Product photography is everywhere. Every time you shop on Amazon, go to McDonald’s or flick through a magazine – product photography is there.
Even fashion photography is showing you products to buy.
Ninety-nine percent of all purchases (99!) come from an emotional response, not a need. People buy things based on how that product will make them feel. This tells you that moods and feelings in product images help to create something successful.
You’re reading this article. So we’re thinking that you’re on the other side of product photography, and are a professional photographer. Or looking to become one. Or you’re just trying to sell things you own or make yourself. Either through Amazon, Ebay, Etsy or Facebook, your product will need at least 5 images. These images need to show your wares in the best possible light.
Others will be photographing products to be used for advertising or marketing purposes. To sell products from companies to the wide world, through online social media or printed materials such as adverts and billboards.
Regardless of what brought you here, read on. We’ve got all you need to become a master of product photography.
The camera you use is important to a point. You can photograph objects with your smartphone for use on social media. Yet you won’t be able to blow up the image to a large size without loss of quality or sharpness.
DSLRs or Mirrorless systems are great. They are comprehensive cameras that are versatile enough to photograph anything. They only need to have the capacity to shoot in raw, let you use external objects such as lights and allow you to change lenses.
If you have something like that, you’re ahead of the curve and ready for product photography. If not, let’s start here.
When it comes product photography, almost anything will work. Product photographers even use their smartphones and Point & Shoot cameras. The Canon Powershot is a good example.
Our recommendation is to use either your smartphone, mirrorless camera or your DSLR. This will ensure you get the best quality from your images.
They will also give you a range of camera settings to help get the most out of your photography. Depending on the purpose of the images, limitations might apply to your camera choice.
Lenses affect your field of view, the depth of field and the relative distance between objects. Your choice of lens will come down to what you would like to shoot.
A 100 mm lens, for example, is great for macro photography and it brings the foreground and background closer together.
A ‘nifty fifty’ prime lens will have a very shallow depth of field for great differential focus and will work well in low light conditions. A standard zoom lens such as the 24-70 mm option will give you a great deal of versatility. This means having different fields of view without changing the lens.
Smartphone photography has become more and more popular due the technological advances in lenses and processing power. And almost everyone has one in their pocket. This means less expensive equipment needs to be bought.
You already have the camera and access to post-processing apps in one handy bundle. Extra lenses might be beneficial. A tripod, a strong light source and a good workflow are still necessary for this product photography technique.
A tripod adds stability to your creativity. A good tripod will help you out in all kinds of image capturing, especially photography. It should be versatile enough to allow you to shoot from different angles, as you will find different products need different perspectives.
Photographing in an aerial manner is important for food and jewelry, whereas photographing from down-up helps to bring a mood of strength. There are many options for tripods, but the most important factors here are sturdiness, solidness and versatility.
Product photography is all down to the details. This is where colour comes in too.
Colours can either complement each other or cause an interesting juxtaposition.
To get these colours correct, you can set the camera’s white balance to the light temperature used. This becomes problematic if two different light temperatures are being used.
You can correct the white balance and colour in post-processing. This is where a colour checker is important. It isn’t exactly cheap, but it helps you correct your colour to the specifics of the shoot.
It is a little box that shows you many colours, which you photograph first before any other images are taken. During post-processing, you correct the WB using the colour checker image. Voila! It corrects everything to the colours they should be.
There is a multitude of tools that will help you get the best from your product photography. These can be in the studio with you, or they can help you post-process the images.
You might think of using a mini studio box to photograph your products. They are lightweight, portable and compact.
Cheaper than setting up a home studio, and great for small to medium-sized objects!
A folding table might also be handy. You can pack this away when you are finished. No extra space is needed with these two tools.
The accessories you will need for product photography will come down to what you photograph.
Items such as pegs and safety pins will help keep clothing and fabric in place.
Fishing line will allow you to hang items without having it appear in the image.
Blue-tac, tape and glue dots will help keep items still and in the same place.
They could be used to attach an item to another item or background. Have a look through this article full of great accessories to make your life easier.
A mini studio box is a great way to start photographing products. They are perfect for photographers who do not have the space or budget to create a studio.
The boxes are compact and portable, and some come with their own lighting system, so you don’t have to order separately.
The boxes are usually made from a material that acts as a natural diffuser. This is perfect for natural light and flash units. It also allows the light to hit the product evenly without creating harsh shadows and overblown exposures.
When you are finished, they are easy to pack away and store. Simple.
Without light, there can be no photographs. When it comes to product photography, lighting is very important. It has the capacity to outline the item, give it strength and make it stand out. The product needs to be clear and concise, and lighting helps to define it.
In some circumstances, such as photographing on-location, natural light works perfectly. If this is not an option, then studio lighting of some sort is necessary. We can also keep the light in the frame by using reflectors, and stop it from becoming distracting by using flags.
For lighting terminology, see our article here.
Natural light is great for product shots, it is abundant, constant and free to use. A diffuser might be needed to soften the light to allow it to fall upon the product evenly. Reflectors are used to create ‘fill light’ by bouncing the light back into the image.
It can be difficult to harness and control. Yet you can do so with a material, such as a white curtain. This softens the sun’s brightness.
Flags, which stop light, can keep sunlight from reaching certain parts of the product.
Photographing something on location can help to give the product placement. For example, a woman with a shawl draped over her neck and shoulders waiting for a taxi. It puts the item into a perspective people can relate to. Here, natural light is abundant and great to use.
There will be times where you might need a secondary light source. A strobe/flash unit working with a soft-box or umbrella adds that extra fill light to strip the model or product of its harsh shadows.
You might keep the daylight to light the background, and a Speedlite to bring the exposure up on the product.
A studio is a great way to photograph a product as you have complete control over the setting and the light. This is by far the most expensive option as you will need to buy all of the equipment yourself.
An alternative could be that you rent the studio, and have access to all of the equipment. This may be cheaper, but still not cheap.
Creating a portable studio with a few lights is a viable option to keep costs down. This would allow you to pack the equipment away and take it along for an on-location photo shoot. Read this article for a great guide to studio lighting for product photography.
How to Shoot Product Photography
Product photography takes a lot of planning, effort and patience. There is no area of photography that you can get amazing results straight away without some time spent finding your feet.
That said, there is probably nothing more finicky than product photography.
Everything has to be clean and free of dust, the lights need to be the correct exposure and the item needs to look its best. You need to be assertive by taking an image, assessing it and working from there on adjusting the item or the lights.
We will give you the best information in capturing stunning product photographs.
Here, we focus on having the best quality image as possible. This is where the ISO comes into play.
The lower the ISO, the lower the amount of grain, and therefore higher quality.
The aperture will depend on the depth of field you want. Having a ‘faster’ shutter speed means a shallow depth of field, meaning only a tiny part of your product will be in focus. A low shutter speed and focus stacking will create some very sharp, high-quality images.
Read our article here for more great advice on getting the best out of your images.
Tethering your product photography session means connecting your camera to your computer or laptop as you shoot. The images will pop-up on your screen instead of your LCD camera screen.
This allows you to see the image at a bigger size for analysing. You can see if the product is in focus, how the light affects it and if there are any adjustments you need to make. The small LCD screen doesn’t offer you a size where you can see any problems.
This is also a great way to work if you have an assistant working on edits while you photograph. It saves your images straight to your computer, in case of card problems. It also allows clients to see the images and offer advice or criticism.
There are 7 ways that you can photograph your product for e-commerce or advertising. You could choose just to photograph the product in the studio, where it is seen on its own without distractions.
Getting closer to the item gives you a detailed shot.
The item could be photographed on location, and being used in someone’s daily life or routine. This gives the product some context and maybe a sense of scale too.
Perhaps you want to show the viewers how you create the items by showing a work in progress. This brings the viewer or purchaser closer to the product. They’ll feel involved in the intimate workings of its creation.
Have a look through our article for more!
Here is an article showing 5 different ways to shoot product photography. The Lightbox is the simplest way. The sides are already diffused, so just the placement of the lights is left for you to do.
To create a gradient effect, a light is placed under the background facing up. The light’s intensity drops the farther away your product is from the source.
Taking advantage of your surroundings is a helpful way to show a product in a pinch. You could even use some of the equipment you have on hand as part of the “surroundings”.
Lighting a product from the bottom can add creative punch.
The last style, would be to rim light the product. This really helps define the edges and separate the product from the background.
Styling your product means that it is shown in its best possible light. This might mean alongside other items that give the product a context or feeling. Photographing a woollen jumper could benefit from having yarn and knitting needles in the setting.
It might mean that the watch you are photographing needs a blue tone to emphasize the chrome elements.
Something as simple as how you place the product can have a huge impact on its viewers. A textured background can work well for subtle coloured products.
Even having the same item repeated into the background helps to create interest. This is a good place to use colour theory. Certain colours can complement each other to make an all-round, wholesome image.
Photographing jewelry can be challenging. But it also gets your creative and problem solving juices flowing. Some items of jewelry will really pop when photographed in a studio setting. This is because the focus is placed solely on the product.
Other pieces will benefit from being photographed in natural light. Some natural stones really shine when placed in the sun, and their colours really come out. If you are photographing pieces that are quite earthy, then why not try a location or background that emphasizes this quality.
For other situations, showing a model or body part can help to show the item in context and give it a sense of scale. This is what makes the product more personable to the viewer. Give these tips a try.
Food is an extensive niche area of product photography. Yet, as the food has a shelf life, speed or tricks are needed to photograph food successfully.
Natural or artificial light both give different moods and tones to the product. The items also work with colour theory, where colours can complement each other.
The settings in which you photograph these products emphasize the tone of the image and help to give it context. Read our article here for all the tips you will ever need.
Interior photography, like food and apparel, is another area of product photography. It focuses on showing a property for sale or rental.
Planning and photographing these areas is a little different, yet the concept is the same. Lighting equipment such as Speedlites are used to highlight lowlit areas.
Opposite to studio product photography, interior photography uses wide angle lenses. This is due to open spaces needing a wide field of view. By being farther away from the subject, there is less obvious distortion.
Post-processing these images might also differ somewhat. Interior photographs of different exposure values could be fused together. This allows the standardisation of the light in and outside of the property.
As a beginner. tips and techniques are a great way to get you started. Once you get to grips with your lighting setup, here are a few ways in which your product could be shown creatively.
Hanging items allows you to photograph themin ways that are more appealing. Shoes are a good example as hanging the rear side up makes the product look like it is in mid-walk.
Showing the item in a different use than the norm means you can break away from replicating images people have already seen.
Here is a checklist that will take you from the planning stage of your product photographic shoot to the very end.
Start by organising a time where you will have a few hours to spare. Product photography is time-consuming, and you do not want to stress and rush your work. The images will suffer.
Plan your shots, get some research down in the way of a mood board so you know what you are looking for. This will help you see the angles and the light, acting and arranging accordingly.
See the full checklist in our article.
As humans, we are so used to the world being 3D. When we look at product photography, we are only given the sides of the product that the photographer wants to show us. Unless we are holding the object in our hand. But then the idea of product photography has failed.
Recently, we are able to see products in a 3D view, where we can turn the item and zoom in to see the finer details. As a photographer, a special turntable is used that allows you to take a multitude of images of the item. As the item turns, the camera photographs each new position.
You can build these turntables at home, and the 3D viewing software can also be found for free.
Stock photography are images that other photographers have taken. These are bought to be used exclusively or alongside photographs you have taken, to showcase your products.
They can be a viable option as their quality is often filtered, to make sure the images are professional. They can also be cheaper than hiring a studio and photographer.
But keep in mind that these images are not exclusive to you. The chances are high that they have been used before, perhaps for something similar.
This can take away that personable atmosphere of your business.
DIY / Product Photography Hacks
Why buy something expensive when you can easily create your own version of the tools of the trade at home. It keeps your budget light and will help you see that a lot of things can be created in similar ways.
Make it until you make it.
A lightbox can be an expensive item. Especially if it is something you will only use from time to time. The cheaper models come without lights, which is perfect if you already have your own.
As a beginner, I would recommend building your own. Not only does it save you money, but it shows you that quite a few things in the photography world can be built.
Why spend a lot of money on something that you can make, if you have the time? This way, you can learn something and find out if you will photograph enough to warrant an expensive lightbox.
Whether you are photographing jewelry, food or fashion, all product photography needs light. It might even need two sources, where one acts as a key (main) and the other acts as a fill (second). This is handy for eliminating shadows.
Having one Speedlite shouldn’t stop you from photographing that product though. You just need to be a little creative with what you have.
Here are ten ideas to turn your off-camera flash into giving you a specific light for your item.
Time to experiment.
This article has one simple idea. How do you photograph a large item with only one Speedlite? It follows the same idea as focus stacking. This is where multiple images of different focus points are combined together to create an all-over focus.
The same idea applies, but instead of changing the focus, you are changing the position of the light. An idea like this really shows you that you really don’t need multiple lights and an expensive studio to get stunning shots.
You will need some time and patience, but then again, you need these for every field of photography.
IKEA is a great place for shopping and an even better place for hacking photography gear. In this article, we look at 6 different items that can help you in your product photography.
A pleated shade easily becomes a diffuser sheet, portable and cheap. A black glass sheet easily becomes a great reflective base on which to photograph. A metal bowl can be turned into a beauty dish. You will need a few tools for this one, but the time and effort definitely outweighs the cost of a professional beauty dish. You can call it the beauty bowl.
When it comes to composition for product photography, there is no strict formula. This will come down to a multitude of ideas. What shape is the product? What does it do? Do you want to show the item as being powerful?
These are just a few questions that should be running through your head when you plan. Whether the photographs are for Ebay, Amazon or ETSY, you are given 5 spaces for photographs.
This gives you the chance to show 5 different sides of your product. These could be a detail photographed in macro, a full shot, a lifestyle image and two more from hundreds of different compositions and angles.
Start photographing, following our tips below and see what works for you and your products.
Here is a list and description of 10 different compositions that you can use for your product photography.
This list is not exhaustive, as there are hundreds of ways you can show off your image. These are designed to add more interest to your images to help create something truly stunning.
Filling the frame with lots of items can create an idea that there is no scale to your products. This can make the viewer stare at your image trying to work out the size of these items, thus creating interest. They are thinking about it.
By avoiding the middle, you are creating negative space, which pushes your viewer to your product.
This negative space could also be used for text, or another item for counterbalance and a weighted image. These also cause interest as the viewer flicks from one to the other. Read more here into what else you can do to generate this interest.
Here are 5 angles that you can use to fully showcase your product, without going overboard. Variety is the spice of life. By showing your product in a few different ways, you keep the viewer interested.
A three-quarter shot looking down diagonally works as the viewer sees it from a perspective as if they were there. They see what it would be like to see your products in person.
A top-down aerial view is also great as the viewer sees it as their own objects that they could be organising or packing. This means they feel as if the product is already theirs. Genious.
Colour theory is a great system used across all things creative. Fashion photography, food composition, and graphic design are just a few examples. Food photography is no different. This system is a set of guidelines that look at items of colours to see what other colours they work with.
This is a great piece of advice for backgrounds, complementary foods and props you will use. Our eyes and brains are attracted to colours that compliment or juxtapose each other. These guidelines can be broken. Like a stick of cinnamon.
Post-Processing Product Photography
Post-processing in product photography is where you make the image pop. This might be correcting the exposure or adjusting the colour temperature. It is also used to isolate the item from it’s background.
There are many editing software packages out there, but we will concentrate on Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. as they offer everything you might need, across all levels of photography.
Isolating your product is a handy way to make the item stand out from your background. This is most commonly done with a white, well-lit background. The final image makes the item look like it is floating in a white space.
As a product photograph, this image is most used as the sole focus is placed on the item. By isolating the product, it also means you can change the background or setting as you see fit.
See our article for a step-to-step guide.
Focus stacking is a process to create a photograph of an item with an all-over focus, by using a shallow depth of field. I know what you are thinking, a shallow depth of field gives you a slither of focus!
You are right, but the stacking part means that you take multiple images where you change the focal point, and then ‘stack’ the images together. Many images become one final image where the item is in focus completely, and the background is out of focus. Clever stuff.
Adobe Lightroom is one of the best software packages for working with product photography. The first reason is that it will house all of your images smartly, for easy access. In this area of photography, you will take many images, which Lightroom keeps together in folders or collections.
The second reason is that it has a no-nonsense, user-friendly operating system. You can adjust your images any way you wish, and it is all non-destructive. This allows you to revert back to the original easily, at the click of a button. Any settings you make to one image can be copied or ‘sync’d’ across many to save time and hassle.
Adobe Photoshop is another software that allows you to adjust your product photography. It differs somewhat to Lightroom, as it will only work on one image at a time. Photoshop doesn’t have a library unless you combine the program with Lightroom or Adobe Bridge.
Yet, Photoshop allows you many options that are not possible in Lightroom. Cutting out items and replacing backgrounds are just two reasons why you would use Photoshop over Lightroom.
The beauty about both of these packages is that they can easily be used together.
Lightroom gives you organisation and quick adjustments. Photoshop then gives you more intensive editing.
Together, they make photographic magic.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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