If you plan to sell physical products online, then you need to understand the essentials of how to take product photos. Developing exceptional product photography skills is key to generating massive online product sales. Capturing vivid, eye-catching product shots is quite easy once you master a handful of low-budget, high-impact product photography tips.
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Achieve professional-looking results on your own using these expert product photography tips.
1. Select a Camera for Your Product Photoshoots
Most people mistakenly believe that professional-caliber cameras are required to achieve exceptional product photography results. That’s not true. You can even create stunning product photos using your smartphone’s camera. If you prefer, however, you could also invest in a camera that’s well-suited for studio and nonstudio product photography.
Use Your Smartphone for Product Photography
Most of today’s smartphone cameras have automatic features you can use to capture product photos. With the right light, you can rely on point-and-shoot settings to capture clear product images. The quality of your product photography won’t be limited by your smartphone—unless your phone has minimal features—but rather by your skills at lighting and creating a compelling image composition.
If you plan on taking product photos with your smartphone, you’ll want to check your phone’s megapixel (MP) setting. The higher the MP count, the more detail your camera will capture, which in turn means your product images will be sharp and crisp. The consensus among experts is that your smartphone camera needs to have at least 10MP to take vivid product photos—12MP is even better.
“Early on, I thought that I needed a fancy camera to photograph my products. I was thinking about investing in a DSLR [digital single-lens reflex] or another expensive camera, and I was even considering taking photography lessons. From talking to other entrepreneurs, I know that a lot of people struggle. However, the reality is that you can take perfectly good photos with your iPhone. As long as you have a white backdrop and a space with good, natural lighting, you can shoot professional-looking product photos. I shelled out $50 for an opaque white backdrop, and now I shoot all my photos in our kitchen.”
— Barbara Nevers, Founder & CEO, NeoLittle
Choose a Camera: DSLR vs Mirrorless Cameras
If you’d rather not use a smartphone for your product photography, then you have two different types of cameras from which to choose. The first is a DSLR, and the second is a digital single-lens mirrorless camera (DSLM), more commonly referred to as a mirrorless camera. Both types of cameras work beautifully for product photography, though there are a handful of differences between these cameras that you need to understand before making a purchase decision.
Key Differences Between DSLR and DSLM Cameras
Weight & Size
Bigger, heavier, and bulkier
Usually smaller, lighter, and more compact
Lots of lens and accessory choices
Fewer lens and accessory choices available
Easy to view photo composition
Difficult to view digital screen in bright light
Good, although typically shorter than DSLRs
Shooting Speed per Second
Basic camera: $300 to $700
Advanced camera: $1,000 to $25,000
Basic camera: $400 to $800
Advanced camera: $1,000 to $20,000
*Note: Every DSLR and DSLM camera has different dimensions and features, so be sure to check out the camera specifications before buying a new camera for your product photography.
With a DSLR camera, you’ll look through an optical viewfinder instead of a digital screen when conducting your photoshoot. With a DSLM, instead of using a viewfinder, you’ll look at a digital screen to view your photo composition. The quality of your product photos won’t be impacted by this difference. It’s truly a matter of individual preference on which type of camera you personally find easier to use.
You don’t need to become a photography expert to use today’s digital cameras. Most beginning photographers do well to use automatic settings on their cameras. Some people prefer to use manual settings, which requires more knowledge about cameras and photography. Before buying a camera and using it for your product photoshoots, it’s helpful to bone up a little on basic camera and photo terminology.
Here are some common photography terms along with their definitions in laymen’s language:
- Aperture: The aperture is the size of the hole or space through which the light travels in your camera. If you’re manually setting your aperture on your camera, experts recommend F-11 as an ideal aperture for most product photography.
- Depth of field (DOF): This is the distance between the closest and farthest objects in your photo. A shallow DOF focuses on one point, and everything else in the shot is blurred. A maximum DOF makes the entire photo seem clear and focused.
- ISO rating: ISO stands for the International Organization of Standardization, and ISO ratings refer to a camera’s sensitivity to light. An ISO range of 100 to 12,000 is common on digital cameras. Low ISO settings are usually used for product photography.
- Shutter speed: In photography, shutter speed refers to the amount of time a camera shutter is open when taking a photo. Fast shutter speeds are generally used in product photography.
- Exposure: This refers to an image’s relative lightness or darkness. Exposure is controlled through the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed.
- Optical & digital zoom: Optical zoom is achieved through the mechanical or physical parts of the camera. Digital zoom is achieved through the camera’s software. Optical zoom is more precise than digital zoom.
- Megapixels: Photo resolution is measured in megapixels; the higher the MP count, the clearer your pictures will be. For product photography, use a camera with at least 10MP. Most new DSLRs and mirrorless cameras come with at least double that.
In years past, understanding photography terminology and using manual camera settings was a necessity. Thankfully, with the advanced technology built into today’s cameras, you can take excellent product photos without becoming a camera or photography expert.
2. Set Up Your Product Photography Studio
You need to create a product photography studio or a dedicated space in which to take product photos. While professional photographers spend thousands on cameras and photography studio equipment, you can create stunning product photos for a fraction of what the pros spend without sacrificing on product photo quality. You can set up a home studio in a small, well-lit space and spend less than $100 easily.
Where to Set Up Your Product Photography Studio
Any area can become a temporary or permanent product photography studio. When possible, it’s helpful to set up your photography table outside or next to a large window. This allows you to capture natural light, which is the best and easiest-to-use method for lighting your product photos.
If you don’t have access to natural light, set up your product photography table or shooting area in a space that allows plenty of room to work. Remember that you’ll be adjusting lighting, and perhaps backgrounds and props around your products, so you need to be able to navigate the allotted space easily.
The amount of space you need for your home photography studio depends on the types of products you plan to shoot. If you’re taking photos of food or small objects, then a square or oblong table with 3 to 4 feet around it for lighting will be sufficient. If you’re taking photos of large objects or shooting in-context photography photos, where people are shown using the products, you may want to set up a space that’s closer to 12 to 15 square feet.
Essential Product Photography Equipment You Need to Use
Every product photoshoot is a little different, although some equipment’s helpful to keep on hand in every photography studio. While you can invest in expensive backgrounds and lighting, it’s not necessary for most product photography.
Here are the essentials you’ll want to obtain for your home product photography studio:
- Product table: You need a sturdy table large enough to hold the products you’re photographing and backdrop materials.
- White background materials: Create a white background for your photos using white foam core boards and flexible white poster boards. Both are available at your local dollar store. You could also use seamless rolls of background paper or white fabric backgrounds that you can buy online for $10 to $50.
- Duct tape and/or clamps: You’ll use these to hold foam core, poster board, and backgrounds in place.
- Lights with clamps or stands: You can purchase lighting kits from $12 to $150, either online or at your local photography store. You can also use the lamps you already own. For best results, use 5000k daylight/cool white bulbs.
- Tripod or camera stabilizer: Always use a tripod or stabilizer for product photography. The costs for these average from $15 to $80.
The list above includes just the essentials. You may find you want to add more equipment to your studio in the future, but there’s no need to spend more than $100 total to get started.
“Doing great product photography on a budget is not an impossible task. As simple as it sounds, you only need a window with a generous amount of natural light, tape, and a large sheet of white paper. You don’t have to buy a special photo sweep. You can use a poster board or one of the big paper rolls kids draw on. Bend the paper into a slightly curved shape, place one part on a table, tape the other to the wall, place the product on it. This paper shape not only provides an excellent background but allows the light to bounce back onto the product, which makes the photos look more professional.”
— Alena Piksaeva, Editor, Surf
Use Stands and Supports for Better Product Photos
While not always necessary, sometimes it’s helpful to use product stands or risers help to lift items off the table to reduce hard shadows at the base. Stands and product supports are also great for staging product assortments or group shots.
Product supports can be made by draping upturned items, like boxes or storage containers, in white or colored cloth, depending on the look you want. To prop or stand items upright, you can use small picture display easels. You may want to use a few glue dots to keep products, draped cloth, or stands in place. Also, try fishing line attached to a rod or fixture above your set to prop up products that tend to flop ever, such as purses. The fishing line is removed easily from the image using simple photo-editing apps.
3. Master Professional Product Photography Lighting Techniques
Lighting is the key to taking great pictures with any camera. Professional photographers create their own lighting using all types of bulbs and reflectors, but you can get similar results without fancy equipment by using professional lighting techniques.
Shoot Outside for Soft, Natural Light
Shooting your photos outside is the top lighting tip from product photography pros. A wash of soft, natural light provides the best color balance for product photos and minimizes harsh shadows. The best times of day to find ideal light outdoors are midmorning or early evening. Overcast days also make for terrific product lighting.
The photo below for the Voluspa candle was taken on an overcast day with an Android Galaxy 4 camera phone using a picnic table as a backdrop. This is a true point-and-shoot picture taken in soft, natural outdoor light. No special camera settings were used and no fancy lighting either. This is proof that you don’t need a large budget or a fancy camera to achieve attractive product photos.
Use Natural Light From a Large Window
If shooting outside isn’t possible or convenient, try the next best thing—shooting indoors next to a large window or glass door. You can set up a table next to a large window easily to capture the natural light. Then, use a few pieces of white poster board or foam core as backgrounds to reflect the light and soften shadows.
Create Diffused Light Artificially Indoors
If natural light isn’t accessible, you can mimic it in several ways. The key is to diffuse, meaning spread and soften the light. This minimizes shadows and enhances colors in product photography. For small items, you can use a tabletop light tent, also called a lightbox, to diffuse light. For larger items, you can clamp or clothespin sheets of blank white paper over light sources to diffuse light.
Tabletop light tent setups typically cost between $25 and $70. You can make your own tabletop light tent using a cardboard box, some white fabric, and simple desk lamps.
Choose the Right Light Bulbs for Indoor Photography
When shooting products indoors for ecommerce purposes, the most important element is the light bulb. Many household bulbs create warm white light, which casts a red-orange tint in photos while fluorescent lights cast a greenish tint. For indoor product photography, use inexpensive 5000K daylight/cool white bulbs to provide a wash of light that’s very close to natural light.
Avoid Using Your Camera’s Flash
In product photography, the flash alters colors and casts hard shadows. You can avoid using your camera’s flash by always using a tripod. When using a tripod, you can set the shutter delay so that your camera takes the picture a few seconds after you touch the screen. This ensures sharp, in-focus images every time.
4. Create Perfect Compositions for Your Product Photos
You may think that once you’ve set up your studio and adjusted your lighting for the perfect photo, all you need to do is point and shoot your camera. Not even close.
Your job as a photographer is to give your online buyer a complete and compelling visual that conveys what your product looks like, providing visual details that will help persuade website visitors to hit the “Buy Now” button. This involves creating the perfect composition for your photos as well as taking pictures of your products from various angles.
Use the Rule of Thirds
When you’re shooting in-context photos that show your product in use, you need to create a compelling photo composition that draws the eye and features your products in the best possible way. One of the techniques for doing this is to follow the photography “rule of thirds.” You do this by imagining two vertical and two horizontal lines within your photo, as shown below.
The rule of thirds simply states that you should not center your primary subject in the image you capture. Off-centered photos tend to draw the eye better and look more natural than photos where the products appear in the center.
Shoot Products From Various Angles
There are a couple of different reasons that you want to shoot your products from various angles. The first is that most ecommerce websites offer multiple views of products so that potential buyers can get a full sense of what the product looks like as well as better understand different product features. The second is that straight-on photos don’t always show your product in the best possible way. Sometimes your product will look more appealing when photographed from the top, bottom, or side.
5. Select the Perfect Background & Product Photo Props
A clean white background is often used in product photography, but it’s not your only option. You can use a wide variety of backgrounds and photo props to make your product photos more compelling for potential buyers.
“The #1 purpose of product photography is to replace the in-store experience, so an image with appropriate props or being held or worn in a position that mimics how the user would use the product is the best approach to drive conversions.
— Rachel Johnson, Managing Partner, Think Cascadia
Choose Backgrounds for Your Product Photography Studio
The backgrounds that you choose for your product photography can enhance your images or distract from them. It’s important to take care in your background selection and experiment a bit to see what works best for you. You don’t have to pay a lot of money to create rich backgrounds for your photo shoots. You just need to use a bit of imagination.
Use White Backgrounds
White foam core boards and sheets of white poster board make suitable white background walls for your tabletop studio. Wrinkle-free white fabric works well for larger in-home studios.
When using a poster board or a roll of photography paper, you want to create what the pros call infinity curves or sweeps to eliminate hard edges from appearing in your photos. You do this by letting the boards or paper bend slightly to create a curve. This is an easy way to create shadow-free backgrounds that let your product take center stage.
Use Colorful & Textured Backgrounds
While a great deal of product photography uses white backgrounds, you can often make your products pop off the screen more effectively by using colorful or textured backgrounds. You don’t need to purchase expensive backgrounds to accomplish rich-looking outcomes. You can look around your house for ideas, or even visit thrift stores or dollar stores to find materials for your backgrounds.
You can create different moods and looks using a variety of background materials, such as:
- Faux wood, brick, or stone paneling
- Textured fabrics such as burlap or velvet
- Plexiglass—this is especially useful as a base to create a reflection of the product that’s placed on the surface
- Different shapes and colors of tiles
- Single color poster boards that pop, such as black, yellow or bright blue
You can also purchase patterned photography backgrounds online or in photography stores. There are affordable alternatives, but they can also get pricey. Expect to pay between $30 and $250 for a professional photography backdrop.
When using colorful and textured backgrounds, the first rule is to make sure that the background enhances the product rather than distracts from it. The second rule is to be consistent in how you use backgrounds for your ecommerce efforts.
You don’t have to use identical backgrounds for every product, although that often does look best. Consistent looks mean that images featured on the same site need some common elements such as type of composition, background styling, and use of photo props.
Select Complementary Product Props for Product Photos
Some ecommerce sellers include simple props in their product photography. When using props, make sure that they serve a function, such as grabbing attention for your products—without distracting from them—or helping to enhance the vibe of the product or subtly explain how to use the product.
When creating or advertising in an online store that lists multiple items, your job is to find a way to draw the customer’s eyes to each of your photos. This will help boost sales. In the image below, the simple red ribbon is an eye-catching element for these kitchen utensils.
In the image below, the wood box is surrounded by photographs, which is a subtle suggestion of things a customer could store in the box. A few sprigs of greenery are also included in the wood box photo, which further adds to the natural vibe of the photo. Your product photos won’t always be used to explain the product or demonstrate product details. They should also help evoke positive feelings.
6. Select the Best Photo Types for Products
When learning how to take product photos, you’ll need to decide what types of photos will best represent your products. Most product photography online features product-only compositions, offering multiple views of the product from various angles. Other product photos use in-context photography, which is when a product is shown in use. Many times, you’ll shoot multiple types of photos, though only use one style for your featured product photo.
When & How to Use Product-only or Studio Shots
Product-only shots—also called studio shots because the photos are usually taken in a studio—focus exclusively on the product. These are the most common type of photos for selling products online. These shots are well-lit, taken against a plain or simple background, show different angles, and highlight fine details. Product-only shots are popular because they keep shoppers focused on the product.
These studio shots are great for showing products from different angles, such as front, back, and side and for highlighting image details. Because most ecommerce websites allow you to upload several images to your item page, you can use angle shots to showcase every detail to shoppers.
Some shoppers are still leery of buying products they can’t touch and feel. Providing multiple, clear shots of your products from multiple angles helps alleviate buyer’s concerns.
When & How to Use Lifestyle or In-context Shots
Lifestyle or in-context shots demonstrate the item being worn or in use. These are useful for showing the relative size or fit for products such as watches, purses, jewelry, clothing, and decorative accents. They also help shoppers visualize how they might use items like electronic accessories, cookware, desk accessories, home decor, and sporting equipment.
While taking in-context shots can be more complicated than shooting simple, product-only photos, the payoffs can be big. Your goal in product photography is to make potential buyers feel like they truly understand the product. When shoppers see a product in use, it immediately answers questions about the product, including relative size and who else is using the product.
Lifestyle shots that demonstrate where and how the product can also be used to help ignite the viewer’s imagination. There’s a reason why beer ads often include a man surrounded by pretty girls and why vitamin ads often include fit, vibrant, active people enjoying their lives. You’re not just selling a product. You’re selling a vision of how a person’s life might change if they buy and use your product.
“When taking still images of your product, take the time to stage it. Minimize anything distracting or cluttered in the shot, aim for a clean composition in the photo, and try to find natural, indirect sunlight. You should also include images of your product in use. A recent survey found that when people choose to shop at brick-and-mortar stores, it’s because they want to touch, feel, and try out items. Overcome that hurdle on your ecommerce site by taking photos or videos that allow others to experience the product in action.
— Tracy Ring, Content & Account Manager, 10x Digital
7. Employ Professional Product Photo-editing Techniques
You need to edit your photos to ensure you present them in the correct file size and dimensions for the ecommerce sites or social channels on which they’ll be posted. You may also want to make a few tweaks, such as minor adjustments in brightness, contrast, and color saturation. If you’d done a good job in lighting your products and taking your photos, these adjustments should be relatively minor.
Use Photo-editing Software to Refine Your Product Photography
There are a number of free and paid photo-editing software solutions available that help you fine-tune your product photography. Some come with limited features and are easy to use while others, like Adobe Photoshop, are more complicated and expensive but are feature-rich.
Here are a few of the most popular image editing programs:
- PicMonkey: Suitable for nontechnically minded beginners, this photo-editing program offers a free plan as well as paid plans with premium features starting at $7.99 per month.
- GIMP: This sophisticated image-editing software is suitable for intermediate to advanced users and offers a full range of image manipulation features. Best of all, it’s free.
- Photoshop: The king of creative design software, Photoshop is the most robust image-editing and creation tool on the market. The learning curve is a bit steep, and the cost is $20.99 per month.
- SnapSpeed (phone app): This free app from Google for Android and iPhone offers a full range of editing functions and features an intuitive interface that makes it easy to use.
- Photoshop Express (phone app): Another offering from Adobe, this free app for Android and iPhone is beginner-friendly and features basic photo-editing functions, including cropping, saturation, contrast, and brightness correction.
All of the programs listed above feature the essential photo-editing tools you need to make your product photos publication-ready. If you’re not certain which one is best for you, experiment with the free programs first.
Crop & Save Your Product Photos for Website Use
Once you’ve chosen your photo-editing software, it’s time to get to work cropping and resizing images for your ecommerce needs. Image size and resolution, file size, and file type are the three main factors to consider when preparing images for web use.
Crop Your Photos to Create an Ideal Composition
Before posting your product photography to an ecommerce site, you’ll first want to optimize your photo’s composition by cropping out any unwanted background elements. The goal is to get a tight, but not too tight, representation of your product in your photo. Too much excess background makes your product look small and difficult to see. Cropping too tightly makes your product photo look amateurish.
Look at the image below to view the original photo for the candle image we previewed earlier. The store owner would not want to publish the photo in its original form, given that there’s so much excessive background noise in the picture that distracts from the item being sold. So, the photographer used GIMP’s photo-editing software to crop the photo.
Size Your Photos to the Appropriate Dimensions
The ecommerce store builder or platform that you’re using—for example, Shopify, Etsy, or Amazon—state their preferred image sizes in their setup or store management tutorials. Image size requirements are listed in pixels (px), which is a standard screen measurement. All photo-editing apps allow you to save images in pixels, even if that’s not the software’s standard measurement setting.
When learning how to take product photos, you must pay attention to the size rules for the ecommerce sites you’re using. Shopify recommends that images be saved at a minimum of 1024x1024px at 72 dots per inch resolution (dpi) but will support product images as large as 4472x4472px. Amazon has a minimum 1000x1000px image requirement, and Etsy recommends 2000x2000px for products on listings pages.
Smaller images may not show the details you wish, and larger images will appear oddly large on-screen. Again, though, don’t guess at what the appropriate photo size is for your circumstances. Always refer to your ecommerce platform for their recommended or required image sizes.
Continuing with our candle example and using the GIMP photo editor, look at how the photographer resized the candle photo. The cropped image is resized—GIMP calls this Scale—to the desired pixel width for its ecommerce site.
Use the Best File Size for Product Photos
The larger your product photo is in terms of file size, the longer it will take to load. Long page-load times are death to ecommerce sales. Today’s online shoppers expect sites to work instantaneously and will abandon a sluggish ecommerce site quickly.
The size of your photo’s digital file depends mainly on three factors: image color range (more colorful = higher file size), overall image size, and level of resolution detail or quality. Controlling the image’s color range is tough, but you can affect the final file size by controlling the image size and image quality.
In most photo-editing programs, you can adjust the final product quality in the image save steps. You want to save to the “medium” quality setting to retain photo clarity while minimizing file size. You may also see a resolution setting when you create or save images. When given 72px as a resolution option in your photo-editing software, you should select that setting for product images you plan to post online
When learning how to take product photos, you’ll find that as a general rule of thumb, photo file sizes for ecommerce stores should be less than 200KB. Less than 100KB is even better, especially for photo-laden ecommerce sites.
Save Your Ecommerce Product Photography as .jpg Files
The most common, and best, file type for ecommerce product photos is a .jpg. While most photo-editing programs and apps let you save your product photos to other types of files, including .gif or .png files, it’s not generally recommended because you have to save your images in much larger files to retain photo clarity. You want to keep the file sizes down for fast loading. If you save your files as .gifs and .pngs, you’ll lose a great deal of clarity in small file sizes.
Retouch & Adjust Your Product Photos
Photo-editing programs let you improve so-so product shots in many ways, from color correction to erasing any stray specks that pop up. Each editing program is unique, but they all allow you to adjust image brightness and color, and some even have pretty accurate auto-color correction tools.
When learning how to take product photos, you may want to experiment with manual controls for image editing and color correction, including:
- Brightness: This control lets you brighten or darken the overall shot.
- Contrast: This control adjusts relative light and dark areas and can help make details stand out.
- White balance/color cast: This adjusts the overall tint of the image to remove the greenish or red-orange hue from pictures taken with indoor lights.
- Color variations or curves: This gives you more specific controls over image color than white balance/color cast.
- Retouching tools: Most editing programs include tools like erasers, and that blotters let you remove stray specs that show up in your ecommerce product pictures. They also let you remove support materials, like the fishing line used to hold items upright during shooting.
The temptation for many people who are new to image-editing software is to go overboard when adjusting product photos. If you’ve done a good job of lighting your products when you took the photos, you shouldn’t need to apply many touch-ups to your photos.
Overuse of image editing tools can lead to unnatural-looking or misleading photos. Your job as a product photographer is to make sure shoppers get a realistic view of what they’re buying. Otherwise, you could end up with super-high product return rates. One of the best tips expert photographers agree on is only use editing tools when truly needed for your product photography.
“Try to use post-processing image tools as little as possible. Oversaturated photos end up in the uncanny valley effect, throwing off customers. It can even upset customers demanding a product exactly as it’s shown in your photos. Minimize post-processing and try to capture the essence of your product in a natural photo. So, please, let’s stop with the oversaturated photos that fool no one and only bring you more hassle and no solutions.”
— Arthur Ruth, Vice President of Operations, Memphis Maids
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About How to Take Product Photos
We’ve gathered the top questions that readers ask about how to take product photos and included our answers below. If you have additional questions about how to take product photos, ask your question on the Fit Small Business forum, and one of our experts will reply promptly.
What do you need for product photography?
For product photography, you need a digital camera. If you have a smartphone with at least a 10MP setting, that can work, too. You also need a tripod, seamless background paper or foam core boards, clamps, white poster board to deflect light, and one or two adjustable lamps. A lightbox can also be helpful.
How do I take product photos for an online store?
It’s easy to take product photos for an online store with a DSLR camera, a mirrorless camera, or even your smartphone. The best product photos are taken outdoors in natural light, but you can also take them indoors by placing your products near windows. You can set up a do-it-yourself photography studio easily for less than $100.
Do I need a special lens for product photography?
If you’re a beginner, don’t worry about purchasing special lenses for your product photography. Most camera and smartphone lenses provide adequate zoom and focal functions for basic product photography needs. If you decide you want to take your product photography to the next level, you might want to consider purchasing a macro lens.
You can build a do-it-yourself photography studio for less than $100 and even use your smartphone to take product photos. Online shoppers rely on product photos to make buying decisions, so you must create clear, vivid photos that accurately demonstrate the beauty and features of the products you plan to sell.
One of the most popular and profitable ways to sell products online is to create your own Shopify store. Shopify is a full-service ecommerce platform that allows you to build and grow your business online. Visit Shopify today to get started.