DIY product photography DIY product photography

The beginner’s guide to DIY product photography

Your customers expect high-quality eCommerce product photos. Selling online means shoppers can’t touch and feel before buying, so visuals become even more important in their buyer’s journey. Customers rely on high quality product photography to give them a better understanding of whether what you’re selling will meet their needs.

In fact, one study found that 67 percent of shoppers rate product photos as more important than product descriptions or reviews. This means that beautiful photos can actually improve your conversions!

67 percent of shoppers rate product photos as more important than descriptions or reviews. Click To Tweet

Unfortunately, professional photography can be expensive. You may have a successful eCommerce store doing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales every month, but calling a photographer to snap a photo for every new product is expensive, and not something every store can afford. That’s especially true for stores with large or frequently changing catalogs. So it’s worth your time to learn a bit of DIY product photography.

But how do you take professional looking photos? We’ll get to that in a minute, but first, let’s run down what makes a good product photo.

What makes a good product photo?

Photo styles will vary from store to store and even between product lines, but in general, a good photo will share each of the following characteristics.

  1. Clarity. Your photos need to be crisp and clear. Shoppers should be able to see every detail, no matter how small. The product’s edges should contrast with the background, and your photos should be well-lit so that shoppers can see every aspect of the product.
  2. Natural. You want to show the actual product, not a reconstruction in Photoshop that may not match the original exactly. Try to keep your photos as unedited as possible.
  3. Focus. For the most part, it’s best to include nothing else in the photo so the shopper doesn’t mistake props as part of their purchase. That said, there are some exceptions. For example, you may want to show a product “in-use,” which will involve creating a scene rather than shooting the product on a blank background.
  4. Consistency. Take all of your product photos under the same conditions so they’re consistent across your website. Again, there are exceptions here—if you sell housewares, for example, you might want to show forks and knives in a tablescape, while depicting throw pillows on a couch—but in general, your photos should have the same editorial style across your entire website.

The equipment you’ll need to take great photos

If you pay a photographer to take product photos, he or she would show up with a collection of expensive, high tech gear. But you don’t need all that to take high quality photos for your eCommerce website. To take some great photos in your own workspace, you need a bit of gear, a bit of knowledge, and a lot of practice.

1. Camera

It’s not necessary to buy a $3,000 camera to take great photos. Ideally, you should take product photos with a DSLR camera (one that has an interchangeable lens system), but a standard point-and-shoot camera can work, too. Before you buy something, experiment with whatever you have on hand first. If you are going to use your smartphone, be sure to read this guide to smartphone product photography.

2. Tripod

Everyone’s hands shake slightly no matter how hard we try to stay still. You’ll need a tripod to keep your camera still as possible so your photos don’t come out blurry. You can find tripods on Amazon for any type of camera or smartphone. $15 to $30 should get you a serviceable model, and depending on the type of products you’re shooting, you may be able to use a smaller “table top” tripod.

3. Background sweep

Most product photos are set on pure white backgrounds so the viewer focuses on the product and not the background elements. To create this effect, use a sheet of white paper, vinyl, or poster board. You want something that bends so you don’t have a crease behind the product.

As you can see in the photos above, you can purchase special-made background sweeps, like the ones you’d find in a photography studio, but creating a DIY one using paper or fabric can work just as well.

4. White bounce cards

Bounce cards are surfaces that reflect light so you don’t get any shadows on your products. You can buy bounce cards on Amazon or use foam boards purchased from a pharmacy (like CVS or Walgreens), big box (like Wal-Mart or Target), or craft store (like Michael’s or A.C. Moore). If your product is mostly white, it sometimes helps to use black bounce cards on either side to create contrast. Foam boards are cheap, so play around.

5. Lights

You want as much light as possible on your product so there are few shadows in your photos. Natural lighting is best. LED lights are fine. Incandescent lighting is generally bad because those bulbs have a “warmer” color and can make your photos appear yellow (some lighting, like fluorescent bulbs, can make your photos appear warmer or cooler—which will make them appear blue—depending on the type and intensity). Try to take photos near a big window with lots of light coming through. You can also buy cheap LED lights online to place around the photo area.

Play around with your lighting setup (where your lights are, how the light is bounced and diffused, what types of bulbs you use) to get the desired effect in your shots. (But remember to keep it consistent!)

You want as much light as possible on your product so there aren’t any shadows in your photos. Click To Tweet

6. Other tools

You’ll also need a table or flat surface to set up your background, bounce cards, and lights. Depending on the materials you use, you may need some tape or clips to keep everything in place.

If you don’t mind investing some money, consider purchasing a lightbox. A lightbox is a device designed specifically for product photos. It has a white bottom, background, and walls so light reflects all over the place. Nice ones come with built-in lights to eliminate shadows.

The AmazonBasics Portable Studio is a quality lightbox at an affordable price.

DIY product photography

Admittedly, this setup isn’t perfect. Without a professional photography rig, your photos are bound to have some shadows. Reflective products (like bottles, mirrors, or shiny things) can be especially troublesome because they’ll play tricks with natural light. Experiment by placing or removing reflective surfaces until you get a good photo.

How to take your own product photos

Now that you have everything you need, it’s time to take some photos!

1. Arrange your equipment

Place your table as close as possible to a source of strong natural light. Readjust if you get any shadows from the windowsill, curtains, or anything outside the building. Turn off any sources of light inside the room (unless you’re using LEDs specifically for your photography).

Set up your background sweep so that it hangs vertically. Let it run all the way to the edge of your table so there’s a smooth transition from vertical to horizontal coverage, like in the picture below. Notice how there’s no visible crease.

DIY product photography

If you don’t have a lightbox, simply tape the background sweep to a wall and let it fall down to your table. If you don’t have a wall in a well-lit area, fashion something to hold the sweep vertical (wooden blocks or dowels work well—even the back of a sturdy chair can be used).

Arrange your bounce cards to either side of the background sweep to box in the space. If the foam isn’t thick enough to stand on its own, you may need something to prop them up. Experiment with different locations and angles (even above the product) until you find an arrangement that minimizes shadow.

2. Prepare your camera

Quick disclaimer: Every camera is different. We can offer you advice, but ultimately you’ll have to experiment with your own settings to find the ones that work best for you.

Before you change any settings on your camera, snap a few photos in its default mode. You might get lucky!

If you don’t like your photos using the default setting, here are some changes to make:

Turn your flash off. Your DIY rig should provide plenty of light.

Set your white balance to auto. This will make objects that appear white (like your background) render whiter.

Set your ISO to 100. This will reduce noise in your photo.

Set your image quality as high as possible. If your camera has a RAW setting, use that. RAW uses the full bit depth of the camera to make an image as large as it possibly can. If you don’t have a RAW setting, set the image to the largest size JPG available. If your camera has a quality setting, choose the highest available.

Adjust your exposure settings (aperture and shutter speed). This one will depend on the lighting in your photo space, so you’ll have to experiment and find what works.

If your camera lets you set the aperture priority (many don’t), raise the f/stop setting as high as you can. This will give you a deeper depth of field, which will allow you to capture more information about your product in the photo and ensure that none of it appears blurry. Then adjust your shutter speed so the product looks right in your camera’s screen. If you can’t change the shutter speed manually, raise the f/stop anyway and your camera might adjust the shutter speed automatically. For more information, check out this guide to exposure settings.

If all you have is an exposure compensation dial, you may need to add +1 or +1.5 to get the proper exposure.

3. Snap a lot of photos

Once everything is in order, start taking photos. Takes lots and lots of photos. You can always delete them if you aren’t happy.

Place your product in the center of your background so the camera only sees white. Make sure your labels or identifying marks are facing the camera. Position your camera on your tripod and then don’t touch it except to take a photo.

As you shoot, take careful note of…

  • The edges of the product. Do they contrast the background or do they wash out?
  • The product’s colors. Are they crisp and clear or dull?
  • The shadows. Slight shadows make the product feel real, but too much is distracting.
  • Anything else in the shot. When you look at hundreds of photos in a short time, it’s easy to miss little things that pollute your images, like an exposed strip of the table, the edge of your bounce cards, or a smudge on the background sweep.

Your customers will want to see your product from all angles, so reposition your product and take shots showing it from different sides or points of view. As you move your product, you may need to adjust your lighting and camera settings to compensate for new shadows created by the change in angles.

A word about zooming: You may be tempted to zoom in to make the product fill your camera. Zooming can remove any distortion, but only if you have an optical zoom. An optical zoom is when the camera’s lens physically extends. A digital zoom, however, is when the camera just crops the image, which can reduce the quality.
Takes lots and lots of photos. You can always delete them if you aren’t happy. Click To Tweet

4. Touch up your photos

Almost every product photo you see has been touched up in some way. Even if you set up your photography space well and properly exposed your photos, your background will still be a little gray.

The next step is to clean up your photos. Unfortunately, this part takes some skill with photo editing software like Photoshop or Lightbox. You’ll need someone who knows how to adjust the exposure, contrast, and white balance in a way that lightens the background without affecting the product.

Remember to keep your photos true-to-life. Image editing software is extremely powerful, and it’s possible to do things like change the way a shirt fits a model or adjust the color of a product so it appears more vibrant. You may be tempted to “fix” your photos in this way to make your products look as flawless as possible, but remember that your customers are relying on your photos to make a decision about whether to buy. If they ultimately receive a product that doesn’t match what was shown in your product photos, it will only lead to more returns and bad reviews for your store.

Alternatively, you can pay to have photo editing done for you by a professional. Companies like Pixelz, cutoutcow, and BackgroundBeGone offer on-demand product photo editing for just a few dollars per image. You simply upload your images and note what you want to change. You can also hire a contractor to complete your photo editing work from a gig-work site like FiverrUpwork, or Airtasker.

A few quick tips to shoot better photos

  • Set a delay on your camera so you can remove your finger before the camera takes a picture. This will prevent blurriness due to motion. For DSLR cameras, you can use a remote shutter release, which can be purchased for about $10-$40.
  • Play around with your camera’s macro mode if your products have fine details.
  • Don’t eliminate all shadows. Slight shadows beneath the product show the shopper that the product has weight and physical presence.
  • Straight-on, centered shots are usually fine, but play around with angles and positioning to see what looks the most appealing.
  • Some products need context to look enticing. For instance, a bottle of orange juice may not be enticing all by itself, so you could add appeal by spreading some prop oranges behind it.
  • Take notes about your set up—location, lighting, time of day, weather, camera placement and settings, etc.—so you don’t have to start from scratch to get the perfect shots next time you take photos. If you change too many external variables (like shoot in a new location or at a different time of day), you’ll have to adjust your set up, but in the interest of uniformity among your product photos, it’s a good idea to try to recreate conditions as much as possible.
  • Don’t be afraid to play around with some color correction in a photo editing tool. Sometimes your camera just can’t get a perfect representation of the product.
  • That said, remember not to make too many changes in Photoshop or Lightroom or your customers may be upset that you misrepresented the product.

Get snapping!

We’ve given you enough information to get started. If you don’t have the budget for professional photos or want the ability to take a few good ones at a moment’s notice, you should have everything you need to handle it yourself. Your first photos will undoubtedly come out pretty rough but keep experimenting and you’ll get better in no time!

Your first photos will undoubtedly come out pretty rough but keep experimenting and you’ll get better in no time! Click To Tweet
Max Rice
Max Rice is Jilt's co-founder and CEO at Jilt. He focuses on ensuring our app and integration plugins are top-notch while also working with merchants to get the most out of Jilt.

1 Comment

  1. Good job Max Rice. The product photography guide provided by you is just outstanding, each and every point highlighted quite deeply.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *