Selling online has been a growing business for years now, as the world moves online.
Today, naturally, we are witnessing a previously unseen explosion in online retail.
Product photography is suddenly needed for everything and by everybody, and with current restrictions that creates a challenge.
At Splento, we understand the product photography techniques you need and are happy to share them with you. This is not an in-depth photography course, but we’ll go through the product photography basics that will have you creating some great images to help you to get (or improve) your business online.
As far as possible, this will be aiming to get you taking great photos with whatever equipment you already have in your home or isolated workplace.
Below, we will discuss the following areas that you’ll need to know:
- Basic equipment required – plus a few options
- Staging – setting the scene for your photo
- Taking the photograph
- Retouching and preparing to publish
- A few extra tips
So, what exactly is product photography?
Always remember – we buy with the eye.
High-quality product photography is essential for selling. Putting it simply, without images you will have zero sales.
A 2021 survey on Etsy, for example, listed quality of the product photographs as extremely/very important for 90% of their customers – more important than the cost of the product or even customer reviews!
So, now we know why product photography is important – let’s find out how to do it.
Product photography equipment
Some equipment is essential of course – you’ll need a camera – but with a little careful preparation, you can achieve some great results even with the one on your phone.
If you have a digital camera tucked away somewhere, now is the time to dust it off and charge up the battery, as normally this will be the best option (even a compact, or ‘point and shoot’ type). However, do look at the specs and compare it to your phone camera – if your phone is new, and your camera is old, you may well find that you’ll get better results with the former.
The final image results will depend on a combination of factors. The camera itself, the maximum number of pixels and quality and type of lens. This is as true for your phone camera as it is for any other. For phone cameras, it also depends on the software on your phone which controls it all, and the options available.
As we said above, this isn’t an in-depth photography course, as we could spend a week discussing just lens options and the effects of camera settings, but we will mention a few pointers here and there when it is relevant.
Suffice to say, at the moment, it may be a case of running a few test shots with all your available options (digital, phone) and taking a look at the results you get from both.
Before you do, though, let’s check out the other equipment you will need and what to do with them.
You will always get the best results by using a tripod when photographing products. A tripod will reduce camera shake and help get your images sharp, which you need if customers are going to be zooming your final pictures for a close-up of your products.
For small products, a mini tripod will do the job just fine. If you are using your phone as a camera, then a phone-grip is a device which holds your camera and attaches onto standard tripod fittings. Both are easily available online.
If you are in a hurry and don’t have access to one, then at least place your camera on a rest – even a pile of books – to gain maximum stability.
While considering camera shake, it’s also worth noting that almost all cameras (and camera phones) have a timer facility. Use this to avoid physically touching the camera when taking your photos as it will eliminate accidental movement when pressing the shutter.
Lighting – Natural
Aside from the camera, you will need a source of lighting. This could be natural or artificial, and both have benefits. This may also depend on the size of the product or type of photo that you are aiming to achieve.
Natural light may be all you need if you are photographing something large; it’s free, we all have access to it, and it creates a softer light for product photography.
This makes it great for modelling and context photography. For example, photographing furniture in a room setting, clothing being worn by a model or a computer on a desk.
Natural lighting for context shot Artificial lighting for detail
Lighting – Artificial
Artificial light is less soft; it produces a harsh light that is best for picking out detail and should be preferable for most product images, especially smaller items.
We’ll assume here you do not have access to lighting studio equipment. (If you do, then you will already know how to use it).
Usually, if using artificial light, you will want more than one light source. For example, the camera flash and a second fill light placed to negate as much shadow as possible from the main one.
Having said that, to use your camera flash, it should be one that you can angle/point away from the item you are photographing. If it is fixed in the forward-facing position, it is better not to use it. If this is not an option, then try to soften its extreme harsh light by fixing some translucent paper as a filter over the front of the flash unit.
Light from one side creates harsh shadow Light & reflector to reduce shadow
As an alternative (or even in addition to) a second light, a simple bounce card (bounce board) can be used as a reflector. Imagine a piece of white or reflective card, placed opposite your main light source. This will reflect light back onto your product and reduce much of the shadow.
Often a third light source can be a bounce card or other reflector held above/to the side of your item. Experiment with lighting once you are set up. You may also need a second pair of hands to hold some of these for you!
If you have smaller items to photograph, then a product photography box (lightbox) is an option. These are relatively inexpensive and can be ordered online.
– Note that for clear or reflective products, such as a bottle of wine, you need light from multiple angles, or you will end up with a lot of unwanted glare and reflections from other parts of your room.
Unless you are making context shots, you will need a background. The simplest background is a sweep – a vertical sheet backdrop that curves into a horizontal on which you place your products.
This creates a seamless background with no sharp corners or shadows.
This one below is a large one set up for portraits and large products. A large white sheet will work well. For smaller products, you can create the same thing on a smaller scale by using a piece of curved card, or even paper, stuck to a wall and sweeping down onto your table.
You don’t need to stick to white – a light grey works well with most products. Experiment with colour too – some items can be enhanced by a pastel background, but colours must complement and not distract at all. Avoid patterns and bright shades
Always take some shots with a white background regardless of any others you have done – most of the time you will end up using them at some point when putting your listings together.
Also, keep in mind the rules of the platform you are listing your products on. Some don’t stipulate, but Amazon, for example, insist on a plain white background or the photo will not be listed.
Product photography ideas for staging
Now you have your mini studio set up, take some time playing around with the actual product/s to see what works well for staging the photoshoot.
Put your product in place and look at it from different angles. You will almost always want one shot of each item close up and showing as much detail as possible. But look at it from all angles.
If relevant, remember to set up photos of the product packaging as well. Again, keep in mind any regulations from the platform you are listing on – some insist on certain views or multiple shots.
For staging ideas, look at how your competition photographs similar items. Choose the ones that appeal to you the most and work out why. This will often give you fresh ideas for staging. Product photography setup works differently for different products, and chances are someone else has already worked out the best way to display.
Use context (in-use) shots if it is appropriate. Some items can look better in they are being held in a hand, for example, or being used. Try some different creative ideas, such as the makeup one below.
Props can be used to create a bit more interest, but it’s important not to overdo it – as with too much colour or background, if it distracts the eye then tone it down.
Group shots for product range Props can work – but use carefully Colour works well with the right products
And don’t forget to take group shots. If you have a range of products, take a few photographs of them together, for example, if you have a range of different soaps, take a group shot of all the different varieties, followed by a close up of each individual one for separate listing. By showing both, customers can see that you have different types available and this will lead them to look further at some of your other listings.
Finally, keep in mind the flatlay photograph. This is a top-down view of the product lying flat on a surface and, for some items, works really well.
Achieving professional product photography
You are now at the point where you are ready to start taking your photographs.
As already mentioned, if you have a choice of cameras, take some test shots on each to see what works best for your setup. Play with some of the camera settings if it allows you to. It’s important to take some time to experiment at this point to understand what will give you the best results.
For the best product photography camera settings, you want to use settings that give you a smaller to medium depth of field. Too large and everything will be in focus. While this is less important if you are shooting against a plain background, for any context or real-use shots, you want your product in sharp focus and the background less so. Remember that it is your items that must be the star of the show.
With many cameras and even a range of modern smartphones, there will be an option to use ‘portrait mode’ (designed for photographing people). Try using this, as it should give you the right depth of field settings for excellent clarity on your product and a blur to the background.
Take a range of shots, including from different angles. What you think looks best, in reality, may not turn out be what looks best on the screen. Shoot all sides of the product and close-ups of any detail that needs to be highlighted.
As mentioned before, remember the packaging shots. If this has any clear elements to show content, make sure your product is in the packaging when you take the pictures.
Also, remember to take extra care with your lighting techniques if there is cellophane or other clear/reflective packaging involved. As with bottles, you will need multiple light sources, softer lighting and probably extra bounce cards or reflectors.
Try and keep in mind the photography Rule of Thirds. Simply put, this is based on the idea that the eye does not roam to the centre of a photograph, but naturally tends towards certain key areas. Place your product in these zones and it will not only make the composition more pleasing to look at (making your product more attractive) but you are actually making the photo easier to view (less hard work for the customer).
The Rule of Thirds
As above, divide the image into three and place your product along the lines, or a focus point where two of the lines intersect. In this image you can clearly see the lipstick is standing along a vertical line and the main colour area of the compact (which is reflected in the mirror) sits at an intersection of the lower and left lines.
It doesn’t need to be millimetre perfect at this point, as the photo can be cropped slightly in post-processing (editing), but it needs to be pretty close or you are leaving too much of a challenge for the retoucher. Photo editors can do amazing things, but they cannot work miracles.
This is why it is important to get as much right as you can when taking the photograph; brightness, contrast and other elements can all be adjusted when retouching (and should be), but there needs to be something there for the editor to work with initially.
Product photography editing
Now that you have your product photos taken and uploaded onto your computer, it’s time to edit (retouch) them to get them ready for publishing to your website.
At this point, you will need to achieve several different tasks.
Usually, even with all the care and preparations you have exercised, there will still be background elements to fix or remove (wayward shadows, a mark on your background you didn’t notice). Also, now is the time you will most likely need to adjust the brightness, contrast and possibly the sharpness of the image.
There are a number of tools to help you do this, although to achieve a good result, you will probably need some training and practice to get a professional finish.
Photo editing software can be expensive
It is at this point that most advice you will read will say the same thing – pay a professional to do this part for you. Even professional photographers will often pay a professional editor to retouch their work, as it is a whole other skillset that can take years to master.
It is far quicker (and cheaper) to get a professional involved for this stage and it does not need to be outside even the smallest of budgets. You can end up paying £30, £40 or more per photo for an editor, but this at is a level of quality that you do not need.
Splento has a team of professional photo editors who can retouch your product photographs, ready for whichever online selling platform you use. And they guarantee delivery of the retouched photo within 24 hours.
In addition to the above, remember that you will also need to crop to size and also reduce the number of pixels in the image to comply with your platform’s specific requirements. Many also have a maximum file size for uploading too.
Other product photography tips
- Remember to use the best quality setting that your camera or phone allows. If you have a camera that shoots RAW images, then always use that.
- When you upload your images to your website or shop platform, use your best photo first for each item. On a lot of sites, this is the image which will be used as a thumbnail on the listings, so needs to be high-quality and clear.
A flatlay works well with some products
- Experiment with layouts and staging your products. Try shooting from all angles.
- If you are photographing small items (jewellery, for example), always include close-up shots of the detail, but make sure they are perfectly in focus!
- Once you have your shooting area set up, take time to experiment and learn how to get the most from your equipment. Particularly practice with different lighting options.
- If using natural light, near sunrise and sunset are the best times. Avoid direct sunlight at all costs.
- If you are using props, don’t overdo it. Less is usually more. Keep in mind the purpose of the photograph is to sell your product.
- Take your time. Don’t be in a rush or your finished photographs will suffer.
- Enjoy yourself.
Whatever you are selling, it is worth moving to an online platform if you are not already there. The world is moving online – and recent events have shown us that it can happen faster than we would have previously anticipated.
If you feel Splento can help you in any way, then please do get in touch with us.