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What Is Product Photography?
Product photography is a type of commercial photography that aims to convince potential consumers to purchase a product by showcasing the product in a visually appealing way. Professional product photographers take high-quality product shots using a mix of various lighting setups, backdrops, camera angles, and postproduction techniques. Product photography plays a crucial role in the success of both brick and mortar and e-commerce stores since the overwhelming majority of commercial product sellers use professional product photography to market their goods.
7 Types of Equipment for Product Photography
If you're looking to take product photography seriously, invest in the right camera equipment. When it comes to shooting product photography for your own e-commerce business, the cost of equipment is an investment that should pay off in the form of increased sales.
- Camera: Look for a DSLR camera with manual shooting mode so that you can customize settings such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance. Make sure your DSLR has at least 12 megapixels and an auto-focus feature.
- Tripod: A suitable tripod is an essential tool for product photography. Tripods provide stability and prevent blurry images when you shoot at a slow shutter speed.
- White background: A white background allows the product to stand out. You can create your own white background using white poster boards. For a more professional option, you can purchase a white paper sweep, a large sheet of paper that covers both a vertical and horizontal surface and often comes with its own stand.
- Bounce cards: A bounce card is an essential lighting setup tool that reflects light onto your product to reduce shadows. White foam board is the cheapest and most popular type of bounce card. You can also use a black foam board to create shadows or negative fill.
- Product table: Use a sturdy table to hold your products and the white backdrop. A standard folding table works great and is easy to carry and store.
- Tape or clamps: Use tape or clamps to secure your white background in place.
- Lighting: For the DIY product photographer on a budget, it’s best to use natural lighting and shoot in a room with large windows. If you have the funds to spend on artificial light sources, you can find lighting kits with stands or clamps at a local photography store. Artificial lighting equipment does require some expertise to use, but it allows you to have greater control over the way you light your product.
How to Take Product Photos in 8 Steps
One of the simplest ways to set up a product photo studio is to use a white poster board background on top of a table lit by natural lighting.
- Set up your table in the proper light. Position your table against a wall that's adjacent to a wall with a window. You can also shoot in a garage with the garage door open if you don't have enough natural light in your indoor location. Shoot during a time of day that allows you to avoid direct sunlight; strong sun creates harsh shadows. Make sure all other lights at your location are switched off and that the natural light is your only light source.
- Secure your white background. Position your white poster board vertically and tape the top edge to the wall and the bottom edge to the surface of the table. This should create a seamless smooth curve in the poster board so there's no edge visible behind your product. This type of background is known as a sweep or infinity curve.
- Select your camera settings. Turn off your flash, set your camera to manual focus, set your white balance to auto mode, set your ISO to 100, and set your f-stop (aperture) to a number small enough to give you a sufficient depth of field (f/8 is a good starting point).
- Position your product. Place your product in the middle of the white sweep. Take your time positioning it in a way to best highlight the quality of your product. Anytime there's an important typeface on the product, make sure that the print is facing the camera and legible.
- Eliminate shadows using your bounce cards. Place your bounce cards on the table out of frame so that they get rid of any unsightly shadows. This often takes trial and error, so position your bounce cards at different angles until the product looks right.
- Set your tripod and take some test shots. Place your tripod so that the product is in the center of the frame and your camera is close enough to capture detail in the product shots. If you want to get closer than the tripod allows, use the optical zoom feature on your camera (the digital zoom lowers the image quality). Once your tripod is set, take some test shots until you're happy with the positioning. It's a good idea to place tape on the ground where each leg of your tripod is set in case you accidentally bump into it and need to reset its position.
- Take multiple photos in different positions. Start taking photos of your product and use your best judgement to evaluate what is and isn't working. Could you move the bounce card to a different angle? Could you reposition the product? Photograph the product in varying positions. For example, if you're photographing a wallet you might start out taking photos of the wallet open, switch to photos of the wallet closed, and end with closeup photos of the stitching. Great product photos on e-commerce websites provide various views of the product so that buyers have a complete picture of the product's features.
- Edit your photos. Use editing software to touch up your product shots to make them look perfect. For instance, your white background will likely appear light gray in the photos, but you can fix this by digitally adjusting the white point. For a more hands-off approach, you can also outsource photo editing to a professional post-processing company.
4 Tips for Shooting Product Photography
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Once you've learned the basic steps for taking product photos, use these tips to raise your product photography skills to the next level.
- Enhance your product photos with props. Styling a product with props is a great way to demonstrate a product's function. For example, when photographing a backpack you could unzip the compartments and fill them with books and school supplies to demonstrate the backpack’s capacity.
- Use a fill light. As an alternative to a bounce card, try using an additional light source called a fill light. A fill light is a weaker light than your primary light source that balances out the shadows on your product.
- Use colorful backdrops. Even though white backgrounds are the standard choice for product photography studio setups, backdrops of different colors and patterns can potentially make your product stand out even more. When choosing a colored or patterned backdrop, ensure that the backdrop doesn't take attention away from the product itself.
- Shoot outside for the best natural light. While you don't have as much control over your shooting conditions as an indoor shoot, outdoor light on an overcast day provides the best soft, natural lighting and minimizes shadows. Early morning and early evening when the sun isn't high in the sky typically provide optimal outdoor light conditions.
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