behind the scenes | online shop

Marian ParsonsArtistic Endeavors, buying & selling antiques, Photography, Running a Business35 Comments

     Since the online shop has been a big focus in the studio for the past couple of weeks, I thought I would share a little bit of the “behind the scenes” for those who are curious about our process.

Our process has been a bit all over the place, since we don’t do this regularly, but we’re getting into a groove and are becoming more efficient.

In fact, Kriste and I spent the majority of the day cleaning, purging, and organizing in order to make better use of the space.  There have also been a lot of things just hanging around the studio that we really didn’t need to keep.  We ended up hauling 5+ contractor garbage bags full of stuff to the dumpster, packed Kriste’s little car with a load of fabric rolls, home accessories, and craft supplies to take to the thrift store, and we have a pretty good amount of stuff to list in the online shop, including fabrics, knobs & pulls, preserved and faux boxwood branches, antique books & flash cards, and a bunch of craft supplies.

I’ll let you know when the next round of items will go live.

Anyway, our first step in the process of listing online is to gather the inventory.  Most of our items are one of a kind, so there is just one, but there were quite a few Lucketts leftovers that we had multiples of, like brushes, t-shirts, look books, scissors, twine, and a few other antique things like the hemp sheets and fabric rolls.


I had photographs of some items already, but the rest needed to be shot.  While I would love to do a lifestyle shot of each item, I would get completely lost in it and it would take hours and hours to shoot everything.  So, I opt to take the more efficient approach and just capture simple, bright, clear images of each item.

I know many people who have online shops use those little tents/light boxes, but I prefer to use natural lighting.

I was doing all of my shots for the shop on this white marble-topped table that didn’t sell at Lucketts…

Lucketts MMS-0044

I like how the marble adds some warmth to the all white surroundings in the pictures.


So, if you can find a piece of white marble, that’s a fantastic surface to shoot on.


But, guess what happened?  A reader came to shop the leftovers and bought the table!  It was for sale, so it wasn’t a problem at all.  It was just funny and very typical that I would sell something I’m in the middle of using!

I had a plan B, though, which was a metal folding table.


I position it a few feet in front of a white wall (well, off white wall) near a window (it’s just to the right of the photo above.)  I then use a reflector (that black circular thing that’s clamped to the stand) to bounce some natural light from the window back towards the table.

Let me talk about the reflector for a moment.  I used to use white foam core boards to reflect light, because I figured a legit photo reflector would be expensive.  People, this 5-in-1 reflector is less than $10.  And it really makes a difference.  We use it all the time.  (We can’t get the darn thing folded again, but I think that has more to do with operator error than product failure!)

Here’s a picture taken on the white metal table with the white wall behind and the reflector bouncing the light from the window back onto the subject.


The star of the photo becomes the product and that’s it.  And the transition from the table to the wall is almost seamless, because I’m shooting at a low aperture.  (If you don’t know what that means and you want to, check out my post on shooting in manual mode.)

In a nutshell, the low aperture makes the background blurry, which is also helped by the fact that I’m a few feet away from the wall, instead of right up against it.


I’m shooting with a 60mm micro/macro lens, which allows me to get very close to the subject to get nice detail.  Detail shots save me from having to write about every detail of the piece.  A potential buyer can see it for themselves.


Since the all white background can look a little stark for some items, I added linens or other things to bring a bit of life or context to the picture.





And, when I had them on hand, I added a few lifestyle shots as well.  These lifestyle shots can give a potential buyer ideas for how they might use the items in the home in creative ways.


I edited all of the photos and added descriptions for each item.  We share details like measurements, condition, and anything else that makes the item special, like where it was made, the manufacturer, uses, etc.

Writing up the descriptions is the most mind-numbing part of the process, so I’ll make little side comments for my own amusement like, “They just don’t make kitchen utensils with chicken wire anymore.”


The packing part of the process is pretty ugly.  We put bright green tape on everything (I’m still finding uses for my lifetime supply of Frog Tape), so it is clear which item is which and whoever is packing doesn’t get masher #1 mixed up with masher #2.


Since we had such a large amount of orders and unique items to pack, we all worked together on it – gathering each item of an order, packing it, and labeling it.

We did have a sad moment when one of the large ironstone pitchers didn’t even make it into a box, but that sometimes happens when your working with breakables.  Of course, I gave the customer a full refund and we had a moment of silence for the broken ironstone.


Oh, it just pains me to even look at it!

We probably go overboard on wrapping breakables for that reason.  We bubble and shrink wrap and nestle each piece in a generous supply of packing peanuts in the hopes that it could be dropped from a two story building (which I swear happens) and remain intact.

We have to weigh and measure each package, print our labels through PayPal, load up my van, and finally drop them off at the post office.

I live in a teeny, tiny, two-stoplight town, which definitely has its charms, but shipping on a large scale is a bit of a challenge.  We can’t get local pick-ups, because our post office is just a rural outpost, so their are some limitations.  They’ve been working with us on it, though, and we’re going to have to figure out how to make it all more efficient as we grow.

It’s a far cry from the days when all of the photo shoots happened in my living room and boxes were packed in the basement!

Always more to learn, though…


Speaking of sales, I am going to list the sweatshirts for sale in a few days.  Since this is a special order, I will close all of the other items, so only a sweatshirt can be ordered.  This will make things a little easier for us to manage when it comes time to order and ship them.


More details to come…

behind the scenes | online shop

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35 Comments on “behind the scenes | online shop”

  1. Thanks so much for the photo shooting info! I have an online Etsy shop and very poor light in my house, so taking nice photos is always a challenge unless the trees are bare and there is snow on the ground. Now, at least I have some new ideas to try and will definitely purchase a reflector. What may seem like a “ho-hum, behind the scenes” post to you is a great wealth of information to me. So appreciated. Always love looking at your beautiful photos!

    1. Cindy, I have no idea the scale of your items, but a trick they taught us at Haven was to make a 3 sided box of foam core and put it right in your front doorway to take advantage of the natural light there. I have done that often with great results, as my house is on the dark side as well.
      Good luck!
      The Other Marian@CMShawStudios

  2. You are so kind to share behind the scenes.

    Being able to have local pickup was a life changer for me. An added bonus, it shaved a day off shipping time, which makes for very happy buyers. I hope you can work something out with your postal service.

  3. I love your behind the scenes posts! Thank you for sharing so much. Can you explain in non-techy terms the difference between a 50mm and a 60mm lens? I shoot everything with the standard lens that came with my camera body and I’ve had a 50mm on my wishlist for a couple of years (it will be a gift I buy myself very soon), but I wonder now if a 60mm is more appropriate?

    I’ve been lazy about lighting lately, and haven’t even pulled out my foam core boards but instead lightening the exposures in lightroom. Far from perfect, but perhaps a reflector that I can’t put away is the answer. 🙂

    1. The 60mm lens is called a micro/macro lens and it’s a bit more of a specialty lens than the 50mm. The 60mm is good for closeups and detail shots, which is why I like it for products. You can get closer to your subject. The 50 mm is a better all purpose lens to shoot products, furniture etc. What I like about the 50mm is that it can go to a low aperture (meaning the lens can open up wide and let in lots of light), which is good for interiors when the light is lower. You can also get some great “blurry background” shots with it, too.

  4. Thank you so much for these tips, Marian! My hubby and I sell on Etsy and I am always challenged by poor lighting. We tend to sell larger scale items, so that adds to the staging issue. My hubby built me a mobile shiplap wall! 🙂

    I have had the same reflector set in my cart for a few weeks. Do you use a stand to hold it or are you taking pictures with Kriste and tag teaming? I am usually taking photos when I am alone.

    Happy sales!


    1. It’s nice if you can have someone to hold it, because sometimes it’s best to have it an an angle that’s a little hard to use a stand for, but I clamp it to the stand when I’m by myself.

  5. Hi Marian, It looks like you are getting things under control. My husband and I sell a lot on Ebay. After we take pictures and post an item, we wrap and box it (leaving the box open) Then we print the page with the posted item (with picture) and attach it to the outside of the box. Then we can shelve those items with the printed page facing our. It is organized, takes up a lot less space, and all that has to be done when sold is add a packing slip, put a shipping label on and tape the box. It has really helped us from breaking items that are sold.

  6. Oh, that broken pitcher is so sad. Reminds me of when I opened up a box after a move and found a beautiful hand-painted pitcher that had been a wedding gift, had broken. I just about cried.

    “dropped from a two-story building” – Yes! It does happen. Early in my marriage when we were moving, a college friend was helping us. He got tired of climbing the steep stairs to our second-story flat, so he thought it would be a good idea to try to toss boxes from our balcony to waiting arms below. He did a couple of boxes, before I put a stop to it.

  7. Photo number ten of the silver forks….that’s my silver pattern. Do you still have them? Only bother to answer if they are available. If they are not save yourself some time and don’t answer. Thanks.

  8. Hi Marian,
    I am having trouble finding access to your online shop from these email posts….could you point me in the right direction?

  9. Thank you for explaining how you do your light in the pics. I always wondered about that since I try and take pics like this. Also, I was told by a lady here that works at USPS that I needed to pack my items so if I dropped them from my wasted down it wouldn’t break. Good advice and sounds like you have that covered. Thanks again for all the tips and tricks you share with us, I sure appreciate each and everyone!

  10. Good organizing, Marian! I remember my daughter worked at an upscale boutique and her coworker confused a Chriatmas gift shipment. Instead of the lovely little garden fountain, a gargoyle fountain was sent. Both giver and receiver were not happy!

  11. Hi, Marian,

    Your photos are great. Thank you for sharing.

    For those who’ve posted above, having lighting difficulties with their photos, these are great –

    “Square Perfect 2090 30-Inch Light Tent Photo Cube Softbox with 4 Colored Backgrounds for Product Photography”

    available from Amazon for $25 – ish. There are many different types and styles. Ive very little space so use a large fold up tent in my dark house. Just position near a window, use a tripod and away you go.

    Happy snapping…xxx

  12. YES! To the sweatshirt! Marian, if I wanted to use milk paint over my dated brick fireplace would this be a good use of your product? Have you done this before? Any tips would be greatly appreciated . . . . . . I’m going to do this project soon . . .
    Thanks for the help! XO

  13. I would love to purchase the camera in the photo above the potato masher. Is it for sale? I think it is so interesting!

  14. Great post Marian – love the behind the scenes look. I bought two of your ironstone tureens — ones I could not fit in my hands along with the other finds I bought from your and others at Lucketts and then went home kicking myself about! Anyway, I can attest to what an amazing job you do packing the ironstone items so they are secure and protected. They arrived in perfect shape and are now happily among my collection! Thank you!
    P.S. I think you had lots of ironstone plates and bowls leftover too — would love to see those listed!

  15. OMG!! What fabric are you taking to the thrift shop?? Would love to come from Lancaster to pick up, to feed my fabric addiction! Not sure what a fair price would be?? Also if you have trim…

  16. Marian

    I can’t figure out. Where to find the things for sale on line. When you list again will you put a link?

    Thank you

  17. Thank you for the tip about setting the white table a distance from the white wall for a seamless background. I will remember that! I use the reflectors too, but photographing in my house is a challenge. We have many windows but a dark house because we’re surrounded by trees all spring/summer/fall. In the winter, the light is elusive because I work full-time and only have sunnier weekends to capture brighter light. I found the white photography lights give my photos a white boost in this situation, to balance out the yellow light in my house. Then I usually have to adjust brightness and reduce yellow in Photoshop. It gets a bit closer to that Scandinavian white light when reality is nothing like that!

  18. Well, you and Kriste are working your little tushies off! But, it sounds like you’ve got the organizing end of it down. That always helps tremendously.

    I have a question, Marian. First, I want to say that I enjoy all the photos you take immensely. They are real eye candy for me, being the visually oriented person that I am. But I was wondering if you intentionally use such a shallow depth of field on a lot of the images. Because, sometimes, I would like to see more of the subject in sharp focus. For instance the shot of the old egg beater. I would like to see the round cog at the top in focus just to see clearly what the whole thing looks like. I really like the shot of the scissors because all of the item is sharply focused and I can see what the entire object looks like. In some images where it isn’t important to see all of an item in sharp focus the shallow depth of field can give a more soft and artsy quality to the photo which can look very appealing. But if the image is of something that you are hoping to sell, I think it is better to use a smaller aperture setting and show the whole item focussed sharply. Of course, that is just my opinion as a fellow photographer. Hopefully it will be taken as a constructive critique, not negative feedback. ‘Cause I do love that eye candy! And I appreciate all the time and effort it takes to produce all the images you do.

    1. Yes, I totally get what you’re asking and, if I only had one picture slot to fill, I would make sure the entire piece was sharp and in focus. For each listing, I have give photos, so I like to take shots at a lower aperture and draw attention to certain aspects of the item, like the handle, the beaters, etc.

      Plus, I just enjoy the artistry of it! 🙂

      When I’m shooting furniture and rooms, I go to a higher aperture, so everything is in focus.

  19. Hi Marian,
    I just had to write to let you know that my packages arrived today and gave me such joy (yes even the dish brushes). My ironstone blue pitcher could have been used in a soccer game and still survived it with the great wrapping that you did. I’m not sure if your dad taught you or you taught your dad but wow what a pleasure to see such care taken. Everything was wonderful and the personalized signature in the Inspired You book and added Look Book was the icing on the cake.

    One day on my way to my son’s in MD I will definitely be calling to see if we could schedule a visit to your studio.

    Many Blessings,

  20. I have to admit, my heart hurt a little when I saw my broken pitcher but I ended up with two sugar jars instead and I consider that a win. You should have seen my hubby’s face when he told me about the pitcher. He can be quite the prankster and I thought he was teasing me at first. He felt so bad after witnessing my happy dance the night before that while he emailed you about a replacement (which I LOVED by the way) he purchased BOTH sugar jars I pointed out to him, after learning of the pitcher mishap. I think I’ll keep him… I’m happy to report that all of my ironstone arrived in one piece and I’m busy rearranging my collection.

  21. Thank you Marion for being so open with your knowledge! I too have an online Etsy shop and struggle to know how to take good product shots, so reading about the reflector, the distance from the wall, the low aperture setting, and the 60mm lens is truly a blessing. Plus now I’m going to be on the hunt for a small marble topped table!

  22. What I wouldn’t give to follow you and Kriste to that thrift store where you took your purged supplies :).
    I was so crushed that I missed out on the online sale – we’re in the middle of the process of selling one house and getting ready to close on a new one, and I’ve been in a mud pit of phone calls and emails and completely missed out. I knew I wouldn’t be fast enough for any antiques, but I thought I’d at least have a shot at a cleaning brush or pair of little black scissors! Hopefully those might make the cut to be part of the regular supply :).

  23. Marian, you are such an inspiration to me and someone I look up to as I get my vintage business off the ground.
    I’m hoping you can shed some light on shipping…
    I am overwhelmed with the whole process and what sized box to get since my items are different sizes/shapes/weights (I know it might seem silly, but it’s something that really freaks me out!) Since you’ve sold similar items, what size boxes and mailers did you have on hand?
    Do you ship things USPS first class? Is it wise to offer free shipping?
    Thank you for your wisdom 🙂

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