6 Tips For Product Photography

by Jannae Gammage in

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a stunning product picture is worth a thousand website visits. I don't have data to back up that statement (yet). Nevertheless, product photography can become this valuable to your e-commerce website strategy.

According to Trellis, 51% of Americans with internet access prefer to shop online, and that segment of buyers is poised to keep growing. But that also means 49% of Americans 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, especially during COVID. 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 basic 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 big as you think. We're going to give you some tips using things you already own!

1. 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-millimeter 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 completely acceptable to shoot product photos on a smartphone.

Some of the earliest smartphones had cameras that operated on fewer than 4 megapixels, which made it difficult to capture important visual elements of products where detail matters.

But newer smartphones such as the iPhone 11, Google Pixel, and Samsung Galaxy boast high MP lenses along with numerous "temperature" settings to optimize your shots for the different types of light you might shoot in (we'll talk more about light in just a minute). Let's not forget the infamous portrait mode.

2. 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, just be sure this arrangement doesn't change over the course of the shoot.

There's no harm in holding your camera yourself when shooting just a few product photos for your e-commerce website. But as your business grows, and you take more photos 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 big, industrial-sized investment it used to be.

3. Natural Light vs. Artificial Light: Choose One

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 main light source: Natural and Artificial.

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 photo 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 own way.

4. Fill or Bounce Your Light to Soften Shadows

Whether you use natural light or artificial light, you'll need to lessen the shadows 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 main light. This additional light is called your fill light, and is used as a counterbalance to soften the natural shadow your main light produces behind an object.

Flashbulb Bounce Card

A bounce card, or reflector card, is a small card that "reflects" or "bounces" the main light back onto the surface beneath your product to reduce shadows. 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 own standalone bounce card positioned opposite your main 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.

5. 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 background based on what's easiest to create. Backgrounds 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.

Sweep

For white backgrounds, it's not as simple as setting up a table against white drywall. Even smartphone cameras can pick up little blemishes on a white wall.

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

Real-World Background: Portrait Mode

Dynamic, real-world backgrounds are very appealing when shooting products that have a specific use or are being modeled by a person. But, it's easy for a real-world background to steal the focus of the photo, making it unclear which item in the photo you're actually selling.

Give your product depth and emphasis with portrait mode, a picture setting on most professional cameras and also available on many new smartphones.

6. Shoot a Variety of Images

My last e-commerce 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 a variety of 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 color contrasts the color of the product. Then, for additional photos, have the clothing modeled 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.