Updated: Sep 30, 2022
As businesses continue to move online, propelled by Covid-19 restrictions, many people are asking us here at Cat’s Cove Communications how they can start an e-commerce store.
While e-com platforms like Ecwid and Shopify make it relatively easy and inexpensive to get your store online, catching (and keeping) your customers attention is the real challenge in the busy online world. Most importantly, since customers are often making purchases now without ever having the opportunity to hold the items they buy, product photography is what does all the heavy lifting.
Product photos have to sell your product, yes, but they also have to sell a story, a lifestyle, a look, a feel.
It’s all a bit intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.
If hiring a professional photographer is not in your budget, try doing the photos yourself. With a bit of thoughtfulness you can make it happen.
You don’t need a fancy camera to get started, in fact you probably already have one in your pocket. The cameras on modern smartphones rival most digital cameras these days, and with free editing software apps right at your fingertips, product photography has never been easier.
With that here’s your DIY Guide to Product Photography
Where to Start:
There are two main types of e-commerce product photos:
- -> Clean-cut photos of your products on white backgrounds. These should be shot from many different angles to show off product features and details.
--> In-context or lifestyle shots that show your product in use in its intended environment. These kinds of shots are important because they help your customer build an emotional bond with your product. They also tell a story.
With that in mind, get to it:
Take stock of your products. If there are many, be sure to photograph them in batches so’s not to get overwhelmed. It’s a good idea to write out a list of all the products you intend to shoot, so that you can keep track of what kind of shots you have taken. For example, make a chart with several columns: Product Name, Product Shot #1, #2. #3 (etc), Lifestyle Shot #1, Lifestyle Shot #2.
Find a well lit spot. This might be in your house, by a window or even outside, depending on the time of year. Natural light is king if you’re doing low budget photography, because it looks great and it’s free! Check out these tips on where to find the best natural lighting in your house.
Assemble your props. Depending on the products you’re shooting, gather a handful of items to work with. If the items are small, choose props that are a variety of sizes to complement and layer your images. Look for items that offer texture, colour and variety.
Find a backdrop. Backdrops are extremely important, but they’re also fairly easy to find.
For a clean white background, use a white wall or a piece of paper.
For a more textured look, find a wood table top, or even a kitchen countertop (marble or granite makes a great, classy background).
And if all else fails, head to the hardware store and pick up a piece of panelling or tile sample. These inexpensive options may look tacky in person but blend in nicely as backgrounds.
For smaller backgrounds, try hitting up the craft store. A piece of scrapbook paper, fabric or even coloured paper can work for tiny setups.
Get yourself some white bristol board while you’re at it. White bristol board is one of the most versatile tools a product photographer can have on hand.
It provides a clean, white background to your product shoot, if that’s the look you’re going for.
It can be used as a sweep, or a continuous background by curving it and taping it to a wall or chair.
You can use it as an impromptu reflector to bounce light from a window or other light source onto the shaded side of your product.
It also acts as a great base for doing top-down, flat lay photography shots.
Consider using a lazy susan. A lazy susan is essentially a small turntable. If your products are small, place them on a lazy susan to effortlessly shoot the product from different angles.
Plan your shot list. Will you need a person in the photos? How will you arrange your items? What are the features you’re looking to show off? What time of day is the light best in the spot you have chosen?
Remember, it’s important to capture your products at different angles, up close and further away, and sometimes, next to another item for size comparison.
For example, let’s say you’re photographing a watch. You might plan to take these shots:
A photo of the watch, done up, sitting on its side on a white backdrop, straight on.
An uplose shot showing the detail on the watch’s face.
A shot from the side showing the dials and buttons on the watch.
A photo shot from above of the watch laid out flat on a white surface
An upclose shot of showing the type of clasp on the watch.
An upclose shot of the watch on someone’s wrist.
A shot taken from further away showing a person dressed appropriately to fit your brand, looking at the watch.
A shot of the watch on a bedside table or office desk, surrounded by appropriate props.
Get clicking! Once you’re organized and the time is right, start photographing your items.
Don’t forget post processing. Even if you’re shooting your product with a smartphone, editing your photos can be the different between ok photos and a far more professional look. Check out free photo editing software like GIMP. They allow you to correct your white balance, clean up the background and make other changes as needed. Lightroom also has a free app you can use to enhance photos.
Once you've got a pile of product photos you can use them on your e-commerce store, in your social media (lifestyles shots work well on social media) or even on your website.