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The Creation Documentation Station: How to Put Your Best Soap Forward

The Creation Documentation Station: How to Put Your Best Soap Forward

By Whitney Schneider, Egidio Goat

Congratulations! You have created a beautiful thing! However, in this time of social media and internet shopping, the best way to let future customers (or friends) know about said creation, is to take excellent pictures of it. While I talk about soap in this article, what I am writing can apply to almost anything. (Though I will warn that goats are prone to hop out of the light box, and leave it a mess.)

Taking good pictures of anything can be so frustrating, as there are many factors to a great picture. But there are ways to make sure that you have a great picture with what you currently have available to you. I also will share what I use to help you decide if it could work for you.

Despite the photos shown in this article, taking pictures is one of my least favorite things to do, so I have complied my favorite tips to make it go quickly and smoothly to share with all of you!

To begin, let's start with equipment, as what you use matters, but in all honesty, the way you use it is more important.

For most of the pictures in this article, I have used a roughly 10-yea- old Cannon Rebel DSLR. Despite the age of the body, it still takes an excellent picture. You can find this body style very inexpensively on multiple sites. As with any DSLR, the real expense is the lens. It is worth it to buy the very best lens you can afford if your aim is to take high quality photos.

What setting your camera is in matters too. As a rule, I put my DSLR camera in portrait mode when I am using that lens, as the camera’s pre made settings allow for the pictures to be taken with less work on the back end for me. Do not be afraid to take your camera off automatic and get familiar with focusing the lenses on your own.

However, if you do not have a DSLR, nor the budget, I have also had great success with the portrait mode in my iPhone 11 Pro, (and previous models) but it limits the size of the picture that can be captured, so depending on your end goal with the picture, you may want to invest in a DSLR. I use my phone for documenting the soap making process, and have taken lots of great photos that are easily comparable to my DSLR in quality.

While I will note that my DSLR takes the most crisp pictures, and therefore is my favorite to use; a good picture can be taken with almost anything, as the biggest key to a good product photo is light.

Other factors in good soap photos are the general composition, cleanliness of the space/soap/backdrop, and awareness of colors being used both in the soap and the background/props.

Lighting can make or break a great photo. I hate what I am about to say next, but it is true, natural light is the best light for pictures. I have a photo box that I use, (this is simply a box that has white on the inside of it) and I also use a part of my stairwell with additional spot lights, but the best pictures, are the ones I take outside or by utilizing natural light from a window with west facing views to capture that delightful afternoon sun. I resisted this for a long time, as I have limited natural light in my house, and outside is covered in goats, sun, and bugs! However, all the folks who had advised me when I asked, were right. Natural light really is the best!

There is a reason great emphasis is placed on the light at certain times of the day, and you can use this to take fantastic pictures. I live in south Florida, so I will say again that I really do hate that the best pictures are taken outside, but I have found the best times for me are about an hour or two before sunset, or an hour after sunrise.

Please note, I said sunset first, as I rarely have time in the early morning to take pictures, and I value my sleep! While you can take pictures at other times of the day, direct, harsh, “noon" sunlight tends to wash out your colors, and will involve more color correction post picture taking in what ever photo editor program you chose to utilize.

Composition plays a large factor in the instant eye appeal. We, as a rule, prefer symmetry in all things, however, in product photography, the rule of odd numbers is usually king. So I will use 1, 3, or 5 bars of soap typically in most of my pictures.

Occasionally I will break this rule, but I find it is a guideline that serves me well. If I use props, I will often place a bar of soap on a dish, and use something like flowers or other ingredients that I have used in the soap, following the same rule of odd numbers, to help give a visual to what my bar of soap contains.

Overwhelmingly I find that less is more, and to try and give a neat clean background with no huge distractions. The soap should speak for itself.

The space you take the soap in should be free of soap crumbs, hair (both human and pet) and dust. This is easier to say then achieve in my home, and often I take photos, only to review them later and see a glaring missed soap crumb or smear in my picture! Take an extra careful look at your soaps each time you move and handle them and be aware of what you are touching AFTER you touch or move your soap.

Being aware of what is in the background, the light, and the cleanliness isn’t enough though, you also need to take into consideration the colors of the soap, and what you are taking pictures on/in the background.

Plain white backgrounds are the most boring to me, but often really fantastic to let the soap speak for itself. I find this especially true for bright pastels, neons, and “hot” colors like reds.

Look at products advertised online, overwhelmingly, they have a plain white background.

“But Whitney,” you may say, “how am I supposed to get a plain white background outside?” That can be done a few different ways, I typically just bring my light box outside and angle it to catch the best light, or use plain white poster board, which you can find at your local grocery store or craft store.

If I am using my light box, and placing the soap standing, I put the paper as an ‘L’ in the back of the box, so there is no line distracting the viewer from the soap itself.

Conversely, if I have a soap that is a specific theme, say beach, or perhaps more austere and elegant plain bar of goats milk soap, I may use the weathered wood dock we have, sand, or use the deep red brazilian hardwood floors in my stairwell (after a through cleansing!!) to give an extra added touch to the picture.

Often, I will take pictures on several different backgrounds in the same session until I find one that truly helps that particular soap shine.

So, we have talked about the equipment, light, composition, cleanliness, and background colors. What about the soap itself? I use sodium lactate to help un-mold my soap out of my silicone liners quickly and keep tidy corner, but I still have work to do once the bars are cut.

Unless the soaps contain an exfoliant, (coffee grounds, pumice, etc) I use a soap planer I bought off Etsy, (LiluSoap Tools) which was pricey, but has been my favorite I have used to date. Planing soap allows you to make an even clean bar of soap, and is extra useful for soaps that may be a top facing slab mold design, such as a pipe divider swirl. My planer also has a beveler built into it, which I adore. Beveling the edges is a personal preference, but I find adds a layer of sophistication and finishing to my soap, as well as removing that hard edge from the bar from being weird when you or your buyers are holding the soap. I also often steam my soaps, to help remove soda ash, and give the bars a lovely shine.

Once I have taken the photos, I use the editing program in my computer to make color corrections, crop, change the angle, and generally correct the photo to present the soap to as close to real life. Avoid over saturation of colors, and do not misrepresent your soap by editing too heavily. You want your clients to be satisfied with that they receive, and that is done by ensuring everything matches.

While I am editing, it also gives me a chance to review the soap, make sure it’s the most appealing view of it that I can share, and that any possible background/soap crumb issues are corrected before publication. Before publication, I apply a water mark to almost all my photos. Always protect yourself and your intellectual property by watermarking your pictures! There are multiple free apps that can offer this, and a few of the better paid ones. I use “You Doodle”, which is an app on my phone, to watermark all mine, but as I noted, there are a million out there that are even better, I just happen to like this one.

But the very best advice I can give you, is to take Lots and Lots of photos. I often take upwards of 50 pictures for each picture I eventually share of a finished soap. Don’t be afraid to click away and reposition, take more pictures, move to a different area, take even More pictures, etc etc. It’s way easier to take a ton in the beginning, then to only take a few, and get back to your computer and realize they were out of focus, had a hideous angle, or were smudged. (In case you can’t tell, that is the voice of experience talking! Don’t let my lazy ways be yours, learn from me and take oodles of pictures!)

Before I end this, I have to say that my photo taking experience has been greatly progressed by my participation in The Soap Challenge Club, run by Amy Warden, of Great Cakes Soapworks.

That club gave me a huge leg up in both my soap making, and especially my photography. If you have more questions regarding this article, or the club, I always welcome email inquires at Cheekygoatsoap@gmail.com.

Happy Soaping!


May 2020 ANDDA Newsletter

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