To get great product photos, you need to have a successful photo shoot. But you don’t have to be a professional photographer or have access to a photography studio to make this happen. You can create a product photography set-up at home or take great photos outdoors using these tools and tips.
Whether you’re an experienced photographer looking to streamline your process or a beginner just getting started, the tips here will help you get more from your photos. Follow these best practices to plan a successful shoot.
Before you begin, think about the different aspects of your products you’re trying to highlight, and the best way to capture them. This will help you plan the order of your shots (for example, taking all the close-up detail shots before switching lenses for photographing your product from a distance) and help determine which specific equipment you will need for your shoot.
Photo shoots are time consuming and labor intensive, but you can save time and create consistency by photographing multiple items at once. Schedule time for photography, and jot down the date, time of day, weather, and lighting conditions each time you shoot, so that you can replicate the same conditions in your next photo shoot.
When planning a photo shoot, gather all the equipment you may need. Specific materials may vary depending on where you are shooting, but this checklist is a good start.
Photographing your products against simple, uncluttered backgrounds keeps a shopper’s attention on your product, not its surroundings. Choose a background that complements and showcases your product, but doesn’t distract from it. Examples of good, easily available backgrounds include seamless rolls (or large pieces) of paper or smooth fabric or a clean light-coloured wall. When in doubt, select a background with a neutral colour such as white or gray. Taking your photographs using a few consistent backgrounds helps to create a cohesive-looking brand and shop.
To achieve a smooth, clean background, hang a roll of seamless paper behind your product, either by attaching it to the wall, piece of cardboard, or by hanging from a backdrop frame. Then, roll or extend it gently down the wall, laying it over the surface you plan to place your product on (for example, a table – or the floor if it’s a large object). Weigh the material down at the bottom, but be careful when handling the background material not to crease or wrinkle it. Leave a slight curve in the material, and when positioning your product, be sure to place it several inches in front of where the background curves. Keep tape and clips handy for securing and adjusting your seamless background.
Outdoor settings can be ideal for conveying the context of your products through lifestyle photos. For example, if you sell backpacks, photographing a model wearing one while taking a hike can help convey the utility of your product and help shoppers envision themselves using it. (It can also subtly convey the message that using this bag will make them more adventurous.) Try mixing outdoor backgrounds that give your products context with a few indoor studio shots, that so shoppers get the essential info they need about your products.
Good lighting is key to good photography. It makes it easier for shoppers to accurately see the details and colours of your products. When lighting your products, the key is to avoid harsh light, whether it’s direct sunlight, a strong fluorescent indoor bulb or a flash on your camera.
Don’t have lighting equipment? Sunlight makes for beautiful photos, with a few tricks:
Diffuse the light: To avoid harsh shadows, use indirect sunlight. If you’re shooting outdoors, wait for a cloudy day. Harsh sunlight can create unwanted shadows. You can also avoid harsh direct sunlight by shooting in the partial shade and outside the hours when the sun is brightest. When taking photographs indoors using natural light, try positioning your products a few feet from a window, and aim for a time of day when light is plentiful but not shining directly on your product (overly bright light can cause details to get washed out). If the light is still too bright, try hanging a thin white bedsheet over the window to diffuse the light and create a soft glow.
Use bounce cards: On cloudy days, you can use a bounce card to reflect light onto your product. Easy DIY bounce cards (also called reflectors) can be made from white poster board or a piece of cardboard covered in tin foil. Wearing white clothes when taking photos can also help reflect light back onto your product.
Don’t mix the light: For best results, avoid mixing natural light and artificial light, because they have different colour tones.
In some ways, artificial light is easier to work with, since you can control it. Read these tips for working with the various types of artificial light available.
Invest in box lights: In general, the overhead lights in your home won’t produce enough light to illuminate your product well, and using a single spotlight lamp can create unflattering shadows. For best results, try setting up two or three softbox lights (artificial lights that are diffused by a sheer fabric) to light your products from both sides and above. Lighting from the top and two sides helps to reduce the shadows. These are essentially studio lamps on stands that can be moved around to light your product.
Use a light box or tent for small items: If you shoot small items, you could opt for one of these mini studios that filter the light coming in. A light box (with solid walls) or light tent (with fabric walls) can streamline your process with a consistent backdrop and light source.
Be careful with flash: While we recommend against using your camera’s built-in flash (because the flash is located by the lens, using it can result in flat, washed out images), you can use an external flash or Speedlight paired with a DSLR or mirrorless camera for better results. A radio-controlled model that can be moved around your object gives you more control over the direction of the light. A flash diffuser can also help to disperse light from the flash, making it less harsh and removing deep shadows.
It’s crucial for product photographs to be in focus, because clear product shots give shoppers more confidence to make a purchase. Use these tips to get sharp shots.
Taking clear photos of your products requires a steady camera. If you hold the camera with your hands, it’s likely that you will slightly move the camera while photographing, and your photos will come out blurry. Stabilise your camera by placing it on a tripod or solid surface, such as a sturdy stack of books. Any hard surface will provide stability, but a tripod will give you more leverage to adjust your camera angle.
Take manual control of exposure, but let your camera do the work when it comes to focusing. Most cameras that allow you to select an autofocus point can zero in on objects more accurately than you can when you adjust the lens manually. If you notice your photos are blurry, make sure you have the autofocus function of your camera turned on. It’s a small thing that can make a big difference in the quality of your photos.
When using a slower shutter speed (in low light conditions, for example), it can be especially difficult to prevent blurriness. The natural movement of your body when you breathe can be enough to jostle the camera. If you can, increase your shutter speed. If not, anchoring your camera will help.
If you are still experiencing some blurriness, it may be that pressing the shutter release button on your camera is creating movement that is affecting the focus. You can avoid that by using a shutter release cable. If you’re having difficulty focusing for close-up shots, try a macro lens. They have built-in image stabilisation that will help you capture a steadier image.
Composing your shot on camera reduces the need for editing after the fact. Instead of haphazardly photographing your product, plan out each shot by looking in your viewfinder and framing the scene.
Determine how you want to position the image. Do you want to shoot your product vertically or horizontally? How close or wide of a shot are you aiming for? Consider from which direction you want to approach your subject (for example, on Osbisy, we recommend varying angles but including at least one clear shot taken from straight on)? Where in the frame do you plan to place your product? You can use the “rule of thirds” for guidance: Imagine you divided your frame into nine parts by drawing two invisible lines in both directions. Research shows that the eye is naturally drawn to the intersections of these invisible lines, so you can help draw shoppers’ attention to your product by placing it in these areas. Position your product so it is centered at one of the points where the lines intersect.
Be mindful of all objects showing in the frame, and compose the shot to only include visual elements that help to highlight your product. For example, when shooting outdoors in a park, make sure the area is clear to avoid capturing any joggers. When shooting inside, be mindful of visual clutter like doorframes and laundry bins. When you’re taking close-up detail shots of your product, you may also capture unwanted details such as lint, fingerprints, or dust bunnies. Take time to clean and tidy the area where you’ll be shooting. The more deliberate you are about each choice and detail, the better your photos will come out.
Before taking too many photos, take some test shots to make sure the lighting, props and composition are to your liking. Since it can be easy to miss details in your camera’s small viewfinder, upload a couple shots to view on a larger monitor. Although this extra step takes time, double-checking that your products look great will save you time in the long run. It’s easier to correct issues with lighting or composition while shooting, rather than trying to correct lighting, fix blurring, and crop out distracting props after the fact.
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