A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO
PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY Actionable tips to take your product photography from so-so to bestseller!
CAMERA BASICS - PROPS COMPOSITION - STYLING TIPS - BRAND GUIDELINES + MORE
Ideal for Etsy shops and e-commerce stores
by stylist - photographers Hege Morris & Tiffany Grant-Riley
CONTENTS Make An Impression A Basic Kit A Guide To Backdrops Know Your Brand Guidelines How To Harness Light Using Props The Science of Styling Planning Your Shot List Composition - The Rule of Thirds Showing Your Best Side - Editing Our Favourite Phone Editing Apps Image Sizes
Make An Impression Great product images are the difference between making a sale and losing a potential customer. As decisions are made to shop or drop within the first few seconds, it's important that your images make the right impression to the right person from the word go.
We're here to help you do just that.
Let us share our knowledge as professional stylist-photographers to help you elevate your brand photography and create sales for your business. Our work has been used in everything from lifestyle books and magazine features to products on the shelves. Tiff runs Curate and Display, creating editorial and e-commerce imagery for soulful independent brands from her studio in Kent. Hege divides her time between brand styling and photography, as well as full Pinterest business management services for brands from her home outside Glasgow.
What Makes Good Product Photography? The range of product photography out there is extremely diverse and creative once you dive in. Perhaps you’ve seen a shot where luxury skincare is showered in splashes of water or a sneaker appear to float in mid-air. It’s all captivating stuff, but what makes good, simple product photography that you as a beginner can achieve at home without pro kit and editing skills?
We stick to these basic principles: 1.Well Lit Any product you’re capturing must be well-lit and for this, natural light is the way to go. Use it to present your designs in their best light, paying close attention to exposure of the image and the way the light highlights certain details. 2. Crisp and in Focus Make sure every part of your product is in crisp focus. You have seconds to capture a potential customer’s interest, so give the right impression. 3. Lightly Propped Don’t be tempted to clutter your styling with too many props and remember- your product should be the hero of every shot. 4. Plain White Background The best way to start photographing your products is by using a simple, preferably white, or pale colour background. 5. Show It In Context Whilst a simple, plain background shot is important, don’t forget to show how your product might be used in context. Your customer will be able to imagine how it might interact in their own home or enhance their when they see it styled in a real-life setting.
A Basic Kit Whether you're using a DSLR camera or your phone, the best thing you can do when you're regularly shooting your own images is to build up a reliable, basic kit. You'll be using it all the time and it'll make life so much easier. It helps to include: Tripod for DSLR camera or iphone to keep your shots steady and pin sharp A sheet of white foam board (diy reflector) A fold out set of reflectors (for a pro option) Blu-Tac or putty for securing run-away items Inexpensive backdrops such as card / painted mdf or fabric A handy set of c-clamps to secure your backdrop/props Microfibre cloth to keep your surfaces and products dust free
dust natural cotton sheet from a DIY store
unpainted white polyfiller on mdf
mdf painted with a roller
A Guide To Backdrops The backdrop you choose to shoot your products with can make or break a shot. As a general rule, a basic product shot should always be on a simple background or nothing with pattern to distract the eye away. White is always a good place to start but don't feel tied to it. You can also use paper and card or fabric for a more textural feel. Vinyl backdrop used as a table top
The Sweep A sweep is a large sheet of flexible card or paper that you can tape to the wall and curve down onto your tabletop, creating a seamless backdrop. These are best for simple product shots.
Boards & Vinyl You can utilise two boards as your base and back wall made from card or more sturdy MDF which you can paint. There are also some brilliant backdrop companies selling printed vinyl textured effects with a matte finish and low reflective quality.
Sweep backdrop made from a roll of white paper
White foam board reflector to bounce light
Light from a window
Clamps to secure the backdrop
When it comes to photographing your product in a lifestyle setting, your backdrop will help set the scene. It can also be a great tool to connect with your brand guidelines by using a certain colour or material.
A distressed 'table top' made from adhesive flooring.
Build your collection: DIY store tiles Fake wood flooring Old baking trays Coloured card Fabric samples
Textured cotton art paper.
High quality vinyl marble backdrop.
Know Your Brand Guidelines No doubt you'll have given your brand a lot of thought while you've been making or collating your collection so now it's time to reflect your vision back onto the screen through your photography. Having a clear set of rules will allow you to develop a visual style that makes your brand instantly recognisable. Give yourself a set of visual guidelines to refer to as you shoot that encapsulate your brand. These are your cues that connect with your imagery with your values and story. All brands refer to these guidelines on every shoot, no matter how established they are. This document tells the team which colours can and can't be used, how the overall collection of images should look and feel, which materials and props are key and so on. When you stick to these rules, you'll start to create a set of strong, cohesive images that become your signature style and something your customer will grow to recognise. Ask yourself - how do you want your product imagery to look and feel? If you want to introduce colour, use no more than three, with one as your lead and two as accents. For inspiration, look at one or two of your favourite brands and see how you can translate those principles into your own.
Look at some of your favourite lifestyle brands and see what you notice about their visual guidelines. You can use Pinterest to create a board to help you envisage your own.
Brand Guidelines Name:
Keywords to describe my brand
Brand colours and textures
My brand values are
My ideal customer is
My photographic style is
How To Harness Light One of the most basic mistakes to make when you're starting out in photography is forgetting to turn off the lights in and outside of the room. Your everyday overhead light or table lamp will cast a yellowish wash over your images making them harder to edit later. The only light you should be using at this stage (unless you have studio lights to hand) is a natural light source.
Here's how to make the most of it and capture your best image yet...
1.Find a Window It sounds obvious, but setting up your shot near a window will guarantee you the best light. Place your surface or backdrop close enough but not in direct light as your shots will end up with too much strong contrast. Bright sunshine is actually not the best light to shoot in because you’re likely to lose details.
2. Use A Tripod This comes up your basic kit and we can’t stress enough how important it is to use a tripod, particularly in low-light situations. If you’re getting blurred and shaky shots, this is the best solution. Not only does a tripod ensure your phone or camera will take crisp and steady shots but it also frees up your hands when you use a shutter timer. (You can set that up on your phone too!)
ws add subtle shado into depth and life your photos
3. Use Shadows to Your Advantage A good image is all about the interplay between light and shadow. Shadows are just as important as the light and they can create real depth, mood and drama when they're captured well. Try reducing the exposure in your camera to deepen the shadows. You’ll see it also brings out the highlights but it makes them stronger and more defined. Placing your object right up to a light source will create stronger shadows and 'Golden Hour' light can be magical for this. You can also experiment by placing props into the light source that cast interesting shadows onto your scene - think leaves or textured glass, to create a sense of place and movement from outside of the shot.
This looks li ke it was tak en on a bed was taken b , but it y bringing a duvet over to the window. Keep fresh coffee on h and or repla ce the cup if it lose s its visual a ppeal.
If you have too much light, you can diffuse it with a 'scrim' or thin piece of white fabric over your window. To reduce shadows, direct your reflector board closer to your scene to bounce light in.
DSLR Photography Basics DSLR camera vs. phone camera The saying goes that the best camera is the one you have with you at the time. And it’s true really, it’s not so much about how expensive the camera is or the bells and whistles, it’s all about how you use it and the vision you have to bring an image to life. Though we always shoot with DSLR for client projects, sometimes the phone is the better option for off-the-cuff / low light situations. If you’re really new to photography then the camera in your pocket is the best place to start and learn through practice. In fact, it’s very hard to tell the difference between a phone and a dedicated camera these days, they’re that sharp. And if you’re looking to build on your skills and get your teeth into photography, there are plenty of brilliant mid-level cameras you can buy.
Exposure Regardless of what you’re shooting with, exposure is the absolute key to a great image. Simply put, the exposure of an image is how much light is being registered into the camera. It’s easy to control this yourself on your camera dial, using +/- to brighten or darken the image.
UNDER EXPOSE (DARKEN)
OVER EXPOSE (LIGHTEN)
CORRECT EXPOSURE (ACCORDING TO YOUR CAMERA)
Whilst dialing your exposure to '0' is what the camera believes to be correct, this isn't always the case so you'll need to adjust this accordingly. Be careful not to blow-out or over-expose your image as you'll loose detail you can't get back when you edit. On your iPhone you can achieve this by tapping the screen in camera mode, swiping up to brighten and down to darken your image. Of course, you can adjust this when you edit your images, but it’s far better to get it right in-camera first.
Manual Camera Settings How we achieve the correct exposure is down to a balance of three main elements: 1. ISO 2. Aperture 3. Shutter speed By mastering manual mode on your camera, you'll be able to easily adjust the ISO, aperture and shutter speed to get the right exposure. Getting the right settings in your camera is like making a secret sauce, a perfect combination that guarantees you beautiful shots. When you get used to using a combination of the above you’ll see how they all feed into each other and it’ll become second nature. Let’s dive into the details...
ISO ISO is the level of light sensitivity in your camera. For example, in bright or normal daylight, your camera will have low sensitivity as enough light is entering through the lens to capture the image. Setting your camera to a low number ISO of 100 to 200 is ideal and will produce the best quality image. In low light situations you'll need your camera to compensate for the lack of light and increase its sensitivity. You can achieve this by setting your camera to anything from ISO 400 to anything up to 25,000+ for high quality cameras. However, as a result, your images will start to introduce noise or ‘grain’. As you will want crisp and clear product shots, try to avoid going higher than ISO 200. And remember - the tripod is your friend!
Aperture Remember playing with a toy kaleidoscope and how twisting the front adjusted the shape of the window? Aperture works in a similar way with your camera lens. This is the size of the hole the lens creates using a series of metal blades which open and close according to size you set it. The amount of light that enters into your camera is determined by the size of the aperture and is measured in F STOPS, ranging from f/ 2.8 as the largest up to f/22, the smallest. As you'll notice in the diagram below, the size of the aperture will also dictate how much of your image is in focus - this is known at 'Depth of Field'.
Shutter Speed Shutter speed is the length of time your camera will take the photo, based on your careful balance of ISO and aperture. Ultimately, this is where you can control the exposure with +/on your camera’s dial. The slower the shutter speed, the longer the amount of time your camera's sensor will let light in. The faster your shutter speed, the less amount of time your camera's sensor will let light in. The darker your set-up is, the longer you’ll need to let light in with a slower shutter speed (hello tripod!) If the room is really bright, you’ll get away with a much faster shutter speed.
What is depth of field? Remember we mentioned Depth of Field when we talked about aperture? This is ultimately how you direct the viewer to read your image, drawing the eyes to focus on the subject. As your product is the main subject, you may want to subtly blur out the background for a shallow depth of field. To do this, opening your aperture to a larger f/stop of between f/2-f/5 should get you there. To have everything completely in focus with a deep depth of field, you need to use a smaller aperture setting. Somewhere between f/16-f/22 works best, depending on your camera model.
Candle and lid in focus with fore and background blurred
Everything in crisp focus, including candle, matches and greenery
Photography Cheat Sheet For Manual Mode Bright Daylight
A little grainy
Shutter Speed Note! If your subject is still and your camera is tripod mounted, your shutter speed won't matter so much.
Slower Exposure 10"
blur motion lighter " = a second or longer
Faster Exposure 1/100
freeze motion darker
oard am b o f e t t' to Whi l ligh as 'fil hadow ce s redu
Painted mdf backdrop
Clamps to secure the surface to the table
Light from the window
Camera on tripod
How To Shoot With Natural Light Set-up #1 - Head on / 45 degrees This set-up is great for shooting products head-on and at a 45 degree angle.
1. Choose the right window - this is the key to finding the kind of light that works for your product. North facing light is cooler and creates softer shadows, whilst south-facing is warmer and stronger - these are both the most constant sources of light throughout the day. East and West will change much faster as the sun moves across the sky reducing your shoot time, so try to find a window you can rely on. 2. Control the light - set up your scene next to or near to your window facing side on. Use a white foam board or silver reflector to bounce light in (or introduce 'fill light') to reduce unwanted shadow around your product. The closer you move your reflector to your scene, the more it reduces the shadow. Too bright? Diffuse the light from your window by moving your scene further away or covering the window with a thin piece of white cotton fabric and see how it softens your scene. 3. Shoot on a table - this not only saves your back but makes it much easier to adjust your scene as you go. Use clamps to secure your backdrops so they won't move. 4. Use your tripod - important for crisp images but also keeps your hands free for styling AND allows you to play with angles. Set your camera's timer and go!
Make sure your backdrop is flat, it shouldn't have any bumps
Shoot close to a window with good natural light
Use a tripod for extra sharp photos Have a 90 degree angle
Set-up #2 Flat Lay This set-up is great for products that look best shot flat - stationery, jewellery and cosmetics especially
1. When shooting a flat lay, finding a window with good light is key. A North or South facing window is best as it's most constant throughout the day. 2. Plan first, then play - choose the direction of your flat lay before you start. Whether you're going portrait or landscape, this will dictate how you set up your camera and props. Decide where you're placing your key props and then play with any supporting ones once you're almost ready to shoot. 3. Use risers to lift certain objects up and away from your surface to give a sense of depth - great for stationery where you want to layer cards and envelopes. You can use a small matchbox or acrylic block for this. 4. Make sure your camera's is set up straight on your tripod, so everything looks the correct size. Shooting directly above your scene at a 90 degree angle is best for this. If some objects don't look right (candles on their side don't work for this!) consider removing them or adjusting their position. 5. A flat lay can be shot on the floor or on a table. We prefer to shoot on the floor, as it's easier to look in the viewfinder instead of having to stand on a chair.
iPhone Photography Tips Focus and Exposure Once you've framed your shot, tap your subject to focus your camera. This brings up a yellow square. Hold your finger down to bring up the icon and slide up or down to adjust your exposure levels.
Portrait Mode & Depth of Field You can achieve a similar effect of depth of field if your iPhone has 'portrait' mode. Select 'natural light' from the icons at the bottom of your screen, then select 'f' in the top right hand. Slide across the dial from f/1.4 up to f/16 - just be aware your camera must be a fair distance from your subject for this to work.
Timer If you're using a tripod to steady your phone, using the built-in timer will make sure your shots are super crisp. The little at the top of the screen brings up a range of options below. Scroll along to the timer and choose between 3s and 10s.
Moss is use d as the sup porting prop to con nect with the natural, organic ingredients in the prod uct
Using Props Supporting props are a great way to show your customer exactly how and where your product might be used as well as its scale. They're a great way of setting the tone for your brand, too. Use them in an imaginative, conceptual way or be more literal in a real life setting. There are two ways in which you can introduce props depending on your product and brand style.
Example - An organic skincare brand Lifestyle - choose props that have a real life connection to the product for example - skincare such as a cotton face cloth, body brush and other bathroom accessories. Conceptual - a more stylised, abstract approach in which the shot might show the ingredients used in the skincare or the bottles displayed in an unusual way within the set.
Plinths and Risers If you want to raise your product away from the surface, using a stylish plinth or 'riser' is ideal. You can buy these online from a variety of prop specialists, made from high-density foam, cement, wood or clear acrylic.
Props should only ever support your product, not become the hero. Make sure you keep your styling simple and uncluttered.
Set up your pieces in a way that illustrates their scale and how they might be used.
The Science of Styling Although styling is very much an intuitive process and something that becomes second nature with plenty of practice, there are three basic pointers that will give your imagery a solid foundation.
Odd Numbers 3 really is the magic number when it comes to arranging objects within a scene. Or odd numbers in general. Visually, our brains find odd groupings of objects more pleasing to digest. When it's done in the right way, the image will encourage our eyes to move around in the scene, drawing attention to the subject of the shot.
The Triangle Principle When objects are arranged in a multi-level triangle formation, they take on a visual depth that just works. Pick a handful of styled images from a magazine or on Instagram and see if you can find a triangle shape from the way the objects are laid out asymmetrically. Most images should have a focus that draws the eye up, down and across, creating an invisible triangle. Can you see how each object relates to each other?
Layering and Scale What looks great to the naked eye doesn't always work through the lens - even the most seasoned stylist will spend a fair amount of time making tiny tweaks to the scene until the right shot presents itself. There are a number of reasons for this, including the angle you're shooting from but for the most part it comes down to how you layer your products and their scale in relation to each other. Sometimes, when objects the same size are placed next to each other it can look very flat and linear. In lifestyle photography, a scene feels more organic when objects are layered, placed slighting in front of each other or behind to create perspective. This gets rid of awkward gaps and spaces and creates a clear relationship between them.
Here's an example of all three styling foundations in action. Notice how the group of 3 ceramics on the right all vary in scale. These have been layered into a triangle formation for a more organic look with the eye leading up from the vase across to the print behind.
Consider the scale when you're creating your scene. A very large object placed next to something small creates disharmony so the eye doesn't know where to settle, so try to use items that connect with each other. For this you can use a prop that relates to your product and place it nearby - for example, a couple of stylish matches next to your soy candle or perhaps a bunch of greenery inside or placed next to a vase. This way, your customer can easily get a sense of how your product might work for them.
Negative Space Negative space is so important when you’re setting up the composition of a shot. Just as your subject is the 'positive' space, it’s the empty space around it that becomes the negative. This area draws the eye to the subject and creates breathing space around it. Not only does it create a feeling of balance within the composition but from a design perspective, it allows you to add in copy and branding later on.
Move As You Shoot Moving around your subject with your camera will really help to introduce new perspectives into your photography. You’ll naturally find a certain style that works for you - you might prefer to shoot from above looking down for flat-lays if you have a stationery or jewellery business, or perhaps straight on, but sometimes breaking free from that pattern creates exciting new angles you can use.
The same goes for moving the subject in your composition. Don’t be afraid to tweak little details, add something in or take something out. Move your subject further into the light if you need to. When you try new things, you’re pushing your boundaries and opening up the opportunity to create something new.
Negative space a llows the eyes to rest
You can use negative sp ace for text overlays and branding
Batch shooting - if you’ve got lots of the same products in different colours it’s easier to style one set-up and swap each design out for the next. You could change a few small details in your styling to make it more interesting.
Placing your product and props in a loose triangle arrangement helps to lead the eye across the image from left to right.
Planning Your Shot List Making sure you have a strong list of shots planned before you start shooting not only saves you time but also ensures you get exactly what you need.
Consider how many products you have to photograph and how many angles you need to capture for each. It's great to have a strong mix of the following: A plain studio shot on a white backdrop Showing your product in a lifestyle setting Your product in action - show your customer how to use it Details - angles, back, front, side, under Show the scale of your product A group shot or flat lay
Don't forget! Check that your products are correctly framed inside a crop - you'll want to use these as leading 'hero shots' on platforms like Etsy and Instagram.
Product Shot List Product Name:
When you're composing lifestyle shots, show your customers how your product is used and can fit into their lifestyle.
Get ahead of the game and set up your props and styled set the night before your shoot. You'll be ready to hit the ground running on the day and save valuable time.
Composition - The Rule of Thirds There's no one way to compose a shot but this basic principle will help strengthen your skills. Let's talk about 'The Rule of Thirds', a method of composition which breaks your screen into thirds both horizontally and vertically. You'll notice there are points at which these lines converge: When you frame your shot, you should aim for your subject to sit within the left or right side of the image where the lines cross. This makes your composition more interesting than something centred, giving you opportunity to create negative (empty) space for the eye to rest (or to add text later on).
See how we've used 3rds in our shots over on the next pages.
Turn on your grid incamera to help with your composition. This helps keep your shot straight and will save you editing time later.
Always take the shot wider than you need it. This ensures your product is fully in shot with space around it so that it will fit to your desired crop afterwards.
Showing Your Best Side -Editing Choosing Your Shots You've taken a set of shots you're really pleased with but now's the time to be brutal and pick only your strongest images to present to the world. Narrow it down to the exact number on your shot list and make sure these are all crisp, clear and well-lit. Now you're ready to edit!
Phone Editing Basics Exposure - Pay attention to the exposure of your image. In an ideal scenario, you've balanced it well so that there aren't any blown-out white areas or pockets of shadow that lose detail. Thankfully, you can easily adjust your exposure levels in an editing app where you'll also be able to adjust brightness and shadow as well as the temperature of your image. Straighten Up! Make sure your image is poker straight - editing apps always use a grid overlay to help with this. Crop out any details or extra space you don't need. Over Editing - Filters were all the rage when Instagram first launched (scroll back through ours for cringe-worthy proof) but the best product images are the ones that look clean. Don't be tempted to over-edit your images with heavy, grainy filters, you'll undo all your hard work.
Image Sizes and Crops Once you've edited your images you're ready to optimise them ready for uploading. DSLR and camera phones produce high definition images which are great for print at full size but not so much for web. Huge files can slow down your image loading speed so saving your images at web quality means your image will still be a good resolution but much smaller. Most image files are saved as a jpg and 1MB or less is ideal. Here's two ways to optimise your shots: Photoshop - open your image
save for web
A box will pop up where you can adjust the jpg quality on the top right hand side from high, medium and low. The preview window shows you how the image will look based on those options and bottom left, the file size. Save accordingly and you're ready to go. Use a website to do it for you. We like: ImageOptim and JPEGmini. Ready to crop? Check with the platform you're using first to get the correct ratio. Some photo editing apps can help you with this with ready-made cropping tools. We've included some popular examples below (not to scale):
2700 x 2025 px
1080 x 1080 px
1080 x 1350 px
1000 x 1500 px
IG Square Feed IG Tall Feed Pinterest Standard Pin Size
Our Favourite Phone Editing Apps Not all editing apps are created equal and there are some that offer specific features that others don't. We recommend using a mix to get the job done if you're not comfortable with Photoshop or Lightroom. You can find your own that work best for you but from experience we love...
Snapseed Snapseed is usually our first port of call for all the basics. As well as exposure, contrast and saturation, you can also straighten and crop your images. The healing tool is brilliant for removing any flecks of dust or marks we didn't notice while we were shooting.
VSCO VSCO gives you professional looking shots with the help of its filters - just use them sparingly if you're experimenting! These can help you create the right tone in your shots if you're not sure how to do so manually. You can also crop, straighten and adjust other basic levels. And if you're creating video content, the pro version now offers excellent video editing tools.
Canva Need to add text to your image or create a banner? Upload your shot into Canva and explore its range of ready-to-go templates to help you on your way.
Get To Know Us As professionals working in the interiors and lifestyle industry, we have years of experience between us producing editorial campaigns and personal lifestyle content. Want to chat with one of us about capturing your next collection? Drop us a line...
Contact Us Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
On Instagram: @curatedisplay
On Instagram: @hege_morris
Copyright of Hege Morris and Tiffany Grant-Riley © 2022 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted or copied without prior permission of the copyright holder.
Need for more help with your Product Photography? Sign-up for our course! In our 5 Module 'STYLE, CAPTURE, GROW' course, you'll learn everything we've covered in this e-book in much more in depth, guided by us. We've got step-by-step videos to help you hone your skills and a members area where you can meet like-minded creatives, ask questions and get personalised feedback.