8 Product Photography Tips for Beginning Shop Owners

This post was written by Kim Olson, a professional photographer who runs SimplerPhoto.com. Simpler Photo is a blog Kim started in order to teach others how to take great pictures without the need for expensive gear. Go check it out when you get a chance.

Let me just say it straight away: great product photography isn’t easy to achieve.

But I’m not saying this to scare you. Rather, I’m saying this to comfort you.

The thing is, if you’ve been struggling to take good product images and haven’t been happy with your results, it’s not necessarily because you’re a bad photographer, it’s just that it’s not the easiest thing to master. Many professional photographers spend years honing and perfecting this talent.

With that said, however, there are certainly a number of things you can do to improve your product photography (and before you start worrying you’ll need to invest in new camera equipment, rest assured that these tips don’t require that).

You ready? Let’s get started.

Tips for Better Product Photography

1. Light Your Product

lighting

Natural light can create beautifully-lit images. (Photo Kim Olson)


Photography is nothing without light, so you’ll want to make sure you do a great job of lighting your products.

If you’re new to photography, I think it’s best to start off using natural light (aka the sun). Natural light is soft, always available (barring any major earthly catastrophe, of course), predictable and easy to work with. Pick your biggest north-facing window, put a table next to it and play around with how the light hits your product.

You can, of course, also use flashes and constant lighting (like lamps or actual photo lights). This way is trickier (you’ll want to avoid harsh, ugly shadows from direct flashes) and more costly (you’ll need additional equipment) but some prefer the added control.

Editor’s Note: Since I do most of my work after the kids have gone to bed, I usually take my photos at night using a cheap lighting system that you can get on Amazon.

2. Stage Your Product

It can be really helpful to buyers when you ‘stage’ your product by including other objects.

If you take a look at Steve’s store, you’ll notice his images often include flowers or dishes along with the linens he’s selling.

Staging can give your buyer more context in how your item is used. It can also help show the scale of your product.

For example, if you’re selling something that people wear, it’s a great idea to take a picture of a model wearing it (either a mannequin or a real person). Since people usually aren’t good at imagining what it looks like on, you’ll be giving them a clearer idea of what to expect.

Staging the photo

Showing your product being worn, like this bridal veil, helps your customer visualize how it will look. (Photo Kim Olson)


If you do decide to include other objects just be sure they don’t distract the viewer too much from the product itself.

3. Take Photos from a Lot of Different Angles

If you’re selling exclusively online, customers won’t be able to physically touch or handle your product so you’ll want to show them as much as possible about your item to help eliminate any questions or uncertainty.

Go crazy with your photos and take many different angles of your product ie. shoot from the side, top, bottom, etc.

cowboy boots

Cowboy boots with an intricate pattern and details. (Photo Kim Olson)


And don’t forget to include close-up shots. People love to see texture and the little details that make up your product. I know that when I buy online, a seller can almost never provide too many photos of a product, and photos are the first things I look at before buying anything online.

Boots in detail

Cowboy boot detail. (Photo Kim Olson)

4. Be Careful with Your Background

What background should you use? Well, it depends.

Some people prefer an all-white background. It’s clean, simple and straightforward.

Others prefer to use backgrounds with patterns that complement the product.

Shoe photo background

Fancy wedding high-heeled shoes shot on a colorful background. (Photo Kim Olson)


Still others like to shoot ‘on location’, like outside in their backyards.

There are many different ways to achieve great shots and each has their own challenges and benefits, so it comes down more to personal preference and what works for your particular products.

Also remember to keep the background tidy and remove all distracting elements that may draw attention from your product (this will be especially important if you’re not using a backdrop).

5. Use a Tripod

I don’t normally advocate the use of tripods, but with product photography they can definitely come in handy – especially if you’re shooting a lot of products all at once.

The benefits of a tripod are:

  • They keep the camera steady (blurry shots = unusable shots)
  • They keep the camera in the same exact position so your angle will stay the same for every image
  • They free up your hands so that you can reposition your products to take different angles

6. Make Sure Your Images are Sharp

One thing a lot of professional photographers are sticklers about is the sharpness of their images. There’s almost nothing worse than a blurry or soft photograph. It’s unprofessional and doesn’t do your product justice.

What you want to aim for is what is referred to as ‘tack sharp’ images, where your main point of focus is undeniably sharp.

The best ways to ensure your product photos are tack sharp are to:

  • Hold the camera steady – If you have trouble with this, then use a tripod or set your camera down on something stable.
  • Control your focus point – If you have a DSLR, you likely have the ability to choose a particular focus point within your frame. Use this to select the focus point closest to the area you want most in focus.
  • Make sure you you’re shooting with enough light – The darker it is, the harder it will be for you to get your camera to focus properly, so be sure you’re photographing with enough light.
  • View your image at 100% – After you’ve taken an image, use your camera’s viewfinder to zoom in to 100% and scroll around your image. Is your product sharp or does it look a bit soft? Because you’re probably shooting digitally, you can take as many photos as you need to to make sure you get your shot.

7. Edit Your Images

No matter how good of a photographer you are, most of your images can use a little cleaning up.

After you’ve taken your photos, open up your photo-editing program of choice (I use Lightroom and occasionally Photoshop, but even included or free programs like Windows Live Photo Gallery or Picasa will do fine) and do a little adjusting.

Here are some tweaks you may want to perform:

  • Cropping – While it’s usually good to frame and compose your subject correctly when you’re taking your photo, it’s not always possible to get it just right. Now’s the time to crop tighter or straighten out your images.
  • Exposure – If your photo is a little under-exposed (too dark) or over-exposed (too light), then use the exposure slider to adjust appropriately. Don’t go too crazy with it, though, usually a light touch will give the best results.
  • Retouch – If you notice a bit of dust or other unwanted blob in your image, try finding and using the tool that helps you remove that. You don’t need a fancy editor to do this, either. I’ve found that the Windows Live Photo Gallery editor does a really good job of this – I was pleasantly surprised.

8. Be Consistent

There’s really no right or wrong way to take your photographs and the details of how you decide to take your photos is more of a personal one. But one really important tip I want you to keep in mind is to be consistent.

For example, whether you choose to photograph with an all-white background or not, make sure all of your images follow the same look. It’ll help give your shop a much more cohesive feel.

Spend a little time thinking about what you want to convey about not only your product but your brand. Your imagery will be a factor in how customers perceive your company so be sure your images reflect your message correctly.

To Sum Up

I could go on and on about how to improve your product photography since it’s a pretty big and challenging task.

But I think you’ll find that once you get into your groove and start taking more and more photos of your products, you’ll learn what works best for you and which angles help show off your products’ best features.

It does take time and practice to take great product shots, but I promise it gets easier.

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18 thoughts on “8 Product Photography Tips for Beginning Shop Owners”

  1. Unless you are going for a special effect, natural light is always more…natural-looking. Much brighter. Much happier.

    1. Definitely more natural and I think it’s much easier to master than artificial lighting, too.

  2. I disagree with using flash for product photography. The best lighting source is indirect sunlight. Taking photographs outdoors on an overcast day is much better than using flash. I won a photo contest a long time ago with a photograph that I took of an outdoor sculpture when it was drizzeling on and off. The nice thing about going outdoors to do product photography on an overcast day is that the shadows are reduced or eliminated.

    I also recommend using a photo light box for product photography along with a tripod and the camera’s self-timer. Using the camera’s self-timer gives the camera time to “bounce back” after the shutter has been depressed and avoid a blur in your images. This is necessary even when using a tripod.

    I use and highly recommend using GIMP for photo editing. GIMP can do just about anything and everything that Photoshop can do and GiMP is FREE. Both products have a fairly steep learning curve.

    1. I’m not a big fan of flash photography, but there are some cases where using natural sunlight may not be the right option. Let’s say you need to take a few hundred photos using identical backgrounds requiring the same white balance. Maybe a month later, you need to take a few hundred more as new products roll in. Under these circumstances, it’s better to have a controlled setup and a lighting system. Otherwise, every photo will look different.

      1. Jim, can you elaborate on the bounce back that you mentioned? How does using the self-timer affect this?

    2. I’ve heard great things about GIMP, but haven’t tried it myself. As you mentioned it does have a steep learning curve like Photoshop, but you can’t beat the price!

  3. Steve,

    Even though you have your camera mounted on a tripod, the camera will still move downward as you depress the shutter release button. If you do not use the camera’s self-timer when you depress the shutter release button the camera will be bouncing back to its original position as the photograph is being taken. That could result in your photographs being out of focus or blurred.

    Using the self-timer gives the camera a few seconds to allow the camera to go back to its normal resting position on the tripod.

    Another tip that was not mentioned in this blog post, but I feel is very important, is to read the camera’s owner’s manual from cover to cover. You would be surprised at how many people don’t bother to read their camera’s owner’s manual. You need to become familiar with all of the different camera settings if you want to achieve great results with your product photography.

    1. Interesting. I would think that wouldn’t be much of a factor with VR and IS lenses and the shutter speed turned up. Most images are shrunk significantly before posted online as well so even partially blurry images should look ok.

      1. I have read that using the self timer does help with camera shake, but if you’re shooting in bright enough environments, I haven’t found it to be too big of an issue. But it’s definitely something to be aware of.

  4. Another great option for photo editing is Pixlr.com which is free online editing software with a mobile option as well. I find this to be much faster than Picasa when I just need to make a quick edit. It also gives the option of saving the image in an online library to grab later.

    Thanks for the wonderful tips.

    1. Thanks for the additional tip, Page! I haven’t used Pixlr.com but it sounds like a wonderful option.

  5. Melanie says:

    May I ask what equipment you used to shoot these photos with? Any special lighting? Can I do something similar with just a point and shoot or my cell phone?

    1. Hi Melanie – for all of these images I used a Canon 5D Mark II camera body with a 50mm f/1.8 lens.

      For lighting, I used the ambient, natural light that was available. In all cases except the bridal veil (which was shot outdoors), the object was relatively close to a window(s) so I could maximize the amount of light falling on the objects.

      I’ve actually had pretty great luck using just my phone or a point-and-shoot camera. It won’t give you the same results (achieving shallow depth of field is one of the biggest challenges with these cameras), but they do a pretty good job.

  6. Hi Kim,
    Important tips about a less discussed skill more online shop keepers should master. Thanks to Steve for sharing it with the BizSugar community.

    1. Hi Heather – I definitely think product photography is important for online shops and it’s super beneficial to put in the extra effort to get great shots that show your products in their best light.

  7. 360 Degree Photography: This is a newer way to showcase your products online. It’s is becoming more popular ever day and has finally become cost effective. That being said, it is an option that you will only want to consider if you can afford too. 360 Product photography involves the shooting of multiple photos of your product and then putting them together to create an interactive view for your customers. The resulting 360 is an interactive image that your customers can manipulate and view from every angle. This is a very effective way to showcase your products online.

  8. I agree that you need a tripod and a remote. DON’T invest in a light box/tent like I did because it’s a waste of money. Although product photography is boring it’s actually an art to get it right like the professionals. If you want to be taken seriously, you can make a choice. Invest in expensive gear and learn to do it yourself, or hire a pro to do it.

  9. For food photography it is required to make the shot look like real. So it is very necessary to use of lighting here.

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