The human brain processes visuals in 13 milliseconds. In business terms, that’s not a lot of time to impress your customers. Product photos can make or break a business, and are one of the most important marketing investments you can make—but the costs of professional photography can be prohibitive to a small business owner. Fortunately, with a little time and effort, it’s possible to do it yourself.
Don’t count yourself out if you don’t have a fancy camera. Creating high-quality product images can be done with very low upfront costs and minimal equipment. In this guide, we’ll show you how to take product photos that boost conversion and dazzle your customers on a budget.
How to Take Great Product Images
Step 1: Do your research
Don’t waste your time on outdated visual styles or tired branding strategies. Your first step should always be competitor research. Look for successful brands that are as close to your niche as possible and learn from their expertise—no need to reinvent the wheel. Pay close attention to detail here: observe the type of angles they are shooting at, the backdrops they are using, and their styling. Look at the kind of images they use for banners, social media, and product pages, and how many images they display for each product.
Step 2: Identify your photography needs
Before you begin, make sure you know what types of images you’ll need. Below are the most common types of photos you might want for your business:
- Individual (individual product photos for banners, catalogs, and online marketplaces)
- Group (shots of multiple products for social media and advertisements)
- Lifestyle (photos showcasing the product in action, often using models)
- Flat-lay (shots that give a bird’s eye view of the product)
- Scale (shots that show your products next to everyday objects to illustrate their size)
- Close-ups (shots that highlight special features and details)
- Packaging shots (shots of product packaging and labels)
Step 3: Select Your Equipment
There’s no need to spend big on fancy DSLRs. Any recent generation smartphone will get the job done, as smartphones today come standard with high-quality built-in cameras.
If you do have access to a dedicated camera, here are some extra considerations for shooting with a camera:
● Set your white balance temperature to the Kelvin temperature of your studio.
● Adjust the aperture depending on the type of photo you are capturing. Want a sharp focus? Set the camera to a smaller aperture for a wider depth of field.
● Shoot in RAW. If there’s no RAW setting, shoot in the largest available JPEG setting.
● Turn off the flash.
Natural light is the best way to get great lighting if you’re on a low budget. Try to photograph your products during the day when the sun is at its peak for optimal lighting. If the lighting is too intense, try diffusing it with a white sheet or piece of paper.
Artificial lighting is a great option if you can afford to splurge on studio lights and want to shoot when natural lighting is poor. You will need at least two softbox light setups and some LEDs to get started. Depending on the shape of your product, you’ll want your lights positioned all in front or two on each side. Usually, a triangular setup (three lights) is a good approach for product photography. Try using sheets or white cardboard to soften the lighting if the shadows are too intense.
Eyeballing your pictures will never yield results as consistent and replicable as a tripod. If you’re just starting out, there’s no harm in holding the phone or camera yourself, and it’s possible to fix small issues with rotation in post-production. However, as your business expands, a tripod is a cheap investment that will be enormously helpful in making your photos consistent and reducing the risk of blurry photos due to unsteady hands. It’s better to go with flexible tripods as these will give you the most options for shooting at different angles and in different environments.
Step 4: Choose your background
Getting the right background keeps the focus on your products and reduces the hassle of post-production. Fortunately, you don’t have to break the bank to find a suitable backdrop, as there are plenty of affordable options.
In the studio
If you’re conducting multiple photoshoots, a white sweep is a great investment. If you’re feeling crafty, you can make your own chair-mounted sweep, particularly for smaller products. However, if you’re selling larger products like furniture or photographing apparel on models, you’ll want a stand-mounted sweep.
Outdoors and in nature
You can get creative with lifestyle photos and dynamic product imagery, choosing outdoor and indoor backgrounds that match your products. Think of greenery and natural beauty for cosmetics, gyms for energy supplements, beaches for summertime accessories, etc. Keep in mind, though, that it’s much easier to control lighting conditions in a studio environment, so it may be more challenging to capture outdoor photos.
Step 5: Set up the product
Place the product in front of your chosen background and make sure it’s centered on a flat, stable surface or elegantly displayed on your model. For accessories, it’s a good idea to use busts or figures to better display the product as it would appear on a model.
When photographing smaller or more intricate details, you may need to invest in a few tools, like:
- Glue dots and tape to keep everything in place
- Clips and pins for styling apparel
- Hangers to show products from different angles
Step 6: Take tons of photos
Always take more photos than you think you need. Inevitably, some of them won’t turn out, so it’s best to go overboard: capture the product from all different angles, perspectives, and positions.
Organizing your photos by product and category as soon as they’ve been uploaded will save you a headache in hunting down the right images later.
Pro tip: Remember to clean your lens before starting the photoshoot! It may not be obvious while you’re snapping pictures, but a dirty lens can completely ruin your photos.
Step 7: Retouch your photos
Post-production is where you’ll take your photos from good to great. Pay special attention to each photo’s exposure, color balance, and look for issues with blur or unwanted elements in the frame. To edit your photos, you can use editing software to do it yourself or go with an affordable image-editing service. Here’s a comparison of two such options:
From minor corrections to substantial changes, this software does it all—it’s the industry standard for a reason. However, you will either need strong editing skills or be willing to study up and follow tutorials to use it effectively. To use Photoshop, you’ll need to purchase a subscription plan.
If you haven’t mastered editing on your own and want a cost-effective alternative, autoRetouch is a great option. It’s an AI-powered tool that automates the entire editing process, from skin retouching to making ghost mannequins (an advanced technique that involves creating 3D product photos without a visible model or mannequin). It can batch-edit up to 100 images simultaneously.
Pro tip: If you are unsure how to get started with retouching software, YouTube has tutorials on just about every process imaginable.
Step 8: Optimize your images
The larger your images will be, the slower they will load. Digital buyers expect speedy load times and aren’t willing to wait around for massive images to display—not to mention that your website may look awkward as the images slowly load in. Make sure to keep file sizes as low as possible without sacrificing quality.
Lastly, name your images descriptively and include metadata and keywords to improve SEO (search engine optimization) and make your images accessible with alt text.
It may take some time to learn the ropes, but for the enterprising business owner, learning to build out a store with your own product photos is a hugely cost-effective and rewarding process. Modern cell phone cameras and affordable editing options have made photography more accessible than ever, so there’s no reason not to give it a shot (no pun intended). Plus, you’ll have full creative control over the look and feel of your store, and have the satisfaction of knowing you did it all yourself!