Product Photography – The Beginner’s Guide of 2019

by Cristian I

The Investment

That is why you see the recommendation to hire professional photographers to take images of the items you sell online.

Not every business owner can afford this investment since it may be several thousand dollars to take photographs of every item.

That means a do-it-yourself approach is your next best option.

Your customers won’t know the difference if you follow this beginner’s guide to stunning product photography.

Items You Will Need to Take Product Photographs

You will want to have a high-resolution camera available to take your photographs.

A DSLR camera typically works better than pictures that you can take on your smartphone, although in a pinch anything is better than nothing.

Then you will want to have the following items available to ensure your photographs come out as intended.

  • A tripod that works with the camera you have chosen.
  • A white background to highlight the colors of your item.
  • Foam board bounce cards (this should be white as well).
  • A table to place your items upon when taking the photos.
  • Tape that secures the background and product to ensure a fantastic image.

Then you will need to select the room for the image.

You will want to take the photograph with natural light whenever possible because this will highlight the features of your item without the creation of artificial shadows, patterns, or hues.

Your room must also have enough space available that it allows you to work comfortably without disrupting the “stage” that you set for the product.

Product Photography Is More Than Just Aesthetics

When you showcase the products of your business or brand, then high-quality photographs can mean the difference between converting a visitor or a worsening bounce rate.

If you are moving your goods through a marketplace like Amazon, then your images will receive comparisons with your competitors, making the visual references the first point of contact for some potential consumers.

That is why the perception of value must shine through with every photograph you upload to represent what you sell.

Products which feature low-quality images will not offer the same strength of worth as those with a professional-quality result.

You could also take a look at making astonishing photos in this post: Is photography art?

It can seem intimidating at first to take your product photographs, but there are also numerous DIY projects and tools that you can use that will save you some money.

You must run “lean and mean” during the startup phase of a company.

There are times when there isn’t enough money around to hire someone to do this work for you.

That is why the do-it-yourself approach works. It really isn’t as difficult as it might seem.

There isn’t one specific technique that you must follow when creating a successful product shoot, but the Window Light option does tend to be the best low-cost solution that provides consistently excellent results.

It works with most items, keeps your budget light, and allows you to take pictures in the comfort of your home or office.

How to Set Up Your Table for Product Photography

Once you have all of the necessary equipment for your product photography, it is time to begin staging the area.

Grab the table that you intend to use for this work and place it as close to a window as possible.

Be careful that you are not setting a shadow from the window sill onto the location where you intend to place the item.

It helps to start with the window being 90 degrees to the left or right of where you will place the item.

When you can get very close to the light source from a large window, then your image will benefit from the softer light.

Make sure that you turn off all of the other lights inside the room.

The presence of artificial brightness will adversely impact the quality of the images you will be using.

If you are in a room with doors, then shut them to avoid accidental contamination of your set.

You also have the option to rotate your table 45 degrees to try shooting the products with a different light angle if the first one doesn’t seem to work well for you.

Try to avoid direct sunlight whenever possible because the harshness of those rays will impact the image in unpredictable ways.

Then you are ready to set up your white background and foam boards. Here are the steps you will want to follow.

  1. Your white background can be a formal photography box, a paper sweep, or a cheap piece of poster board. Always use a pure white product because cream, eggshell, or off-white will not make your items stand out prominently. Then tape the background to your wall and table, placing the edge of the background near the front of the table for maximum coverage.
  2. If you have a formal box for your images, then put it on the table where it receives a maximum amount of light.
  3. Then take your white bounce cards to even out the light on the stage you just set. The brightness from the window will create a darker side. Foam boards work well to reflect the light into your background because of their color and rigidness, reducing the shadows.
  4. If you want deeper shadows to highlight a specific function or feature for your product, then dark foam boards along the sides can create that result.

If you do not have a local supplier of poster board, paper sweeps, or photography boxes, then they are readily available through most e-commerce platforms.

When your budget is extremely tight, even a couple of pieces of white printer paper can work to finalize your setup work.

Just remember to position the items you use in a way that eliminates the presence of a seam in the final image.

How to Set Up Your Camera for Product Photography

Every camera is a little different, so there isn’t one how-to guide that can cover every possible scenario.

Some of them are fully automatic, while others require you to make manual adjustments to create the perfect image.

If your camera does support automatic settings, then using the Window Light Technique can help you to take an instantly usable photograph.

There are some steps that you will want to take to ensure that your image quality is the best that it can be.

  • Turn your flash setting off because the momentary bright light it creates will reflect off of the white background, spoiling the image.
  • Turn your white balance to its automatic setting. That means you will want to shift from WB to AWB if this option is available on your camera.
  • Then set your image settings to their highest quality setting. Use the RAW option if your camera comes with it. If not, then set the file to the largest size possible.

Most DSLR cameras will have the RAW setting for taking pictures, but it is not usually present on smartphones or point-and-shoot devices. Look for a way to change the JPEG setting on your device to improve the size and scope of your final photograph file.

Many Canon cameras offer the option to set your picture size as small, medium, or large.

When you are taking product photographs, the largest file size will provide the optimal image quality.

You can always make a large image smaller, but you cannot make a smaller one big.

There might also be a quality setting for your image, listed as normal, fine, or superfine.

Always choose the highest option here as well to ensure that the appropriate number of pixels are used on the camera sensor.

If you are using the manual settings, then set your camera to ISO 100 for the best results.

If your device gives you the option to go lower, then take it because you will reduce the background noise of the photograph.

How to Set the Correct Exposure Settings for Product Photography

The exposure of your image will enhance what you can achieve with your product photography.

You will want the picture to be bright, but it cannot be too light because excessive settings can cause the colors of your item to fade.

After placing your camera on its tripod and framing your shot, use the manual settings for exposure if you have the option.

This option eliminates the risk of having the automatic features change the result while you work.

Then preview the image on the back of your camera or phone using the live view.

If the image looks too dark, then you have nothing to worry about because the next changes will give the photo additional light.

Now adjust your shutter speed and rotate the dial to create the proper exposure levels.

You should see the live view image begin to brighten as you adjust the settings.

Watch for your shutter number to go down as you make the changes.

Lower numbers will always allow more light in the shot.

Continue adjusting your shutter number until you achieve a setting that makes you comfortable.

It is not unusual to move from 1/60 to 1/4 for the speed setting.

Then you will want to change the f/stop to the highest number supported by your camera if this option is available.

Your aperture priority automatically adjusts the shutter speed to be what the camera believes is the best possible setting, but it is not always correct with this feature.

It is sometimes necessary to use the exposure compensation dial to add more brightness to the final image.

If your camera doesn’t support either option because it adjusts the settings automatically, then try to use the exposure compensation dial with up to a +1.5 to gain the correct exposure.

You may need to tap the screen area where you want the new exposure rules to be.

As a final step, you will want to review the histogram on the back of the camera to ensure the slope is closer to the right.

The final image you see is not usually reflective of the preview image, so you will need to trust your settings instead.

How to Take the Best Photograph of Your Products

You will want to set up the product in the middle of your surface. Remember to keep any labels or brand information centered so that it is prominent in your final images.

Then check your live view to ensure everything is lined up the way that you want it to be.

Set up the reflector boards or cards to modify the light that covers the image.

This step ensures that any shadows in your image receive an appropriate fill of brightness.

Position them in a way that creates a result you like.

Then zoom in on the product so that it fills the image. Most cameras today offer an optical and digital zoom.

Do not use the latter option since it will lower the quality of the photograph you take.

This step is essential for those who use a smartphone camera because a longer zoom will reduce the distortion that occurs with a wide-angle lens.

You may need to position the camera closer to the table to achieve the results you want.

Carefully place the tripod in a way that allows you to keep the image centered with the settings you created above.

Now you’re ready to take the picture. Once you snap the photo, take some time to look at your creation.

Is there something that looks off-center?

Could you play with the light or exposure to make the product stand out more in the shot?

There is no rule which says you must accept the first photograph you take.

Experiment with different methods and options to see what works and what does not.

Even if you decide to stick with the first photograph, the extra practice will improve your skills.

When you are satisfied with what the image looks like on your camera, then it is time to upload the picture to your computer.

You may need to run the final image through post-production filters or improvements to ensure that your product looks stunning.

Most images need a little retouching as well.

How to Optimize Your Product Photography for Your Website

Once you have an image that you love, it is time to optimize the file for your website.

Larger files will slow the loading speed for visitors, which means it is up to you to reduce the burden your e-commerce platform creates.

You will want to follow the rules for optimizing images for search engines as long as it does not reduce the quality of the photograph that your visitors see when shopping.

The first step is to resize the width and height of the image.

You will want it to fit the HTML container that exists in your website template.

If your image is 1500 x 1500, but the container is only 700 x 700, then the display will reflect the container’s rules.

The photograph will still initially load at the higher setting, which then slows your site.

Look in your developer tools to determine what the container size is by right-clicking on the image and choosing the command to inspect the element.

You will then see the dimensions in the code.

A good rule of thumb is to make the image about 1.5 times larger than the exact container to ensure it looks great to visitors who are using a retina display.

Almost any photo editing tool will help you to resize the image to the correct dimensions.

Once you have made this change, remember to export the new file and save it as a 100% JPEG.

Then you will want to compress the image to remove any data that is not used in the file.

Adobe offers a Save for Web function that works very well for this process, but any program that uses an algorithm to maximize the quality of the file will work.

Then upload the final photo to your site so that it can begin to work for you.

Now You Are Ready to Get Started with Product Photography!

Most people can take a fantastic photograph in a single light environment, which is why the Window Light Technique is so effective.

This DIY approach can save you some money while helping your items stand out from the competition.

Professional photographers can charge $40 or more per image, and thus it will be reflected also in the product price which is why this beginner’s guide to product photography is so valuable.

Follow these simple steps, and you will create a marketable image that doesn’t require a lot of gear, complicated lighting, or extensive post-production work.

It will be an authentic reflection of the value that you offer, tempting your website visitors to make a purchase.



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