathered this yet from my little rant, yes, I am an activist. A dirty word to some, a badge of pride to others, I have transformed over the past four years of college into someone who is more compassionate, more considerate, and exponentially more humble. And I have the nonprofit, Invisible Children to thank for that.

 

1 Year Anniversary Video Shot | "Welcome to the South Ranch" | by South Ranch Creative | www.southranchcreative.beccagrogan.comI am actually in this photo carrying the banner for the MOVE|DC in Washington, how cool is that?!?!

 

Now you know I am a creative and an activist, but what else am I? I am a dreamer. You might say that I am an optimist to a fault, and I will affectionately take that description in stride. I am always thinking about the possibilities and hoping for a better future. It may make me naive in a way, but I find it hard to put all of my passion and motivation towards a project if I don’t believe that the outcome will mean anything. Lastly, I am an adventurer. I’ve never been out of the United States, I am terrified of flying, and yet I call myself an adventurer. Adventures aren’t restricted to a location, time, or distance from home and that’s what makes them so mysterious and alluring. They are best unplanned and unmapped. My wanderlust towards nature makes me a natural environmentalist so yes, I have some hippie genes in me too.

 

All of this–my creativity, my activism, my optimism, and my wanderlust–make up the core of South Ranch Creative. They saturate the work I sell and are the base of what I will be posting about in this blog. You might find DIY projects, a photo album of my latest road trip, a post about the nonprofit I just did work for, or the history behind one of my found or reclaimed crafts. If my art and my passions resonate with you, I encourage you to join me in this journey, and I look forward to hearing about your journeys too.

 

Keep dreaming,

B

 

Check out my Etsy Shop | "Welcome to the South Ranch" | by South Ranch Creative | www.southranchcreative.beccagrogan.com