Product Photography for Beginners
Until you begin trying to take photos of inanimate objects, it’s difficult to appreciate how much work goes into a great product shot. Knowing how to take killer product photos is essential for anyone who sells online; from eBay to Etsy to home-run websites, photos sell a product. They’re the visual description you give a shopper, and they’re the only thing a potential customer has to decide whether or not to purchase your product.
In the “real” world, you could let a shopper pick up your product. They could turn it over, feel how it weighs, how soft it is, how large or small, and generally get a good idea of how they would use the product in their own home. Online, you have nothing but pictures and words to achieve the same process. Your product photos have a big job to do!
Professional looking product photography can be done by anyone, which is the good news. The bad news is that even with the tips in this guide, you’ll have to experiment. Try looking at the process as a way to play with your products, and it can be a lot more fun.
Backgrounds for Product Photos
One of the biggest clues to how professional a shopper will view your product is the kind of background used in the photograph. Do this quick experiment: first, run a search for the type of product you sell on eBay. Scroll through the results and pay close attention to the photos listed. Now, run that same search in one of your favorite catalog websites. Which products appealed to you more?
There’s no difference between a brand-new product that Jonathon Doe is selling out of his home on an auction website and that same product being sold on a commercial website. The product is the same; it’s the pictures that give another impression.
Most people have a habit of photographing their products in an everyday setting. They’ll spread things out on the floor, carpet, couch, or bedspread because these things allow the photographer to get a shot of the whole piece. It’s this habit alone that really does a number on the professional quality of product photos.
Instead of going with something every-day ordinary that someone can pinpoint within seconds, try thinking of backgrounds that have some sort of abstract artistic appeal. Wood, fabric, and cardstock are great places to start but there’s ways of going beyond even those things. A great jewelry artist, “Auntie Dis”, uses white rice as an eco-friendly way to really set off the beauty of her pieces. If your product is water-tight, ice cubes and even glasses or bowls of water make a great background.
Whatever type of background you choose, make sure that it doesn’t distract from your product. A good background shouldn’t have too many patterns in it, and it should contrast with the product you’re photographing. If you’re taking a picture of a light or very bright product, use a dark background. Dark products go on light backgrounds.
Product Photo Settings
When you think of the portrait of a person, you can usually picture them in some sort of setting. Graduation photos are a fantastic example – many of them are taken outdoors, or with a beloved item (sitting in the front seat of a much loved convertible, ready to kick a soccer ball, etc.) and that setting does so much for the photograph.
Your products should be thought of in a similar way. They have a natural “setting” – a place where, if they were people, they would choose to live. That setting points to the product’s function and can create a mood.
Professionally, this is called staging. It means setting up an environment for your photograph to take place in. Handcrafted products often show off the best when they’re staged in a natural environment; use “natural” things like rocks, flowers, and wood for the background and props. Technology items work best in a sterile stage – set against a metallic background, or with props people naturally associate with technology (a computer mouse on its mouse pad with a cup of coffee steaming nearby, for example).
When setting a stage for your product photography, think about how your product functions and how you can show your shoppers that it belongs in their home. They have to be able to visualize that computer mouse on their own desk, or that necklace clasped around their own neck. The stage and the background should work together to create an environment that shows your product off to its best advantage.
Lighting in Product Photography
Nearly every guide on the subject will state one thing loud and clear: do not use a flash. Natural lighting is your best bet. Try setting up your background and staging near a window – but not directly in front of it – so that you get the benefits of the sunlight.
If all else fails and you have to use artificial light, try using lamps instead of overhead lights that will cast strange shadows.
Beyond natural lighting, make sure that you’re using your digital camera’s built-in settings to your best advantage. Using the “macro” setting on your camera will allow it to work with lighting so that fine details are picked up in your product. If your camera has a white balance setting, make sure it’s adjusted to the environment you’re working in.
Product Photo Editing
You don’t have to be a Photoshop expert to edit your photos for maximum effect. In fact, if you don’t understand or don’t want to mess with an all-out graphics editor, you can use Google’s free Picasa program. It will allow you to crop, adjust colors and lighting, sharpen or soften your photos and a whole lot more using a really easy layout. Seriously, it’s the software for someone who doesn’t want to learn about using software.
Every photo you take should be opened up in some sort of editor. You’ll want to take some time to be sure that the product is cropped closely enough that it’s the focus of your photograph. Having too much background or “empty space” can distract your shopper and even cause them to overlook your product in the first place.
After you’ve cropped and done the little things that you choose to do, take a look at the selection of photos you have for your product. When you’re ready to share them, you should share a few photographs that offer different angles and both close-ups as well as full-shots.
With your work done, you can give yourself a little pat on the back. Taking the time to actually focus on how your products are displayed means a huge difference in sales … which is always worth the extra effort.