Getting great product photos often seems daunting, but it’s simpler than you might think.
As an experienced product photographer, I’ve spent years learning the ins and outs of the craft. And in this article, I aim to share it all:
- How to keep your images ultra-high quality
- How to light your product photography for beautiful results
- How to ensure your clients remain as satisfied as possible
- Much more!
Ready to level up your product photography skills? Then let’s dive right in, starting with my first tip:
1. Get your camera on a tripod
In product photography, tripods are essential.
For one, they protect against blur. Once you mount your camera (or smartphone) on a tripod, then you can lengthen your shutter speed as much as you like without risking camera shake.
And as you might expect, keeping your images crisp is of the utmost importance.
After all, if viewers can’t see the product clearly, they’re liable to move on and choose a different supplier! Take a look at the two images below, and ask yourself: Which is more likely to make me buy the dice?
So what tripod should you buy? There are a huge variety of tripods available, all with different features and at different price points. As long as the tripod is strong enough to support your gear, you’ll probably be just fine – though if you can afford it, consider grabbing a tripod that can bend your camera over at ninety degrees. That way, you can easily capture popular flat-lay shots for Instagram.
If you’re working on a limited budget and you can’t yet grab a tripod, then you have two options:
- You can support your camera on a steady surface, such as a table or a stack of books
- You can shoot using a relatively fast shutter speed (to prevent blur due to camera shake)
The first option works, but it doesn’t offer a whole lot of flexibility (and you can’t use it to capture those beautiful flat-lay images that are so popular!). The second option is often better, especially if you want to shoot your product from many different angles, but beware: Unless you’re working in strong light, you’ll need to increase your ISO (which will increase image noise).
By the way, another advantage of tripods is that they hold your camera in one place while you work on your composition. If you’re creating styled images (as opposed to shooting flat e-commerce photos), then it might take a couple of attempts to get the shot right. You can set up your camera, take some time to arrange your product(s), and take a photo. You can then check the result, make some changes to the arrangement, and shoot some more – without changing your camera angle.
2. Use the right lighting for the product
Let’s bust a myth: Good product lighting doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming.
Yes, there are certain product photographers who spend hours or even days lighting a single setup and getting it perfect. And there are product photographers who work in a studio with a handful of strobes and dozens of modifiers. But while there is a time and a place for slow, complex product photography, it’s not necessary for all product photos, and you can certainly capture great product shots without such difficult lighting arrangements.
In fact, you can do product photography with only natural window light; simply put the product on the table (or even the floor) near a window, make sure it’s angled correctly, and start shooting. (Many people successfully photograph products on a table pulled up to a bright window!)
Alternatively, you can take the product outside and still get great results (try shooting during golden hour or on cloudy days for some soft, beautiful light).
With the right backgrounds and props, a product photo certainly doesn’t need to look like it was shot in your kitchen, living room, or front yard.
At the same time, you shouldn’t use just any light. Carefully analyze your product, think about the brand that you’re working with, and pick a form of lighting that matches.
For instance, if you’re photographing a sleek, high-tech product like a laptop, you’ll want a more artificial feel to your light. On the other hand, if you’re photographing some rough leather boots, you’ll get great results by heading outside. Make sense?
3. Shoot the product from multiple angles
Product photography is about helping the customer understand exactly what they’re getting. And when people are buying online, they can’t pick the product up, nor can they touch it.
So it’s your job, as the photographer, to convey all the small details to a potential purchaser.
The best way to do that? Make sure you capture a variety of product angles.
Shoot from above. Shoot from the left and the right. Make sure you emphasize every portion of the product, including all the little details.
In fact, if the product includes intricate details, be sure to get in close. That’s what I did when photographing this beautiful item:
Close-up shots are especially important if the item is handmade. By getting in close, you can convey the care and consideration the artisan put into their work. These little details are what differentiates handmade products from their mass-manufactured counterparts – so be sure to show them off!
And shooting multiple angles comes with a big bonus: It generates lots more content for social media accounts. Many business owners want to post regularly on social media, but they struggle to generate enough content; if you provide them with dozens of images, all taken from different angles, it can really help them out.
4. Find out how the images will be displayed
Different product images are used in different ways.
For instance, a client might want to use your photos for social media – or they might plan to use your photos on an e-commerce website. Plus, different vendors will have different specifications for how photographs look best on their sites. Some might prefer 3:2 landscape images, while others will work only with square-format files.
Bottom line: You should ask clients in advance how your photos will be used.
And then you should tailor your product photos to their specifications.
For instance, if you are shooting for someone with an Etsy store, they might want photos that look great on their product page (generally portrait-orientation shots) and that work well as search thumbnails (these are landscape oriented). So you should carefully capture images that look good when cropped to both portrait and landscape orientations. (You may want to leave plenty of white space around the product, which you can then delete in post-processing.)
Instagram can be a particularly tough platform to shoot for. Images should ideally be posted in a 5:4 ratio to take up as much space as possible when viewers scroll through their feeds – but on user profile grids, images are automatically cropped to a 1:1 square format, which means you’ll lose details at the top and bottom! And the Instagram Stories feature uses images in a 16:9 ratio, which is much taller and skinnier than the feed.
You can handle this in a few different ways, but I generally shoot with the 16:9 ratio in mind, as I know I can almost always crop other ratios out of that base image.
Also, be sure to research or ask about the image sizes that each online platform uses. If your product images are too small, they’ll end up looking pixellated or blurry when uploaded.
5. Don’t forget the packaging
A huge percentage of product sales happen online, so the packing of a product contributes heavily to the first impression of a brand.
As a result, artisan companies and small businesses often spend lots of time considering their packaging and branding – which means that you’ll have a beautiful, complementary prop to include in your shots.
You can capture plenty of photos featuring both the product and the box. Try shooting the product in the box, the product on top of the box, and the product next to the box. And if the packaging is interesting enough, shoot it on its own.
This will add a bit of spice to your photos, it will emphasize the brand, and it will show the buyer that their purchase will get to them safely. (The latter point is especially important if you’re photographing a product that is breakable or will likely be given as a gift. If you can show well-made packaging, it’ll help instill confidence in the brand!)
Plus, on platforms like Etsy, the store owner will have multiple slots to upload images of their product. Packaging photos are great for showing off the product in a new way!
Product photography: final words
Hopefully, you now feel ready to capture some beautiful product photos of your own.
Just remember the tips I’ve shared, and you’ll do just fine. Of course, be sure to spend time practicing; soon, you’ll be capturing product photography like a pro.