A great mid-line DSLR camera

Product Photography Overview: 7 Basic Guidelines to Get Started

If you’re planning to sell products online, you probably know that one of the single-most important factors in converting a sale is your product’s photo. From the Shopify blog, there was a stat quoted that said 67% of consumers consider product images to be more important than customer reviews. That says a lot about how important images are to selling a product online.

Here is a basic overview of things you need to buy and/or learn to get started. In future blog posts, we will be explaining each of these in more detail.

1. Choosing a Camera for Product Photography

A great mid-line DSLR camera

For product photography, you don’t need a top of the line camera. A starter or mid-range DSLR is recommended, but a good point-and-shoot and even a camera on one of the newer smartphones is enough to start with. In a future post, we will review some starter DSLR cameras.

Camera settings: While there are many camera setting options, for product work, you need to understand how aperture and shutter speed settings work. Among other settings, when shooting in a controlled light environment like product photography, ISO is usually set to the lowest, either 100 or 200 and white balance is usually set to auto. In a future post, we will discuss what these different settings means and how to set up your camera for product photography.

2. Choosing Lenses for Product Photography

Choose the best lens for your product photography

Usually, the basic 18-55mm lens that comes with the most DSLR camera’s is sufficient for most product photos. If you want to go a step further, there are many different lenses to choose from, but prime lenses (lenses that don’t zoom) will give you the crispest photos and macro lenses are great for working with smaller items like jewelry (these days you can even get a macro lens attachment for some smartphones!). In a future post, we will get into more specifics on lenses.

3. DIY or Buy a Light Box

Use a Lightbox for smaller objects

For those white, floating images you see on Amazon you’ll need what’s called a light box or something similar. Light boxes allow your items to be surrounded by a soft, diffused light which will highlight you item without creating harsh shadows or unwanted reflections. You can either buy or make a light box.

4. Lighting

The cheapest way to light is with clip lights

If you’re photographing smaller items and using a light box, your lighting needs will be pretty minimal. Two-three lights as shown in the image above with matching bulbs will about do it. You also might consider investing in a mini reflector kit – they can direct more light to the product and fill in any unwanted shadows.

If you’re photographing larger items, getting a lighting umbrella or softbox is pretty standard, but then you’re talking about a larger studio space and bigger, brighter lights since you need to cover a larger space. In a future post, we will review lighting details and get into more specifics.

5. Backgrounds

If you’re using a light box, all you need for your background is poster board that match the size of your light box. While a white background is recommended, you can really use just about any background that looks good (the image above shows a red background). Just make sure that whatever site you’re uploading to doesn’t have specific requirements, for e.g. Amazon requires a white background.

6. Tripod

Use a tripod for stability and sharper pictures

Tripods are very important if you want your images to look sharp and without blur. They also allow you to move and adjust your product and its lighting while keeping your camera consistent.  (If you’re taking photos with your phone, you can also buy a phone stand that essentially does the same thing.)

Make sure the tripod you buy is easy to adjust in terms of height and angle. Some of the cheaper tripods are very hard to maneuver and can make your project more time consuming.

7. Editing Software

As much as we all strive to get the best shot in-camera that we can, it’s inevitable that our images will need some editing – especially if you need to meet specifications for sites like Amazon. Basic free editing programs that come preinstalled on your computer allow you to crop and resize and other basic tweaks.  More complex programs like Photoshop or Lightroom, will allow you to edit out any dirt or dust that might have crept in, as well as do color corrections, lens corrections, and whatever else you might need. While starting out, Photoshop Elements is recommended – it’s a more basic version of photoshop, but still very powerful.

These aren’t gear but they’re important!

Cleaning the product

Getting a great shot starts with preparation. Make sure that the area and the item being photographed is clean. Smudges, dust, etc. will show up in the photo and editing them out is time consuming (not to mention an entire other skill set). Keep a microfiber cloth handy or wear cotton gloves when handing the product. Also, make sure you have whatever stands or wax you’ll need to prop up your item to the angle you want.

Keep track

This will sound silly to some and redundant to others, but taking notes and tracking what you did will really save time when it comes to recreating that perfect shot. Or even knowing what not to do again. It will also help you develop a consistent workflow once you find the look you’re going for. Things you’ll need to note down include the distance of the lights from the product, the angle of the lights from the product, the distance of the camera from the product, what camera settings you’re using, and any other gear or information that seems relevant. Feel free to draw diagrams, makes lists…whatever works best for you.

Workflow is very important when shooting a lot of products. You need to find a process that works and keep repeating it for each shot. In a future post, we will discuss how to improve your image processing process i.e. taking your initial images, editing them, then saving them to upload on the web.

Practice. Practice. Practice

Like most skills, product photography has a bit of a learning curve. And while you’ll find that some products photograph easily, others can really have you pulling out your hair by the time you take the umpteenth shot. It will take a fair degree of practice to get your workflow down to where you’re continually getting consistent images with consistent quality.

As you get better, you’ll probably find yourself wanting to invest in more advanced gear. But the above will get you started.

Which areas do you have the most trouble with? Do you dave some other tips for getting started? Let’s hear them!

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Usnea Lebendig

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