When you stop to think about it, online shoppers don’t have much information to go with.
Compared to a brick-and-mortar store, where a consumer can see and touch the product in the flesh, online sellers rely on high-quality product photography to do the selling.
Investing in professional photos helps you avoid unhappy customers returning your products due to them looking different in real life.
Essential equipment for at-home product photography (with your phone or a DSLR)
Ten years ago, nobody would’ve thought that you could use your smartphone for good-quality product pictures.
Back then, we were still using our BlackBerries and iPhone 4s.
But fast-forward to the era of quad-camera smartphones, and becoming a phone product photographer suddenly doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
To get to grips with smartphone product photography basics, you should have:
- A phone
- White background
- A tripod (rigid or flexible)
- A table
- Lighting equipment or a light source
- Editing software
Invest in a decent smartphone
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the good news is that most of us own a good enough smartphone already.
Some photography studios might even rent a good smartphone out for a certain time period, so start asking around your local area.
The smartphone market is constantly changing and evolving. That’s why it’s worth reading up on the newest models, product comparisons, and reviews on websites like Techradar, Which, Digital Camera World, and Tom’s Guide.
Look out for features like exposure control, color sensors, digital zoom, a high number of megapixels, autofocus, and low light control.
Use a DSLR camera
Want to use your beloved Nikon over camera phones?
Knock yourself out.
A professional camera has some obvious advantages over a smartphone, mainly because you’re able to control technical aspects like the depth of field, the f-stop, and white balance, to name a few.
If you don’t have much experience with digital cameras, consider doing a weekend course on photography basic.
You can also find plenty of resources online – the online learning academy Udemy, for one, runs online photography courses.
Haven’t got your own camera, but looking to invest in one?
If you’re new to the world of product photography, consider going for entry-level cameras such as:
- Nikon D5600, at just under $800
- Pentax K-70, going for just under $800
- Nikon D3000, available for $700
Get your hands on a good tripod
Without a decent tripod, you’re looking at compromising your store photography.
Think about it – would you trust a merchant whose product photos are shaky and poorly angled?
Thankfully, sturdy tripods help product photographers everywhere to produce high-quality images: you’ll be able to have a longer exposure time and put your camera’s shutter speed to work, without worrying about shakiness.
You can get started with just $15-$25, especially if you’re taking photos with your smartphone.
If you’re thinking about eventually upgrading to a DSLR camera, you might want to look for a tripod that has multiple mounting fittings.
Good news – these types of tripods, too, start from around $30, so no need to worry about breaking the bank.
Understand how lighting works
One of the things that will improve the quality of your product photos in an instant is knowing how lighting works in photography.
You should learn the difference between using natural and artificial light sources.
Natural lighting (think direct sunlight), sometimes also called soft light, will give your product photos softer shadows and edges.
Editor’s note 📝 – Natural light is great for photographing products that are meant to be used outside, or when you’re not aiming to emphasize the product alone, but also the context it’s being used.
Artificial lighting, on the other hand, refers to the lighting setup in a photo studio.
Because the light source is much closer to the item that’s being photographed, artificial lighting tends to produce sharper shadows and edges to the product photographs.
Hard light is useful when you want to highlight details in your product photo, or include close-ups of different aspects of your product.
If you’re on a strict budget, using natural light is just as good an option, especially for products that can be shot outside.
On the other hand, using an existing desk lamp and investing in decent foam board bounce cards or separate fill light. And here’s the good news – you’re only looking at spending between $15 and $25 to get started.
You can also invest in professional photography lighting: entry-level lights for product photography start from around $70.
Get thrifty with your studio setup
You can set up a home photography studio as long as you own a table and a white background of sorts (a wall or big piece of white cardboard works wonders).
If you want to get professional pictures, it’s important to position your shooting table next to your lighting source.
And you won’t need a separate studio room for this: just pay attention to which room gets the most daylight.
Tip 💁 – If your office or home is facing east, the ideal time of day to shoot would be before lunch. While a west-facing office would benefit from the evening sun.
If you’re short on space you can even use a chair as your shooting table, as long as you fix a piece of white cardboard over the seat.
Learn the basics of photo editing
The product photography process doesn’t finish when you’ve taken your product images: you need to also account for the post-processing time.
- Improves your image quality
- Allows you to add branding elements or a watermark to your images
- Helps to keep your product photography cohesive and unified
Most license fees start from around $20 per month but keep an eye out for sales – in 2019 alone, Adobe cut their license fees by 40% for Black Friday.
Whether you choose to pay for your editing software or decide to use a free browser-based editor, you’re able to find hours of tutorials on websites like YouTube.
How to take good pictures for an online store
Product photography is certainly a craft in its own right.
But that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t or shouldn’t take high-quality photos for your online business.
Learning the tips and tricks of the trade will:
- Save your business money. Rather than having to hire someone to take the product photos and edit them, you can invest that money back into your business.
- Make it faster to add new products to your store. DIY product photography gives you the flexibility to create a new product page whenever you need to.
Set up your studio
First things first: you need to make sure your photography studio is ready for action.
Grab your table or your chair and position it next to a window (if you’re using natural light) or your light source.
Make sure your white background covers the whole frame. Next, you want to attach what’s called a sweep to the back wall of your studio.
It sounds more complicated than it is: all you need to do is tape a piece of white paper at the top of the wall and let it fall down towards the camera.
Set up your phone or camera
Once you have your studio ready, you need to set up your phone/camera.
Take your tripod and adjust the height to a comfortable level.
Tip 💁 – Remember, you want to take all of your product shots from the same level, when possible. This way, your storefront will look unified and cohesive.
Once you’re satisfied with the tripod height, start taking some test product photos to adjust the color settings of your camera.
The lights, your white background, and the bounce cards you’re using will all affect how your photos turn out.
Remember to also check the depth of field and shutter speed, especially if you’ve recently been taking photos outside or in a non-studio setting.
Get the lighting right
When it comes to product photography equipment, properly setting up your bounce cards and lights are key to taking photos that look good online.
Place your product in the middle of your studio setup, and start taking test photos.
You want to adjust your kit until the light is hitting your product at just the right angle.
It might be easier to reposition a bounce card before touching anything else, especially if you’re working with large box lights and have to be mindful of power cables.
Those opting for natural lighting will need to get their product photos done during the day, so find the room that gets the most daylight for the best results.
Shoot from multiple angles
Now that your setup is complete and you’ve done some testing, it’s time to get to work.
Depending on your products, you might need to take photos from different angles and distances.
Don’t shy away from product photo close-ups: they are a great way to show off product details to the consumer.
Just make sure that if you decide to include particular features for one product, you should do the same for the rest.
For example, if you’re selling watches, and take 4 or 5 different close-ups of one watch, you should repeat the process for each and every other watch, too.
This way, you’re building trust with your customers by showing them that you have nothing to hide. In fact, you’re wanting to help them reach a buying decision by showcasing as much of the product as possible.
Time to edit
Your work isn’t finished when you put down your camera.
It’s time to touch up your snaps, one photo at a time.
Transfer the original files from your camera or smartphone to your computer.
DSLRs generally save photos in big files, so make you have enough space available before you start the transfer process.
Smartphones, on the other hand, save in a smaller file size. Nowadays the quality is good enough to get some detailed photo editing done on smartphone photos, so you’re fine either way.
Focus on ironing out any impurities, and touch up the color balance, too. You might also want to reframe your shots and add branding touches to the final images.
Remember to save your photos in multiple sizes and formats, if you’re also planning on using your product photos on other platforms (social media, emails, banners).
10 top product photography tips for smartphones
You’ve got your studio set up and you’re itching to get going with your smartphone product photos.
Flatten the learning curve with our top product photography tips, and save yourself both time and hassle.
1. Keep your lens clean
This might seem like a given, but you’d be surprised at where your phone has been.
A dirty lens with fingerprints, grease, or dust on it will decrease both the sharpness and the overall quality of your photos.
Go for a microfiber cloth, not paper tissues: tissue paper can end up scratching your lens. And again degrading the quality of your product photos.
2. Don’t use autoflash
Especially when it comes to camera phones, you should be turning the autoflash off.
Why? Because unless you’re shooting in a dimly lit area, the camera phone’s flash will not do your product photography many favors.
To determine whether you need flash or not, take some test photos to check the light.
3. Know your camera modes
Most phones have more than one camera mode – and knowing which one works best for particular light or background makes shooting much easier and faster.
You’ll most commonly find an HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode, which helps to capture crisp and well-balanced images.
Your phone might also have a live mode (common in newer iPhones), and different pre-defined photo sizes (think portrait, square, panorama). Usually, it’s best to turn live mode off and opt for a standard size.
And if you’re a Google Pixel owner, you might even be able to use voice control to take your photos.
4. Use props (but don’t go overboard)
Props are a great way to spice things up in your studio photos.
They help to demonstrate how your product should be used, and create stronger associations.
If you’re selling lunch boxes, you could style your product snaps with fruit or sandwiches.
Just remember to not go overboard – you still want people to know which product they are buying.
5. Use a fill light
Fill light is a secondary artificial light source that’s weaker than your primary light.
Fill lights are great alternatives to bounce cards to balance out shadows and bounces additional light back onto your photography subject (your product).
And you won’t have to break the bank for one, either – you can use a desk lamp or even a flashlight if you’re short on cash.
6. Experiment with a colorful background
While a white background helps to keep all eyes on your product, there’s no harm in getting experimental with other colors.
Different background colors and patterns make your product photography stand out and interesting to look at.
Editor’s note 📝 – Use color theory to make sure that your products are associated with the right things: if you’re selling a lemon-flavored drink, shoot the bottle against a bright yellow background.
You’ll turn heads and make it crystal clear what your product is all about.
7. Don’t zoom in
While your camera phone’s zoom is fun and games on TikTok and Snapchat, it won’t do a product photo any favors.
Your photos will turn out anything but clear and crisp. Instead, get up and personal with your products and take close-ups, instead.
8. Use the rear camera
We all love selfies, but for product images, you should forget the front camera of your phone.
In most cases, the rear camera has better resolution, resulting in your content looking more professional and sharper.
9. Keep your cool when editing
Photoshopping is cool, but don’t get carried away.
Your main focus in image post-processing should be on removing any imperfections and enhancing the color balance.
Your products should be taking the center-stage, not your amazing Photoshopping skills.
10. Consider add-on lenses
Did you know that add-on camera phone lenses are a real thing?
While the more extravagant fish-eye lenses are best reserved for social media, there’s no harm in exploring the market.
A wide-angle or a close-up lens could transform your product photography game, and usually, smartphone lenses go for a fraction of the price of a DSLR lens.
You only need an initial investment of $30 – a small price for better photo content, which more often than not translates to better sales.