Product Photography: How to Shoot Beautiful Product Photos on a Budget
What’s the first thing you do before buying a product online?
You look at the images, correct?
And what happens when the images don’t give you the best view of what you wanted? Wrong angles. Wrong lighting.
And you end up browsing away and look for another product or an alternative.
This is where good product photography comes into play.
Your customer’s initial contact with the product is through the images on your website. It’s the point where they fall in love with it and click the “buy button.”
Is this what you are going through currently?
Guess what – we’ve got good news for you.
Over the years, we’ve worked with dozens of ecommerce businesses, and have put together exactly what you need to take care of for creating stellar product photos.
This guide will take you through the best product photography techniques so you that can ramp up your conversion rates.
Table of Contents:
Step 1: Pre-shooting Preparation
Step 2: Get the Background and Product Ready
Step 3: Erecting a Lightbox/Light Tent
Step 4: Set the Product Up
Step 5: Lights On!
Step 6: Use a Tripod
Step 7: Post Production – Optimizing Product Photos for Massive Conversions
Let’s start by answering the obvious –
1. Why Product Photography Matters
Here are a few reasons why you should not underestimate the value of good product images:
They Display the Product in Stock
Many people prefer buying offline because they get a chance to see, touch and even taste the product before handing over their credit cards for swiping.
As an online vendor, you don’t have that advantage. But still, you can help your clients get an idea of how the product looks through clear photos.
Would you open your wallet to purchase a product without seeing it?
You wouldn’t, and I wouldn’t do that, either. No one takes kindly to images that are blurry – no matter how alluring that product description is.
We are visual creatures and therefore only trust what we can see. Ecommerce websites with high-quality images get more trust than those that skimp on photography.
Good images assure a customer that they are going to get a good product.
Which brings us to a valid point –
Good Visuals will Make You (or Your Brand) Famous
We are living in an age where people talk more via social media than they do via calls or SMS. Someone is more inclined to share an image or video clip with you than initiate a call.
Now if your platform has a good number of followers on social media and you happen to post viral-worthy captions, your brand will grow.
So make it a point to include photos not just on product shelves but on social media and in blog posts as well.
And if you’re wondering why:
To Boost Conversions
So many of us act on impulse rather than rational sense.
It’s often said that we buy based on our emotions and then justify it using logic.
How many times have you bought something just because it’s breathtaking or very appealing?
A lot of times, I bet.
Because images inspire you to make a move. You tend to fall in love with what you see- plain and simple.
As of March 2018, the HTTP archive found out that almost half of the content on most websites consist of images. As you can see in the chart below, many people respond well to images than any form of content.
So, while it’s okay to optimize your opt-in pages and carts, don’t forget about images.
Now that we’ve established that images are necessary, let’s talk about how it can be done –
2. Product Photography Equipment
If you really want to come up with great photos that will invoke the buyers’ emotion, then you will have to invest in some of the best photography products.
If you’ve already got a camera, then it’s only going to take a few bucks to get things ready.
Anyways, here is a list of all the things you need:
No matter how sophisticated a camera is, it cannot shoot the past.
What I’m trying to say is- don’t obsess over a top-of-the-line lens that costs thousands of dollars.
Sometimes even your own smartphone can capture stellar photos with the righting setting in place.
Some inexpensive product photography cameras include Canon EOS Rebel T7i, Sony Alpha a5000, Nikon COOLPIX P340, Nikon D3300, Fujifilm XQ1, etc. These cams share the following:
- Higher resolution
- Large sensors
- Cam shoot raw files
- Fast shutter speed
- Good image stabilization technology
Today’s modern cameras feature a plethora of shooting modes such as landscape, portrait, sports and night mode. While these have their place, the modes we are interested in for product photography are Manual Mode, Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority.
Manual Mode is useful when you want full creative control over the exposure. You should stick to using manual mode as with practice it gives you an intuitive feel of light intensity and the settings to use. This knowledge can be applied to all photographic situations, not just product photography.
Aperture Mode lets you set the aperture, while the camera selects the correct shutter speed. This mode is simple to use, and it gives you creative control over the depth of field. Remember that the camera will select slower shutter speeds as you decrease the f-number, so a tripod is required.
Product photography usually requires the full range of your product to be in focus, so values below f/5.6 are recommended. Aperture priority is also a good mode to stick to as you don’t have to spend time adjusting any other settings.
Shutter Priority lets you select the shutter speed, while the camera selects the aperture. This is useful if you don’t have a tripod, so you need to use faster shutter speeds to avoid shakes.
Remember that as you decrease the shutter speed, the camera increases the f-stop to compensate.
However, your lens may not be fast enough for correct exposure. In this case, your camera may not fire, or it will produce an underexposed picture.
Therefore shutter priority should only be used when you have lots of light.
Next up –
A tripod brings consistency, focus, and stability to the table. While it’s possible to take clear and stable shots while holding the camera in your hands, the chances of getting blurry images are high.
Your hand can shake or move especially when shooting from a wider depth of field.
The budget for a good quality tripod should be somewhere between $20 and $30. Short on cash? You can always improvise. A taller stool or a short one with stacks of books can provide you with a motion-free platform for placing your camera.
Remotes help to reduce camera movement caused by pressing the shutter release button. They also allow you to change your product and lighting positions without always going back to your camera to take the shot, and you can hold a reflector or flash in one hand and the remote in the other to release the shutter.
Alternatively, you can reduce camera shake by setting your cameras to timer mode.
This one is a biggie!
Without proper lighting, even the best of cameras will still struggle to capture every aspect of your product. The outcome? Unprofessional photos that not only fail to trigger a purchase but project the idea that you skimped on quality.
Here’s the best way to set up your light for professional shots:
- Keep two lights on either side of the product but each should focus on the background-not the product. This way, your product will appear separate from the wall.
- You need two more lights; one above the product and the other right in front of it. These lights make sure your product is lit to the best level. The light from the top also helps to absorb the casting shadow.
Using Natural Light:
Can I go with natural light?
Of course, you can. But you are going to put in a lot of effort to get the clearest shots. Work in a well-lit room next to the window – ensure the light hits the product from the left or right-not front or behind.
If the natural light is too intense, you will need to cover the window with sheets or curtains to diffuse some of that light. Natural light keeps changing in colour and intensity as the day goes by. This could trigger inconsistencies in image quality.
So before you go out for a shoot, keep everything ready and within reach. Having an extra set of hands can help you finish the shoot ASAP.
Get a Reflector
For those using natural light, you may need to invest in a reflector and keep it on the other side of the product – away from the window. A reflector basically minimizes harsh shadows by distributing light all around the product.
If you don’t want to visit Amazon for a reflector, use a big white card. You can line its interior with aluminium foil to make it more reflective.
Reducing Glare (Specural Highlights)
A common problem with product photography is glare or specural highlights, caused by shiny materials or packaging.
There are a number of ways to reduce glare. You can move the light source closer to your product, so the light source is larger than the product. Or you can move the light source further away so the glare becomes tiny and unobtrusive.
Moving the light source more to the side may also make any reflections less obtrusive.
However, there is a scientific approach towards removing glare, and it is known as the ‘Angle of Reflection’ or the ‘Family of Angles.’
Simply put, it means that light hitting a reflective surface, such as polished metal or glass, will always reflect at the opposite angle. If your camera’s field of view is within this angle, then you will see reflections.
Therefore you can move your camera outside this reflection window, or move the lights so the reflection window is outside your camera’s field of view.
You can deduce the position of lights by looking at the reflections in a picture. For example, look at the reflections in a model’s eyes – you may see one, two, or even three different light sources, each at different positions.
Another way to reduce glare is by using a polarizing filter. These filters attach to your lens and block reflected light. Reflected light waves travel at a different orientation than direct light waves, and the filter only lets light waves through that travel in the direct light wave orientation.
As the filter is rotated the effect becomes more pronounced. Bear in mind that polarizing filters decrease the light by a couple of stops, so you will have to compensate.
They also slightly increase colour saturation. However, on their own, they won’t completely eliminate prominent reflections.
Okay, let’s move on to the actual stuff:
3. The Process of Product Photography
We know you’re pumped to get started, but first, let’s just mention the two types of ecommerce photography techniques you need to know:
Clean-cut Product Only Images
These are those images that appear alone on a white background. Mostly, they showcase what a product looks like from all the possible angles. You can use them on product pages as well as on all your marketing channels.
The image below is a representation of a product only shot.
Lifestyle photos demonstrate your product in actual use by a human. Usually, other complementing products will be in the image as well. Since lifestyle photos tell a story, they are ideal for posting on social media pages, blog posts and through email lists.
They achieve more results when used at the top of the conversion channel.
Here is a screenshot showing a product being used by real people.
Makes you wanna buy it, don’t you think?
Step 1: Pre-shooting Preparation
Now, we can’t get the camera rolling yet.
The most important step in any product photo shoot is ensuring the product looks its best. This means wiping away any dust, fingerprints, and stains. These will show up in the image even if you don’t notice them during the shoot.
You can remove dust in Photoshop, but it’s time-consuming, so it’s best to clean your products before you start shooting.
Cleaning your products with a damp cloth will usually suffice, but for more persistent stains, alcohol or nail polish remover can be used. However, make sure it doesn’t damage your product.
A shabby looking product isn’t going to attract many sales or bids, so it’s worth spending a bit of time for this.
Step 2: Get the Background and Product Ready
After you have cleaned your product and you are in a room with ample space, it’s time to set up the background. Use a white backdrop to avoid over-editing to remove the background.
Now, all you need is a table or office chair and a single roll of craft paper. This is on a small scale by the way.
Now push the chair to the wall and tape the craft paper on it and let it roll all the way to the other end. The transition between the vertical and horizontal plane should be seamless as shown below;
Here is a screenshot of a large scale background setting for big products:
Step 3: Erecting a Lightbox/Light Tent
A lightbox/tent is a device that helps to distribute light equally to all the sides of the product. This resource will teach you how to build your own lightbox if you don’t want to spend money.
Step 4: Set the Product up
This is all about the proper placement of the product. It should be placed on a flat surface, in front of the background. Small products like jewellery and earrings will need to be suspended on something like a fishing line or a hanger. Remember to go big on your background if you are shooting huge stuff like furniture.
Step 5: Lights On!
Light determines the quality of your shots and therefore, you need to get this right.
When this is done properly, you will also have an easier post-processing time without affecting the desired outcome.
Truth be told, lighting can be very frustrating especially when dealing with studio lights. Talk of the cables and poorly attached lamps that can fall easily.
While setting up artificial lights, make sure cables are gaffer taped to the ground, and light fittings are securely attached to their stands. Otherwise, you will end up with broken bulbs and lamps.
If you are on a tight budget, leverage natural light. It is super easy to work with by the way. In case it’s too harsh, tone it down by covering the window with a translucent material like white plasterboard.
There is a caveat to using natural light; do so at the brightest time and finish your shots all at that time. Those that will be photographed a few hours later will register a differing light intensity.
NB: it’s better to work with more light than less – as long as it doesn’t glare the product or create shadows. During editing, it’s easier to minimize light than it is to make a poorly lit object appear brighter.
For those using studio lights, as was said earlier, make sure there are three of them – two on the sides and one from above the product. You’ll need to play around with these lights until the shadows become softer. At times you may be forced to cover them with a piece of cloth so they can diffuse light and help to get softer shadows.
And lastly, before I forget –
Step 6: Use a Tripod
For consistent results, your camera needs to rest on a tripod. The tripod keeps the cam fixed.
If you had not budgeted for it, then just stack up some books and use that instead.
And now you know how to capture good images for product photography.
But the battle is not over yet:
The next section will teach you a few post-processing tricks to make your images convert better.
Step 7: Post Production – Optimizing Product Photos for Massive Conversions
You’ve already taken your photos- using the best camera and lens. Now, let’s talk about image post-production.
There are a number of different photo editing software options available.
The most popular free option is Picasa. It is good because not only is it useful for quick fixes, but it can also help you organize your picture library.
However, Picasa won’t give you the control over details that Photoshop will, so the rest of this section will be devoted to Photoshop.
You don’t need the latest, most expensive version; Photoshop Elements has all the features at a much lower cost.
And from our experience, it works and has worked for most ecommerce businesses.
Bear in mind that you can’t polish a turd, so if your picture is poorly lit and out of focus, to begin with, no amount of photo editing will save it. Also, don’t be tempted to use photo editing to cover up imperfections and damages in your product.
The final product must be as perfect as the one in your photo, or you will be asked for a refund and given an awful feedback/review.
By the way, you are not restricted to using Photoshop alone. Feel free to use other options such as Canva, Gimp, Microsoft Paint, PicMonkey, or any other robust tool of your choice.
At times you may need to use more than one tool. Just work with the tool you understand better for excellent results. If you’re not good at this, then consider outsourcing this part.
Ready to roll? Let’s get going then.
You can get your website into trouble with Google if your images are too big. Bigger images affect page loads, and that is bad for a business that is striving for huge conversions. Keep your image sizes low but ensure the pixels are adequate so visibility is not compromised.
Just hold on for a moment, we are about to show you how Walmart beats others at image optimization.
The image you see down below is from Walmart and has a size 400kb at 250 x 250 pixels. Other images read smaller sizes up to 14 kb but still crystal clear.
Another ecommerce platform, Hot Topic, adopts the same principle.
Faster page loads that get them to the top of the ecommerce food chain- Google rankings.
Some of the tools you can use to compress images include TinyPNG, Compress Now, Optimizilla, and JPEG Reducer- all online resources. You don’t need to be a Photoshop wizard for this.
Removing the Background
Many products, particularly electrical products, books, & DVDs/CDs look good against a pure white background.
Since many ecommerce platforms use a pure white background as well, these pictures really stand out.
A studio shot will never have a completely pure white background, even if the actual background is white. There will always be some gradient and shadow, and the background may be more cream than white.
Also, you may have had your camera on the wrong colour balance resulting in an unwanted cast.
For example, a daylight colour balance setting shot under incandescent bulbs will result in a yellow colour cast.
Also, light meters record white as medium grey, and that can only be fixed through editing.
Adobe Photoshop’s pen tool is the best for removing the background in images. The process is easier if your shots were taken on a white background (or a green screen) as you will obtain a clean white surface to the rear.
This helps to remove distractions and make the image stand out. This tutorial video will show you how to remove the background in Photoshop.
After you have opened up your picture in Photoshop, you can easily crop the image. Select the crop tool, and then use the mouse to drag it to the desired position. It’s better if you have an idea of where the product is going to be listed so you don’t over-tighten it.
Generally, it’s best to give the image a bit of breathing space so it doesn’t appear too claustrophobic.
You can’t sharpen an out of focus image, but you can make normal images a tad sharper.
To do this go to Filter –> Sharpen –> Unsharp Mask.
Use the mouse to move the sliders, keeping the threshold at zero, and the radius below 2.
Adjust the Amount slider, and then click on the preview image.
You will notice that it snaps between the sharpened and original image. Keep adjusting the Amount slider until there is just a little bit of difference between the two images.
Don’t over sharpen an image; it will make it look gritty and weird. An Amount of 19, with a Radius of 1.8, is a good starting point.
If your camera has built-in sharpening, you should keep this turned on.
If you selected a white point as a background, you may have noticed the colour of your product has changed slightly, in particular, a blue tint around the highlights.
To select the Color Balance tool go to Image –> Adjustments –> Color Balance. Start by moving the top slider to the left to remove the blue tint. Do this for shadows, mid-tones, and highlights.
You may also have to adjust the other colour channels. Experiment until you get the desired result.
To ensure the picture is an accurate representation of your actual item, check the colour on your screen against the actual colour of your item.
Always do this under daylight or fluorescent light, as colours can appear yellow/orange under incandescent light.
Wait, what about multiple images?
If you are selling items with different variations, such as colour, then it is a good idea to combine photos into one. That way your customer can see the choices in the main photos as they scroll through the items.
To combine photos, first determine the size of your image. To do this go to image –> image size, and make a note of the dimensions, and the resolution.
Next, create a new blank image by going to file→new. If you want to combine two images, then make sure the width is at least twice the size of your original image.
So if your original width is 1200 pixels – make the new image at least 1400. Keep the height and the resolution the same.
After you have created your new blank image go to one of your original images, and select all of it using the dashed rectangle tool near the top of the tools palette.
Copy it by pressing control + C, then past it into the new blank document.
Move its position around by selecting the move tool and the top of the tools palette.
Then repeat the process with the second image, and move it into place. If the images are the wrong size go to edit –> transform –> size, then use the mouse to drag it to the correct size.
Once the images are in the correct position and the correct size, go to Layer –> Flatten Image. Then you can save the image in the usual manner.
Let’s move on to text.
Adding text to your image can provide the customer with information that hasn’t been included in the title, such as free postage or country of origin. This is useful if there aren’t any more characters left in the title box.
To add text select the text tool in the toolbar, it is the ‘T’ icon. Then point your cursor at the point in your image where you want the text and type. The font, size, colour, and spacing can be changed at the top.
Feel free to use Canva or any other free tool for adding text to an image.
And lastly –
Name Your Images Appropriately
When it comes to SEO, there over a hundred things you can do to pop up in the top positions in Google. And one of them is giving your product images relevant descriptive names.
Some of us are too lazy to rename images, and they get uploaded with names like “Image 33.jpg.”
Since clients will be searching for products with their real names, get into a habit of using them. For instance, if you are selling a shoe for bunion feet, then name the image as “Athletic shoes for bunion feet.”
Make use of Google Keyword Planner to find out what buyers are searching for. You can also rely on your website analytics (from Google search console) to find out the phrases that directed them to you.
Setting up alt tags is also essential. These describe what the image is all about and usually come in handy when a browser fails to load the image.
While this might look pointless, it actually adds value to your overall SEO efforts.
Good product photography can never be sidestepped in a world where visual presentation matters more than plain text.
Stellar photos can make even reluctant customers alter their decisions and draw our their credit cards.
As we wrap this post up, here are a few gold nuggets to keep close by:
- Leverage 360-degree-view images where clients can spin a product with their mouse to view every detail
- Capture close-up photos that display even the most subtle features
- Give a damn about lighting. Invest in studio lights or use the right techniques to leverage natural light
- Pick a good camera. Don’t insist on using your phone when it clearly has the camera quality of the 80s.
- Retouch your images to give them more clarity
There are so many tools that can help you optimize your photos for the best results. A few of them include Canva, Pixar, Snapseed, Motor, and Photoshop. Stick to the tool that you understand best.
With good quality images and the right techniques of product photography, you can boost your ecommerce conversion rates manifold.
Do you have anything to add or ask us? Feel free to do so via the comment section below.