Welcome to the the merchandise photography ideas guide —2024 style!

My name is Tom Crowl, a professional product photographer from Westminster, Maryland USA who helps startups and small businesses build their online presence with product & branding photography. I work with both physical product and SaaS businesses.

Using my knowledge from shooting tens of thousands of images, I’m here to help you generate more ideas to raise your merchandise photography game.


Simple snapshots don’t make sales anymore.


Consumers are bombarded with merchandise offers everyday and the images are captivating to help businesses cut through the clutter.

Why? Because they’re not just pictures; they’re the visual handshake between your brand and potential customers. And nobody likes a limp handshake, it just doesn’t instill confidence.

In this guide, we’ll dive headfirst into the deep end of advanced techniques, different styles of product photography and innovative ideas.

(Don’t worry, there are floaties if you need them – and this is a judgement free zone!)

We’re going to be talking about making products levitate, adding textures that you can almost feel through the screen, and even hiring models that add that extra “oomph” to your merchandise.

But that is just the tip of a pretty big iceberg …

Intrigued? You should be!

small business product photography


Why Advanced Merchandise Photography Matters


I’m about to drop some truth bombs.

Advanced merchandise photography isn’t just a fancy term; it’s a game-changer.

In the world of eCommerce, product images are the frontline soldiers, battling for consumer attention. A well-executed photo can be the difference between a glance and a sale.

But it’s not just about making sales. It’s much bigger than that.

Exceptional merchandise photography enhances brand perception. It’s like putting on a tailored suit for a job interview; you instantly command respect and attention.

Your images tell a story, evoke emotions, and let’s face it, they can make your brand look cooler than a polar bear in Ray-Bans.

So, let’s transform your brand’s visual narrative from ordinary to extraordinary!


The Art of Making Products Float



Floating bottle of lotion



Let’s start with some real wizardry.

Making products float in your photos isn’t just for the David Copperfields of the world; it’s a simple technique that can add a sprinkle of magic to your merchandise photography.

And no, we’re not talking about just hanging your product with fishing line—although that’s a classic move. We’re going beyond that, way beyond!

Ever thought about tossing your product into the air and capturing that perfect airborne moment?

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. The image below is one I took with a pocket watch, tossing it gently into the air and catching it on the way down.


floating pocket watch product shot


With a well-timed flash, you can freeze your product in mid-air, making it look like it’s defying gravity. Just make sure you’ve got soft hands or a safety net for the landing!

Acrylic rods, skewers, or even sticks can be your best friends here. Use them to suspend your product in a way that makes it look like it’s floating. The best part? You can make these supporting items vanish in post-production like a magician’s assistant. Poof!

And here’s a pro tip: Take a photo of your backdrop first. Then, without changing the camera angle or lighting, add your product on a rod or stool. This allows you to easily mask out the support in post-production, leaving you with a product that looks like it’s floating on air.

So, are you ready to make your products levitate? Give it a try, you’ll be amazed at the results.


The Power of Personal Connection: Hiring Models (Adult/Children/Pet)


Now that you’ve mastered the art of making products float. What’s next on the agenda?

Humans! Or more specifically, models. Now, before you start scrolling through your contacts for that friend who’s “okay in front of a camera,” let’s talk about the types of models that can truly elevate your merchandise photography.


Types of Models


Hand Models:

Perfect for showcasing jewelry, watches, or anything that requires a delicate touch. These are the folks whose hands you’ve probably admired in commercials but never knew who they belonged to.


Model product photography - hand model



Fashion Models:

Ideal for clothing and accessories, these models know how to strut their stuff without overshadowing the product. It’s like having a walking, talking mannequin, but way cooler.


Tasting Room Server at Winery - wine photographer: Tom Crowl



Child Models:

You may want to go with the cuteness factor! If your product is kid-friendly, a child model can add an element of innocence and playfulness. Just make sure you’re following all the legal guidelines for working with minors.


Pet Models:

Fido and Whiskers aren’t just for viral videos; they can be the stars of your product photos too. Imagine a dog collar looking ten times more appealing when it’s on an adorable pup.


Posing Models for Maximum Impact


The key here is balance. You want your model to complement the product, not overshadow it.

If you aren’t familiar with posing models, I recommend you check out Udemy or Skillshare to find a course that can help you become more comfortable with the skill. When you are confident, models will take directions better.


Common-Sense Practices


Child Models:

Always have a guardian present and ensure you’re adhering to child labor laws.


Pet Models:

Unless you’re working with a pro animal actor, pet-proof your set. Have a handler on standby and keep treats and toys to capture their attention. Because let’s face it, a distracted pet can turn a photo shoot into a circus real quick.

So, ready to add some life to your merchandise photos? Remember, the right model can be the secret sauce that takes your images from “nice” to “where do I buy this right now?”


Adding Texture for a Tactile Experience


Let’s talk texture! Texture in merchandise photography is like the bass guitar in a rock band. You might not always notice it, but take it away, and something feels off.

Texture in merchandise photos adds depth, dimension, and a tactile quality that can make your audience want to reach out and touch the screen.


The Psychology of Texture


Different textures evoke different emotions and reactions.

A velvet background might scream luxury, while a rustic wood texture could evoke feelings of warmth and nostalgia.

It’s all about choosing the right texture to match the vibe of your product and brand.


Fabric Styles and What They Convey


Velvet: Luxury and sophistication. Ideal for high-end jewelry or fashion items.

Tweed: Classic and timeless. Think academia or traditional clothing.

Corduroy: Casual yet textured. Great for laid-back, everyday products.

Chenille: Soft and inviting. Perfect for home goods like pillows or blankets.

Lace: Delicate and feminine. Ideal for lingerie or bridal products.

Felt: Simple and functional. Often used for tech accessories.

Poplin: Crisp and clean. Works well for formal wear or office products.

Burlap: Rustic and artisanal. Ideal for organic or farm-to-table items.

Canvas: Versatile and neutral. Great for casual wear or art supplies.

Fake Fur: Bold and extravagant. Think statement pieces or unique accessories.

Leather / Faux Leather: Sleek and edgy. Great for motorcycle gear or modern furniture.


Natural Textures and What They Convey


Dirt, Sand, Grass: Earthy and natural. Ideal for outdoor or adventure products.

Leaves, Sticks, Wood: Organic and rustic. Great for eco-friendly or artisanal items.

Marble, Glass, Textured Glass: Elegant and modern. Perfect for luxury home goods or tech products.

Metals, Rust: Industrial and rugged. Think tools or machinery.

Concrete, Asphalt: Urban and contemporary. Ideal for streetwear or modern home decor.

Screens: Techy and futuristic. Great for electronic products.


Other Textures

Flour, Plants, Papers: These can add a whimsical or artistic touch, depending on how they’re used.

Foods & Fruits: Cut a piece of fruit in half for an organic texture, add some pasta or rice for something different.


Try adding some tactile magic to your merchandise photos because the right texture can turn your product image into a sensory experience that’s hard to forget.



The Drama of Colored Backgrounds


Now let’s add a splash of color to this conversation!

Colored backgrounds in merchandise photography are like the special effects in a blockbuster movie. Done right, they can turn your product into the star of the show.

Done wrong, and well, let’s just say that movie will be released unheralded on a free streaming service …


Choosing the Right Color Palette


Picking the right color isn’t just about what looks good; it’s a strategic move. You want colors that not only complement your product but also align with your brand’s identity.

For instance, a neon green background might be perfect for a tech startup but a no-go for a vintage clothing line.


The Impact on Viewer Emotion


Colors are more than just eye candy; they’re emotional triggers. Understanding the psychology behind colors can help you make more informed choices for your backgrounds.


Here’s a quick rundown:


Red: Evokes passion, urgency, and excitement. Ideal for products that demand immediate attention.

Blue: Calming and soothing, it’s often used for health and wellness products.

Yellow: Uplifting and energizing, perfect for youthful, fun brands.

Green: Associated with health, tranquility, and nature. Great for eco-friendly or outdoor products.

Purple: Conveys luxury, sophistication, and mystery. Ideal for high-end products.

Orange: Energetic and vibrant, it’s often used to encourage impulsive buying.

Black: Sleek and versatile, it adds a touch of elegance and luxury.

White: Clean and simple, it offers a neutral backdrop that lets the product shine.

Pink: Romantic and feminine, it’s commonly used for beauty and fashion products.

Brown: Earthy and reliable, it’s good for products that want to convey durability and stability.


Types of Colors and Their Impact


Not all reds are created equal, and the same goes for every color in the spectrum. The type of color you choose can dramatically alter the mood of your image.


Pastels: Soft and soothing, pastel colors are great for products that aim to convey gentleness or femininity. Think baby products or spring fashion lines.

Bold Colors: These are your attention-grabbers. Bold colors work well for products that are dynamic and exciting, like sports equipment or tech gadgets.

Neutrals: Understated and versatile, neutral colors like beige, gray, or taupe can give your product a timeless, classic feel. Ideal for luxury items or anything that aims for a minimalist aesthetic.

Metallics: Gold, silver, and bronze shades add a touch of opulence and glamour. Perfect for high-end products or holiday-themed items.

Earth Tones: These colors, like forest green or deep brown, convey a sense of naturalness and authenticity. They’re excellent for eco-friendly or artisanal products.


So, whether you’re going for a soft, romantic vibe or a dynamic, eye-catching look, the type of color you choose is just as important as the color itself.

Armed with this color psychology, are you ready to choose the perfect backdrop for your merchandise photos?


merchandise in front of a backdrop illuminated with a purple gel.


Illuminate Your Backdrop for That Extra Pop


Let’s shed some light on a topic that’s often overlooked but can add a lot of interest to your merchandise photography: illuminating your backdrop.

Think of it as setting the stage for a Broadway show. The right lighting can turn even a mundane product into a superstar.


Types of Lighting


Softbox: Provides diffused, even lighting. Ideal for eliminating harsh shadows and giving your product a clean, professional look.

Ring Light: Creates a halo effect, which can add a dramatic flair to your product. Especially popular in beauty and fashion photography.

Spotlight: Focuses light on a specific area, creating a sense of importance and drama. Great for highlighting unique features of a product.

Natural Light: Nothing beats the sun for a natural, authentic feel. Best for outdoor products or those that benefit from a more organic setting.


Lighting Angles


Backlighting: Creates a silhouette effect, adding depth and dimension to your product.

Sidelighting: Highlights texture and detail, making it ideal for products with intricate designs or features.

Top-Down Lighting: Creates a flat, even light that’s good for showcasing the overall shape and color of a product.


Creative Techniques


Colored Gels: These can be placed over your light source to add a tint of color to your backdrop, subtly changing the mood of your image.

Light Painting: A more advanced technique where you move a light source during a long exposure to create streaks or patterns.

I definitely recommend you try light painting if the concept fits your brand/merchandise.  Below are two examples of light painting I created. Using different colored lights, pointing them in different directions and moving them about will provide you with amazing colored backgrounds and no two will be the same!



Dual images of a product with different light painted backgrounds.


So, let your product step into the spotlight and give your merchandise photos the illumination they deserve! With the right lighting, your products won’t just be seen; they’ll be remembered.

Reflections: The Mirror to Your Product’s Soul

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who has the most captivating merchandise photos of them all?

If you play your cards right, it could be you!

Reflections is one of the merchandise photography ideas that can add a layer of sophistication and depth to your images it would be hard to achieve otherwise.


Types of Reflections


Mirror Reflections: These offer a clean, symmetrical look that doubles the visual impact of your product. Ideal for showcasing the design and form of an item.

Water Reflections: These add a natural, organic feel to your images. Think of a perfume bottle reflected in a pool of water for that extra touch of elegance.

Glass or Plexiglass: Provides a subtle reflection that can make your product seem like it’s floating on air. It’s a less intense but equally effective option.


How to Create Reflections


Reflective Surfaces: Using a mirror, water, or shiny material as your base can instantly create a reflective effect.

Post-Production: If you’re a wizard with photo editing software, you can also add reflections during the editing process for more control over the final look.


Creative Ideas For Reflections


Distorted Reflections: Using a textured or curved reflective surface can create intriguing, abstract reflections that add a unique twist to your images.

Multiple Reflections: Placing mirrors at different angles can create a kaleidoscope effect, adding complexity and interest to your product photos.

Aspirational Reflections: Imagine a chess rook looking into a mirror and seeing the reflection of a king. This technique can add a narrative layer to your images, giving the viewer a story that the product aspires to be more.


Take some time to reflect on the endless possibilities that this technique offers.


Food & Beverage Photography


The image above combines the ideas of reflection and using backdrop illumination to create a powerful image.


Capturing the Unseen: Smoke, Movement, and Illusions


Now let’s kick it up a notch. If you’re looking to add a dash of the extraordinary to your merchandise photos, you’ve come to the right section.

From the ethereal quality of smoke to the dynamic feel of movement, these techniques can make your product photos truly unforgettable.


Smoke Effects


Types of Smoke Creators:

You’ve got options! Incense, matches, cigarettes, vapes, hand-held smoke machines, and larger “Halloween or DJ style” fog machines can all be used to create different types of smoke effects.

Colored Smoke:

Using smoke bombs or colored smoke pellets can add a mystical or dramatic flair to your images. Imagine a watch enveloped in a cloud of purple smoke, for instance.

I recommend you be careful if working with smoke bombs indoors. Personally I’ve blown blue out of my nose for a few days and had some hand tint because of a blue smoke bomb.  Wear a mask!


Smoke Trails:

These can create a sense of motion or direction, leading the viewer’s eye to the product.

Smoke trails can be easily created with incense or a blown out match or candle.  Before you start, make sure your shot is set and your camera is ready, smoke trails won’t last too long. 


Safety First:

Always ensure adequate airflow and fire safety when using flame-based smoke creators like incense or matches. Machines can get hot, so handle with care and keep them away from anything flamable. And while the smoke or fog may be safe, it’s best to avoid breathing it in excessively.


Final Notes About Using Smoke & Fog In Merchandise Photography:

Be patient and take a lot of photos. If smoke obscures a part of the product, you’ll need to have options unless that was the look you wanted. You can’t control where smoke or fog goes, you can direct it, but you can’t completely control it.

Don’t go overboard! Too much smoke or fog can detract from your merchandise. Experiment – don’t be afraid to fail and try again.

Maryland commercial photographyUsing smoke to create light streaks behind the can for a moody background.



Movement and Illusions


Long Exposure: This technique can capture movement over time, creating a blurred or streaked effect that adds dynamism to your images.

Rotated Images: Sometimes, all it takes to catch the eye is a different perspective. Try rotating your images to create an unexpected, attention-grabbing effect.


Optical Illusions: Think outside the box by incorporating visual tricks that make the viewer do a double-take. For example, use forced perspective to make a product appear larger or smaller than it actually is.


The Illusion of Movement


Stop Motion: This involves taking a series of photos with slight changes in position to create the illusion of movement when viewed in sequence.

For more information on Stop Motion Product Animations, click here.


Action Shots: Capture your product in the middle of an action, like a flying frisbee or a splashing drink, to convey energy and excitement.


Liquids: From liquid pours to splashes, to ripples or waves in an acrylic tray or a tank, liquids can add a dynamic layer to your images, enhancing the illusion of movement.  

Below is an of example of a liquid pour and a splash technique I used to create a bubbling stream look.


Creative Product Photography


With these action techniques, your merchandise photos won’t just be seen; they’ll be experienced.


Case Studies: Examples of Exceptional Merchandise Photography


Let’s dive into some real-world examples that showcase how these techniques can be applied to create stunning merchandise photos.

These case studies cover a range of the photography ideas I shared to give you a well-rounded perspective.


Food & Beverage: The Art of Liquid Movement


In this example, a high-speed camera was used to capture a “one second before scene”, creating a dynamic splash effect.

Here you see just before the three shot glasses go smashing to the ground. Their liquid contents already escaping from the glass as a start of the spill.

The use of backlighting and a dark, neutral background made the moonshine the star of the show and the implied movement of the spill made the image draws attention.


All-inclusive product photography services in Maryland and the DMV



Beauty: The Power of Pink


Here, cosmetics are arranged in front of a mauve-pink colored background. The natural tones of the cosmetics, the coloring of the backdrop and their packaging, and the use of clear acrylic risers to style the display keep the focus exactly where it is supposed to be … on the merchandise.




The Precision Of Engineering: Macro Minimalism

If your product is, itself, a work of art, there is no better way to showcase it’s details than macro photography. By making it the unmistakeable center of attention, you show that your brand means quality.

Requiring a macro lens, this image benefits from the diffused light of a softbox to avoid harsh shadows on the gears and surfaces.




Each of these case studies demonstrates the transformative power of creative merchandise photography.

Whether you’re in food & beverage, beauty, technology or any other market, the right techniques can elevate your product photos from mundane to magnificent.


Next Steps


You’ve made it to the end, but your journey in mastering merchandise photography is just getting started.

From making products float to capturing the perfect pour, you’ve got a toolbox brimming with ideas and techniques to try out.


What’s Next?


Practice, Practice, Practice:

The more you shoot, the more you learn. Digital images can be erased, so you have no excuse when it comes to storage.

They say your first 10,000 photos are your worst. So grab your camera and start experimenting with all the techniques you’ve discovered.


Review and Refine:

After each shoot, take some time to review your shots. What worked? What didn’t?

How was your camera exposure?  Too light?  Too dark? 

Use this feedback to refine your approach for next time.


Stay Updated:

The world of photography is ever-evolving. Keep an eye out for new techniques, tools, and trends to stay ahead of the curve.


Your Next Level Awaits


So, are you ready to take your merchandise photography to new heights? The only limit is your creativity, and with these ideas in hand, you should be able to set that on fire!

Now go out there and create some jaw-dropping images that not only showcase your products but tell their stories in the most captivating way possible.


Need Help?

As a product photographer, my business is helping people sell more merchandise and promote their brand through eye-catching, sales inspiring imagery.

If you are a small business wanting to step up your online image, fill out the form below to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation call.  I look forward to hearing about your business!


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