It’s been a while…..

Where the heck does time go? I started writing this post 4 weeks ago then was too busy to finish it until now. And my previous post was more than 5 months ago. Eek! I knew that I had, as usual, taken on far too much work over the winter but I didn’t realise quite how much I was neglecting my own stuff!

So, during the photography course, I worked my way through all the lessons and made lots of notes while I had the chance. Apparently only about 10% of students actually finish the course, which surprised me because it’s quite expensive. If I’ve paid a lot of money for a something, I make sure I take full advantage of it!

There were 3 written tests which I passed (yay!) and 2 photo assignments to complete but I was told that, having completed everything else, I could do the photo assignments at my leisure since I didn’t need access to the course website to submit those. Just as well really, as I couldn’t get any decent photos over the winter, given how dark my house is even in the middle of the day. I tried using daylight bulbs but that didn’t work out too well. So I had no option but to wait for spring to arrive with it’s longer days and better light.

The first photo assignment required 3 lifestyle photos taken from a series shot for my business. So, as some of my products are beaded snowflake decorations, which I’ve always found a nightmare to photograph, I thought those would really challenge my camera skills and be good to do for the assignment.

For the first photo, I wanted a Christmassy shot that included star-shaped bokeh, which I was told would be difficult to get right. They certainly were! But persistance paid off and finally got me this moody shot of a beaded snowflake against a dark background. And it also impressed the course tutor. 🙂

Photo 1

For the second photo, I wanted to show the snowflake as a suncatcher on a window. This one was a cinch compared to the bokeh shot, the hard part was actually finding a suitable window. The small-paned windows in my house look cute but they don’t work well for a suncatcher photo. I got lucky when I went visiting and got access to the massive window where I took this shot:

Photo 2

And in the final photo I wanted a group of beaded snowflakes so that customers could see the different sizes that I make. This was by far the hardest shot to get right. Those snowflakes are about 50 centimetres in front of the wall, but my camera couldn’t focus on them and instead took lots of pictures of a crisp wall with blurry snowflakes in front of it. 😦 So I had to resort to manual focussing which I hate. The light wasn’t great so I needed very long exposure times. And just to add to the “fun”, the slightest draught made the snowflakes spin, definitely not good with long exposures! So it took me aaaages to get this photo:

Photo 3

I was right, these snowflakes are indeed hard to photograph but I got there in the end and learned a lot along the way. Mostly about what not to do. And I couldn’t possibly have taken photos like these before I did the course.

But guess how many photos I actually took for this assignment before I got 3 that I could submit…

Yep, almost 500. 😦

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Moving rapidly on

As usual, I have more things to do than any reasonable person can fit into a day. I have no idea where all that work comes from but, sadly, most of it is of the unpaid variety. 😦 Nevertheless, I have made quite a bit of progress with the photography course and have been working my way rapidly through the lessons, although I have to admit that actual photographs are few and far between (I’m blaming the crappy light in my house, but 2 kittens aren’t exactly helping the situation).

So, there was a lesson on how to balance light in a scene (basically involving playing with an assortment of diffusers and reflectors) that was kind of okayish, but much more fun was the lesson about changing the direction of the light in a scene. I’d looked at the examples in the lesson, but there’s really nothing to beat trying things out for yourself.

I wanted a photo that showed how my products would look when they arrived at the buyer’s address, so I came up with this layout (okay, the outer packaging has been taken off but I’m sure you get the general idea):


Not the best photo on the planet, is it? Nasty wrinkles in the wrapping paper and horrible shadows as well!

It gets a bit better if a reflector is used to bounce light into the shadows:


That wrapping paper still looks wrinkly though.

But look what happens if the light comes from a different direction!


Exactly the same scene, just the light comes from the front left instead of the back left, and most of the wrinkles have “vanished” from the wrap! And, of course, the positioning of the shadows has changed. What a difference! Who knew that a simple thing like turning the scene relative to the light would produce such an improvement! I will now be considering all my photo set-ups in, er, a whole new light. Literally.

Right now, however, I need to find out what 2 cheeky kittens are up to, so that’s it for today.

Inspiration strikes

The last month has been even more manic than usual, thanks to a massive workload and 2 small kittens (who have an amazing talent for creating yet more work). So there’s been no time to write blog posts although I managed to get more of the photography course done and created this inspiration board:


The course tutor claims it’s difficult to get all of the elements of an inspiration board lined up straight, but that was the easy bit for me. I have a mind that likes straight lines and orderly layouts. Taking the photo was the hard part because my house has tiny windows so the light inside is terrible even on a nice sunny day. And that board is huge (compared with the tiny stuff that I usually photograph) so it was on the floor, which meant it wasn’t very close to the window and that made the lighting problems even worse. I’m not going to tell you how many failed shots there were, that would be seriously embarrassing. 😦

Anyway, having lined everything up super-straight, I learned that I can chop the inspiration photo into sections to create lots of smaller photos like this:

This was a whole new concept! It had simply never occurred to me that I could make several pictures from one photograph. I love that idea!

I’ve also had lessons on adding props to product photographs, but I’m rubbish at that and need to practice. A lot. It’s much easier to have just the product in the photo, but that looks sooo dull. I like making things but I’m not very artistic, so styling a photo is seriously hard work for me. 😦

There have, however, been some fun lessons where I actually got to make stuff. Yay! So now I have 3 different light diffusers, 3 different reflectors and a light tunnel, all handmade by me. The diffusers and reflectors are fun to use and make a big difference to my photos. I still have no idea how to use the light tunnel, but I guess I’ll find that out soon enough.

And to finish off for today, these are the little rascals that have been getting in the way and preventing me from doing much work:

The one on the left is Spotty, and the one on the right is his sister, Tashy. Yep, she’s a kitler.




Making Progress…. Slowly

I can’t believe it’s been a month since my last post! For the last few weeks, I’ve been busy dealing with all the shit that life throws in my direction, but now I’m finally making progress with the photography course. Hooray!

I’ve completed the first module of 15 lessons. It’s mostly been about choosing the “look” that I want to create, so not much actual camera work yet. I created a mood board a while back (you can see it in Where has the time gone?) from which I decided on a beach-themed look. Now I have created a colour and texture palette that I’m supposed to use to help me plan a photoshoot. I’ve even managed to incorporate an upcoming trend into it, so I’m feeling pretty pleased with that!


I’ve also just finished planning backdrops for said photoshoot, and have collected an assortment of materials that I hope will give the look that I want to achieve, so I feel like I’m getting somewhere at last. Yippee!

Next job is to create an inspiration photo. I would have done that last week, but the crappy modern tripod that I had available wouldn’t support my heavy camera so that its lens would point directly at the floor for an overhead shot. 😦 But now I have access to a robust 1950s-vintage tripod that will do the job properly (yay!) so I’m keen to get cracking on that inspiration photo. 🙂

There’s just one snag. Yesterday I acquired 2 tiny kittens that are demanding a lot of attention, so they will probably slow me down a bit! I might just take kitten photos instead……


Ten Books That Changed My Life

I’m going off on a tangent today, in response to a prompt from Strange Salmagundi, who got it from The Wounded Healer, who in turn got it from Sub Soare, to write about 10 books that have changed my life.

I don’t read much fiction, so there is only one novel in my list, but I do read an enormous amount of non-fiction, especially the kind that teaches me something useful. Surprisingly, selecting just 10 books from a lifetime of reading was very easy. Every book on my list has had a major effect on my life and helped to make me into the person that I am today. So here they are, in the order that they entered my life:

1) The Complete Book of Needlework, published by Ward Lock & Co Ltd.

This book was compiled by members of The Embroiderers Guild and covers most forms of needlework (the word “complete” in the title is overly-generous) plus things like lace making that I don’t class as needlework at all since no needles are required to make bobbin lace. I got it when I was 7 years old. It was, and still is, one of my most-prized possessions and set me off on a lifetime of crafting. And, yes, I do make lace.

2) The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.

Tom Sawyer arrived the next year. The book fascinated me so much that I read it many, many times, it was my absolute favourite story. It was also the first book I read that wasn’t a fairy tale, or an animal story, or about British people, and it introduced me to the idea that other people’s lives could be very different from my own. Writing this list inspired me to read it again, for the first time in decades, and I’m enjoying it just as much now as I did at the start.

3) The Young Specialist Looks At Butterflies by Georg Warnecke.

I doubt if a book like this would be published nowadays because it encouraged youngsters to catch and kill butterflies to display in a collection. It was written long before conservation became a thing, before people realised that extinctions could result from human activity. But it inspired in me a love of butterflies that later turned into a more general love of the natural world.

4) Foulsham’s Complete Guide To Gardening.

My copy has no date on it and no authors listed. I bought it in my late teens and loved that it told me exactly what jobs should be done in the garden in each week of the year. Yup, it turned me into a gardener.

5) Biochemistry by Albert L Lehninger.

I enjoyed biology at school, and was good at chemistry, so studying biochemistry at university seemed like a good idea. But it’s not a school subject, so there was a lot of finger-crossing and hoping that I’d chosen wisely. (My father swore that I’d chosen my course by sticking a pin in a list of subjects, but he was wrong.) This book was the main text for my undergraduate studies, it confirmed that I’d made the right choice, and it helped me to get 3 degrees. So now, when I want to look fancy and impress people, I can put a bunch of letters after my name: BSc, MSc, PhD. And I became a biochemist.

6) The Frugal Cook Book: A Portfolio For Good, Bad Or Rotten Times, published by Global Village Crafts.

I bought this 48-page booklet when I started my first graduate job, 170 miles from home, and had to begin cooking for myself. I’d been brought up to think that a “proper” meal must include meat and 2 veg, and macaroni cheese was just about acceptable at a push. This book proved that meat-free food is both yummy and cheap (the cheap part was key at the time).

7) The 35mm Handbook by Michael Freeman.

I’d been given a 35mm camera but had no idea how to use it, then I got this book. It got me started on photography, but I never practised much because film was expensive, getting it developed was expensive, and I was back at university studying for my master’s degree so I had no spare cash. Digital cameras didn’t exist at this point. I really should read this book again, it has lots to say about photographic techniques that apply to all types of cameras.

8) The Hay Fever Handbook by Roger Newman Turner.

I was in my 30s when I discovered this book, having had really bad hay fever every summer since the age of 5. I’m amazed that I passed any exams at school, because they fell right in the peak hay fever season. Every. Single. Year. I took antihistamines but they didn’t really work. I was miserable every summer. I didn’t expect this book to be any good, but read it anyway. It was full of quack treatments that weren’t even worth trying, but there was one idea that was interesting, feasible, and appealed to the biochemist in me. So I tried it. And it worked. A simple food supplement changed my life forever.

9) Say No To Arthritis by Patrick Holford.

I read this book when I noticed joint pains in one foot about 7 years ago. It was mildly interesting but I didn’t pay that much attention to it. Earlier this year I noticed arthritis starting in my hands (a total disaster for a craft fanatic like me) and read the book again. Wow, I missed such a lot the first time! Osteoarthritis isn’t inevitable, it can be reversed if it hasn’t gone too far, and it’s largely diet-related. Given my success with book 8, I totally changed my diet. It’s already making a difference.

10) How To Make Money Using Etsy: A Guide To The Online Marketplace For Crafts And Handmade Products by Timothy Adam.

To be honest, this is a terrible book. There’s far too much in it about people achieving success, and not enough about setting up the perfect Etsy shop. However, it got me started and transformed my life. No, I don’t sell much stuff on Etsy, my sales are better elsewhere. But Etsy is full of creative people just like me, so I don’t have to explain why I spend hours making stuff, and that I *need* to make things. Folks on Etsy totally get it, they understand the creative urge and that I can’t “just stop making stuff”. (Yes, my aunt really said that.) And, through joining several Etsy teams, I’ve made friends with creatives all over the world.

So there you have it. I’m a creative, with an interest in gardening and nature, and the mind of a scientist. Make of that what you will.

Now I’d like to pass this prompt to other bloggers who also sell on Etsy: Adrian’s Art Antics and lucylawrencedesigns.

Where has the time gone?

Things are not going well. A whole 4 weeks have passed since my last post and I’ve only completed 2 more lessons of the photography course. And I still haven’t taken a single photo yet. It’s a bad time of year for me to be trying to do this stuff. Why? It’s July. This is when Christmas markets have to be organised….. *sigh*

I sell my jewellery on Etsy and am a team leader in 2 regional Etsy teams, both of which are running Etsy Made Local Christmas Markets this year. On the same weekend. These are curated events run entirely by unpaid team leaders with a little bit of sponsorship from Etsy. Applications to sell at these markets closed 2 weeks ago. Since then I’ve spent an afternoon, with 2 more team leaders, wading through applications from members of team A and a whole day, with 4 other team leaders, sorting through applications from team B. And just to make it a bit more “interesting”, team A and team B are based in towns that are 150 miles apart and, technically, in different countries. Even if the politicians disagree with me on that last point.

So, yet again, I’m busy doing things for other people and not getting my own stuff done. Nothing new there, business as usual.

What have I actually done on the photography course then? Well, I had fun creating a pretty mood board on Pinterest:

From that, I’ve decided on the photographic style that I want for my brand. Yay! Now I’m supposed to create an on-trend colour and texture palette to use in my photos. That’s a tough one. I’m oblivious to trends, always have been. My cynical brain thinks trends are artificial, invented by cunning marketing people who just want to sell us stuff we don’t need so we can be “fashionable”.

Oh heck, I forgot. I want to sell stuff too, damn it. Okay, I guess I’ll have to get my head round this trend malarky after all. That could take a while. 😦

But at least the blog is progressing nicely because I’ve just figured out how to get a Pinterest board to show up in a post. 🙂

Oh dear

Things are not going to plan. I shouldn’t really be surprised, this is normal for me. Things hardly ever go to plan. Why? Because I always take on too much, far more than it’s possible to fit into a day, a week, a year.

I am not Superwoman, but somehow my brain thinks I am. It thinks there are 48 hours in a day, so it makes me say “Sure, I can do that, no problem”. It conveniently forgets the trillion other jobs that I’ve said I’ll do. Then, not liking to let people down, I do the stuff that I’ve promised other people and the things that I really want to do, for me, don’t get done. I’m old enough to know better, yet I never learn to say “No, sorry, I haven’t got time to do that”. 😦

I think you can guess what’s coming next.

That’s right, I’m getting nowhere with either the photography course or this blog. These are “me” things so, naturally, I haven’t got time to do them. Okay, I’m exaggerating. A tiny bit does get done, but nowhere near as much as I’d like.

So, the photography course. I’m on lesson 5 and so far no camera work has been required. It’s all been about developing a brand style. This is harder than I expected. I’m probably the world’s least style-conscious woman, and wouldn’t recognise a brand style if it hit me in the face. And I’m supposed to develop a photographic style for my brand??? Oh dear.

The blog is not faring much better. I’ve been playing with the settings, trying to make it look pretty, and failing miserably. I get lost trying to navigate the site. I’ve looked at the help pages. They didn’t help. Other people can do this stuff so it can’t be all that hard. I need to spend time trying to understand how this site works, but there’s a problem. It’s a “me” thing so, naturally, I haven’t got time to do it……

Oh dear.


A Fresh Start

Hello, I’m Shirley, a life-long crafter who has tried most crafts at one time or another, hated some, loved others, occasionally won prizes for craftwork, and now making beaded jewellery for sale under the brand name Ffigys Designs. You probably haven’t heard of my brand, not many people have. Yet. And I bet you can’t spell ffigys if you look away from the screen. Ffigys is a Welsh word (it means figs, as in the fruit) which I’ve taken from the name of my Victorian cottage in the South Wales valleys.

So why am I here, and what is the fresh start in the title about?

I make jewellery to sell in my online shops, so I need really good photographs to show potential customers what they can buy from me. This is where it gets a bit tricky. I’ve never been much good with a camera, and product photography is a lot harder than you’d think. I’ve practised and practised, but the results can still be pretty awful. Sometimes I’m lucky and get a few good shots. Other times, the camera gods decide not to play nice and nothing that I try gets me a good photo.  And, of course, there is only so much that Photoshop can fix……

After weeks of deliberation, I finally signed up to a 24-week photography course to learn exactly how to get beautiful product shots every single time. The course has just started so I thought it would be fun to write a blog about my adventures with a camera as my photographs gradually transform from ugly ducklings into beautiful swans.

So here I am. 🙂