When you have an up-and-running business, many things remain a mystery when you get down to figuring out how things work. Product photography is one of them!
You want to feature your product in the best light, make it shine on socials, and give it the spotlight it deserves. When you put your heart and soul into a business, you have to think about these things. Especially if you have an eCommerce website! When it comes to product photography, you’ve come to the right place.
For the best practical advice on product photography for social media, we turned to an award-winning professional photographer, Davide Esposito, to demystify this topic for you. In this guide to product photography, we’ll walk you through 4 paths you can take with your product photography – from product photography setup to top product photography tips, gear, pricing, and maintaining consistency across your socials. As a bonus, there is also a section on creative product photography at home.
This was a photoshoot for a beverage that comes from Capri. I chose to photograph it against an iconic background, slightly blurring it, so that the product is in full focus and there is some context.Davide Esposito, professional photographer
An introduction to gear for product photography
Would it come as a surprise if we said that your phone is enough to shoot professional product photography shots? In reality, this isn’t the best advice out there.
All things considered, it turns out you can also invest in surprisingly cheap professional gear that will help you take your product photography from looking amateur to being showcased in the best possible light.
And no, you don’t need to be an experienced photographer to navigate these waters. We’ll help you along the way. Read on to find out everything you need to know on gear for product photography.
Why a phone is not the best option for product photography
Smartphones are great tools for everyday use, but once you turn to them for professional photography, you’ll quickly find that they fall short of expectations. Mind that you can shoot your product photography with a phone, but here are some drawbacks.
Among all the smartphone cameras, only one will give you something close to high-quality images – the main wide-angle lens. You can still use the main wide angle camera to shoot some environmental product photography, but you’ll notice that small things will make your photos look a bit ‘off’.
- Smartphones usually have multiple lenses: ultra-wide, regular wide angle (the main camera), and a telephoto lens. For product photography, a good tip is to get close to your subject/item and narrow in on the framing. You’ll need a telephoto camera, and unfortunately, the quality of those photos on a phone are not the best.
- The second defect of using a camera phone for product photography is that the software sharpening and HDR, which is integral in most phones, will leave you with images that look slightly artificial compared to what you probably had in mind.
- It’s difficult to get consistent shots with lighting because controlling white balance is trickier than with professional gear. To create a good Instagram feed with your product photography, you need consistency in color and white balance, framing, and style. Some smartphones offer RAW, which gives you more control to tweak your photos, but if you’re going for this option, you might as well invest into a dedicated camera for your product photography.
These 3 factors contribute to the details that can make you feel like your photos simply lack consistency. Not a great look for social media, or featuring professional shots for your online store.
This shot was taken with a high-quality telephoto lens, which would be impossible to do with a phone. Lighting is the real reason why this photo appears so appealing. The light is gentle, but at an angle it gives a 3D feel to the photo.Davide Esposito, professional photographer
Smartphone product photography tips
Mobile photography tip #1
If you still want to use your phone for product photography, use your telephoto lens. If you don’t have it, zoom in with your main lens. Try not to go overboard with zooming in, as it’ll ruin the quality of the product photos. This happens because a phone camera is not a real zoom lens, you are basically cropping your photographs.
Mobile photography tip #2
Set your white balance to a stable value, as neutral as you can. Tap on the item you are exposing for and raise or lower the exposure on your screen until the item in your product photos looks the way you want it to.
Mobile photography tip #3
In regards to the camera angles, conventionally, the different angles are 0°, 30°, 45° 75° and 90° – going from the item at eye level to top view. There is no precise rule for using specific angles, but it’s best to experiment to see what works best for the nature of your product.
Having white walls around helps make the sunlight less harsh in the final image. Since white walls act as reflectors, they make the subject of your photograph stand out.Davide Esposito, profesional photographer
The best gear for product photography (doesn’t have to be expensive)
You’ve gotten this far in the article, and the good news is that you don’t need to spend a lot to make the most of your gear. Ebay, for example, is a goldmine of opportunities when it comes to choosing gear (including used professional equipment).
Product photography gear under $500
If you don’t want to spend too much on gear just for the purpose of product photography, you can get a versatile and affordable camera among the micro 4/3 ones.
There are several brands involved in the development of this standard lens mount – the main ones are Panasonic and Olympus. Among the lens manufacturers, you can also find a few good autofocus options from Sigma.
Main body gear
Here are some bodies you can look into on the used market that are convenient and up to the contemporary standards of a professional camera:
Olympus om-D e-M10 (mark II, mark III, and IV)
Panasonic GX80 (commonly known as Panasonic GX85)
But in general, any micro 4/3 body from Panasonic and Olympus that is not too old will work fine to shoot product photos.
As for the lenses, you may want to look into the option of purchasing a dedicated macro lens. It all depends how big the items you plan to shoot are. If, for example, you want to shoot large or any medium sized product, even the zoom kit lens may be enough since you won’t need to focus very close.
Instead, If you shoot very intricate and small products such as jewelry pieces, a good option is a sharp telephoto macro lens like the Olympus 60mm f/2.8. It is vital that you have a good telephoto macro lens for close up, detailed photos in high-quality.
If you shoot with a dedicated camera, remember to never shoot with the aperture wide open. Close the aperture of your lens to ensure enough depth of field, so your product can be in focus. This is especially true if you use telephoto macro lenses.
As you choose locations, remember to frame something that is a clear reference to the story of the product or the brand. Aesthetics are everything, so make sure the elements in your photo compliment the item instead of clashing with it.Davide Esposito, professional photogapher
Maintaining consistency with product photography
Consistency with product photography is also about knowing the purpose. You have to have a clear understanding of what you’re shooting for, as this will determine how you showcase your product.
Is your product photography shot for Instagram? Is it for a new product launch? Is it a shot to help you drive sales? All these questions are vital so that you understand which direction to take with your photography and how you set up the scene.
A crazy product photography setup like the many videos you’ll find on YouTube is not necessary. You can keep it simple and still achieve amazing results. Even with a single light source and a reflector. Your gear can be your phone, or an affordable camera as mentioned in this article.
One of the privileges of shooting environmental photographs is the opportunity to play with perspective. For example, this image doesn’t look boring despite being quite ‘simple’ and this is due to the use of leading lines.Davide Esposito, professional photographer
Tips on product photography lighting
If you don’t have external light sources, natural lighting from a large window will be enough. Natural lighting can produce quite dramatic effects if you play with exposure and camera angles.
Lighting tip #1
If you are indoors, narrow in on the framing of your item and make sure that the main light source on the item is coming from above, behind you, or on the right or left. You want to avoid backlighting, and especially blocking the source of light.
In regards to consistency, keep in mind that using natural light can produce great results for a single photo or a series of photos done in the moment. However, it’s a bit more unpredictable since natural light is different every day and during different times of the day.
Lighting tip #2
A good solution could be a lightbox (but more on that later, see Option 2 below). Lightboxes are used for classic product photos and still life photography in general, as it will always ensure a consistent look and feel of your photos.
An important factor to take into account with all your product photography shots is the white balance. This is especially important if you shoot not in RAW, but JPEG. With JPEG, you cannot fix the white balance as easily.
Lighting tip #3
If you shoot with artificial light (with flash and your lightbox), set the white balance of the flash to 5/5.5 Kelvin. If you are going to shoot environmental still life, set the value so that the light is as true to natural light as possible, according to the light that is hitting the subject you’re shooting (not too cold, and not too warm).
Lighting tip #4
With exposure, try to match the amount of light you see with your naked eye to the one you’re going to see on the item that you are exposing for.
I wanted to give a studio look to this image. The rocks of Capri are product reference, so I used a direct flash to kill daylight. This was a simple but very effective choice for an image that really stood out on a social media feed.Davide Esposito, professional photographer
4 ways to do your product photography for social media
If you’ve determined where your photos will be used, and have the gear you need, let’s dive into the 4 options that will help you get those winning professional product photos.
Option 1: Work with the product photography you already have
If you already have some product photography shots you’ve done with a phone or camera, but they fall short of your expectations – there’s a solution if you need product only images.
Upload your images to VistaCreate and use the background remover to get rid of the background. You can then use the isolated product to feature it in your social media designs. Sounds easy? Because it is!
Once you’ve removed the background from your product photos, you can place your product into ready-made templates from VistaCreate, and post or schedule your posts right from the editor.
If this product photography option isn’t the one for you because you’re looking to create a consistent series of shots, let’s move on to option 2.
Option 2: DIY home product photography
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with showcasing your products on a white or plain white background. You might want to use this option paired with the background remover if you’d like to solely focus on your product.
This DIY home photography setup requires some paper and a surface (a cheap surface material can be bought to mimic, wood, marble, and so on). You need to hang the white paper (or colored paper) as your backdrop, making it roll over onto the surface for a smooth transition in your photos.
For this option, you don’t need studio lighting. Softer light, like natural light coming from the window will be enough. If you have a light, white curtain, your window basically turns into a softbox. You do have to play with the lighting setup and find the right spot in the house where lighting conditions are ideal.
There are variations of this home photography setup where you can use various fabrics as your backdrop, and even your laptop to create custom ones for your product shots. But in this case, a camera with a telephoto macro lens will work better than a phone.
Once you do have the shots, you’ll find that they need minimum photo editing except some adjustments in exposure and white balance.
This setup is super easy and cheap to do and can give you quite versatile product photos depending on your choice of background. For more ideas on how to make the most of this option, jump to the section on creative product photography ideas at home.
This was a shot taken at home – outside during nighttime, using a glass table and a flashlight from below. This is an example of how you can use creativity to break some rules even if you don’t have expensive gear.Davide Esposito, professional photographer
4 Steps to create DIY home product photographs
Get paper sheets as big as you need to cover the background of the item.
Place yourself near a big window (avoid direct sunlight, a light curtain can create soft light) or slightly to the right or left. Make sure you don’t block the light source with your body.
Put the item on the paper sheet and let the sheet gently bend towards your surface and beyond the item to create an even background. Now that you have a gentle source of light going directly on the object, you can take the perfect product photo.
Grab your phone, zoom in slightly (or use the telephoto lens if your phone has it), set the white balance and proper exposure, and take some shots.
Option 3: Cheap softbox product photography
If you want to take consistent product photographs regardless of lighting conditions – time to create a mini photo studio at home. The perfect product photo that is always going to have a consistent look (especially if you plan to do a series of photos) can be done by purchasing just 1 accessory. For this, all you need is a foldable lightbox.
A lightbox is a fabric cube wrapped around a foldable frame that allows you to achieve any background you like, not just a plain white one. The light source comes from flashes from the lightbox’s sides. It’s used to shoot classic-looking still-life photography and it assures that you always have a consistent look.
Usually, they come with their own lights, and they’re a great option if you want to use your phone. For artificial product photography lighting, you may want to invest in a couple of external Speedlite flashes if you own a professional camera.
For about $100-$150 dollars, you can get a couple of manual flashes and a trigger for your camera, just don’t forget the light stand to hold the flashes. You’ll need to angle them properly to get the best lighting and highlight the item’s features.
And there you have it, this affordable option is like having a mini photography studio at home. You can opt for artificial lighting options and still try different angles for your product photos. With this option, it’s also a bit easier during the post-production stage, as all your shots should have consistent lighting.
For quick tips, watch our DIY product photography tutorial on TikTok.
Option 4: Shooting product photography in a natural environment
Now, a professional product photographer might advise you to shoot in context to the environment. This means taking your product photography outdoors, to shoot in a natural environment. Of course, this depends on the nature of your product, but generally, giving photos context outdoors is a great way to tell a story.
For outdoor product photography, you have to take into account that working with natural light might be difficult, but it’s incredibly rewarding when you come back with a series of photos you can be really proud of.
Another great benefit of taking photos outside is that you have a really good chance of creating something truly unique and standing out from your competitors online. Using the aforementioned product photography setup might be a bit repetitive on social media in the long run.
When shooting environmental still life product photography, it’s important to think about the features of the item and the story of the product alongside your brand. If, for example, you’re shooting a set of necklaces inspired by aquatic life, it can be a good idea to look for a boat to use as part of the environment around the subject. In this case, you might want to use something other than a telephoto lens, but make sure to be close enough to feature the item without losing it in the context of the environment.
For this purpose, it’ll be up to you to spot the best lighting, the right time of the day, and if it’s the case to use an external flash to highlight the item’s features.
To highlight the item, this time, it was enough to use natural light and simply place the product in some flowers. This goes to show that simple ideas work best for a series of shots, especially when you’re developing a cohesive social media feed.Davide Esposito, professional photographer
Bonus option: Creative product photography ideas at home
If you think that your product photos are a bit boring, there are some techniques that can help you tell a story with your product photos at home. Let’s make those visuals truly compelling product photos!
If we talk about creative techniques, it’s worth noting that this option can help you drive more awareness to your product for the sole reason that people love a good story! And if your product images achieve to tell a story, you’ve got a potential lead.
It goes without saying that with a simple home photography setup, lighting will be key (you can go with either natural or artificial lighting for these ideas). It is enough if you have a large window with light to create some dramatic professional product photography shots. Use either natural or artificial light to experiment with the results.
Simple creative idea
Set up your background as suggested in option 2. You will need a surface and a backdrop or a background for this photoshoot idea.
For the sake of this example, suppose you are shooting your ceramic vase as the focal point of your product photos. Set it halfway between your backdrop and the foreground, about 30-40 cm away from the backdrop. Use a clean white or black background if your product is colorful.
The light source can be natural light coming from a window, so make sure your setup is next to one.
You can shoot with really basic settings, keeping a middle ground depth of field: f/6.3 and at 1/200 of a second. Shoot your ceramic vase from the front and try some from the side to get different lighting options to work with.
What this will do is create a nice, clean shot where your ceramic piece is center stage with a slightly blurred background. This is the most basic setup you can have, but the results are quite incredible. Your shots will be versatile enough to use across your social media, website, and any other platform you choose.
The color palette is extremely important for professional-looking product photography. In this shot, the blue of the bottle compliments the soft shades of white and blue in the background.”Davide Esposito, professional photographer
Intermediate creative idea
For this one, we’ll be introducing props. The key here is to find objects that will give your product some context. For a ceramic vase, it would be great to include some pottery tools, clay, canvas fabric, or other elements that will compliment your piece. Introduction props immediately change the visual appearance of your shots, making them more appealing because of some context.
Begin by placing props behind and in front of your product to create an environment. Never put your props on the same plane as your product as you want to keep the focus on the product itself.
Use the same camera settings and your window as a light source. Another great tip is to take more photos every time you add a new prop, as this will give you more product images and material to work with later on.
Your props will help add dimension, with the background and foreground out of focus. You can also use your props to create leading lines. The key here is to include props that will help tell your product’s story.
Sometimes you might want an extra hand to help you show your product in context.Davide Esposito, professional photographer
Pro creative idea
Finally, we’re going to show your product features in context with props for this pro tip. Just as a ceramic vase has a purpose, so does any product you’d like to showcase. You might want to place flowers inside the ceramic vase to show its use and to add some interest to your final shots.
You can experiment with depth of field for this one if you’re feeling confident in your photography skills. Lifestyle shots are also a good idea if you can show a person in context to your product (if appropriate). These will be much more detailed shots, but perfect for social media.
This is by far not the easiest creative product photography tip to integrate, because it depends on the nature of your product. Think about how it is used and the different applications of your item that you can show in your product images.
In this photo, there are 2 sources of light. The sun as backlight, and direct flash as the main lighting. The other important element is catching the right moment to catch the perfect shot.Davide Esposito, professional photographer
On post production for product photography
To round up our product photography tips, a small note on post-production. If you own a camera, you may already be familiar with photo editing software such as Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, and Capture One. If you’re not, they’re fundamental tools to extract the look you prefer from your RAW files.
Editing software for mobile photography is equally important. Regardless if you shoot JPEG or RAW with your phone, Snapseed is everything you will need to get started. Your product shots don’t need anything super complicated.
A few tips on photo editing – keep the colors in your product shots as close to real life as possible, showcasing your products in the best light (not too warm, and not too cold). Make sure the light highlights your product, without saturating the colors too much.
Action shots and still life don’t go together, but again, no one said you can’t break some rules.The objective of this photoshoot was to create content for social media. This particular shot was a risk (for my gear) but well worth it to help stand out on busy feeds.Davide Esposito, professional photographer
Final thoughts on product photography
Many of those looking for product photographs to recreate may think that it’s all about high-quality images and gear. In reality, you likely have everything you need to get started. Natural soft light, a smartphone with a decent camera to produce some great photos, semi-professional gear, or the great outdoors.
Successful product photography lies in having the eye to take good compositions, understanding the basics of light and working with light, and a touch of creativity. At VistaCreate, we always say no one knows your business like you do. So go out there, follow this guide, but break a few rules to create truly outstanding product photography shots and tell your unique brand story.
If you’d like to continue reading about eCommerce photography specifically, check out this article.