Have you ever been on the brink of buying earrings and stopped because you couldn’t picture how they would look dangling from your ears? First thing most people look for is a shot that shows form, color and texture. Then they look for a description – and a shot on the body to show dimensions and fit.
For me, lack of a body shot can be a deal breaker. Dimensions are nice but I want to see how that earring looks on a woman’s ear. I want to see how it hangs, how much heft that stone or pearl has. A good model shot can mean a sale – and a really good one can lead to multiple sales.
Alysia Sánchez Melnikov agrees, which is why she started posting photos of herself modeling her jewelry on her Etsy shop, Blue Hour Designs. She believes these images are key to the success of the shop. She is the primary designer and photographer, her husband Norbert handles the business, and the two collaborate on fabrication and photography.
Their photos have evolved since Alysia opened her Etsy shop in 2009. “The way I shoot the jewelry now. is very different from how I first started, but it definitely evolved. And a lot of it had to do with feedback from customers,” she says.
“From the beginning, I felt people needed to know what two inches of earring really looks like, and not just in my hand. For me, as a very visual person, a product shot just doesn’t jump out at me, doesn’t make me think, wow, I can picture that on myself,” Alysia says. “Customers responded, thanking me for wearing it because it helped them figure out how it would look on them.”
It started with single shots of her earrings. She would put them on and have Norbert take a quick shot. One day she forgot to take off the jewelry from a previous shoot and took a few pictures wearing multiple pieces. “I really liked the way that looked so I kept doing it,” she said. Customers loved it.
She and Norbert receive at least 20 customer emails (or “convos” as they’re called on Etsy) a day, more around the holidays. This feedback has shaped their photography. Most photos now feature several pieces at once – a necklace, several rings, stacks of bracelets – and customers often order several pieces from one photograph. “It can’t be a coincidence,” she says.
Before a shoot, Alysia sets up her camera on a tripod beside a bedroom window, so the light hits her right shoulder, throwing the left into partial shadow. “I really like the look of a singular light source on a subject. It creates drama and adds depth to a picture.”
She adjusts the exposure, and styles her shots more like a fashion blog than a product shot, layering her sterling jewelry over simple tops in neutral shades. “I actually do dress like that. Jewelry for me is where I tend to layer more and get more adventurous. I wear a lot of blacks and grays, especially when I’m doing a shoot. I don’t want the jewelry to compete with the clothes.
“I’ve put up pictures where I have a more ornate shirt. To me, it takes away from the necklace. I want people to focus in on the pieces not what I’m wearing. It has to complement it but I don’t want it to detract.”
These shoots happen twice a year now. Alysia starts with a batch of new pieces she wants to photograph but rarely has a preconceived idea of how to style them. “I approach this like any woman when she gets ready in the morning,” she says. “I just put things on in front of the mirror until I have a look that works.”
She sets up her Canon EOS 50D on a tripod with a stock 18-200mm lens and a 50mm lens. (She also has a 100mm macro lens but saves that for product shots.) “It’s my equipment. Norbert doesn’t really know how to set it up. Then I get in front of the camera and he directs me. He’s very helpful with telling me how to move.”
Norbert takes a few pictures, then Alysia checks them on the viewfinder or computer screen. “If it visually appeals to me, it sticks,” she says. “The thing I’m trying to capture in these photos is that feeling you get from personal adornment. It’s not just about the earrings, it’s about how you feel when you go through the process of creating a look that makes you feel like your best self. That’s a powerful thing, and I can’t get it from seeing an isolated piece on a hand.”
For every piece she puts on, he takes a series of photos. Then she gets behind the camera and checks out the shots in the viewfinder. “Sometimes I have to change the white balance or make adjustments. If I don’t like what I see, we’ll do it again. Once I find what I like, we move on to the next piece or pieces.”
Her husband’s role in this is crucial, she adds. “He’ll tell me to turn a bit so the earring catches the light, or move my shoulder to make a necklace fall better. That makes a huge difference. If I just face forward, the jewelry looks flat.”
Norbert is responsible for the enigmatic smiles in many of those photos. “A lot of times, I feel like I’m happy about where the process is going and I think I’m smiling. Then he’ll tell me, ‘You look like you’re extremely pissed off,’ which makes me laugh.
“There’s a constant dialogue going on. The whole process is very intimate. If it was somebody else shooting me, I would feel super insecure. It’s basically just us having conversations while we’re taking pictures, which puts me at ease,” Alysia says.
“Honestly, the whole process of photographing myself or him photographing me, it’s been hard for me to adjust to because I’m not comfortable in front of the camera. I love taking pictures. I’m the person behind the camera.”
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