High quality product photos are the key to improving your customers’ shopping experience and increasing your eCommerce sales. Sure, you might not have the skills of a pro photographer or a bunch of fancy equipment, but it’s definitely possible to take amazing product photos on your own with a bit of practice and the right setup. Grab your camera and follow this ultimate 10-step guide to DIY product photography.
1. Prepare Your Products
Before you start shooting, spend a bit of time getting organised. Clean, polish, iron, wash, shine and dust all your products so that they’re ready go.
You should create a list of all the products you need and the photos you need for each product, then tick them off as you go. It’s a good idea to group products of a similar size together so that you spend as little time adjusting your setup as possible.
2. Put Together a Photographer’s Toolbox
Even if you’re as prepared as you can be, things can still go wrong. Save yourself from any last minute stress and put together a photographer’s toolbox of some handy items such as tap, fishing line, pocket scissors, glue dots, pegs, safety pins, non-damaging hooks, and batteries and chargers.
3. Set up a White Backdrop
Shooting against a white ‘sweep’ is the secret to high quality product photos. A sweep is simply a white backdrop that seamlessly transitions from the vertical to the horizontal surface. The white will reflect light onto your product and help you avoid any colour spills. It’ll also ensure that your camera’s white balance calibration is on point. Put simply, light sources all have a different colour temperature, and digital cameras guess the true colour of an object by focusing on a white element in the frame.
The sweep needs to be larger than your product, so if you’re shooting smaller products, you’re in luck. The easiest way to set up a white backdrop is to create your own shooting table, which will give you a lot of flexibility and control with where you set up your DIY studio.
You’ll need a small square table, two scrap pieces of wood, spring clamps, and material for your sweep. You can use anything white from fabric to paper – plain white wrapping paper works great because of its glossy and reflective surface. Just nail the two planks of wood the back edge of the table, clamp the top of the sweep to the planks, and let the sweep fall down to the table surface.
If you’re shooting larger products, you’re going to need a larger sweep. A clean white sheet will work great, but the tricky part is fixing it to a vertical surface. You’ll need to improvise and drape the material over objects you have lying around the house, or stick the fabric to the wall. If you’re going to be photographing frequently, save yourself the hassle of setting up and buy a professional sweep that comes with a stand.
4. Shoot Near a Window
The sun is a great light source for product photography – professional lighting will take great photos, but it’s pricey and you need to know what you’re doing.
The key is to use the sun as an indirect light source, so your best option is to set up near a window. The window needs to be on the left or right of the product, as the light source should never be directly behind or in front of the camera.
The optimal time of day to shoot will depend on the size and position of your window, as well as whether it’s a sunny or overcast day. Shooting at midday will give you the most consistent photos, as the intensity and colour of the sun’s light changes faster the closer you are to sunrise and sunset. You also want to avoid the afternoon’s ‘golden hour’, which will give your photos a warm tinge.
As midday is generally the brightest time of day, you may find your products are looking overexposed. Don’t wait for the sun to start setting – simply diffuse the light by taping white paper over the window pane or covering it with a sheet.
5. Use a Fill Light or Reflector
When you shoot next to a window, the light source will hit your product from one side only. It’s a good idea to use a fill light or reflector to balance out the lighting and avoid any harsh shadows.
A reflector is a good investment if you’re planning on shooting frequently. Alternatively, you can make your own fill light. The best way to do this is to grab a white piece of cardboard and fold it in half, so that it can stand up on its own. As with a sweep, it needs to be white to really reflect light onto your product. The shinier to surface the better – you can even cover the card with aluminium foil to really get that light bouncing back.
6. Steady your Camera
Using a tripod or smartphone mount will ensure that your photos are sharp and clear, and you’ll also be able to change the positioning and angle of your product without changing the framing. Ideally you want the product to fill up the majority of the frame, with the rest taken up by the sweep. If you need to get closer, only use an optical zoom on a DSLR (rotate the lens) or move the entire camera closer to the product – never touch the digital zoom on either a phone or camera, as this will crop the photo as you take it and lower the quality of the final photo.
7. Get Familiar with your Camera Settings
Regardless of whether you’re using a DSLR or a smartphone, you need to get familiar with some basic camera settings.
First and foremost, you should always set your camera settings to the highest possible quality. DSLRs vary but the size settings are usually something like large (L), medium (M) and small (S), and the quality settings are usually superfine (S), fine (F), and normal (N). Always shoot with large and superfine. If you’re using a smartphone, avoid using filters and automatic framing tools. You can easily compress and crop images later, but it’s not possible to make a small and low quality image better.
The added benefit of using a DSLR is that you’ve got a lot of camera settings to work with. It can be overwhelming at first but if you’ve bought yourself a great camera, you might as well make the most of it and learn to shoot manual.
The three main things you should be aware of are aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. The perfect combination will entirely depend on your setup, but a basic understanding of what each does will help you adjust the settings more effectively.
The aperture is the hole in the camera lens that determines how much light goes into the camera. Aperture is measured in f-stops, and as the f-stop number goes up, the aperture gets smaller and the image gets darker. The aperture also determines your depth of field; a smaller image will clearly capture everything in the frame whereas a larger aperture will blur the edges of the product. With product photography, the idea is to find an aperture that’s small enough to capture the entire product clearly, but large enough to give you a well-lit product. Start with f/8 and go up and down from there.
The shutter speed determines how long the shutter is open for, which is why smaller apertures work better with slow shutter speeds.
The ISO determines how sensitive the camera is to light. Keep the ISO low and never exceed 400, as the higher you go, the lower the quality. You’ll see that the photo starts to get grainy as you go up. Smartphone camera automatically adjust the ISO depending on the lighting conditions – if your setup isn’t sufficiently lit, the camera will automatically increase the ISO. There are plenty of smartphone apps out there that let you manually control the ISO, but this won’t do you any good if your product isn’t sufficiently lit on its own.
8. Remove the Background
The general rule of backgrounds in product photography is that they should neither distract from or conflict with the product. White is clean, simple, free from distraction, and will give your product images a professional touch. A white background will also draw attention to your products and make them stand out amongst competitors.
9. Apply a Template
For consistent product images, you need to create a template. Using any kind of a photo editing software, create a blank file that has the dimensions you need for your final images.
As a general rule, products should be centered and take up 80-90% of the canvas. To line your products up exactly, create guidelines (50% horizontally and 50% vertically) to identify the centre point of the canvas. You should then create a ‘border’ not far from the edge of the canvas.
Drag your products one by one into the canvas, then resize and align them so that at least two opposite sides of the product touch two opposing guidelines. Note that you should only resize images to make them smaller – stretching them will pixelate your products and give you final images of low quality. If your product is too small for the template, you’ll need to adjust your template size.
By Paula Jakubik. Paula is the Community Manager at Pixc, an on-demand product image editing service. You’ll often find her in the corner of a cafe in Sydney, blogging about eCommerce and helping online store owners with their product images.