Product Photography Tips

The world of product photography constantly grows larger as more and more companies and brands around the world need to show off their products.

Product photography is the art of taking photos for the primary purpose of promotion and advertising. This doesn’t mean you can’t be artistic with it, but that may come with guidance for the brand you are working for. But if you’re doing it for fun at home, no rules apply!

Product photography is a wonderful way to practise basic photography skills such as composition, shot building, intimate lighting and focus. With our attention on beginner photographers, we’ll concentrate these ideas to be carried out in home photo projects.

What Will I Learn in this Guide?

  • What’s the Best Lens Choice?
  • Perfect Camera Settings
  • How to Light your Products
  • Building the Shot
  • Alternative Angles
  • Changing Backgrounds
  • Adding Creative Flourishes
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What’s the Best Lens Choice?

As the main idea is to make the product look as lifelike and accurate as possible for starters, it’s best to use a focal length without distortion. Somewhere between 40-85mm would be ideal – with a 50mm lens being the most sensible choice for product photography.

You can of course get more creative with lens choices and use macro lenses to get extra close-ups providing you’ve got your all-important main shots.

Wide lenses are also an interesting choice. Remember, shorter focal lengths (<30mm) can distort vertical lines. This can make products look taller or narrower than they actually are – you don’t want to mislead your audience.

Ultimately it depends on whether you’re doing it for fun, or being paid by a brand to do it.

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Camera Settings

Given that your product won’t be running off or jumping around during your photos then your camera settings can be simple and consistent.

Aperture and ISO are the most important camera settings to get right with product photography.

Since smaller apertures offer a greater depth of field (DoF) – which allows deeper sharpness and shape – then shooting at F/8-F/11 would be a good starting place.

When discussing ISO, it’s best to keep the setting as low as possible. High ISO levels incur digital noise in cameras which will distract from the product. Keep your ISO level below 200, unless it’s for a stylistic effect.

Shooting in Aperture Priority (A/Av) mode would be the most sensible approach if you’re not comfortable with Manual mode just yet.

Tip – Of course you can use a shallower DoF for macro shots to focus on smaller aspects of your product too.

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Tip – A tripod is a must for product photography. It will allow you to concentrate on the building the scene and making product/lighting adjustments without holding the camera.

Lighting for Product Photography

It’s a personal choice as to whether you wish to use natural or artificial lighting for your product photography.

To make your decision as to which to choose easier then consider your product. Items that look better under SOFT LIGHT…

  • Jewellery
  • Perfume
  • Flowers
  • Clothing
  • Toys

HARD LIGHT…

  • Technology
  • Footwear
  • Drinks
  • Glassware
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Tip – If you’re shooting products that look better outdoors then still consider the type of light (hard or soft) and therefore the best time of day to shoot.

Types of artificial light can vary from using the torch on your phone, household lamp or a dedicated LED panel – which we’d recommend. LED light panels can be picked up without great expense these days. Having a number of panels will allow you to control shadows too if your budget allows.

Tip – Look out for LED panels that have an RGB colour option too for when you really want to get creative with your product photography.

Setting up your Lighting

Depending upon your product the aim should generally be to soften the effect of shadows falling on to your item. You can do this 3 ways…

Bounce Your Flash

If you’re using a flashgun (try to avoid using a pop-up flash, they’re very limiting and harsh) then swivel the flash head to point at a nearby white wall. This will spread (and therefore soften) the light, creating fewer shadows.

Reflectors are also a great way to soften the light. Silver and white sides reflectors will not colour-cast the light falling on it, which keeps your product looking realistic.

Fill Light

A fill light is a secondary light to your primary (or key) light.

It is there to simply cast light on the shadows made by the key light. They should be positioned to oppose each other, either side of the camera.

The fill light shouldn’t be as bright as the key.

Bounce Card

But if you are stuck with using your pop-up camera flash for your product photography, look online for a suitable bounce card.

This card slips under your flash to redirect the light to bounce off a ceiling and soften.

It’s not an ideal accessory to use, but if you’ve got no other means of lighting it’s better than not using one at all.

‘Building the Shot’

Firstly, it’s important to consider what colours will complement your product. To play it safe white and black surfaces and backgrounds are neutral and work with most items. If you want to get more creative, then consult a colour wheel and use your products complementing colour.

The surface and background of your product should enhance your product and not distract from it. Reflective surfaces like polished wall tiles, metal sheets, mirrors and coloured glass look amazing to add depth to a product by using reflections.

Avoid having a line between your background and surface. Either make the two out of the same product and prepare yourself to edit out that line later OR create an infinity curve/sweep.

What’s an Infinity Curve/Sweep?

To create a curve then purchase a large piece of card and pin it to a wall. Make sure it’s long enough to reach your surface and cover your product without showing the edges.

The long sweep of this background will remove any harsh lines and not trap light in the angles.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money when creating an infinity curve for product photography. By controlling your in-camera crop then it can look professional for only a few dollars.

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Product Positioning

Positioning your product is the fun part of product photography. Take loads of different shots in lots of different arrangements – but keep the product central.

Whether you’re using a light tent or not, keep your lighting even throughout your shots. Try turning your product on the angle so it creates depth and leading lines.

Don’t crop out any parts of your product, unless it’s an intentional macro shot. You can always crop in closer in editing if needed afterwards but don’t do it in-camera. Leave yourself options to play around with later on.

Alternative Angles

Explore and unleash your creative side once you’ve covered the basic shots. Consider alternative angles in your product photography such as flatlays and low angles to give your item a personality and story.

Flatlays are great fun providing you’ve got some other accessories to further enhance the feel of the product. For example, with perfume bottles, you may consider using flowers that the perfume smells like.

Look to ‘colour’ the photo and stimulate other senses than just the eyes. Low angled approaches will make a product look bigger and bolder, which can be advantageous if that’s the right story for the item.

Tip – Google other product photos based on what you’re shooting to get inspiration for what the pros have done.

Switching Backgrounds

Finally, once you’ve got the safe shots in the bag then play around further and switch up your backgrounds. You can do this while you shoot, or in editing.

Pull out a laptop or tablet and fill the screen with bokeh-looking wallpaper and position it behind your product. Shoot a few frames, cleverly cropped, to make the background look more dynamic.

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Creative Flourishes

If you’re starting to feel more confident about product photography, then let’s add some creative flourishes.

How about dropping petals over your perfume or jewellery? (you’ll need to up your shutter speed to catch the movement).

Or what about creating some light trails in the background of your technology shots? (you’ll need to slow down your shutter speed for this).

As long as the accessory to the shot doesn’t overstep the product itself and enhances the mood, story and colours already present, then go wild!

Product Photography Final Checklist

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In summary, there are a number of things to remember to get your product photography looking top notch, let’s review them:

  • Use a focal length between 40-85mm (50mm is most ideal).
  • Controlling the aperture and ISO is most important.
  • Use two lights, where possible, to soften shadows.
  • Drop crop off parts of your product.
  • Adjust the angles of the product to create leading lines.
  • Explore alternative angles, once you’ve got the safe shots.
  • Use complementing colours or neutrals as surfaces and backgrounds.

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