Throughout this guide, we’re going to focus on two main types of product photography: product-only and in-context. These two subsections of product photography make up the vast majority of product images you see on websites and social media.
Traditional, clean-cut product-only photos need a white or very light background, streamlined lighting, and a standardized shadow, if any. They are meant to show your product and its features as clearly as possible so your customers can focus and make a decision. These kinds of photos are best as the feature images on your product page because they do a great job of describing your product at a glance.
Source: Biko Jewelry
White background shots are the ecommerce gold standard. They promote consistency, give your site a uniform look, and let the viewer focus solely on the product.
And of course, you have your basic product shots that require a relatively simple setup that you can even improvise if you are starting out. All you need is a decent camera (even a newer smartphone can do the trick if properly stabilized), a white background, and either natural or artificial light.
Basic product shots are good for most products, but if you are selling clothes and want quality images, you should really use a mannequin. It makes a huge difference and you’ll likely feel that in your conversion rate. Model shots are great and make your brand and social media posts stand out, so if you can fit them in your budget and it makes sense for your brand, do it. Generally, though, they are reserved for higher-end clothing brands or high-volume sellers.
Use a mannequin when shooting clothes for best results. Mannequins are far less expensive than models, and you can set them up quickly in your in-house studio. Mannequins also showcase product features and help customers get an idea of how clothes look when worn. Not only are these shoots are great to show how clothes look, the photos come out even better if you remove the mannequin in post-processing. This can be easily done even in bulk on Pixc, a photo editing service that handles your retouching and returns your images within 24 hours.
Corrine Anestopoulos has a few product photography tricks of her own. The founder of Toronto-based jewelry brand Biko works hard to ensure she’s emphasizing her brand’s “modern nostalgia” quality. Featuring a clean white background, each piece of jewelry pops off the page, but not without some work.
First Anestopoulos explains, is that while she has access to digital SLR cameras, she still relies on her iPhone camera first. The controls are simple and easily adjustable. For that clean white background, she starts with a table-top studio near a window letting in natural light. All of her studio lights are turned off to eliminate the warm yellow incandescent light. Since starting, Anestopoulos has also invested in some affordable lighting kits picked up at a local camera shop. She explained what she was doing and they were able to recommend the right lights for the job.
“The difficult part about shooting jewelry is that you’re in every shot” Anestopoulos explains, referring to the tiny reflection capturing on shiny surfaces. That’s where the photo editing work comes in. After capturing the piece from various angles, Anestopoulos relies on Adobe Photoshop to make the final touches. First step, “make the whites whiter. I select the background and turn up the brightness.” Afterwards, she makes sure there are no glaring self-portraits of herself reflected in the jewelry.
The images are ready for her shop, ilovebiko.com. Anestopoulos points out however that white-background product photography isn’t simply about creating clear images for customers, it’s also essential for media too. Often times, newspapers, magazines and blogs have their own distinct look and layout. Having white-background product images on hand means Anestopoulos can quickly get her products to writers and influencers who are looking to publish.
What You Need
Let’s take a look at what kind of equipment you need to take great product-only photos, both if you are on a string-shoe budget and when you can invest a little more in your shoots.
How to Do It With $25
One thing that you cannot do without when on your product shoot is your camera. Although your camera is necessary it is not the defining factor for the quality of your images. You can take good photos even with a later version of your iPhone or Samsung smartphone. Some smartphones have better cameras than some point-and-shoot, stand-alone cameras. Point is, you don’t have to invest in a top of the line camera if your budget doesn’t allow it.
For large items, you can use the floor, while for smaller products, a shooting table or any table that you can mount a backdrop or a lightbox on works well.
Ideally, if you don’t want to invest in lights or lightboxes, all you need is some craft paper you can use as a sweep. As long as you place your shooting table near a window with plenty of natural light you can get good results. You can also use thin sheets of paper over the window to diffuse some of the light if it is too harsh.
How to Do It With $500
But, if your operation allows it and you do get a DSLR camera, you can make your shoots much more efficient. Manually setting the camera for the shoot can get your image closer to your desired final look and can save you a lot of time in post-processing. While a good camera makes a difference and can save you time, you would rarely need anything more powerful than Canon EOS 70D or Nikon D3200. Keep in mind that the quality of your images rests mostly on your lighting, background, and post-processing.
For consistent and blur-free images (especially if you photograph multiple products on a frequent basis), you need to stabilize your camera. For the occasional photo shoot,you can get away with mounting your camera on a pile of books or a stool. But if you want to make your life easier, a tripod is a must-have tool. Tripods tend to get better and more stable the more you pay for them, but for product shoots in your in-house studio on a regular day with no earthquakes, almost any brand under $60 will do the trick. If you are shooting with your smartphone, a mount like Joby works well.
The lightbox aka light tent is a great way to get the effect of studio lights when you are shooting small objects. It’s essentially a box-shaped tent with translucent sides that serves as a light diffuser, removing sharp shadows and distributing light evenly around your product.
Fill light (or just fill) is used to reduce shadows and balance the dynamic range of illumination perceived by your camera.
Your lights define the quality of your final image and understanding how they work is vital. Natural light is the simplest solution to your light needs and also the least expensive. You can use a range of DIY tricks to manipulate it like covering the window with a white sheet or using a reflecting screen to distribute the shadows more evenly.
Artificial lights are your other choice, but they take some budgeting and getting even more familiar with the laws of physics. Ideally, you need three lights: one on each side and one above and slightly behind your product. Place your side lights closer to the front and lower to the ground to avoid sharp shadows near the bottom of your product. Your top light gives your product more dimension and depth. Aim for the best balance between the lights so you get evenly distributed soft shadows.
White or light-colored background is essential for quality product photography. The white reflects some light back on the product, softening shadows and giving you a well-lit image. For best results, use a sweep, which is a backdrop that transitions seamlessly from the vertical to the horizontal plane. More simply, a wall that curves down into the floor. The idea here is to avoid the sharp edges of a corner where light bounces around. A brightly lit curve makes it difficult for the camera to capture depth and contours in the background. If you are shooting furniture or other large products you will need a large sweep with a stand. If you are shooting smaller product, settle for a shooting table with a mounted sweep.
Mannequin for Clothing Shots
Mannequins can help you show how clothes look when worn, what the product’s dimensions are, and the parts of the products that would otherwise not be seen. It’s a great way to give your store a professional look and make it easier for customers to visualize themselves wearing your products. You can then remove the mannequin in post-processing, producing a ghost mannequin effect like in the picture below.