Product Photography: The Beginner’s Guide

Photography 09/07/2022 6 min read

Product photography is pretty much what it sounds like: images of products. But how do you get the best product images to help drive sales? 

Product photography is far from a new genre. Back in the 1960s, big-name catalogs such as Freemans, Littlewoods and Sears all made extensive use of product photography to show off their wares at their best and help drive sales. However, the growth of internet commerce, whether it’s Apple, Etsy or your own Shopify store, means that product photography has exploded. So if you’re interested in making it as a full-time product photographer or just want to know how to take product shots to sell some secondhand items on eBay, we’ve all the product photography tips you need.

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What Is Product Photography?

Product photography is pretty much what it sounds like: images of products that portray them clearly and accurately to help consumers make purchasing decisions. They are the images you’ll see in catalogs and online stores to augment product descriptions, giving you an idea of exactly what you are buying. From jewelry to pet food, skincare and cosmetics to kitchen equipment, product photography covers just about everything sold, making it a hugely diverse genre.

Follow these 7 tips to instantly become a pro product photographer.

1. Use a Tripod

A blurred product photo is unprofessional and will do nothing to sell your commodity. And since there is no point in leaving camera shake to chance, even if you’re shooting with a fast shutter speed, it pays to invest in a tripod. A tripod will also ensure that you achieve consistency with your framing and angles, which again improves the professionalism of your images. Tripods can be purchased relatively inexpensively, both for cameras and smartphones, and will make an enormous difference to your output.

2. Choose Natural OR Artificial Light

You can achieve great results with natural or artificial light for product photography, but it’s important not to combine both in 1 shot or sequence of shots. You’ll find it will leave you with poorly white-balanced images that look unattractive and inconsistent.

After deciding if you want to use natural or artificial light, remember to set your white balance correctly so that all the colors in your images render accurately.

You will also need to diffuse your light so that you don’t introduce harsh shadows into the images. A dedicated diffuser is a good option, but you can also try a fill light to balance your key light, reflector or bounce card to direct light back from your main source to lift the shadows.

For a plain white background with even lighting, have a look at a light tent, which is effectively a white box into which you place your products. You light it from either side to provide soft, even light with a perfect background.

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3. Background

The most obvious background to use for a product shot is a plain white background. It doesn’t distract from the product and provides consistency. The best way to achieve a smooth white background is to use a sweep: a single piece of card that sits beneath your product and bends upwards behind it to create a seam-free backdrop. Of course, it doesn’t have to be white: you might find that another color works best with your product or is part of its branding. Just remember to keep it smooth and consistent.

However, you might also want to shoot some product shots that provide a context, like skincare product photography that features a bathroom or dressing table or food images set in a kitchen. Photographing jewelry on a velvet background can make it feel especially luxurious. The key here is to ensure that the background doesn’t detract from the product but enhances it. For products such as bags, it helps to see them modeled by a person, too. This gives an idea of their relative size and shape and assists consumers in visualizing them more accurately.

4. Arrangement and Props

The entire point of product photography is to show off an item to its best advantage. You might find that you need to experiment a little to achieve the best angles and lighting effects. Having some gear on hand to secure items is useful, too. For example, you might need some sticky tape or dots to stop things from sliding around or a bust or mannequin to model clothes or jewelry. If you need to indicate the size of something, try using a well-known but commercially neutral product in context. For example, showing a freshly cut lemon alongside a kitchen knife puts it in context and gives an idea of how big the knife is. And don’t forget that you might also need negative space for some text overlay.

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5. Variety of Images

Always shoot a variety of product images. If you’re working for a client, you will want to offer them a choice of product shots. If you’re shooting for yourself, it allows you to select which works best as your key image and which should be used as part of a carousel to give consumers alternative views and angles of whatever it is you’re selling.

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Don’t forget that a product shot doesn’t have to feature a single product in a given setting. Take plenty of individual photos from different angles to find the best one, but also try these other product photography setups.

Group shot

This is where you put similar products together. You might want to use these as promotional images on social media, as part of bundle sales, or maybe as header images on your website or shop page.

Lifestyle Shot

Here you show your product in context and help sell it to your customers by showing them how it fits into their lives.

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Scale Shot

Compare your item to something well known so that people understand how big, or small, it is. Having product dimensions on a page might be accurate, but it’s quite hard to imagine sizes, so a comparative shot is very effective.

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Detail Shot

Focus on important elements of the product, for example, the engraving on a necklace pendant or the internal pockets and fastenings of a bag. If a dress is described as having an exposed zipper or shoes as having contrasting stitching: show it!

Packaging shot

They might sound superfluous, but people care about packaging, either because it adds to the sense of luxury or because it serves the purpose of protecting a product. If a company has gone to a great deal of trouble to market its products with beautiful packaging, they will also want this to be photographed.

5. Edit

Remember to edit your shots. Crop them, make sure that they are level, adjust the white balance, and be sure to remove any specks of dust, stray hairs or water droplets. It all makes your images more professional and works better to promote the product.

6. Optimize

Finally, optimize your images for how they are meant to be used. Print images will need to be very high quality. When it comes to web images, you will need to balance size against load speed. Don’t forget that they should all be clearly named to prevent misattribution and include metadata and keywords for SEO.

It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to sell your handmade hairbands to earn some extra cash or are looking to make product photography your career. Great product photography is vital. There are many ways of going about it, but if you remember to keep your product as the focal point, you’ll be on your way.

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