A photo is worth a thousand words, but great product photography can also be worth thousands of dollars. Product images are great value communicators and can significantly boost the perceived value of your business. If you have a great product but your photos don’t look professional, then buyers will keep looking.
You don’t need a studio or expensive gear, and with a little practice, you too can make your own product images with things you already have.
If you want to create beautiful images, whether it’s for your online store or a business catalog, then these 10 steps will help you create beautiful product photos:
1. Gather Your Equipment.
Picking the right gear is critical for achieving the best results. Here is a list of the basic items you’ll need:
Table – Anything will do, even your kitchen table.
- Lens – Get a good mid-to-long lens if possible.IIt provides more flexibility.A fast lens (e.g. f3.5 or less) is also helpful in blurring the background and compensating for a cheaper lighting system.
- Flashes – Any small TTL flash unit and ordinary small lamps or lights will work.
- Tripod – Even an inexpensive tripod will make a huge difference in the sharpness of your shots, especially if you are working with continuous lights instead of flash. Additionally, you can use the camera’s built-in timer to minimize shake so that you can use smaller apertures and longer shutter speeds.
- Light modifiers – Modifiers change the light falling on your subject. These include softboxes, reflectors, umbrellas, etc. that will cast light in shadow areas and get highlights all around your product. Below is a good example of a product photography setup:
Cut this photo
For more information about the science of lighting in photography, there is “Light Science and Magic”, a must-read for any photographer (you can read it here). For a large selection of product photography tools, check out this website.
2. Light Your Product.
Product photography is primarily focused on highlighting the details as clearly as possible. This is why you need to control how light falls on your subject. You want your product to stand out and look amazing, so good lighting is critical. Ideally, you should have three light sources: a light from above and two lights from the sides of your subject. Additionally, you should direct light at the background itself to create that seamless “white room” effect and spend less time in post-processing.
Natural light also works well, so use it whenever you can. But what ultimately matters is the uniformity of light distribution. To avoid harsh shadows, use a flash diffuser. You can either buy one, or make it yourself by taping a white paper loosely on the flash (don’t let it touch the face, or it will burn). As a result, the light will be distributed softly and evenly across all areas of the object, rather than being centered in one spot.
3. Create Your Background.
Once you decide how to light your product, consider what’s behind it. The easiest way to create a background is to use some large sheets of paper, a poster board, or even better, a foam board. Using a white background removes any distracting elements and puts attention on your product.
Make sure to properly set up the paper behind the product (use clamps or clips to hold it) and bend it to create a nice curve. This is called the “infinity curve” and allows you to photograph your product against a seemingly endless white background with no horizon in the back.
Experiment with different colored papers and even some textures like wood, marble and cloth to create different moods in your shots. As long as the background doesn’t compete with the product, it can help your photo communicate a better message.
4. “Stage” Your Product.
Once you set up your background, you can add complementary elements into the frame to further enhance your story. Give your products a natural setting; a place where they would naturally be found.
For example, if you’re selling blenders or juicers, add some nice fruit and veggies into your shot to help the viewer better understand the product’s functionality.
Staging your product can make the difference between people buying it or not. When preparing to stage the subject, think about how it will fit into someone’s home and how you can show people how to use it. By creatively mixing the product and props, you’re revealing the product’s key features and benefits.
5. Set a Custom White Balance.
Setting the white balance allows you to capture the natural colors of the product. In other words, the green will appear as green, without casts of blue, pink, or orange.
Our eyes automatically compensate for different types of lighting, so a white object will seem white under any kind of light. But digital cameras cannot make this distinction, and will make an object shot in the shade to appear bluer than the same object shot under bright daylight.
Experiment with different WB camera presets (e.g. Auto, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Sunny, Cloudy, Shade, Flash), until you get the desired results. Some compact cameras lack WB settings, but you can find them in “Scene” modes. For example, a “Foliage” mode will usually push the colors towards green, while “Sunset” mode will warm them up.
You can also set the WB in post-processing. When taking the shot, make sure to include a small white piece of paper that you’ll cut out at the end. Using a photo editor, select the white area in the photo, click on it with the tool and you will see how the colors in the image will match the natural colors of your product.
6. Set the Right Aperture.
The ideal aperture depends on many things, such as your lens, focal length, and distance between you and the object. Do some testing beginning at the smallest aperture and choose the aperture that gives you the sharpest results.
Also, lower the ISO as much as possible. For product photography, shooting from a tripod won’t require the faster shutter speeds that higher ISOs allow, so reducing the ISO means less noise and sharper images.
7. Find the Best Perspective.
No one knows your products better than you, so try to bring out the best features by going after flattering angles, getting close ups and searching for unique perspectives. Create a story with your shots, while you highlight certain angles.
Usually, an angle will give your product a more appealing look, which is far more interesting than a simple straight-on view:
Also, products look best when photographed from a slight distance. They look weird if shot from just a foot away. Instead, step back and use a long lens to fill the frame. Ideally, you should capture the product exactly as you want users to see it. Shooting close-ups and filling the frame will have a strong impact and will add more interest to the product.
8. Create a Sense of Scale.
Some items (e.g. small coffee tables) may not be easily recognizable by viewers in terms of size, so giving a sense of scale can be very useful. Add an item into the shot that allow people to determine the real size of the product. For example, if you’re selling a coffee table, you could place it near another furniture item to get a real sense of scale.
For example, instead of doing this:
It makes a lot of difference in the perceived scale, plus it also stages the product nicely.
Taking the shot is often just the beginning, because next comes fine-tuning and editing your work. You don’t have to be a techie for this; just upload your files into an editing program and get to work. Simple things like cropping, noise reduction and color correction can make a huge difference in a photo.
An inexpensive way to get started is to install GIMP, a very good (and free) editing software. It’s not as complex as Photoshop, but it’s free and you can get your work done pretty nicely.
Here are few basic corrections you can easily make:
- Brighten the background
– Start GIMP and open your image (Ctrl + O).
– Whiten the background using the Levels tool.
– Go to Colors -> Levels. Click on the “white point” eye-dropper (near the box with the 255 value).
– Click on the darkest part of the background and press “OK”.
This will make your background pure white (at the cost of bringing out a little noise).
- Crop the image.
If you have unnecessary empty areas in your photo, use the Crop tool (Shift+C) to cut out those areas. Hit “Enter” when you’re done.
- Remove any marks or dust.
This means removing any specks on your product and on the background.
– Open the Clone tool (press C).
– Select an area of similar color and texture.
– Hold down the Ctrl button and click in that area.
– Then click on the specks of dust and these will be replaced with the “clean” patch selected before.
- Adjust colors.
You might find some yellow or blue casts in grey objects (especially after the earlier background “whitening” step). This tends to shift the color balance of the whole image away from the initial color you clicked on.
You can fix color issues in two ways.
– Open the Hue-Saturation tool (Colors -> Hue-Saturation) and click on the color to which your image is shifted and adjust the “Saturation” slider until you’re satisfied. Then press “OK”.
– Use the color balance (Colors -> Color Balance) and play with the sliders until the colors look good.
Another tweak is to use the “Unsharp Mask” to get a nice sharpness in your photos. Go to Filters -> Enhance -> Unsharp Mask. I typically use: Amount = 100, Radius = 1, Treshold = 0, but it’s best to experiment with different settings until you’re happy with the results.
Hopefully, you’ve become more confident in making your own product images. It might seem difficult and time consuming at first, but if you follow these simple steps you’ll improve the quality of your images. Don’t settle for a single shot. Take at least a dozen shots of the same product, and experiment with different angles and props, so you can have plenty of choices in post-processing.