Product Photography on a Budget How you present your products will be how your audience perceives them. How they are perceived is what determines if they are worth the price points. Product photography is where I see most business owners go wrong. Consumers seek time-saving shortcuts all the time, and their attention naturally gravitates to the quickest way to gather information: images.Product images not only testify to the quality of your product, but also serve as windows into your ecommerce store, creating 2 very important things: TransparencyTrustImages shape their first impression, creating a tipping point as to whether they will.
As our retailer partners find the lure of the Internet an impossible thing to resist, they face two choices with photography; use our image or take their own. Using ours is fine, but your site risks looking the same as all our other retail partners. Taking your own, well that can be just daunting. When I look back on our early product photography, well, it’s sad. Over the years we have improved tremendously, pushed in part by online partners with rigorous standards who simply would not accept the quality we presented. Getting to where we are now involved experimenting with different photography setups and taking some classes in Photoshop. Yes we tried going the professional photographer route, but between cost and more importantly the time delays, it just wasn’t a practical solution for us. In this article I hope to get you past some of the mistakes we made and share the key ingredients to a good product shot.
Before we get practical – a few basic questions we get asked:
Why is the background always white?
We didn’t start this way. When we first started we used artsy backgrounds, included props and where possible some green from nature, but we soon found that as we connected with larger online retailers there was a standard and our cute artsy photos didn’t meet it. When we take a photo we are taking it for multiple sites and while smaller independent sites may love the cool artsy backgrounds the larger sites do not. In order to create a workflow and know that the photo would work everywhere we set an internal standard – 1500 pixels by 1500 pixels – on a white background. Boring maybe, practical yes. It’s also fair to assume that the larger sites have done the work and know that white images ultimately work better. Whatever you decide, you do need some uniform standards. Once you have some, you are happy with, document your standards and stick to them.
What size should finished images be?
If they are for your website, something like 650 pixels by 650 pixels will probably do. We have partners who demand 1500 x 1500. You will find that as the years progress, technology is able to handle bigger images and consumers expect more detail. I would suggest 1500 by 1500 as a good standard size.
Why are your images always square?
We always produce square images. With white backgrounds this blends into most websites, but the consistency in size and shape means that our images always align on a website. I strongly recommend making a square image part of your standard.
Okay so you have your standards set, let’s talk equipment.
To get a good image you do need some basic equipment, ironically an expensive camera is not one of them. Modern digital cameras are pretty much all great for what we want. Try to find one with a decent macro feature for real closeups and as high a resolution as you get get for your money. We use one of the cheapest Nikon CoolPix – as of writing this you can get a better version than our 5 year old one for $69.99. One thing to watch for is the tripod connectivity, not all cameras have the threaded hole to mount on a tripod and for product photography a good tripod is probably more important than the camera. The other determining factor is the Macro capability, which most if not all digital cameras have these days.
A tripod is essential. We got a used one handed down from a family member, but new tripods start at under $20 on eBay. I am sure the lowest cost ones are also likely not to last long, but its not like you are going to move it much. Ours sits next to the photo setup and never leaves the room.
Lighting is one of the more daunting purchases you will make. We tried several setups over the years but have settled on a 2000W Photo Studio Video Photography Softbox Light Stand Continuous Lighting Kit – available from multiple sellers on eBay for around $85. These are versatile enough for a small jewelry up to people shots. We have over the years tried various light boxes but found that we really don’t need one even for jewelry.
The Setup. In order to get a white background image you need a white background. We started using poster boards but have found it much easier and cheaper over time to maintain a permanent setup using a roll of photo background paper (around $25), a 10Ft Adjustable Background Support Stand (eBay $25), and a table. Using a roll eliminates any corners you will get using flat poster boards or card. We also have a few home made pieces for props such as our earring rack, made from 2 shelf brackets and some tooth floss. Tooth floss is great as it vanishes on white backgrounds. Keep some poster board or small pieces of mirror around to deal with reflecting pesky shadows, especially a problem on silver jewelry.
This image is of our simple setup. We also have a wall with a large piece of white backdrop so we can shift to wall art or bigger pieces. If we need a lifestyle image we tend to take things home and shoot them in a setting or on a table top, a great excuse to buy some cool ethnic furniture.
Earring Dental Floss Fixture
The video below shows the use of light and some reflective card with single defuser light – (jump to 5 min in) – YouTube is a great source of tutorials for product photography. This is just one of many I found to demonstrate the setup.
The goal is to get your image perfect but let’s be honest it rarely is. But don’t worry, that’s where Photoshop comes in. In the next video we will take a decent image and turn it into a great image using a very old version of Photoshop CS2, you can also use GIMP https://www.gimp.org which is free. If you are using Gimp or a newer version of Photoshop the features demonstrated will exist but may be in different locations.
But What About Lifestyle Images?
Needless to say, while a white background is practical if the image is going to potentially meet the needs of a lot of different websites, you may want the images to present your sense of style. We asked Priscilla Schleigh, owner of Giraffe, how she goes about getting such stunning images for her site.
“I took most of the photos with my iPhone with natural light on the front porch of my old location,” Priscilla wrote. “Now I am not sure I know where to take the photos as the new place has no front porch. Over that last 10 years I have worked with so many website folks and spent lots of money on people that have told me to use the tents and different ways to photo things.
“Several years ago I just started taking photos on the porch in natural light and liked the results better. (it was on the advise of my niece who was in in graphic design school at the time. She was right.) Consistency is the main thing on a website, and with the new phones you can take all photo in the square size and they usually work for websites.”
While perfection is never possible and we are certainly not professional photographers, we hope these tips get you up and running and save you some time, heartache and cash.
How you present your products will be how your audience perceives them. How they are perceived is what determines if they are worth the price points.
Product photography is where I see most business owners go wrong. Business owner says they have a luxury brand, but the brand gives off AliExpress vibes.
Contrary to popular belief — product photography isn’t complicated or expensive at all.
Let’s dive into tips for professional product photography, setup, and costs.
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Have a clean background
One thing that I hate about some product photos — busy backgrounds. Posting photos with busy backgrounds is okay for Instagram to quickly showcase your products to your audience, but it is no bueno for website photos. Busy backgrounds include anything that is not smooth, clean, and simple.
One thing that I often see, is people taking photos with grass in the background, hands holding products, fur backgrounds, and wrinkled background fabric or paper — very unprofessional for displays.
A light box is an affordable alternative for traditional photo studios. Most are portable and are great ways to photograph smaller products that don’t require you to use models.
ESDDI Photo Studio Light Box 20″/ 50 cm – Price $84.86
ESDDI Photo Light Box Photography 16″/40 cm – Price $44.86
Emart 14″ x 16″ Photography Table Top Light – Price $35.99
DUCLUS Mini Photo Studio Light Box + 6 Background Colors – Price $26.99 (with prime)
Learn Photo Editing
Editing is one of the smaller things that will make a huge difference in your photography. Small edits include tweaking the saturation, lighting, exposure, brightness, highlights, shadows, or simply placing a filter on an image.
Because there are so many things you can do with editing, it may be overwhelming and you may catch yourself being inconsistent with your final product.
Try taking up a photo editing class. Working with the best of the best can be quite expensive, but that’s what Youtube is for! You may not find intensive photo editing courses, but you can at least learn the basics.
Don’t be afraid to play with color
I love colorful backgrounds! White backgrounds are good to use because it’s simple, it’s clean, and it’s safe — but it’s also boring.
Colored backgrounds are fun, make other colors appear more vibrant, and you’re almost guaranteed to grab the attention of a few of your followers.
Try out colored photography background paper. Photography background is not only a great way to add color to your photos, but it’s also a great and cheaper alternative to using a lightbox and they’re super easy to use. Just tape your photography paper on the wall and start taking photos.
Seamless Background Paper – Price $35.00
Superior Seamless Photography Background Paper – Price $35.00
Try out a theme
I love themes, especially themed backgrounds. Some of my favorite themed background include floral walls, moss walls, and leaf walls.
You can also think outside the box and try out watercolor backgrounds, sequin, wood, or you can use a green screen and edit a background in later.
Don’t be afraid to throw in a prop or two. Makes things even more interesting!
Take photos in well-lit areas
Nothing kills a photo more than dullness, low lighting, and no dimension. It’s hard to take photos in well-lit areas if you take your photos indoors.
It’s not just about having good lighting, it’s about having even lighting. A common mistake for beginners is overexposed or underexposed images and uneven lighting.
Keep your image lighting nice and soft, with even highlighting and shadowing to show your audience the true colors of your products while also keeping it aesthetically pleasing. If you shooting a series of images at once, you want to keep the lighting to be consistent in all photos.
Natural lighting is a little difficult to capture for your pictures. The sun doesn’t stay in the same position at all times and gives off different hues during specific times of the day.
You don’t need an uber-expensive lighting set up to capture your photos, you can do that with artificial lighting. Most lightboxes come with built-in LED lights, however, sometimes the lights won’t help you capture the look you’re going for. Plus, artificial lighting is good to use if you’re using professional photography set up or photography paper.
Neewer Ring Light Kit 18″ – Price $110.99
HPUSN Softbox Lighting Kit – Price $82.99
LimoStudio Photography Lighting – Price $63.90
Emart Photography LED Light Lamp – Price $24.49
Use a tripod
Again, I hate product photos that have hands holding the products. It’s okay for Instagram but super unprofessional and unappealing for websites. Tripods help you stay hands-free when capturing photos but also helps you keep the same angles for your photos.
Keeping the same angles for your photos is important if you’re planning on using a slide show to showcase your products, or want to capture all angles of your products and want to keep things consistent.
Make sure you test out different angles before deciding on the final one.
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PHOPIK Phone Tripod – Price $27.99
Flexible Phone Tripod – Price $24.99
Last but not least
You can’t take photos without a camera, duh!
A great photo with hi-def quality is guaranteed to appeal to your audience and drive some sales.
Cameras are not cheap at all, using your phone camera is a great alternative. However, there are a few problems with this.
- Phone cameras (especially iPhone cameras) tend to lose their high resolution over time because of constant updates, which can make your photos look not-so-good
- iPhones use JPEG for photos instead of PNG, a higher quality file format that doesn’t distort photos when compressed.
- Converting your image from JPEG to PNG may be inconvenient for you.
If you can’t afford to use a professional camera, use your phone camera for the time being and invest your money later on.
Kodak PIXPRO Astro Zoom – Price $159.95
Product Photography On A Budget
Canon EOS 2000D (Rebel T7) DSLR Camera – Price $395.00
Product Photography On A Budget Plan
Product photography does not have to be expensive at all. In fact, if you purchased all of the cheaper options that were suggested in this blog post, you would spend less than $275 — which is a whole lot cheaper than booking out a studio for a few hours and having a professional photographer take the photos for you.