5 Settings to Use on VSCO to Improve Your Pictures!

Hello shutterbugs! This post can be useful not only for product pictures but also for shots of humans and landscapes and really many types of photography! I’m a huge fan of the VSCO app for editing all kinds of images on my phone, and I’m going to share the top settings I play around with to get my pictures to look almost professional.

I remember when I first started taking pictures of my products for my Etsy shop, I thought I was killing the game, and now looking back I realize how lost I was. What helped? Things took a turn for the better once I took Hilary Rushford’s “Instagram With Intention” free online workshop, where she introduced us to VSCO (I’m a big advocate for taking any and all free seminars you see offered, there’s always something to learn and you have nothing to lose, especially when they’re free. If it just so happens that you like what you hear, you can subscribe or get a membership to keep getting useful content). Without any further ado, let me share the very basic but completely life-changing tips I learned from Hilary and immediately implemented to my picture-editing game. Let’s keep this interesting with a step by step example: pizza picture please!

  • Natural light: this is an obvious one for many (and not a VSCO setting, but I got you guys with a bonus later) but the perfect foundation for good pictures is to take them in natural light – aka, not being hit by direct/yellow light, but placed where it would receive a diffused, indirect “bath” of light. Check out this original shot of a yummy pizza in what looks like natural light. Nothing wrong with it, but it’s definitely not Instagram ready. Yet!

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  • Exposure: exposure is the vert first setting option, and it stands for the amount of light you want to add or remove from your picture, or how much light you’d want it “exposed” to. I usually move the dial to the right on average to +2-3.5 as shown in the picture, so that it looks like it was professionally lit, and that sometimes helps diminish imperfections as well. Play around with the button and always start off small, because there is such a thing as “overexposed” pictures. This is going to make the pizza look a little pale because there was already light, but the combination of edits is what does the magic.

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  • Contrast: the contrast feature strengthens the properties of each color, making the light tones lighter, and the dark tones darker. This one is also good to keep at +2-3.5.

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  • Saturation: saturation is here to make your colors look extra alive! Now, this one I’m super extra careful with, because it usually brings in a strong yellow/orange aura to the picture. So you can play around it and keep it around a +1.5-2.5. The pizza is ready to pop off the screen, but it almost looks like it was under a lamp light to stay warm. Not good yet!

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  • Temperature: to the left, to the left! The solution to most of your yellow/orange problems is to make the picture colors “cooler” in tone, so literally lowering the temperature will bring on the blue hues. Don’t go too far, just enough to see yellows turning white is perfect. A -1 or -2 usually does the trick.

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Now those are the ones I use pretty much for almost every picture edit, but not all pictures are created equal and there’s no one size fits all edit. These are not filters, these are enhancers that work under your guidance to get the tones jussssst right, on an individual basis. But this picture is not perfect yet. The light colors are now a little too light, and it has lost some of the detail. Since I’m more used to playing with the app now, I know exactly what to do next. In this case, I’m going over to the “Highlights” feature. I moved this one up to +10, but I really have no parameters for it since I seldom use it. See how now there are more spots in the cheese? All the colors garnered strength again.

 

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And now, our pizza is ready to get all the glory of Instagram and make your followers salivate. Let’s see the before and after, side by side. Shall we?

Now, the first picture almost makes it look like the pizza was in the oven for a little too long, but the second one literally has me ready to #TBT in real life and go back to that magical moment before having it.

Anywho, I’m no foodie blogger or expert picture taker, but I definitely saw a huge improvement in my pictures over time, and my feed got much, much prettier. The other secret for me has been the white background. That’s a product photography staple, and as much as I tried to fight it at first, it’s simply perfect. I hope these tips help elevate your picture game and if you have any suggestions on other features to use, please drop them in the comments below!

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Riding Sturdy: Confidently Saying Yes to a Monster Truckload of an Order!

I’m not sure how much I’ve let on about this, but when it comes to crafting I’m often pretty confident in being able to replicate a lot of things I see or visualize without any sort of instructions on how to do so. My favorite type of order is one where I have to make a brand new item I’ve never made before and that hopefully brings on a different type of challenge from what I’m used to, keeping things fresh and exciting for me. This order checks all of those boxes and beyond.

My best friend shared information on my craftabilities with her boss who is throwing her son a Monster Truck-themed party for his fourth birthday, and needs a few items that aren’t readily available on the market. When I got the call all I knew was that the party theme was Monster Trucks, and nothing else. Once we started talking and she shared what she wanted for the party, I panicked a little bit. She wants a ramp for the kids to be able to throw down the little monster trucks (apparently ramps for that size of toy cars don’t exist), some little truck boxes the kids could put on and run around in as if they were wearing cars, and a big car prop that could be used for them to take pictures. All three of these items are things I haven’t even remotely thought of making before, and two of them are on a bigger scale from anything I’ve ever attempted (other than maybe some backdrops, which were lighter and way less intimidating). For some reason though, I said “I think I can do this. I’m in.”

Tiny little problem though – the party is on the same day as my best friend’s engagement party, for which I’m doing a LOT of items, and another friend requested some stuff for her own engagement party, you guessed it, on that same day. April 29th, otherwise known as my personal D-Day. Why did my friend share my information if she knew that the parties were on the same day, you may ask (as did I)? Well, the world may never know but part of it was she didn’t know exactly what her boss wanted, so she did it innocently.

I have about a month to fit those two engagement parties, the monster truck birthday and a wedding order that keeps going and going. Go big or go home, right?

I’m going to make this blog into a three part series so that this isn’t an endless book, and each of the items will have its own dedicated post. Here we goooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

New OBSESSION: Mr. Kate!

Oh. Em. Gee. you guys! I just found the deepest YouTube black hole I’m about to fall into head first, and possibly never come out of. Most people don’t know this about me, but I spend a good amount of time on YouTube, half as a hobby, and half as work/research. Since I work in social media, I’m always trying to study the trends and see how we can implement whatever the kids want to see these days (hello, am I 80 yet?), but I have also inadvertently gotten invested in the lives and success of many of these digital influencers, and counting. And it’s all because of Jenna Marbles.

My top YouTuber to watch for more than a year now is Lilly Singh, aka iiSuperwomanii, who has a comedy/skit based main channel, and a second daily vlog channel where she shares a lot of what goes on behind the scenes in her life and work, and aims to motivate her viewers to hustle hard as we watch her do every day. Now, because of Lilly, I’ve come across many other creators and I have gotten attached to a few of them, but none have taken my heart and eyes by storm as much as Mr. Kate. An interior design/decorator, Kate Albrecht and her partner Joey Zehr aim to transform pretty much any space they walk into within a very short amount of time, and with all the unexpected twists and turns you can’t imagine. I consider myself a pretty creative and hands-on DIYer and handyman when duty calls, but Kate is simply fearless when it comes to juxtaposing textures, colors, materials and even multiple tastes into a single space.

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Kate and Joey, no better DIY Demolishing Duo out there!

Lilly hired Kate to style her bedroom and her home office space, and it was simply love at first sight for me. The magic of Kate – besides her super charming and electric personality, her positive disposition, and boundless creativity – is that when you see each detail she is bringing into any space, there’s almost a speck of doubt “will this actually look good/cohesive with the rest of the stuff?,” and then you get to the end clip where they show the finished work, and you just have to scold yourself for ever having doubted Kate in the first place. She is INCREDIBLE and I can’t get enough of her. I immediately started back-watching everything she had ever posted, which is a lot of content and she has it broken up into series for our convenient viewing. Some of my favorites include:

  • O.M.G. We Bought A House! – a (so far) three-season style show on YouTube, with a format that EASILY competes with anything you can find on traditional TV and the likes of HGTV, where Kate and Joey purchase their first home, and do some serious remodel of every single nook and cranny of a decades-old house.
  • O.M.G. We Are Coming Over! – also known as O.M.G. WACO, taking the original OMG to new heights and places, as Kate and Joey style or remodel the homes/rooms/work spaces of mainly “digitally famous” people who much like themselves, found an online following. This one is a dangerous series, as Kate acts as the funnel to introduce me to many other creators I had no idea existed and now how am I supposed to ever get out of bed from watching so many people?! My favorite part of this one is seeing how Kate really absorbs the personalities and preferences of each of her Creator Customers, and creates a space that they could’ve never in a million years build for themselves, because we all have our strengths, but no one decorates like Kate.
  • Breaking Beige – a shorter series that showcases Kate and Joey making over smaller spaces where regular Joes and Janes suffer at the hands of incredibly monochromatic color-schemes in their homes, and Super Mr. Kate comes to the rescue to break them out of their beige cages and bring color and life into their homes.

All the shows are so well-done, and take full advantage of the season/show format YouTube offers like little other channels do. Kate has a clear vision, and the style of the shows is undoubtedly just as good, if not solidly better than whatever you can find on TV. It’s all really, REALLY well-executed.

I thought about adding pictures to this post of a few beautiful rooms Kate has created, but I simply can’t do that to all the other rooms. You just have to see for yourself! Also, the Mr. Kate channel is just about to cross the One Million YouTube Subscribers mark, so if anyone is looking for a new channel to watch endlessly, I can’t recommend this one enough!

Basically, if anyone needs me for the next couple of months, I’ll be binge-watching Mr. Kate until I can get through all of her videos and take in every gram of the fabulousness Kate has to offer.

I want to introduce you to… My talented crafty friends!

People say a lot of who you are is a direct result of your environment and those closest to you and upon some reflection, I’ve come to realize how much of my love for crafting has been reinforced by those around me. Of course, I’ve got tons of support from non-crafty people (which are the majority of my close relatives), but I am so happy to be able to share my craftventures with both friends and family that are just as excited about getting their hands dirty with DIYs as I am.

Some of my earliest memories include feeling happy finger-painting at school, and admiring my cousin’s drawings and wanting to be just like him (funny enough, I only just discovered I can actually draw, like two years ago! You’d think I would’ve attempted it because I was so inspired by him, but it appears I focused on other crafty endeavors…). He’ll definitely have a post completely dedicated to his stunning work! At summer camp, I wasn’t much of an athlete so I’d run off early each day to schedule my activities and make sure I got a spot at any of the crafting disciplines they offered, especially pottery. I even got the Arts & Crafts trophy at the end of my season.

My cousin, my tia, my grandma, and so many of my crafty friends and family members have helped me learn more about myself, gain confidence in my skills and supported me with advice on DIYs, orders, dealing with customers and beyond. Now I want to highlight them in this series called #WCBFriendsAndFamily. Stay tuned, as I’ll be showcasing them individually on this blog!

 

5 Things I’ve learned in My First Year on Etsy

One year. 365 days. 525,600 minutes (RENT fans, you’re welcome.) Can’t believe it!

Even though I originally opened my shop in November of 2014, I was flying under the radar, relying solely on Etsy’s SEO and Pinterest to make sales – until May of 2015 that is! That’s when I finally mustered up the courage to go public with my shop and open social media channels, add new products, and heavily focus on making it happen. Since that decision, a lot has happened and I have learned many valuable lessons in all areas from customer service, to operations, to social media, etc. Here are 5 of the most important things I’ve learned over the past year:

  1. Pictures, pictures, pictures! This is an obvious one, but trust me when I tell you that most Etsy sellers *think* they have good pictures, but we really don’t notice how bad (or average) they are until we do! I’m part of a few discussion forums where I’ve participated in exchanges about many topics, including pictures, and we’ve all massively helped each other better position our items, learn about lighting, etc. My pictures have dramatically changed since I first started out, and trust me when I tell you I thought I was doing a good job, and then I realized how bad they were. Exhibit A:
    Left: Original pictures  Right: Proof that evolution exists

    Left: Original pictures
    Right: Proof that evolution exists

    The picture on the left was the worst of my bunch, but there are no words to explain how I thought that would be good. At the time, I always took my pictures at night with bad lighting, using my “Frosty” colored corrugated wall as a backdrop, flash photography, and weird angles. AND I THOUGHT I WAS KILLING IT. I have nothing to say for myself.

    PRO TIP: Take advantage of all the communities out there, and get feedback on everything you can. You may be a one-man-show like me, but there are so many people willing to help or give quick advice that will make all the difference.

  2. Planning ahead and organization is everything. I’m pretty OCD and I love Excel sheets (really, I do), but when it comes to a self-run business, you really need to be aware of all of your activities/responsibilities, the time it takes you to complete them, the ROI (return on investment) from everything (are you sure you’re spending your time appropriately considering how it converts into sales?), and do as much ahead of time as you can. I’m the type of person who does really well under pressure, and that makes me consciously procrastinate, but unfortunately, I also get “moods” during which I don’t particularly enjoy to craft, and those can last weeks. So doing things ahead of time is very helpful, so that when I don’t want to do something, I don’t have to. Also, everything is much harder than it looks, so you will realize that you need more time to do things well until it becomes second nature.
  3. The customer is… an interesting individual. I am happy to say that the bulk of my sales come from total strangers on Etsy, and I’ve come across so many interesting characters that I could honestly write a whole book about. Customer service has always been my priority from the get-go, so I really try to do my best with each order, but that’s not to say that things are sometimes out of your hands and you just have to deal. The majority of my customers have been super nice, and about a third of them have left me great reviews. A portion of them I’ve had little to no interaction with. And a few have been a little more work than the rest. It’s all part of the game, and you just have to play along and hope for the best result, but definitely don’t let it get personal. I let one order in particular get the best of me and it was about a month of feeling crappy 24/7. Not fun. Try your best to separate your work and craft from your personal life and feelings.
  4. Be your own customer. This one has always been obvious to me and I’ve tried to use it in every sense, but it’s always good to analyze every “front of the house” aspect of your business from the customer perspective. For social media, would you ‘like’ the picture you just posted if it came up in your feed? For SEO, would you search for the item you’re posting using those words? For customer service, would you be pleased with the way you’re treating the buyer if that were you? Always do things thinking of the customer and how you’d respond in their place.
  5. Learn, implement and evolve! We’ve all heard the phrase “nothing is more constant than change,” so we need to be sure that we’re evolving with the trends and that our products remain attractive and innovative. Also, something I’m proud of myself for doing this past year is I’ve participated in many workshops (online and in person), free and paid, and I’ve learned a lot of different things that I’ve implemented wherever possible and I’ve definitely seen results from most of them. Information selling is a big thing right now, so a lot of people are putting out content for free to entice you to buy, and it’s always worth looking into. If you learn one thing you didn’t know before, it’s worth it!

I could’ve told you these things a year ago because a lot of it is common sense, but it’s one thing to “know” something broadly, and another to truly live it and see the relevance of following through.

Do you sell your crafts? Are you in business by yourself? What have you learned since launching that you had an idea about or wish you knew before starting out? Comment below!

Etsy is Getting a Facelift!

A couple of months ago I created an editorial calendar with topics to write about so that I wouldn’t struggle to keep up with my blogging commitment, and one of the items I wanted to touch on is my love for Etsy. Besides the benefit of the platform over every other e-commerce site out there (in my humble opinion), I truly believe that Etsy is always in touch with its community of sellers, and tries to do right by us as well as by buyers. I’ve participated in multiple surveys and I’ve seen implementation of changes I’ve written to them about (probably along with a few other sellers), and the improvements just keep coming.

Then, two weeks ago, sellers were notified that Etsy shops were getting a makeover, and I was like “HA! Perfect timing!” Let me tell you, I’m apprehensive about change, but this is a GREAT one! The new shop look is much more modern, clean, manageable by sellers, and easy to navigate by buyers. It’s definitely in line with the wave of “power pages” (basically, having the bulk of the information about the website in one single page where you just scroll down instead of figuring out the menu) and I for one can’t wait until it launches for everyone on April 5th. Here’s the detailed breakdown of the most noticeable changes:

Etsy Shop Looks - Before and After

Etsy Shop Looks – Before and After

First of all, the new look will allow sellers to choose between having no banner, a small banner (which will not be mobile-optimized), or a cover photo (mobile optimized!). As you can see, I’ve already gotten a head start on mine, and I’ve chosen to use this set up because I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase my items being used by my customers, which buyers don’t really see unless they’re following me on social media (::cough cough:: Facebook, InstagramTwitter). It’s a little overpowering on the screen, but I really think it does more good than harm (if done right).

Second, hello modernization! I never really noticed how “old-school” the current look is until I saw the new layout. The set up is fresh, and I think they got it right by emphasizing the shop itself over the owner, which is currently reversed.

Third, sellers can choose the order of their listings and OMG THANK YOU SO MUCH ETSY!!! It was so frustrating to feel like my shop was “disorganized” because right now the items show up in the order of “recent purchases,” and to my OCD self, it throws off the vibe. We can also choose to feature certain listings that will show up above the full shop. Where is my ::hands in the air:: emoji when I need it?

Fourth, the listings themselves are bigger, which is a great way to show buyers more in less time.

Fifth, the reviews are right under the listings. This is going to be YUUUUGE for buyers (#Elections2016!). As a frequent shopper myself, I know how much reviews influence my decisions to make a purchase, and having this information so visible is definitely going to make the process much quicker.

Sixth, the Shop Updates. I think I need a separate blog post to explain these, but basically, Etsy is going social on us! Through the use of the “Sell on Etsy” app (which is absolutely necessary if you’re a seller ::ehem:: customer service), Etsy has created a new way to push content through the platform and out onto other channels like text messages and the aforementioned Facebook, Instagram & Twitter, and going as far as Pinterest and even WhatsApp! These updates are going to tip the Etsy algorithms in favor of active sellers, as they’ll showcase more of the shops that use them, and honestly, it’s a great way to post different angles of our products by stepping out of the 5 picture limit. When sellers post these updates to their social media channels, they work as a cute little hooks to bring perspective buyers directly to each listing. In conclusion, if you’re a seller and haven’t posted your first Shop Update yet, get on it!

Seventh (and last one I’ll include here because I’m running out of screen), sellers now have a chance to upload a video of themselves and up to 5 pictures of their work spaces (or whatever they want) to help buyers fall in love with them even more.

Maybe I’ll have to make this post a trilogy or a Harry Potter-sized novel to cover ALL of the great new features Etsy is rolling out, and all the reasons why I already love them, but the point is, April 5th, check out my new swagged out shop and buy something from me 😀 Kidding, but really, SO excited for this. Thank you Etsy for being so awesomesauce! T – 1 week!

Copyright Infringement, Plagiarism, and ‘Imitation is the Most Sincere Form of Flattery’

Creating something brand new or finding truly original content/products is very hard these days. For example, think about current TV executive board meetings… In my head, they go a little something like this:

  • TV Guy 1: Hey guys, let’s talk about ideas for a new show for next fall
  • TV Guy 2: How about we remake/reunite Friends/Full House/Charmed/Sabrina the Teenage Witch/Gilmore Girls/literally any 90s show ever made?
  • All the TV Guys in unison: SOUNDS LIKE A PLAN!

Whatever happened to predictability? Ha, had to! No, but seriously, they really need to stop bringing back everyone and everything, especially when the shows had perfect closures – except Friends. They can bring back Friends forever until every cast member dies.

Anywho… The point is, a lot of times it can feel like everything has already been created/thought of, and it’s hard to think about something from scratch. After all, we have Pinterest!

I completely understand the struggle. As an Etsy seller, it’s my ultimate goal to have fresh and new items that my customers can only find at my shop, that keep them coming back, and that provide me with a stable income. I’ve tried from day 1 to make things people want, and because I’ve taken enough business classes, I know the key is to look for a market void and try to fill it.

The whole “photo booth props” niche was a very happy accident, but an accident nonetheless. I know there are plenty of providers of photo booth props in both digital and physical format, and I know they’ll continue to come up. I for one have tried very hard to create designs that are 100% authentic, different from what’s already out there, of good quality, and fun. Even though the bulk of my items are inspired by Disney, every single prop has been hand drawn, cut and put together by me – just like I make 4th of July, graduation, or wedding sets. The ideas/events/institutions have been around forever, but the designs themselves are mine.

So you can imagine, it’s disheartening/frustrating (to say the least) when you find that your designs have been copied by other sellers, right under your nose. And that’s what inspired this blog post. Is imitation REALLY the most sincere form of flattery? I’m not sure.

Yesterday, I was doing my routine SEO self-check, where I search random keywords associated with my items and I see in which pages they land, so I can make sure I’m staying relevant and top-sided in Etsy’s algorithms. As I start scanning for my props, on the very first page my eyes pick up on some familiar shapes, and I’m confused for a moment. Wait… Is that… Did I… No that’s not… Who… Woah. That’s my design, but that’s NOT my picture, or my shop.

As you all should know by now, I’m obsessed with everything Disney. So when the Descendants Movie came out, I was front row (to my TV) ready to watch it and fall in love with yet another new classic. It worked. I did. I died. And then, a customer saw my standard set of Villain-inspired props, and asked if I could make her some Descendants villain props. I already had 3 out of the 4 parents (Evil Queen, Jafar & Maleficent) designed from prior sets, so I got to work and drew out the last parent (Cruella), plus the 4 children: Evie, Jay, Mal & Carlos. I’m pretty proud of how they turned out, and I’ve already received a few orders for the set. So you can imagine, that when I see someone copied my design to the T, I’m a little bit flabbergasted. Let me show you what I mean:

I’ve checked for Descendants props on Etsy before, but there were none. Mine were the very first set of Villain parents and children on the marketplace. Until, quite literally, last week. On March 14th, another shop posted a set of Descendants props that looks like this:

Quite honestly, I couldn’t believe it! So eerie to notice the ends of the hair on the girls, Carlos’ (black and white hair) spikes, Jay’s hairstyle… They literally copied my design inch by inch. On the side of the parents, I think most of those props had been done before, but again, I hand drew my designs based off of the original cartoons, not other people’s interpretation of them.

Do you know what I did when I saw this? Wild guess? I laughed. I was in shock, but I try to avoid going crazy over things I cannot change, because ultimately, it only affects me. So I just laughed and, tried to figure out what I should do next. These were my options:

  1. Let it go (whaddup Frozen reference?! Whaddup iiSuperwomanii reference within the reference? #inception): be the bigger person, not care that my work was copied, move on…
  2. Report the listing: Etsy has an option to report listings. I’ve never done this before so I’m not sure under what grounds you may report something (probably over graphic or offensive content?). But, I really don’t want to start drama with another shop. I’ve been on the receiving side of crazy before, and it’s not fun.
  3. Send the shop a direct message: should I let them know I know? I would crap my pants if another shop messaged me telling me I plagiarized their item. I would for sure take it down, possibly apologize, but that’s just me. I’m not sure how the other shop will react.
  4. Write a blog about it to open up a dialogue and hear different perspectives on the matter? Sounds like a plan 🙂

I won’t do anything other than #4 right now. I really just wanted to put this out there for two reasons:

  1. For aspiring or existing Etsy owners – I know of one owner in particular who went through this recently. She was devastated that her design was plagiarized and I believe she reported it, but I’m not sure how much she could do about it or how the case turned out. I just know that it tortured her and stole her peace for weeks. We all work hard to make our shops stand out, hoping for stable sales and happy customers eager to leave reviews. It’s not an easy process trying to make a shop grow and go from hobby or side gig to a business, and this is potentially a roadblock. It’s not a “fair” competition. It’s a dirty play. It sucks but it’s not a make or break situation, so I really just wanted to showcase the story and hopefully have it serve as a “everything will be alright” reassurance, which I’ll need to confirm in the future. But I really think it will.
  2. Trying to honor my #WCBBloggingTuesdays commitment, and always #KeepingItReal (also, please help #KeepInstagramChronological)

In any case, as shocked and surprised as I was, this hasn’t really affected me the way other events have (I’m an ultra sensitive person), so I’m proud of myself for that. At the same time, I know social media makes it seem like everything is peachy 100% of the time, and I don’t tend to share the down moments, but I think it’s an important part of my journey, and in every moment, there’s a lesson to be learned.

Please share your thoughts below, and any personal stories of dealing with plagiarism or copycats are a plus!!