The Beginner’s Guide to Product Photography [Tutorial + Examples]
Online customers seek to satisfy their purchasing urges with the one element that grabs their attention the quickest; images.
Images are what transmit the kind of products you sell and how you present them to your target audience. They also create two very important things for your e-commerce store:
Consumers are in search of quality and value whenever they visit a product page. Images are what help shape a customer’s first impression, which is what best prompts them to either continue purchasing or complete a purchase.
If you play your cards right, you can have images that
- Boost your consumer’s lifetime value
We’re going to show you how to do all of that in this article as well as tell you how to optimize the photo creation process in order to save time and money.
And the best part about this guide is that you don’t need to have a large budget at your disposal to create professional high-quality product photos. So let’s get cracking.
WHAT IS PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY?
Product photography is a type of photography where you use a variety of methods to showcase products in an attractive manner. It is so that you garner the attention of potential buyers and get them to purchase from your online store.
As a matter of fact, product photography is a crucial element for both online and offline advertising for successful brochures, catalogs, online ads, magazine ads, billboards and company websites, especially when selling products to people who are interested in buying such items.
Let’s take a closer look as to why photography is very important.
PHOTOGRAPHY INCREASES CONVERSIONS
90% of the information that we retain in our brain is visual.
Customers are easily receptive to visual content than written content. That’s what makes images an important aspect of the consumer decision-making process, and is also essential for determining conversion and retention rates.
An image’s quality reflects your brand image, which is vital for nailing that desired first impression.
That’s why in order to make it work, you have to have professional images of the sharpest quality for maximum user engagement.
1. Professional Images Enhance Each Buyer Touchpoint
According to Justuno, 93% of customers consider pictures to be a crucial deciding factor in purchases.
Images reflect the value and quality of a product to consumers and the sharper they are in quality, the more it will compel visitors to take action in purchasing it later.
2. Images are a Key Factor of Branding
Branding must be at the focal point of every decision your company, such as:
- Website updates
- Social media posts
- All of your marketing efforts
Images are at the forefront of your brand since they’re the first thing to grab the attention of your visitors, instill trust and invite them to get a closer look at your products.
Everything about your product image including color scheme, quality, subject matter, and saturation, have to be in perfect harmony to appease your target audience.
FUNDAMENTAL PHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT AND PROCESS
If you’re fairly new to the product shooting game, it may be a bit overwhelming for you at first.
But after you get your hand used to it, your photographic skills will sharpen to the point where you won’t even have to think about it.
The ideal thing to do is to determine a process that is in line with your needs, work your way around it and then establish a list of guidelines to ensure your images are always consistent.
Here are some of the finest product photography tips that will serve you well in the long-run:
1. Get the Right Background and Product
Having the right background is imperative because it makes the editing process simpler for you.
It’s essential to use a light or white background because it’s easier to remove when retouching your images.
There are plenty of ways for you to improvise a background on a budget, and here are two ways you can do that in just $20:
- A Shooting Table: You can make this using a simple chair you have in your house or office.
- A Light Tent
The first order of business is a chair mounted sweep and for that, you’ll need a roll of craft paper.
You can get this done by pushing a chair against a wall, as well as taping craft paper to the wall so that it naturally falls to the ground, which creates a flawless transition between the vertical to the horizontal plane.
If not that, you can clip the paper to the top of the chair so that you can improvise a stand for your sweep as indicated by the image above.
The next budgeted approach is to make your own lightbox, otherwise known as a light tent.
To be specific, a light tent is a device shaped like a box with translucent walls that distributes evenly around the object to be photographed.
This is how you set it up:
- Get a plastic storage container that you can put on its side with the lid off.
- Next, tape white paper to the bottom. You can even tape some white paper or cloth on the sides to act as diffusers, which helps distribute light even better and lessens unnecessary shadows.
- If your budget allows it, you can even use artificial lighting and then place them on either side of the container. But if you’re on a tight budget, your best bet is to use natural lighting by placing your lightbox next to a large window.
2. Setting Your Product Up
Make sure to set your product up in front of your background on a flat and stable surface.
When you’re lighting is all set up, you’re just about ready to shoot.
If, for instance, you’re shooting jewelry, then it’s always important to use a bust. And those who are being frugal can improvise one from a piece of cardboard as shown in the image below:
You can even use a fishing line if you want to suspend earrings and other small items, which can be removed with ease in the editing process.
For harder-to-photograph items, here’s a couple of ideas you can use:
- Use tape and glue dots to fix small items in place.
- Mannequins are best for clothing and can be easily removed.
- Try experimenting with a hanger or creative flat lay.
- If you want lifestyle shots, try asking a friend or team member to put your clothes on for bonus shots.
However, you can save up on the green by getting a few rolls of craft paper, have them taped to the wall and let gravity do all of the work.
This technique uses the same approach as the table mounted sweep, except it’s bigger.
3. Use The Right Lighting
Light is perhaps the most important element that defines the quality of your images.
It can be quite the chore to set up, but once it’s done, not only does it bring out beautiful results, but it also simplifies your post-processing.
Your two options include:
- Natural Light: Works best if you’ve made a chair-mounted sweep
- Studio Light: Only if you have the budget for it, or you could go for a lightbox.
Place your product right next to a window, typically one that lets plenty of light through.
If the light is too intense, you can reduce it by placing a white paper or a cloth over the window as shown in the image above.
But if the shadows are too harsh, then you can reflect and soften some of the light by placing white plasterboard or cardboard on either side of the object. Still, it’s better to shoot when the day is at its brightest, allowing you to play with the light some more.
It’s better to have too much sunlight that you can manipulate, instead of not having enough of it.
It’s pretty hard to create great lighting in the midst of the editing process.
Though you should never shoot under direct sunlight because it can create harsh shadows like that of a strong backlight.
To make use of artificial lighting, you will need at least two softbox light setups in order to get the shadows right.
You can buy two clip-on light clamps with strong bulbs in just under $30. However, if you have a slightly higher budget, you’ll be able to get two softbox setups for $50.
One of the lights can serve as your key light and the other your fill light or backlight, depending on the results you want.
The key light must always be placed to the front – slightly on the side – of the product, whereas the fill or backlight should be placed on the opposite side, back or above.
You can manipulate the lights further, if you want, to get soft, evenly distributed shadows.
White plasterboard or chalkboard is also preferable for diffusing some of the light and further softening those shadows.
In short, lightboxes serve as a diffuser of sorts, evenly distributing light around the product.
Studio lights are able to give you more control over the entire process, particularly if you’re shooting a number of products over several hours.
As soon as you have the right setup, you can get professional, consistent results and manipulate them for all your shoots.
4. Use A Tripod
Tripods provide our shoots with stability, consistency, and focus.
If we can’t get our cameras to focus properly, we can easily end up with blurry images, even when doing your best to hold the camera still with your hand.
If your budget doesn’t allow it, you can use a stool or a pile of books to keep your camera steady.
Though if you have a slightly higher budget, a good tripod can come under $30, which can serve you well for plenty of years.
When using a camera, set your aperture setting on low (or a high f/stop) and slow shutter speed. This will give you a wide depth of field that will keep your entire product in focus and make it appear crisp in quality.
It’s important to keep your camera stable especially when you’re shooting with a wide depth of field just to avoid blurry images.
5. Select the Right Camera
Having the right camera is extremely important for any product photography. Fortunately, the prices for DSLR and point and shoot cameras have dropped over the past couple of years.
Recommended DSLR Settings
- Never use a wide angle lens as it will distort your product image.
- Use the appropriate aperture for the right shot. Using a wide aperture of f2.8 or f4.5 will reduce your depth of field, leaving parts of your product out of focus. A small aperture like f8 or f11, on the other hand, provides a wider depth of field, keeping your product entirely in focus and looking crisp.
- When shooting, you should use the right white balance, preferably setting it to the same Kelvin temperature as your lights.
However, if you’re getting started, you don’t need to invest in a camera as your smartphone can be a suitable alternative.
Smartphone cameras have improved over the years in which sometimes, you can get even better quality images on your phone than on a camera.
iPhone or Samsung phone cameras are ideal for product photography, as long as you use the appropriate lighting and background for the shoot.
You should invest in a good smartphone stabilizer or tripod, like Joby, which helps speed up post-processing and reduce blur.
It’s is vital to retouch your images after shooting to give it a more polished look.
Even if you shot your product using a smartphone, editing can make a world of difference between mediocre and professional results.
For rookies, obtaining the proper lighting and background will come after plenty of practice. But they can also use photo editing software, which can magically get rid of most of the problems.
Retouching can help with lots of things like color correction, background removal, mannequin removal and shadow addition to giving your product a more natural look.
Photo-editing can be long and strenuous, especially when you’re just starting out.
Thankfully though, there is a good chunk of image editing tools that are there just for you.
Free image editing tools include:
- Canva: this is a free user-friendly editor that is ideal for marketing materials.
- Pixlr: it is free and has lots of Photoshop features.
- Snapseed: is a free, powerful and fully-featured mobile app.
- Fotor: A smartphone app that’s easy to use and free.
GUIDELINES FOR PROPER PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY
When you have the process down, be sure to create guidelines for clear shooting, brand, and editing in order to maintain consistency as your business grows.
This step might not cost you anything from your wallet, but it will take some time in writing it down.
Ensure that you write down all of the minor things, like the distance between the camera and product, angling and lighting setup.
Remember, your product photos are generally your brand ambassadors, so maintaining image consistency is pivotal.
You should create a technical guide and a template in your photo editing software to ensure you maintain consistent size and scale.
In fact, you can go a step further and make a guide for your in-context snaps as well.
Be sure to include:
- Color palette
- Focal length
- Location and context
Ensure that you also share your guide with the ones involved in your product shots, as well as post a copy in your in-house studio for quick reference.
Maintaining an image guide will not only save you money in the long-run but also time as you never have to repeat the processes all over again and use the time you saved up to grow your business.
OPTIMIZE YOUR IMAGES
Optimizing your images is important as it gives your images the best quality possible and prevents your web page from loading too slow.
Many marketplaces and platforms have their own set of photo editing requirements, so be sure to go with the ones that suit you best.
Every second of your product page counts, especially when it comes to delays that could potentially hurt your conversion rate.
That’s where you need to take advantage of free minifying tools to optimize your images to shave off that extra bit of weight that could place a great toll on your website’s loading speed.
Also be sure to name your images appropriately as well as include as much relevant metadata and keywords as possible. It will help search engines understand what is in that image and improve your search engine or SEO rankings, giving it a more organic boost.