Starting your business on a shoe-string? There are a lot of expenses when you start a business. Sometimes the budget doesn’t allow you to do everything at once. This is where the DIY Product Photography Guide can help. I’ll be showing you how to take product photos at home for your small business.
How do I take professional looking photos for a product?
In business, you want to put your best foot forward. Consumers judge your brand and the quality of your products based on the images you use. Especially if you are selling online.
Having professional product photography can take your business to the next level, but not all start-ups can afford this. So knowing how to take good photos of your products to sell them online can help. After all, the photo could make or break a sale since most online shoppers buy based on the pictures.
Your DIY product photography equipment setup:
I’m going to keep this pretty basic since you probably want to save your budget. Unfortunately there will be some equipment needed, but you may already have some of them.
You will need:
1. A camera
2. A tripod
3 A table
4. A room with a large window
5. A white background
7. Tacky putty
8. A sheet or two of white foam core board.
9. A computer
DIY product photography camera:
Most people believe the better the quality of the camera, the better the photo will look. That isn’t true. The better the skill of the photographer, the better the photo will look. You gain skill through repetition, so with time, your photos will begin to look better and better.
What makes a good product photo is a combination of imagination, setting, styling, lighting, angle, focus, exposure and editing.
So you don’t need to run out and buy an expensive camera or high quality lens. You can start with an automatic digital camera or your phone. While I usually recommend at least an entry level DSLR camera, you can get started with the basics you have to learn and grow.
Camera shake is real and can affect the clarity of your images. For product photography, you definitely want your item(s) to be in focus.
There are laws in photography that you can’t break to get a beautiful photo. One is the less light on your product, the slower your shutter must be. A slow shutter means a greater risk of shake, resulting in a blurry photo.
If you are shooting on automatic, you need to remember this.
If you are shooting on manual or another mode, you may be able to compensate. But raising shutter speed by opening the aperture or raising the ISO will affect the images in other ways.
All this to say, a tripod is definitely recommended to keep your camera still when photographing products.
There are tripods available for most cameras and even tripods for phones. So take my advice, if you want professional looking photos, invest in a tripod. Even a low cost one will help when starting.
All you need is a table your product will fit on. It should be light weight so you can move it by the window to get natural light on your product.
Room with large window:
The best product photography uses studio lighting and flashes to control where and how light falls on the scene. Studio lighting isn’t cheap, but the good news is, you can take product photos with natural light!
Natural light will change depending on the time of day, if it is rainy, cloudy or bright. So while you may not always get the lighting you want, you can still use it to take photos.
Being close to the window will create a soft light with dark shadows. There are three ways to position your table and product depending on the look you want.
1. From the side, where one side of the product is well lit, placing the other side in shadow. (We can fix that!)
2. At a 45 degree angle so a soft light cascade across the product giving a nice gradation from light to shadow.
3. 90% facing the window, with your camera in between the window and the product. This give you full frontal lighting that is fairly soft.
The further you move the table from the window, the harder the light will become. What does that mean? It creates a harder edge, not the soft wrapping of light that results in softer shadows.
A white background:
Most e-commerce photographs are on a white background. A pure white background can be difficult to achieve at first. You want a pure white, or RGB 255,255,255. If you overexpose the background, the light will reflect onto your product making it less appealing.
You will see people selling foldable photo booths with LED lighting. Save your money, they are junk. The best way to get a white background is this:
Get a white paper roll, I’ve linked to it here. (These Amazon links are affiliate links, if you use them, you pay the same, but Amazon gives me a few cents for advertising. Thanks!)
You want a full, super or bright white. Don’t get off-white or another thinking you can turn it white.
I use paper because it does get dirty. When that happens, you can cut that part off the roll and you have a clean background. There are several ways you can hang the paper, use a rod suspended between two high back chairs or on stands. Tape it to the wall, etc.
You’ll want to pull the paper down and bring it onto the table, taping it at the front. This forms a sweep, a curve that has no horizon line. You can now set your product on this sweep and take the picture.
Discussed above, tape is very important for the photographer. It can be used to tape down backgrounds and keep things in place when you style them for a shoot. I prefer fabric gaff tape for this. It tears easily and the adhesive sticks to most things but doesn’t leave residue when removed.
I find tacky putty extremely helpful. A small pellet can keep cans from rolling, or keep a small object in place. You’ll find a hundred uses for tacky putty as you go on your product photography journey.
White foam board:
You can get white and black foam board at most art supply stores. I’ve even found it in Walmart and on Amazon. (Buy it from a store though – the Amazon pricing on this is crazy because they add the oversized shipping to the price.)
White foam board can be placed opposite your light source to reflect light back onto the shadow side of your product. Black foam core can be used to mask off light you don’t want shining on your product.
Computer (tablet or phone):
Before you upload your images, you will want to retouch them using software and optimize them for your website. I prefer to use a large monitor when I do this so I can examine the details. If you prefer a tablet or doing it on your phone, that is up to you.
When you retouch the image, you want to remove any dust or blemishes from the product. For white backgrounds, you will need to raise the white level and compensate that with other color levels.
It is also important to make sure the product is the correct color. Incorrect coloring can result in a lot of returns, especially if selling furniture, clothing or makeup.
How to take product photos at home.
Now that you have your equipment, it is time to start.
Planning your photoshoot.
The first thing to do is Google your product and look at the images that come up. Never copy these photos, but use them to inspire you. How can you make those photos different and better so they stand out?
You may also want to look at ideas for related or different products. For example, if your product is men’s watches, you may want to look at how women’s earrings are photographed. If it is a rugged watch, look at sports and energy drinks. Is there anything you can pull in to your shoot to make a better photo? Not props, but looks, styles, background ideas for lifestyle shots?
Also create a shot list, so you know how many photos you need for each product and how you want to photograph each one. The shot list should be checked off during the shoot. It can save you from forgetting a shot and needing to set everything up again.
Composing your photo.
Great product photos take time. When you get everything set up to shoot, it is a good to have a bunch of ideas to try. I usually start with very rough pencil or pen sketches. A circle can represent a plate, an oval a bottle, etc. You don’t have to be an artist, this is just a way to remind yourself when you have the camera.
Setting up your product photography studio:
Position the table by the window the way you want it so the light hits things from the angle you want. (See above – Room with large window:)
Next set up your background sweep, taping it so it doesn’t roll back up or fall on your products.
Have your camera batteries charged and your foam core boards ready.
Set your camera on the tripod and compose your shot. You may need to move the camera, change the angle or adjust the product to get the look you want. Take your time with this. The better your product looks now, the better your photo will look later!
Don’t forget to clean your products before you arrange them. Dirt, dust and marks can be fixed in editing, but you will save time tackling these problems now. Also make sure your product is pristine. If there is a dent or scratch, use a different one if you have it.
Taking your own product photos:
Once the product is styled and the scene composed, it is almost time to take the first shot. Almost? Start the session by cleaning your lens. That is just as important as cleaning your products!
I am not going to go into the settings since they will vary with your lighting, distance from the product, lens, product, etc. If you understand the exposure triangle and want to shoot manually, I highly recommend it.
As a beginner who wants to take good product photos, I’m going to pretend you are on automatic.
Once you take the shot, look at it. Really examine it. Zoom in, is it in focus? Is the background white or gray? If gray, you need to increase your ISO, slow your shutter or open your aperture. If in automatic mode, you may need to change your white balance.
How does the light on the product look? Are the shadows what you want? Or do you want to try again?
My recommendation is you continue shooting. Not the same picture, but experimenting with the white boards to reflect light onto the dark side of the product.
Don’t rush this process. The more photos with different variations you have, the greater the chance you will end up with a photo you love.
Some photographers continue to take photos without changing anything. I’m not sure why. If nothing changes, you simply have a lot of the same photo – so each one should use different reflections, masking with black foam core, etc.
Extra product photos for e-commerce:
Online, people want to see the product from different angles. To do this, you will need to take several photos of each product from those angles.
The good news, you won’t have to change much in the way of camera settings or lighting! Although keep in mind natural lighting does change.
Another good idea is to take close ups of your product so people can see the texture and quality. Instead of zooming in, move your camera closer. Especially if using a phone camera. Digital zooms will cause pixelization and your images will look inferior.
Retouching & editing product photos:
The photograph that your camera took should be retouched, edited, sized and optimized before going online.
As I mentioned above, cleaning up the image, setting levels and sharpening certain aspects of the image will do wonders. For this, I use both Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. These are a subscription product and have a long learning curve.
You can try apps, but I do recommend you stay away from filters. While they are great for styling social media content, they don’t do well for e-commerce and online stores.
Getting a pure white background can be difficult:
Another option to help your photo is to use a retouching service. They can separate your product from the background and give you a pure white 255, 255, 255 RGB.
While these services vary in price, quality and turn around, it is usually cheaper than the time it will take you to learn to edit.
Sizing your images:
Hi-resolution images are overkill for the Internet. The file sizes are large and slow down websites. The best way to keep your image looking good online, is to size it yourself.
Save photos you upload onto the internet at the size they will be displayed. This makes it faster for web browsers to load since the image won’t need to be sized by software.
Compressing your images:
Once you have sized your product photos, I recommend running them through a program called JPEGmini. This app is designed to compress images while maintaining quality. You want to upload the smallest image file with the best quality you can.
Things to remember about taking your own product photography.
High quality product photos increase revenue by making your product more appealing to consumers.
Make certain colors match. Otherwise, you will be dealing with returns which cost your business money.
Improving your product photography skills takes time and costs money in education and equipment.
You will find natural light is great for some images and not good for others. If you decide to get studio lights you will need to learn proper lighting techniques and camera settings to get the best photos.
Product photos can make or break your business. As you grow, hiring a product photographer will be a solid investment in your e-commerce success. When that time comes, I hope you will reach out!
Wishing you the best with your start-up!
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