Every business owner wants their product to pop on the shelves, but it’s just as important that your product pops in photos as well. Whether it’s in e-commerce where a picture is all the customer is going to see, printed on the packaging itself, for your website, or your Abound profile, every product needs high quality, professional looking photos.
So how do you get great photos? If you don’t have the budget to hire a professional, you can take them yourself. It just requires learning a little bit about photography. In this article, I’ve split what you need to learn into two general categories: equipment and style.
There are three categories of equipment needed for a photo shoot. How much you spend in each category will depend on your budget and level of expertise.
Camera: The only thing you absolutely need, and you have two options.
1) Buy, rent or borrow a DSLR camera. There are a ton of different cameras in this category, and if you’re going to be doing more than a photo shoot or two, it’s worth educating yourself in this space. If, however, you just need to photograph your product and you don’t want to go through all that hassle, use option 2.
2) Use your smartphone. Opinions are all over the place on whether or not a smartphone is as good as a DSLR, but everyone agrees they’re pretty close, and smartphones are only getting closer. If you have a new-ish phone, it’s completely fine to use it for your product photoshoots. The only big downside is if you need a powerful zoom, but even then you might want to look into phone lenses first.
While this article isn’t going to go that in depth into lighting philosophies and techniques, I do want to share one important fact to learn:
And don’t just believe me because I used a Harry Potter font, believe me because I have painfully learned this lesson. If you’re like me, lighting is boring to learn about. If it’s light enough to see the product, that’s fine, right? Wrong!
Lighting has a tremendous effect on pictures. Photos without enough light will have a ton of extra distracting shadows and dull colors. Pictures with too much lighting will look flat, and won’t jump off the screen or page.
Here’s an example that only took me 10 minutes to make. The image with one simple light pointed at it is way more reflective and dynamic.
If you can shoot your product outdoors, that’s probably the easiest route to take. Avoid times where there’s a ton of direct sunlight, like high noon. Use this calculator to find the golden hours, the time right after sunrise or right before sunset. These will give you the best results, where everything will be light nicely and have interesting but not overwhelming shadows.
If you’re shooting indoors, you will need lights, unless your photoshoot is happening right next to a window with a ton of sunlight coming in. Once you’re in the buying lighting game, things get complicated, so make sure to read up and watch tutorials before making any decisions.
Photo Editing Software:
Over 99% of professional photos you see have been touched up digitally. In photos, details that the eye would typically ignore stand out, it’s very easy for things to look misplaced and cause a distraction. Photoshop and the Adobe programs are the industry standard, but they’re also expensive. There are a few free options that will get the job done, but if you’re doing this on any regular basis, it will be worth it to buy and learn the Adobe programs.
Digitally editing your photos gives you so many options of how to present your product. I took the photo from before and made a couple of simple edits. Removing the background entirely and fixing minor blemishes made the photo pop even more.
Now that your equipment is taken care of, it’s time to think about style. Obviously, the style of photo you take should match your brand’s overall look and feel.
There are a lot of different components that go into the style of a picture, so it’s best to try out a bunch of different options and see which ones work for your product.
Let’s look at the way three different photographers took jewelry shots.
Example 1: Plain and basic
This photo is very clear; we’re looking at a necklace. There are no distractions, and the photo is symmetrical. This might be the right choice in a catalog next to a ton of other pieces, but as a stand-alone photo it’s kind of dull.
Option 2: Stylized
This photo tells way more of a story. The teal, off white, and metallic gold work well together. I can picture the beach house couch this compass is resting on. However, it’s not exactly clear what the product is. How long is that chain? Is it a necklace? This kind of photo works well if you’re mood building on a website that also has access to more straight forward looking pictures, but on its own, it doesn’t sell the product.
Option 3: Dynamic Display
This photo is the best of the three for a product shot. You can tell what the product is, and it’s front and center, but it’s also an aesthetically pleasing photo. The marble is a nice textured background without being too distracting, and the chain is displayed in an interesting way that still lets the viewer realize they’re looking at a necklace.
These three examples are for pictures featuring a single item. If you’re trying to build a mood and explain your brand’s style, experiment with all sorts of compositions. Start looking at photos with a more critical eye, and see how the photographer played with composition and lighting to create certain effects.
Taking one of the waffles out of the line gives this picture so much more character. The symmetrical, direct overhead shot gives things a Wes Anderson/ twee feel.
Your subject doesn’t have to be in the middle of the picture. Using wood as the background gives this picture a more natural feel.
This photo uses much less light than the previous two, giving it a dark and mysterious feel.
Is your brand rustic or pop art? Modern or vintage? Research what colors fit your brand and incorporate them into your photos.
Do we need to see your product in action to understand how it works? Moving things are generally more exciting than static things. If there’s a way to show your product in motion, do it!
This isn’t something you can directly learn about, but taking professional looking photos requires attention to detail.
There are so many moving parts, and if no one on set is a nitpicking, detail oriented, type A person, there’s a good chance something will be overlooked. If you don’t have a critical eye, bring a friend with good fashion or decorating taste over. They’ll be able to give you a second opinion and tell you what impressions your photos are likely to make.
With all these rules, there are a million little questions that need to be answered.
- Is everything clean, or can I see fingerprints and dust?
- Is this the right amount of zoomed in or zoomed out?
- Should packaging be in the photo or not?
- Are there any weird or distracting shadows?
While no one is going to be perfect their first time taking photos, always remember that since you’re just using your smartphone, you can try over and over again. Look at the photos you’ve taken, ask yourself what can be better, and repeat until you’re happy with the results.