Product photography: you’ve probably heard that it’s hard and very specialist. But your friend who runs their own business asks you if you’ll just shoot a few product pictures for them to use on their website or social media. Or perhaps you have your own business that regularly needs new product photography. Of course, you’re happy to have a go. It could help you improve your photographic skills too by giving you some new challenges. But how do you approach this highly specialist field of photography that you have very little experience with?
When many photographers think of “product photography” they think of a certain style that often involves complicated lighting, setup, and retouching. Sometimes blending dozens of shots in post-processing, using specialized lenses or lighting equipment, or shooting on perfect white backgrounds.
These styles of photography do have their place in the world of marketing and advertising. And you may even decide that it’s the right look for the products that you’re shooting. But in recent years a more natural feeling product photography has been creeping into advertising via social media influences. This style can be easier to dabble with because it requires less equipment and specialist knowledge – although it is still incredibly tricky to master!
The most important thing in product photography is to match the look and feel of the images to the product and the brand. A shot of an exclusive fountain pen aimed at CEO’s will be photographed very differently to a vegan surf-wax aimed at Californian surfers!
Whichever style you decide to try out when you have a go at product photography for the first time, there are some simple things to keep in mind when you’re shooting. If you keep these guidelines in mind, then you should be able to shoot images that show off a product to its advantage.
1. Get your camera on a tripod
It cannot be said often enough in still life photography how great tripods are. Firstly, they protect against camera shake. If you can get your camera (or phone) on a tripod, then your shutter speed can be as long as you like without risking any blur from camera shake. A nice, crisp image is essential to product photography.
If people cannot see what they are purchasing clearly, then they will most likely move on and choose a different supplier!
If you can’t stretch to a tripod then make sure that you use a relatively fast shutter speed to compensate for any slight movements you might make while holding the camera. You may find that you have to compromise and raise your ISO in order to get a clear, bright picture.
The other advantage of tripods is that they hold your camera in one place while you work on your composition. If you are styling your images for social media (rather than shooting flat e-commerce images), then it might take a couple of attempts to get it right.
Keeping the camera in one place leaves you free to work on the styling and composition.
There are a huge variety of tripods available, all with different features and at different price points. If you can stretch to it, then a tripod with an arm that bends over at ninety degrees is an excellent investment that will make the popular flatlay (top-down) shots for Instagram easier.
2. Use good lighting
Let’s bust a myth – good lighting doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Yes, there are certain kinds of product photographers who spend hours or even days lighting a single product and getting it perfect. Of course, many high-volume photographers prefer to work with studio lights in a closed studio. That way, they can replicate lighting time and time again when doing repeat jobs for the same client.
But you can light a product with just natural window light, or even take it outside, and still get great results. You don’t have to have expensive studio gear or even a whole room dedicated to photography. Many people photograph products quite successfully on a table pulled up to a bright window. With the right backgrounds and props, it certainly doesn’t have to look like it was shot in your living room!
Lighting can also help to make your object look three dimensional on a flat screen. Shadows and highlights help viewers to interpret the image and understand it correctly.
The crucial thing is to match the lighting style to the product and brand. For something sleek and high-tech, you might want a more artificial feel to your light. Whereas, a more natural artisan product would probably benefit from just simple window light.
3. Shoot multiple angles
If people are buying online, then they can’t pick up and touch the product. That means you have to try and convey all the small details to a potential purchaser. The best way to do this is by making sure that you capture a variety of angles of each item. Also, get in close to show the details if it’s relevant.
This is especially important if the item is handmade. Getting in close can show off the care and consideration that an artisan puts into their work. The details are what often sets handmade products aside from their mass-manufactured counterparts. So be sure to show them off!
Shooting multiple angles is also an easy way to generate lots more content for social media accounts. Many business owners struggle to find enough content to post regularly on social media, so it can really help them out.
4. Find out the platform specifications
It’s important to shoot product photographs with the final use of the image in mind. Different online platforms will have different specifications for how photographs look best on their sites.
For instance, if you are shooting for someone with an Etsy store, you’d need to consider that portrait photos look best on the product page, but the search thumbnails are landscape. That means a clever photographer would shoot images that look good when cropped to both portrait and landscape. It might mean that you need to leave extra space around products when you shoot them and crop in later in post-processing.
Instagram can be a particularly tough platform to shoot for if people are looking for images that look good on social media. Images should ideally be posted in a ratio of 5:4 to take up as much space as possible and be more eye-catching when scrolling down the feed.
However, on a users profile grid, they automatically crop to a 1:1 square format. That means you lose details in the top and bottom of the image in the thumbnails. On top of that, the “stories” feature uses images that are in a 16:9 ratio – much taller and skinnier than the news feed! When shooting specifically for Instagram, I tend to set my camera to shoot in a 16:9 ratio. Then I know I can almost always crop other ratios out of that base image.
Also, research the pixel size that each online platform uses. If you produce images that are too small, then they’re likely to look pixellated or blurry when uploaded.
5. Don’t forget the packaging
More and more people are shopping online, so the packaging of a product contributes heavily to the first impression of a brand.
Artisan companies and small businesses often spend lots of time considering their packaging and branding. So it’s undoubtedly worthwhile to shoot the packaging as well as the product.
As well as demonstrating brand values, you can also show the buyer that it’s going to help their purchase get to them safely. This is especially important if it’s a product that is breakable or if it’s likely to be given as a gift. It helps instill confidence in the brand!
Plus, on platforms like Etsy that give you multiple slots to upload images of your product, having packaging photographs can be an excellent way to show off the product styled in a new way.
Keep your product photographs well exposed and in focus.
As long as you’re getting these two things correct, then you’re already on the right track. All that’s left to do is practice, practice, practice until you’re shooting products like a pro.
Remember to comment below and show us the pictures you’ve been shooting using what you’ve learned!