August 2011


A parody of my ACEO Gypsy Cat listing on Etsy

I apologize in advance for a post that will probably come across as complaining at best, bitter at worst…. but I do have a message for you to hear, if you shop online. Or sell online for that matter. 😉

There seems to be a great deal of “Photoshopping” going on with product photography.

It has probably been happening since the dawn of the internet, or the birth of Photoshop, whichever came first ~ hehehe …. but lately I’ve been noticing it quite a bit on Etsy, and it’s bugging the crap out of me.

I do want to defend Photoshop, which has an unfair bad rap.
It’s a very useful tool when used correctly (to edit out stray marks & unwanted objects, brighten under-exposed photos, correct ugly color tints from incandescent light, and more)….

Artists can also create stunning photomanipulations (“photo collages”) using various images blended together, and you can even digitally paint with Photoshop… although a program like Corel Painter has better tools for creating the look of realistic oil or watercolor paintings.

I love Photoshop and use it daily. I cringe whenever I hear people speak of something as “being photoshopped” in a negative connotation.

But I’ll be honest… Photoshop can cover a multitude of sins, and actually allow online sellers to create deceptive photo listings for products that do not exist and/or need to be seriously enhanced to attract customers.

Whenever I find an Etsy listing that is obviously a photomanipulated product, I have to question the quality of the item:
Why isn’t the seller comfortable taking a real photo of it?
Are the colors of the print inferior to the digital scan?
Are there flaws? Cracks?

I’m not a professional product photographer, and my earliest Etsy listings look like cat poop to me now.
I seriously wonder why my first customers ever purchased from me, except that they must have seen some potential, and were willing to give me a chance.
Thank you guys!!

But I spend a lot of time staging and taking photos of my artwork, framed on the wall and lying flat, so that customers can see the real prints and judge their quality.

Shopping online is hard enough, without a tangible product to examine… we don’t need to muddy the waters, confuse, and deceive our customers with smoke and mirrors.

Take for example: a listing for an 8″x10″ photo print. The accompanying image looks like this:

Parody listing, Photoshopping a digital file on the wall

(Using Anne Elliot Cat, I created this parody of an actual item listing I saw on Etsy… an enormous 8″x10″ photo hanging on the wall)

I will confess to having occasionally used an image I’ve taken of an 8″x10″ print for a 5″x7″ listing, and vise versa, if there was no obvious point of reference in the photo to compare sizes…
But I wouldn’t dream of listing an ACEO mini print using a poster sized image on the wall. 😉

Another item that gets Photoshopped frequently is the infamous “art pendant”. Whether they are selling Scrabble tile pendants or “vintage” lockets, I’ll come across 130 copies of one generic photograph of a blank pendant with artwork digitally pasted onto it.

The trouble with this lazy habit is that the quality of the real printed image may not meet customers’ expectations; depending on the printer, paper, and type of resin/glue used, the print might not retain the beautiful, vivid colors and small details of the original digital file.

The only companies that might be able to get away with this are professional print-on-demand labs, and websites like Zazzle.com who have a solid reputation and stellar customer service.

Otherwise, can you really trust a shop full of digital clones??

Using Photoshop to paste photos onto blank pendants.

And while you may be thinking that customer feedback would highlight the poor quality items being sold, thus separating the wheat from the chaff… remember that feedback can be deceptive, too. It’s always best to read the comments.

For instance, in the case of one faux-photo-happy pendant seller… with thousands of sales, and 100% positive feedback… there were some obvious incidents of poor quality and misrepresented photos, that actually inspired me to write this blog post.

Last night, I stumbled upon a beautiful pendant while browsing a friend’s recent Etsy favorites, and was tempted to buy one.
When I visited the seller’s shop, however, I noticed that ALL the product listings were created using Photoshop… which made me curious:
What do these pendants really look like?
With thousands of sales, people must be pleased with them. Right??

But did you realize that 100% feedback doesn’t mean every customer is happy…
that, in fact, a negative review on Etsy will be cancelled out by a couple hundred positives, restoring a seller’s ‘perfect’ score?

I didn’t think it was possible to claim something was 100% if it wasn’t entirely true. 99.99% maybe. 😉

In addition to a few negatives ( 2>10 ), and neutral ratings in the double digits, many of their positive reviews weren’t entirely positive….
For whatever reason, these customers chose to give a good rating, but the accompanying written feedback tells a different story:

“….not as bright and vibrantly colored as what you see on website…”

“… I just expected something different from the picture…”

“…They are a bit darker than shown in the pictures…”

“…I thought they would be metallic and basically prettier, but they’re not.”

Sharing my opinion that feedback scores should accurately reflect the buyers’ experience doesn’t always make me popular in Etsy forums.
Sellers are happy to get ‘second chances’ to reclaim their 100% status, especially if they felt a negative was undeserved.

I get it. Really. Sometimes satisfaction is truly beyond a seller’s control.
A customer could potentially leave a negative because they waited until Dec. 22nd to order a custom gift, and were upset because it didn’t arrive in the mail the following day.

I’ve worked with the public enough to know that pleasing people is an art form all to itself, and very few of us have completely mastered it.
Mistakes happen, too.

In my first year on Etsy, I started selling journals with my artwork on the cover.
My friend and fellow Etsian, Lily, from TwoStrayCats, purchased one… and unfortunately I didn’t ensure its rigidity in the mailer.

The postal worker folded it in half, and shoved it into her mailbox.

Ouch. When she contacted me, I was horrified and embarrassed…. I offered a replacement and a refund, but she benevolently refused both, saying that after a bit of ironing, it was almost flat.
And the crease gave it character.
Bless her heart.

It would’ve been reasonable to chew me out, demand her money back, and perhaps even leave negative feedback.
Instead she wrote:
“The dashing Mr Darcy is now officially residing in Alberta ~ Canada
and I must say that I am very happy to have made his acquaintance…

(while ironing out his wrinkles)”

I added that last bit. heehee 😉

However, the close encounter has stuck with me, and with each package that I carefully support with thick cardboard, conducting my various “Bend Tests”… I’m continually learning from my previous mistakes.

Apparently after a year’s worth of disappointed customers’ comments, this paper collage jewelry seller still uses Photoshop rather than taking accurate photographs of his/her real pendants. And obviously hasn’t learned a thing.

But I have. And hopefully you have as well.

When you’re shopping online, take a few extra minutes to read the entire listing – pay attention to size, color, and materials – and look carefully at the photos. All the photos. Are any of them unnecessarily duplicated?

Read the feedback comments, even the positive ones. Especially the positive ones.
Some of them may be negatives in disguise.

(And yes, you can typically tell which negatives are undeserved, too, if you read the whole story.
Or if they don’t bother to explain a poor rating at all.)

And lastly give props to those sellers who value integrity, and don’t use Photoshop as an excuse for laziness, or worse… blatant deception.

Artisans who spend hours ~ (hundreds of hours) ~ brushing up on their photography skills, or hiring a professional to shoot their products, to give you a faithful representation of their work.

So that “what you see is what you get”.
Even on the internet. 🙂

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Regency Cat Bookmarks, original artwork by TaraFly

My Regency Cat portraits are now available as bookmarks, trimmed in ribbon and lace, for sale in both my Etsy shop and locally in Funkstown, Maryland ~ at The Guten Tag, a family owned gift-shop in Historic Town Center.

I mentioned The Guten Tag back in April, when I began selling my framed prints of Mr. Darcy Cat and Redcoat Soldier Cat there.

I’ve been thinking of ways to expand my selection of goods, and Michelle from TrueBookAddict on Blogspot suggested bookmarks as the purrfect compliment to cat characters inspired by classic novels! 😉

These are created with reproduction prints of my artwork – the same quality prints I sell in my shop, using K3 UltraChrome pigment ink and Ultra Premium Presentation paper.
I’ve taken decorative cardstock found in scrapbooking stores and adhered it to the backside of each art print, using Modge Podge decoupage glue.

I applied a couple thick coats of acrylic varnish, let it dry, and punched a hole in the top for threading a bit of lace or ribbon.

Creating bookmarks featuring my Regency Cat artwork, Mr Darcy Cat bookmark

When I stopped by The Guten Tag to visit Jessica Synder, the shoppe’s owner, to deliver my bookmarks and chat a bit… we discussed upcoming holiday merchandising ideas.
She loves to deck the store floor to ceiling with ornaments, so I’ve decided to begin a special portrait series based on Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Ballet, which will be featured on Christmas ornaments! 😉

I thought it would be fitting for Clara Cat and the feline Nutcracker Prince to battle an evil Mouse King! Bwahaha

They will most likely begin as original paintings, which I’ll reproduce onto the ornaments, allowing people to collect the full set. They will be available during the holidays both in my Etsy shop and locally at The Guten Tag.

I brought my camera along during this visit, and Jess graciously allowed me to wander the shop and take photographs of all the treasures!

iron metal dressform with crochet snowflakes and tags

I drooled over the wire dressforms, stone urns, statuary, garden obelisks, and bird-cages. I also loved the creative ways in which she showcases her items, arranging random finds into beautiful and elegantly coordinated collections.

Golden goblet, obelisk, light, mirror reflection, photograph by TaraFly.

My Flickr slideshow of photographs will give you a taste of what you might find inside The Guten Tag gift-shoppe; it’s definitely worth checking out in person!

And of course, remember to ask “How much for that Darcy in the window?”…. 😉