Apr 13, 2022
How to Take Product Photos: Tips for a Professional Online Store
If you have an online business, product photos are one of the most important aspects you should pay attention to.
Around 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, which means images are the first thing that will catch your visitors’ attention. As a result, providing attractive product photos will help you drive sales.
That said, hiring a professional photographer to take photos of your products can be expensive. However, creating high-quality product photos doesn’t always require a large budget or high-end tools.
We will help you choose the best camera and techniques to take product photos for your online store. Additionally, you will be able to use these product photography tips to make money online by offering your services.
What You Need for Product Photography
While skills and creativity play an important part in producing engaging product photos, photography equipment has a substantial effect as well.
However, choosing a high-end option is not always necessary to achieve your goals. You can always make some tools yourself or use a substitute from the household items around you.
1. Choose the Right Camera
You’ll need a good camera to take photos of your products. Start by identifying your needs and budget frame to decide which camera type suits you best, whether it’s a professional digital camera or a smartphone.
A professional camera is great if you’re an experienced photographer or want to achieve better image quality, as they tend to include more powerful features than those of a smartphone. For example, intricate settings for different lighting conditions will give you more control over the product shots.
However, it may be difficult to operate a camera’s manual settings. Fortunately, the Automatic mode, included in most modern digital photo cameras, offers automatic lighting adjustment and autofocus, helping beginners take a decent photo.
We recommend using a professional camera if you also aim to print your product photos on large mediums such as posters and billboards. You’ll need its high-resolution sensor to maintain the fine details of your product images.
A mirrorless camera like the Fujifilm X-S10 might be a better choice for beginners since it is lightweight and easy to use. With a price of $999, it offers a 26 megapixels resolution, a Vari-angle touchscreen for taking photos at odd camera angles, as well as Bluetooth and WiFi connections for sharing on the go.
If you prefer a chunkier camera that’s comfortable to grip, a DSLR camera might suit you better. The entry-level Nikon D3500, starting at $649.95, has a 24.2 megapixels sensor, Bluetooth, and a 5 fps continuous shooting speed for capturing split-second defining moments, such as water splashes surrounding your products.
On the other hand, a smartphone can be a great alternative if you’re on a budget. It’s also an excellent choice for beginners, as it’s easy to use – you can take a photo without having to adjust technical settings like ISO or white balance.
Furthermore, if you’re going to use the product shots only on digital platforms, a smartphone camera might suit your needs better. As social networking sites will typically downsize uploaded photos, you might not always benefit from the high resolution offered by digital cameras.
However, aim for at least 12 megapixels resolution. Lower resolutions will result in lower-quality photos that don’t reflect professional product photography.
Google Pixel 5a, with its 12.2 megapixels main camera and a 16 megapixels ultra wide-angle rear camera, can be a robust smartphone camera choice for product photography. Starting at $499, Google Pixel has a big 4680 mAh battery capacity, excellent performance under low light, and supports RAW files for more control during post-production.
2. Get a Compatible Tripod
A tripod eliminates the camera shake when you shoot handheld from certain angles. It also makes your product photos more focused and consistent, whether you use it with a digital camera or a smartphone.
This tool is especially beneficial during long photoshoots with many products to shoot.
Furthermore, taking product photos in low light is easier as a tripod provides excellent stability when using a slower shutter speed.
A makeshift tripod, such as a pile of books, might be good enough to get started. However, it can easily slide around or shift during a photoshoot, resulting in angle inconsistencies in your product photos.
As your business grows, you’ll need to provide better quality product photos, and using a tripod is a way to ensure that.
There are various tripod types for multiple needs and devices.
If your products vary in size, a travel tripod is a versatile choice. You can extend it to its maximum height during a photoshoot for larger items like furniture and shorten it to its minimum height to take pictures of stationery.
Manfrotto Element Traveler Big is fairly lightweight at 1.62 kg and has a compact 42 cm folded height. At $76.38, it’s a reliable tool for stabilizing a digital camera or a smartphone.
If your products are mostly small or fit on a tabletop, go with a tabletop tripod like Joby GorillaPod 3K Kit. With a maximum height of 30 cm, it has a flexible leg that you can place on various surfaces to get the desired angle. This $45.14 tripod also works for both smartphones and digital cameras.
Use a smartphone tripod adapter to mount your smartphone on the top of the tripod. This will enable you to capture portrait and landscape shots with any tripod.
There are many cheap options on the market that cost around $5, but they usually have a weak grip that is not safe for your phone. Choose a more reliable option like Square Jellyfish Metal Spring which starts at $16.95.
3. Light Up the Scene
You can light up your product photoshoot scene using either artificial or natural lighting.
Choosing the right lighting arrangement helps emphasize certain nuances. Match the character of the lighting with your products’ type and nature, as well as your photoshoot concept.
If you’re on a budget, take advantage of natural light. It’s free, and you can just set your photoshoot outdoors or in a well-lit room.
This type of natural light creates a softer, larger range of light than artificial light. It works best for products meant to be used outdoors, such as mountaineering gear. Natural light is also great for photoshoots that emphasize the product’s contextual surroundings, such as organic skincare, which includes nature-related props.
However, natural light keeps changing over the course of the day. Keep an eye on which direction the light is coming from to get direct sunlight for the photoshoot. Also, don’t wait too long to start taking photos, as it will be harder once the natural light starts to dim in the evening.
Additionally, use a reflector to reduce the heavy shadows. You can make a DIY reflector in the form of cardboard covered with aluminum foil, or use a white foam board.
Alternatively, artificial light sources provide complete control over the lighting, enabling you to create consistently well-lit product photos. These light sources include the key light and a camera-mounted flash.
Also known as hard light, they create a smaller, more focused light on the objects, making them look sharp and saturated. Artificial light works best for products with physical details that you want to highlight, such as watches or electronic gadgets.
The drawbacks of artificial light are that it’s not the best option for those on a budget, and it requires knowledge to utilize it well.
A key light is the primary source of artificial light used in a studio photoshoot. Along with a fill light and backlight, it forms three-point lighting, the standard of professional lighting in photography and video production.
If you can only afford one light source, choose the key light. The fill light can be substituted with a reflector.
Next, you’ll need lighting modifier tools to soften or enhance the light and shadow around the product.
When the light gets too bright, soften it using a diffuser. Frosted curtains, parchment paper, white bedsheets, and white paper are excellent substitutes for studio diffuser panels. A diffuser creates soft, even light and reduces harsh shadows and glare on the product photos.
If you’re using artificial light in the form of a camera-mounted flashbulb, use a flashbulb bounce card. It’s a handy, small white or silver card attached to the top of the flashbulb. A bounce card diffuses the flashbulb’s light, casting a softer light onto your product from above the set, reducing the shadows.
However, if you capture your product photos with a smartphone, you’ll need to use a standalone bounce card. Smartphones don’t have a physical slot to attach flashbulb bounce cards to, so you need to put the standalone bounce card opposite the main light source.
Alternatively, if you don’t want any specific purchases, sturdy white paper with a stand can also work as a DIY standalone bounce card.
A standalone bounce card is also handy when you use window light, as it will help achieve a split contrast between your lights and shadows. Place it on one side of the product, so that the product sits in between the bounce card and window.
A white bounce card will reflect the light onto your product, eliminating the shadow. Alternatively, a black bounce card can create a deeper shadow, which can be helpful if you’re shooting a white product on a white background.
Make sure to only use one type of light per photo. This is because adding artificial lighting to a naturally-lit photo can sharpen a product originally intended to look soft. On the other hand, letting natural light in during a photoshoot with artificial lighting can soften objects that should look sharp.
4. Consider the Background
Product photography is not only about focusing on the product itself – it’s also about creating an attractive visual presentation. Consider the product’s surroundings in the photoshoot, including background and props.
A good background puts the product as the photo’s focal point. Therefore, it’s critical to use a background that suits your product’s character and photoshoot concept.
Generally, there exist two types of background – solid color and contextual background.
Solid color backgrounds create a clean and consistent look. It’s an easier option for retouching if you plan to edit the background later.
This type of background usually comes in the form of a sweep. A sweep is a bendable sheet that curves down from the vertical to the horizontal area behind and underneath the product, creating a seamless transition. It puts your product in the center of attention, eliminating distractions.
A sweep can be a piece of paper or fabric – you can use a roll of white paper or a bedsheet. Use duct tape or a clip to mount the sweep on a wall, a table, or a chair. Tape the sweep to the floor or other horizontal surface to make it stay in place.
We recommend mounting your sweep on a white wall. Otherwise, the color of the wall will be visible through your sheet.
For product photography, the classic white sweep is the most versatile choice. A white sweep reflects neutral-colored light onto the product, emphasizing the details and actual color of the product.
However, a white background may look a bit gray due to shadows, especially if you use natural light. If you want to get a pure white background, use artificial light during your photoshoot, or edit it using photo editing software later.
While white is a versatile sweep color, other colors can evoke a certain mood. For example, a black background is suitable for gold jewelry, as it balances out the gold’s shine and creates an elegant vibe.
Remember that colored backgrounds can create color casts, reflecting their color to your product photos. For example, a blue background will give your product a hint of blue.
On the other hand, contextual or real-world backgrounds exist to convey a real-life setting to your product shoot. For example, a surfing apparel brand may conduct its photoshoot at the shore. This helps customers visualize themselves using the product in their daily life.
The main challenge with contextual backgrounds is keeping the customers’ attention on the product, not the background. The most common solution is to shoot with a wider aperture, around f/1.2 – f/2.8. This will separate the background and the subject, making your background appear blurred while your product or model remains sharp.
Furthermore, using props for your product photography can make your images more interesting. This includes adding texture like wood and stone, or items related to the product’s character, such as home furniture and houseplants, to accompany home decor products.
Props convey the brand’s story by completing the composition and adding more depth to your product photography.
4 Key Steps in Taking Product Photos
Now that you have the necessary equipment for product photography, it’s time to prepare your photoshoot and create compelling product photos for your online store.
1. Define Your Idea
The first step of product photography is to define your idea. This includes specifying the photoshoot concept, context, color palette, and composition.
First, determine the kind of product photoshoot you want to take. Here are some types of product photography to choose from:
- White background product photos – they show the product from various angles, aiming to provide a clear look of the product. Best suited for product pages.
- Lifestyle product photos – these photos are taken in a real-world setting, usually demonstrated by models. This type of product photo is also used to show the size of a product. Best suited for social media and other marketing channels at the top of the conversion funnel.
- Flatlays – the products are creatively arranged in a group and photographed 90 degrees from above. This usually involves lots of props. The products can be set on a table or the floor, depending on their size.
Create a mood board to communicate photoshoot ideas to the entire crew more easily. Mood boards help explore and organize ideas, set the direction, and ensure that everyone is on the same page about the outcome images.
You can create a physical mood board with image printouts or use digital platforms like Pinterest or Milanote.
This is also where you need to plan the camera angles and composition. It’s a crucial step since the arrangement of your products and their surroundings can entice customers to purchase.
Consider the following practices for creating compositions and product shots:
- Front and center placement – makes the product the center of attention. To give the product a three-dimensional feel, create depth by utilizing background blur, reflections, or color contrast.
- Rule of thirds – break the image into thirds, horizontally and vertically, and place the product at the intersection of the columns and the rows. This creates a natural focal point that adds excitement to the photo.
- Rule of odds – group multiple products in a photo in odd numbers like three or five. People subconsciously seek order and organization, and items in odd numbers are harder to organize. This makes them pause and spend more time viewing your product photo.
- Negative space – helps draw customers’ attention to the products with the presence of a sizable empty space. This is usually most useful for advertisements since designers can add text to the space during post-production.
- Dynamic diagonals – draw customers’ attention by arranging or capturing your product in a diagonal arrangement or viewpoint. This guides the eye to the product and adds a sense of action to the image.
2. Prepare Your Setup
Before you start shooting, you need to set up the photoshoot area.
If you’re using natural light, position your setup. For example, tape a sweep on a wall and a table – 90 degrees to the window. The window glass will help diffuse natural light, but you can also utilize a bounce card to even out the light further.
Alternatively, shift the set to 45 degrees from the window to get a different lighting style. Preparing your setup near an open door or garage also has a similar effect as a window, only without the glass as a diffuser.
If your product photography involves a lot of props, make sure to rehearse the workflow for the more intricate setups. This way, your team can set up different product arrangements optimally during the photoshoot.
Furthermore, make sure the set is clean as dust can be visible on images. Use gloves when placing the products to avoid leaving fingerprints on them.
Once you’ve prepared the setup, take a test photo to determine if the lighting setup, depth of field, and overall look match the final vision.
If the photoshoot involves a model, photographers will typically use a stand-in for the test shots to save on budget. Assess the test shot results and make necessary adjustments to reach the desired result.
3. Take Your Product Photos
Take images from as many different angles as possible to have enough options when choosing the best shot.
Images from various camera angles help customers see the product from multiple viewpoints. This provides for better visualization of the products, which may lead to sales.
Here are some camera angles to include for your photoshoots:
- The front level – this front-facing angle mimics how you may encounter a product at a physical store, showcasing most of the product’s key features.
- The high angle – also known as the bird’s eye view, taken from the top of the product. This angle works best if your product is a bundle, where the image can display the entire content of the package. Food images also work well with this angle.
- The 45-degree angle – this angle shows most of the details captured by the front and the profile angles. You don’t have to take it from the exact 45-degree. Just play around until you can capture most of the details offered by those two angles.
- The profile angle – a side-view of a product. Not all products need to show their profile angle. For example, toothpaste doesn’t have anything to show off on its side part. But if your product is shoes, the sides might be a critical selling point.
- The back angle – like the profile angle, some products’ back angle images might be more important than others. For example, the back of a dress is important, but the back part of a notepad might be less significant.
If you’re taking product photos using a smartphone, don’t use the zoom feature to capture a closer shot, as it will result in a noticeable drop in quality. A smartphone essentially crops the image, rather than digitally zooming in like a professional digital camera.
Also, mark the positions of each of the tripod’s legs to make sure the images are consistent. Create three markings on the flooring surface using duct tape. This helps keep the camera in the same place while your products or models move around.
Consider shooting a video as well. Video content is becoming more and more popular on eCommerce websites and social media, which will help you promote your products. Furthermore, a video also helps showcase your products more comprehensively than a series of images, providing customers with a better idea of how your product will look or fit on them.
4. Edit Your Images
Once you’ve finished your photoshoot, the post-processing phase begins. This includes photo editing or retouching.
Photo editing can improve your product photos, but you shouldn’t rely on it to fix everything. Editing typically involves background or object removal, color correction, and white balance adjustment.
It’s better not to overuse filters. While you can use filters to enhance the images’ color, make sure it remains close to the original.
Here are our recommendations for image editing software:
- Adobe Photoshop – a versatile photo editing tool with tons of features like red-eye correction and object removal. The mobile app has smart filters that automatically correct common issues like exposure and color temperature problems. Available as Photoshop Express, a freemium app on Android and iOS. The desktop version requires an Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan subscription for $9.99/month. Fortunately, there is a 7-day free trial.
- Adobe Lightroom – a professional photo editing tool packed with advanced features like RAW file editing. It enables you to adjust almost anything in your photo, from modifying the light to removing any distortions. Furthermore, you can edit in one device and sync it across your other devices. It’s available for Android, iOS, and desktop. The mobile app is freemium, while the desktop version requires the same subscription as Photoshop.
- Snapseed – comes with advanced tools like Selective Adjust to select and edit a specific area of a product photo and a precise masking tool to edit the depth of field. Available for free on Android and iOS.
- VSCO – a free photo and video editing app with a strong online community. It has a massive library of adjustable, subtle filters that can recreate the look of analog film cameras. Its editing tools are enough to cover the basic needs, including exposure, adjusting temperature, and contrast. It also offers a VSCO X subscription which has more features. Available for Android and iOS.
If you’re going to use your product photos on your online store, don’t forget to optimize your images. Make use of a desktop-based tool, online compression service, or a WordPress plugin to get the best image quality possible without making your website load slower.
Additionally, post-production for product photography may include different challenges for different types of products. For example, sunglasses can reflect the photoshoot details on their surface.
To improve your product photography skills, take online courses such as the Post-production Course for Product Photographers and Retouchers and Food Photography Post-production in Photoshop.
Best Practises for Product Photography
Product photography takes more than investing in necessary equipment.
In the following sections, we will share several product photography tips for creating standout product images for your online store.
Be Consistent Throughout Your Brand
Make sure to keep the consistency of your brand identity within all your marketing channels.
A brand identity is the cohesive look and feel of your business. It’s largely shaped by visual materials, including product photos. A consistent experience ensures customers see your brand as an established option for their needs.
Your visual materials should convey a consistent style, theme, and message that feel like coming from the same source. For example, your website and social media images should have the same color palette and story, even though the image size and platform are different.
One of the ways to create visual consistency throughout your marketing materials is by using graphic templates for all your marketing channels. You can create templates using Photoshop or tweak an existing template on Canva to suit your brand identity.
This doesn’t mean that you have to use the same graphics for all your visual material. You can include fonts, colors, or patterns associated with your brand.
Alternatively, use a consistent style. For example, keep your visual style cheerful for a children’s clothing brand.
Use a Mannequin or a Model
Product photos act as the substitution of a physical store visit, helping customers to imagine how a piece of clothing would look when they wear it. To provide this experience, you can either use a mannequin or employ a model.
A mannequin is a cost-effective option since you can use it for as few or as many products as you want. Furthermore, it doesn’t need makeup, is quick to style, and helps customers focus on the product photography without getting distracted by the model.
You can also apply the ghost mannequin effect. It’s a post-production technique that removes the mannequin from the image.
However, mannequins can’t show your products’ full potential as they have a monotone pose. They also generally come in one size, so you can’t demonstrate a more inclusive size range. Furthermore, mannequins are less engaging than models as they can’t evoke feelings related to the brand identity.
On the other hand, using models is a great way to engage better with customers as they are more relatable. Their ability to pose dynamically helps customers imagine themselves using your product in real life.
Models can also showcase multiple products simultaneously, inspiring customers to buy more. Additionally, depending on the product’s type and character, product photos with faces may perform better on Instagram and have a better conversion rate on websites.
Meanwhile, the most obvious downside of using a model is the high cost of hiring them. Models are usually hired per working day or with a minimum number of products.
This will also require more team effort, involving a makeup artist, a stylist, and a set director.
It’s also important to choose models that represent your brand and resonate with your potential customers. The wrong model choice can pull the attention away from your product, send the wrong message to your audience, and eventually affect purchasing decisions.
Utilize Stock Images
If your products are visual art items like print art and illustration, or digital products like eBooks or software, you may want to utilize stock images for product mockups to help showcase them.
This is a helpful trick as printing out all your digital products is not cost-effective, let alone if your products are meant to be consumed only in a digital form.
What you have to do is prepare an image of your product. Then, download a stock photo or mockup of a framed image or a device with its screen visible. There are many sources for that, such as Freepik, Haute Stock, and Placeit.
After that, use Photoshop or other image editing tools to insert and edit your product image into the mockup. Don’t forget to add shadows to make it more realistic.
You can also use another stock photo of a nice flatlay with enough space to insert the mockup you previously created. While the other props in the flatlay help elevate the look of your product, make sure that the objects in the flatlay are related to your product’s character and context.
Emphasize the Details
A product description provides customers with details about its features and benefits to generate sales.
To help the audience understand your product better, you need to take detailed shots of the key features and pair them with informational text.
Suppose you sell a vintage dress with delicate beadwork on its collar line. The product listing needs to include photos of its best features, like the close-up shots of the fabric and the beadwork.
Add information that your customers may find interesting. For example, stating the year when a vintage dress was made can be a great selling point.
Product photography is essential for any online business as customers rely heavily on images when purchasing.
If you’re just starting out, creating a high-quality product photo by yourself is a more budget-effective option than hiring a professional photographer. Furthermore, you can take advantage of the items you already have and utilize them as your product photography tools, such as using a white bedsheet as a background.
A reliable smartphone camera and DIY photography equipment can be all you need to get started. If you want to maximize your photoshoot’s efficiency and result, purchase high-quality product photography equipment like a professional camera.
You can also apply these tips gradually and change your approach as your photography skills develop and your online store grows.
Best of luck in your product photography journey.