How Do You Shoot a Product?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a stunning product picture is worth a thousand website visits. 

Product photography can become valuable to your eCommerce website strategy. According to a survey, 51% with internet access prefer to shop online, and that segment of buyers is poised to keep growing. 

But that also means 49% might still be more comfortable buying certain things in the store — where they can see, touch, and demo the product before handing over their money.

The convenience of e-commerce isn’t everything to every customer; being able to browse merchandise from the living room couch is just one part of what makes an internet storefront successful. 

To reach the 51% of people who do prefer buying online, you also need to give your audience clear, eye-catching photos of your products, or these visitors aren’t likely to have confidence in your offerings — confidence they can get by walking into a store and seeing the item in person.

But product photography isn’t as simple as pointing and shooting. 

Even the most essential products need the correct equipment, lighting, and space to produce beautiful images that sell shoppers right from the purchase page.

Don’t worry; your shopping list isn’t as extensive as you think. Some items you already own! Here’s a manageable list of tips and tools to get you started, along with real examples of product photos that demonstrate this advice.

Product images not only testify to the quality of your product but also serve as windows into your eCommerce store, creating two essential things:

  • Transparency
  • Trust

When consumers view a product page, they are looking for proof of quality and value. 

Images shape their first impression, creating a tipping point as to whether they will continue browsing and eventually make a purchase.

Here, we’ll show you how to take images that:

  • Engage
  • Convert
  • Boost the lifetime value of your customers.

We’ll also go over how to optimize the photo creation process to save you time and money. 

Keep in mind that you don’t need a large budget to create polished and professional product photos.

What Is Product Photography?

Product photography uses specific techniques to showcase products attractively and entice potential buyers to purchase particular products.

Product photography is an essential part of online and offline advertising for successful catalogues, brochures, magazine ads, billboards, online ads, and company websites, specifically when selling products directly to consumers.

Now, let’s take a closer look at why images are so important.

Why Photography Increases Conversions

How Do You Shoot a Product?

90% of the information transmitted to our brain is visual. No matter how sophisticated, website visitors are first engaged by visual elements, not written copy. 

Photos are a crucial part of a consumer’s decision-making process, ultimately determining conversion and retention rates. 

The quality of a product photo reflects your brand image, creating the infamous first impression.

The key to making the most of their first impression is to present polished, professional images that evoke maximum engagement.

Quality Visuals Enhance Every Buyer Touchpoint.

93% of consumers consider images essential in purchasing decisions. Your images represent your product’s perceived value and quality. 

They speak directly to your target audience, making your product page and content more relatable. 

Take Naturally Curly’s, for example. They offer amazing images of simple, everyday products, often making them cool and appealing. 

Take a look at the product images below. How neat and trustworthy do they look? Again, you don’t need a large budget to create polished and professional product photos.

Images Are a Key Element of Branding.

Branding should be central to every decision your company makes, including:

  • Your social media posts
  • Website updates
  • All your marketing efforts.

And images are at the helm of your brand. They are the first to grab attention, instil trust, and invite customers to take a further look. 

Everything in an image—quality, subject matter, colour theme and saturation—should speak in a consistent voice that resonates with your target audience. 

Your goal is to form long-term relationships with your customers, and photos are one of the essential tools to achieve that.

Product Photography Tips for Beginners

Between optimizing your Google Shopping data feed and crafting high-converting Amazon product descriptions, chances are you don’t have much time to study the art of photography.

As such, we’ll kick things off with five essential product photography tips for beginners.

Use Proper Lighting

Let’s start with product photography lighting. Without proper light, neither your product nor your background will appear how it does to you in person. 

A white background without light doesn’t appear white in the photo; it seems grey.

There are two options for product photography lighting: studio lighting and natural lighting. 

The product you’re photographing, the purpose of the photo, and the platform you’re advertising will help you decide which setup to go for. 

Natural lighting can work well for product photographs featuring edible items, people, and clothing, and these natural-looking photos can work well in social media contexts, like Instagram.

If you’re photographing inside, you will want to set up your product facing a window so that you are gaining all the natural light that comes through. 

On the other hand, if you can photograph your products outside, do it! The best times to do this are early morning and late afternoon when the sun is out but is not too harsh. 

Slightly overcast days are also preferable. If you take out your shoe inventory at noon when the sun is beating down, you are going to get a lot of glare in your snaps.

On the other hand, if your product is primarily used indoors (e.g., cookware), features small details (e.g., artwork), or is being sold on Amazon and Google Shopping, then artificial product photography lighting is preferable. 

Luckily knowing a few basics and building a simple studio setup can help you get over your light intimidation.

Using artificial product photography lighting may seem intimidating, but it’s necessary for those of you advertising on Amazon and Google Shopping. 

Use a Tripod

Tripods might sound like a nerdy, unnecessary piece of technical equipment, but they make a massive difference in the clarity and quality of your product photography. And they are not necessarily expensive or difficult to use!

Tripods are essential stands that stabilize your camera from your shaky hand. Using a tripod will ensure a reduction of a blur, which is critical if you want your product photographs to look professional and high-quality.

Whether you are using a fancier DSLR or a simple iPhone, there are many tripods on the market in varying price ranges for every type of camera out there. Go on Amazon and get one for your camera. It is 100% worth taking the extra minute to set up a tripod for better-looking product photographs.

Shoot for the Edit

Have you ever stayed up late, half-awake, to write a paper and thought, “I can just edit this in the morning.” Then, once the morning arrives, you have to start the entire assignment over because your first draft is so sloppy that it’s taking more time to edit than it would scrap it.

This is what happens to lazy photographers. If you think you can throw together some sloppy product photographs and work your magic on them in Photoshop, think again.

While photography editing is a skill that can make a substantial impact on the quality of a product photo, these edits can only go so far. Think of editing as making minor touch-ups to enhance an already beautiful piece of art.

If you need to change the background or completely crop something out, this is a problem. When shooting your product photographs, try to shoot for the edit.

With this mindset, you’ll shoot knowing that you plan to do minimal editing to enhance the picture without completely changing it. This will make for a far more desirable result.

Take a Basic Photo Editing Class

While editing should be minimal in most cases, it’s still a necessary skill to have in your product photography handbook. Making some minor edits – like tweaking the saturation or even masking small flaws within your product photograph – can make a real difference to the finished product.

The trouble with editing is that there are so many things that you can do that it becomes pretty overwhelming if you are attempting to do it on your own without any formal training.

Especially if you are using a tool like Photoshop, you will want to learn some foundational knowledge from the pros not to get completely overwhelmed as you attempt to edit your product photographs.

If you’re not open to shelling out the big bucks for a photo editing course, don’t worry! Head to YouTube. There are plenty of free tutorials that will teach you the basics of the editing software of your choosing.

According to insights released by Facebook in February 2019, 83% of Instagram users say the platform helps them discover new products and services. Plus, 79% of users said they searched for more information after seeing a product or service on Instagram.

ECommerce advertisers need to get on Instagram. Here are five more actionable product photography tips.

Take Inspiration from Brands You Love

It is always helpful to look to others for inspiration. You likely already have some brands in mind that you love. Look at their product photography and ask yourself how a similar shot or technique could work for your products.

For instance, imagine you’re operating a local women’s boutique.

Look up your favourite women’s clothing brands on Instagram and reflect on what you love about their product photos. The monochromatic colour scheme and simple background highlight the product.

Get to Know the Rule of Thirds

Most introductory photo classes and many art classes teach the rule of thirds because it is a powerful tool.

This rule teaches you to visualize your canvas as nine equal segments, like the example below.

The rule of thirds was designed to help artists create a well-balanced composition in each piece.

It’s also helpful to determine where to place the focus of your work – your product. Your goal is to have your product positioned along the lines, optimally at the point where two lines intersect.

Studies have shown that when viewing images, people’s eyes usually go to one of the intersection points most naturally rather than the shot centre. Using the rule of thirds works with this natural way of viewing an image rather than working against it.

Use Simple Props

When it comes to product photography props, do not get overly ambitious! Remember, the main focus of each product photograph should be the product.

With that said, braces can be welcome and help brighten the picture for your viewers. So how do you decide what props to use? Err on the side of light when it comes to braces: keep them simple, aligned with the colour scheme, and relevant to the scene or your product.

Take Multiple Shots from Varying Angles

If you have a relatively large line of products you need to shoot, it might be tempting to take one or two of each product, then move along. However, this is not going to help with shooting for the edit.

Taking multiple shots from a variety of angles will show your customers exactly what your product looks like. Plus, it will help give you options when it is time to edit, and you won’t be left thinking, “Should we re-do this one completely?”

The beauty of product photography is that you can take several shots and strategically choose the best one.

Put Your Product in Context

Your prospective customers must be able to envision themselves using your product. After all, if someone sees your product photos online and can’t easily picture herself using it, why would she buy it?

Typically, before anyone with limited disposable income buys something, he or she needs to feel confident that the product will improve daily life in some way.

It isn’t easy to envision yourself using certain products when they’re removed from context. For example, someone who’s in the market for a couch to furnish his new apartment likely can’t see himself using one that’s advertised simply sitting against a blank background.

Don’t Be Afraid to Use Your Smartphone Camera.

This is the part where I’m supposed to convince you to invest in a high-end, 50-megapixel (MP) camera with a 100-millimetre screw-on lens. But I’m not going to do that.

If you already own a camera that fits this description, take advantage of it. But for many types of products, it’s entirely acceptable to shoot product photos on a smartphone.

Some of the earliest smartphones had cameras that operated on fewer than 4 megapixels, making it challenging to capture critical visual elements of products where detail matters.

But newer smartphones such as the iPhone 7, Google Pixel, and Samsung Galaxy S4 boast 12MP and 13MP lenses along with numerous “temperature” settings to optimize your shots for the different types of light you might shoot in.

Shoot from a Tripod for Photo Consistency

Before explaining tripods, I’m obligated to start with a cardinal rule: Don’t prop your phone against something sturdy to aim your lens toward the subject.

It’s just too easy for this makeshift setup to slide around during the shoot and cause inconsistencies in your photos’ appearance. If you rest your camera on, say, a stack of books, be sure this arrangement doesn’t change throughout the shoot.

There’s no harm in holding your camera yourself when shooting just a few product photos for your eCommerce website. But as your business grows and you take more pictures of more products, it can be difficult to standardize the product’s orientation in each photo when shooting handheld.

To ensure consistency across your products, you’ll need a tripod. And luckily, buying one isn’t always the significant, industrial-sized investment it used to be. 

Here are two types of tripods to consider and one accessory you’d need when shooting on a smartphone:

  • Traditional vs. Flexible
  • Mobile Grip

The adapter grips the sides of your smartphone and can screw into either type of tripod, allowing you to operate the camera controls with the phone screen facing outward and toward you.

Once you determine which mount you’ll need, set it up in front of your product, and consider putting three pieces of tape on the ground to mark where you’d like to keep each leg of your tripod throughout the shoot.

Natural Light Vs. Artificial Light: Choose One

How Do You Shoot a Product?

Never underestimate how certain types of light can improve (or hinder) your product photography. Remember, buyers, get the best look at an item in person, where they can see everything they need to before purchasing. The right lighting arrangement helps you reveal those critical decision-making product features when all website visitors have to go on is a photo.

A single lighting setup might not work for every single product — a lighting arrangement that works for some products might weaken the appearance of others. There are two types of light you can choose as your primary light source:

Natural Light

Natural light refers to sunlight — simple as that. It’s also known as “soft light” because the sun casts a more extensive, softer range of light than, say, a lamp shining directly on the product. Ecommerce product shots thrive in natural light if:

  • The product is shot outside or meant to be used outdoors.
  • The product is used by, worn on, or hit with a person (people tend to look better in natural light).
  • You’re trying to emphasize the product’s surroundings rather than specific attributes of the product.

Artificial Light

Artificial light includes candles, fire, and, more commonly, light bulbs. It’s also referred to as “hard light” because it produces a smaller but more focused soft surface. This type of light caters to products with physical details that need to be highlighted to impress an online shopper.

As a general rule, you should stick to just one type of light per photo — natural or artificial.

Adding natural light to an artificially lit image can soften a product that’s meant to look sharp, and adding artificial light to a naturally lit photo can sharpen a product that’s meant to look soft. You don’t want to get in your way.

Fill or Bounce Your Light to Soften Shadows

Whether you use natural light or artificial light, you’ll need to lessen the shadows of any potential hard light casts on the opposite end of a product. There are three ways to do this:

Fill Light

Include another, less-intense light source to supplement your leading light.

This additional light is called your fill light and is used as a counterbalance to soften the natural shadow your leading light produces behind an object. To do this, place your fill light opposite your leading light, so your product sits between both light sources.

Flashbulb Bounce Card

A bounce card, or reflector card, is a small card that “reflects” or “bounces” the leading light back onto the surface beneath your product to reduce shadows.

Some bounce cards attach to the flashbulb of a professional camera lens to diffuse the light from the camera’s flash. This card splashes a softer light onto the subject from above your set — rather than straight at it — so you don’t have long shadows trail behind the object you’re shooting. 

Standalone Bounce Card

If you’re shooting from a smartphone, a flashbulb bounce card isn’t an option since you don’t have a physical flash you can attach it to. Instead, make your standalone bounce card positioned opposite your primary light source.

For beginners to product photography, this bounce card can effectively replace your fill light, which counters the hard light from the camera flash or lamp that’s facing toward the front of your product.

No matter which type of light counter you use, your goal is to reduce shadow while still highlighting the qualities of your product that make it valuable to website visitors. If shot just right, you’ll see a huge difference:

Use a Sweep or Portrait Mode to Emphasize the Product

There isn’t one right way to position your product, lights, and bounce cards – they can change dramatically depending on your background.

But don’t choose a location based on what’s easiest to create. Grounds should resemble how you want your buyers to perceive your product when viewing it online.

Consider first whether you’d like a white background or a more dynamic, real-world background. There’s an easy way to achieve each one.

White Background: Sweep

For white backgrounds, it’s not as simple as setting up a table against white drywall. Even smartphone cameras can pick up slight blemishes on a white wall that you would overlook with the naked eye. To capture a perfect white background with no corners or marks, use a sweep.

A sweep is a sizeable bendable sheet of paper whose bottom acts as the surface beneath your product and then curves up into a white wall behind the product.

The sweep’s curve is invisible on camera, emphasizing key product details and allowing the item to own all of a website visitor’s attention. Here’s a side-by-side comparison showing why a sweep matters:

Real-World Background: Portrait Mode

Dynamic, real-world backgrounds are very appealing when shooting products that have a specific use or are being modelled by a person — as you saw in the picture of the briefcase earlier in this guide.

But, it’s easy for a real-world background to steal the focus of the photo, making it unclear which item in the picture you’re selling.

Give your product depth and emphasis with portrait mode, a picturesque setting on most professional cameras and also available on many new smartphones. This setting blurs the background, so the context of the product is clear but not competing against the product itself.

Shoot a Variety of Images

My last eCommerce photography tip to you is to not stop at one photo per product. Just as your customers look, hold, use, and even try on merchandise in a store, your website should shoot various images to simulate this very experience.

If you’re shooting clothing, for instance, capture the garment of clothing alone — that is, spread out on a white surface — as well as on a mannequin whose colour contrasts the colour of the product.

Then, for additional photos, have the clothing modelled on a person, allowing you to take pictures of the product from the person’s different poses and angles.

Don’t feel obligated to invest in every tip and piece of equipment at once.

Apply these product photography tips gradually to see what makes your store look the most presentable, and change your approach as your photography chops get better.

Should I Invest in Professional Product Photography?

Suppose you can afford it, yes.

Photos of your product both by themselves and in use are some of the most essential merchandising and marketing efforts you do for your online brand. Because consumers cannot touch or see your product in person, your product photography must do the trick.