What makes good product photography? 7 tips to consider when shooting DIY at home

Both online and in print, commercial photography that is clear and representative of your product is essential in giving buyers confidence to purchase from you. Ideally, you want to create as close to a real-life shopping experience as possible without breaking out the virtual reality goggles and augmented reality apps.

Potential customers will use these images to make a judgement on whether or not they can see themselves owning and using your product. This is more important than ever in our post-COVID era, where suddenly everybody and their dog has an online business / pivot / side-hustle. Quality images will make your business stand out as professional, and in this article I’ll cover brief examples of what actually makes a quality product photo – and why it’s worth investing time and/or money to get it right.

1. Hit the lights

The first and most important thing about photography is LIGHT. After all, the word ‘photography’ stems from the Greek for ‘drawing with light’. If your product is poorly-lit and swamped by shadows, detail will be lost and your photo will be grainy. Alternatively too much light will create harsh shadows and contrast that leave the viewer squinting.

If you’re aiming for a natural scene lit by daylight, position your product close to a large diffuse light source. For professional photographers, that means a strobe light and a large softbox. For everyone else, try a large window, ideally not one facing direct sunlight (although you can get away with it if the day is overcast). If your only option is streaming sunbeams, try a sheer fabric like a voile curtain to diffuse the bright light. This will soften the harsh shadows and make for a nice lifestyle shot. To create a more even light on the non-window side, position a large white board (or even at a pinch, a piece of thick paper) opposite the window to bounce some light.

Alternatively you can use a bright LED lamp (or two, on opposite sides) diffused with something semi-opaque. A light ring can help but don’t rely on that alone – the light will be flat, shadowy and unappealing.

2. Get focused

Modern camera phones are a decent alternative for product shots – thanks to tiny but high-powered optics, it’s RIP to ‘shot on a potato’ super-fuzzy images. But even with the pocket-rocket of the latest iPhone in your hands, things can still go wrong. Using auto-focus can result in your camera focusing on the wrong part of your product, or worse, the background, blurring the best bits of your pic.

3. #nofilter

It’s tempting to slap a fave filter on all your pics, particularly to disguise the shots that didn’t quite come out right, but while some filters are useful for achieving a certain mood or correcting colour, too many of them wash out your image or up the contrast, sucking the soul out of your product photography. Use with caution!

4. Super-size it

Whatever the size of your product, from a piece of jewellery to a piece of furniture, it’s important to consider how large the product appears in the frame when you compose your shot. Unless you’re showing detail, where the product will fill most of the frame, it’s vital to ensure the item isn’t too large or too small.

Consider the size of the ring in the Pandora image above. It’s far too wide a shot, and should actually be zoomed in to the model’s hand. 

5. Set the scene

If you’re shooting products on a plain white background, this is pretty straightforward. Just make sure if you use a cloth or sheet that you iron it first! But if you’re creating or staging a set, make it simple, uncluttered and relevant. It should be clear immediately which product in the picture is the one for sale, so keep props to a minimum and use them to frame the product rather than overwhelm it. When choosing backgrounds and props, try not to be too literal – shooting a ‘Tobacco and Honey’-scented candle on a background of tobacco strands and a pot of honey will not make an appealing shot! (The above image is what I did instead.)

6. Express your(brand)self

Ensure your photos match your brand personality. If your brand aesthetic is soft pastels and floating feminine handwriting, shooting your product on a neon background or an industrial warehouse setting will clash. (Although this kind of contradiction can be used to subvert expectations, it requires careful planning and execution!) The aim is to keep everything about your brand consistent.

7. Detail, detail, detail

Show as much information about your product as possible. Different angles, close-ups on details, show it in use – as many shots as you can fit on your e-commerce store! You want your customer to feel almost as if they have your product in their hands, so they’re empowered to make an informed choice whether or not to purchase. If possible, adding a short video of your product will create an even better customer experience and an extra dimension to your offer.

And if all that seems like too much to get your head around …

… as a busy solopreneur / business owner / bossbabe, you can always ask me to do it! I’m based in Kent, UK, accepting products to my home studio by drop-off or mail. I can work with you to your budget and specifications to get you exactly the images you need. (Unless you need photos of someone using your product while skydiving – then I’m out.)

Feeling inspired?

If you'd like to find out more about the product and commercial photography services I offer, drop me a message - I'd love to help.

Let's go!Steady on, let me see your portfolio first