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Product Photography Tips for People Who Aren’t Professional Photographers

What turns an ecommerce website visitor into a customer? While there are a lot of correct answers to this question, one fundamental element is a sense of trust that a product will do what it says it will do.

This sense of trust is built or broken all over your website, including your product photography.

Research from eMarketer shows that product photography is the most important product page feature for people who shop on their phones. (Product descriptions and specifications are a close second, but that’s another article for another day.)

product image statistics

At the very least, your product photography needs to do a good job of clearly showing what your product is. 

Moving up the hierarchy, the best product photography creates a mood or tone for your visitors.  It helps the visitor envision their own life through your photos – whether it’s fantasy or reality. It illustrates to them exactly how your product would fit into their life and the impact it would have.

If you’re looking to create this kind of stunning product photography for ecommerce without breaking the bank, you’re in the right place. We’re going to look at some product photography ideas, tips, and tools that you can start applying today.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of a Smartphone

When you think of amazing ecommerce photography, you might assume that you need to spend hundreds of dollars on new, fancy photography equipment.

In some cases, the investment is a good idea.

But if you have a smartphone that takes quality photos, you might already have everything you need. This is especially true if you have a newer smartphone that’s been released within the past couple of years.

For example, the iPhone 12 and the Galaxy S21 take incredible photos, complete with advanced settings like portrait mode and lighting filters that add an extra touch of professionalism to even the most amateur shots.

And even if you don’t, you’d be surprised at how much better your photos can look once you apply a few product photography tips, like shooting angles, lighting, and backgrounds.

Check out this great article on product photography on your phone.

smartphone product photography

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Choose the Right Image Types for Your Products and Brand Personality

Before you start your DIY product photography adventure, consider the main types of product photography and how they might fit into (and bolster) your brand.

Ideally, you’ll be able to mix-and-match your product photography styles, including different types of shots for each product or catalog. This shows versatility and paints a better picture of what you have to offer.

Let’s look at a few: plain background, lifestyle, and close-up.

Plain background product photography

This is a classic type of product photography, because it’s powerful in its simplicity. It makes sure that your visitors are 100% focused on the product itself with no distractions. It also creates a sharp, clean look for your product pages and website as a whole.

Not to mention: it’s just plain simpler to take a plain background photo than to tinker with finding the right background.

Here’s an example from Package Free. It’s a creative shot that shows the contents of their “Zero Waste First Aid Kit.”

plain background product photography

Lifestyle product photography

This type of product photography paints a picture of your product in action, so your visitors can envision themselves using the product too.

Lifestyle shots give you a ton of creative freedom to create the mood and tone for your brand.

Suta uses beautiful lifestyle photography to show off their sarees, with models wearing them in their homes or out in nature and city environments. The photos create a mood that’s casual and laid-back, but at the same time refined and delicate.

lifestyle product shots

Close-up product photography

Does your product have cool embroidery, a unique texture, or an intricate design? Make sure you include one or two close-up shots so your visitors can see the details in all their glory.

If you have a professional camera, using a zoom lens or zoom function should work well. But if you’re shooting with a smartphone, be careful with zoom. Generally speaking, zooming on a smartphone will significantly lower the quality of the image. 

It’s likely a better idea to move your camera as close to the product as you can without it blurring, then cropping the photo later so the product takes up most of the space.

Try both ways, then upload the photos to your computer to see which of these product photography techniques looks better.

Going back to Suta, you’ll find that the site includes several shots of each product, including a close-up that shows finer details. The same saree above includes a photo of the item’s fabric pattern and tassels.

closeup product photography

Pay Attention To Your Backgrounds

If you’re shooting plain background product photography, consider making or buying a sweep. A sweep is a seamless background that covers the back wall and ground area that your item is resting on. 

You can make a budget-friendly sweep with a long piece of paper, cardboard, or fabric. 

If you’re using natural light, elevate your sweep and item by resting them on a chair or table in a well-lit room. This way, you can maximize the room’s light, while reducing and better controlling the item’s shadow.

background tips product photos

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The cool thing about a sweep is that you can use any color paper you like to create a different feel.

Lucinda from the photography blog Happily Ever Aperture shows us how color can be used to add contrast and versatility to your ecommerce product photography.

ecommerce product photography

For shooting lifestyle or other backgrounds, consider what you want the photo to convey. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Try to show your product in action. If it’s a cell phone case, photograph it on a phone. You might also show someone talking on that phone, or show the phone in natural places, like resting on an office desk or bedroom dresser.
  • Depict a goal, desire, or fantasy that your visitors might have. Does your target audience want to live a luxurious life? Be a famous athlete? Climb the corporate ladder? Try to bring these scenarios to life if your products can help accomplish those goals.
  • Bring your brand to life. This is a chance to showcase your company’s identity,mission, and values. What emotions do you want your customers to feel when they visit your site and consider doing business with you? For example, if your brand is fun and eccentric, you might consider using unique colors, patterns, and shapes. If it’s sophisticated, use clean and sharp images.

Pay Attention To Your Lighting

It might seem like lighting isn’t a big deal, but it can be the difference between a product photo that looks incredible and one that looks totally amateur.

If you’re a beginner photographer, you’ll learn this lesson fast as you start taking your own pictures.

That’s why I recommend that if you have a few extra bucks to spend on your photography budget, invest in buying or making lighting tools. There are a few simple, affordable items that can make a huge impact on your final images.

Let’s look at a few.

1. Light box

A light box, also called a light tent, is a box that has translucent white sides, with one open side to place your products inside and photograph them. Light boxes are designed to give a big burst of light to your products so your photos are crisp and bright.

You can buy a light box for as little as $15 (or a professional light box for several thousand). Another option is to make your own with supplies around your house, like a cardboard box, white tissue paper, white posterboard, and some tape. Here’s a DIY product photography article that shows you how to make a light box step-by-step.

how to make a light box

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2. Lights: fluorescent, LED, or tungsten

Natural light can work well, but it’s not always reliable or easy to control the final product of your photos. It can be frustrating when you’re all set up and then clouds roll in and block your beautiful sunlight!

If you have several items to photograph and you want consistency between the shots, buy a light or use a lamp from around your home. The most common types of light bulbs used in professional product photography are fluorescent, LED, or tungsten.

3. Light diffuser

Professional product photography often diffuses light. This means that the light is spread out so that it’s “softer,” which in turn makes shadows less bold and harsh.

Take a look at this apple example below. The first photo was taken with a light shining directly onto the side of the apples. The shadows are long and clearly outlined.

In the second photo, a diffuser was placed between the light source and the apples. This softened the light so that the shadows are less defined and “hard.”

light diffuser

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You can buy a light diffuser starting at around $20, or you can use household materials like a frosted shower curtain, tissue paper or parchment paper, a pillowcase, or a bedsheet. Just drape it up in front of your light source, whether it’s a lamp or an open window.

If you can afford it, look into a product photography lighting kit. These kits typically include everything you need to shoot well-lit photos, including the light box, lights, and diffuser we discussed above. These start at around $100.

Use a Photo Editing App or Service

There are loads of free and paid tools to help fine-tune your photos. You’d be surprised how much of a difference it can make with a simple crop or color adjustment.

Here are a few resources that can help supercharge your DIY product photography.

  • VSCO is popular for product photography at home. This free tool gives you basic editing options like brightening or darkening the photo, changing the “temperature” of the color, and enhancing the clarity.
  • Adobe Lightroom is a wonderful app that’s used often in professional product photography. You can buy the desktop software or download the free mobile app, which offers similar editing options to VSCO. Try using the “Auto” function that automatically suggests edits for your photo – you’ll be surprised at the difference without having to do the work!
  • Pixc is an online service for touching up and perfecting your product photos. The Pixc team can do things like remove backgrounds or people, add shadows, and resize or format your photos. You can purchase a membership or pay per photo.
  • Fiverr, Upwork, 99designs, and other freelance marketplaces. These marketplaces are packed to the brim with photographers and editors who can help with whatever you need. Give them specific instructions or let them work their own magic.

Mastering DIY Product Photography

As a beginner, it can be tough to emulate the gorgeous, eye-catching visuals of your favorite international ecommerce brands.

But there are plenty of product photography tips that can help you build and grow your skills. The best part is that many of these techniques are simple to learn and apply – it just takes patience and experimentation (and maybe a bit of investment) to make drastic improvements.

The most important thing to remember is that, like nearly every aspect of owning a business, you don’t have to become an expert overnight. The important thing is that you’re always trying new ways to up your game.

And if all else fails, there are plenty of resources to help you find a partner who can take your company’s photography to the next level.

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