Without Spending Extra Time or Money.
If you sell on Etsy or your own business website, you know that product photography is hugely important to the success of your shop. Most of your customers are used to shopping through professionally photographed websites and product shoots, and expect to see the same level of quality when they come across your shop online. Unfortunately most Etsy and small online sellers are not professional photographers and in running a shop singlehandedly, they don’t have the time or money to ensure that their shots are pixel perfect. I’ve created this short guide for small time sellers with tips and tricks on how to make the most of your photoshoots, using supplies you likely already have lying around! You’ll save time, money, and the headache of trying to plan out exactly what need ahead of time.
1. Bring in some life.
There’s nothing more boring than a stale, lifeless photograph of your product on a plain background with no props. Particularly if you sell any sort of goods for the home, you’d better think about adding in some visual interest that enhances and doesn’t detract from the awesomeness that is the product you’re selling. One of my favorite ways to add some life to my product photography is to actually… bring in… life. For clothing and accessory sellers, this could mean someone wearing or holding your product. For home good sellers, this could holding or interacting with your product, but also could mean plants! I find greenery and plant life serves as a great prop for tons of my listings, and it’s so versatile! It comes in all shapes and textures and colors. It can serve as a background or as a prop to highlight your product. Also, with natural, reclaimed, and organic products becoming more and more desired every day, putting natural, reclaimed, or organic props in your product shots might not be such a bad idea.
Now, there are exceptions to every rule, and tons of shops on Etsy and elsewhere are wildly successful using tactics like a minimalist approach where nothing but the product is in the photograph. I’ve found this to be much harder to pull off for the average or novice photographer because things like lighting and color must be just perfect in order for this type of approach to work, but if this is the style you want, go for it! The best thing to do when photographing your work is to take way more pictures than you would ever think necessary and try everything. Try out using the props and then remove everything but your product from view and compare shots side by side later. Trying it all out once will help you make better and more informed decisions about your product photography in the future!
2. Light, light, light.
Light is a powerful tool in photography. It can make a good photograph look great, or it can make a great setup look terrible. I always strive to use natural light in my product shots, whether I am indoor or out. The times I’ve had to supplement with artificial lights, you can definitely tell that my photographs suffered, and here’s why.
Indoor lighting usually is not bright enough. Whether you use a quality smartphone to take your photographs or a DSLR camera, you probably have struggled with grainy pictures at some point in the past. That’s because compared to the massive amount of light that the sun provides during the day, indoor lights just can’t compete. Even on a partly cloudy or cloudy day, you’re probably better off shooting outside. Flash is an option for indoor photography, but if you’re like me and don’t want to take the effort to get it just perfect and not blow out everything in the frame, you usually stay away from it.
Indoor lights cast weird color hues on your photographs. I know, I know, white balance is a thing, and a lot of smart phones and cameras can do it automatically! Typically indoors, you are going to have a bunch more yellow light in your photographs than you would outside, unless of course you only use florescent lighting which can have problems of its own. Personally I find that the camera either overcompensates or undercompensates, and you end up with yellow, orange, or blue-cast pictures. Now with a good camera, this is something you may be able to go back and fix in Photoshop, but remember, we’re trying to save time here so you can get back to making and selling!
Check out these examples below to see how natural light can drastically improve your product photography and save you time editing later:
Indoor lighting makes shadows your biggest enemy. Have you ever tried to photograph your work from above and gotten frustrated that your shadow or your camera’s shadow is blocking the picture? Have you then brought in other lights to try and offset this, and created these huge, awful shadows because the angle of the light was too low? Dealing with lighting in the home can make you want to pull your hair out. Sure, you can pay for an expensive studio shot setup, with all different types of light to offset this, or you can shoot outside! The great thing about shooting outdoors is that you have light coming from so many more directions, often eliminating the strange shadows you get from one-dimensional lighting in the home. You’ll still have to consider the time of day and how cloudy it is outside, but overall I find it to be much easier. Sunlight is free, anyway!
3. Color is key.
A big mistake a lot of Etsy and online sellers can tend to make is not considering color strongly enough when photographing their products. Not only can it help show your product in the best light possible, but it can create a mood and set the tone for your whole shop! A super easy and very effective method is to choose one or two highlight colors for your product shots, and use white as your main color. That might mean taking all your photographs on a white background and letting the color of your product bring life into the shop. It could mean using a few of the same props or props that are the same color across all your photos, so that the viewer senses a strong theme and brand.
Other ways sellers deal with color is by using the same filter on all of their photographs. Now, please be cautious if you want to do this. It has to make sense with your brand, and don’t put it at 100% and way overkill the effect. You can find some great and more subtle ones online that you can use in Photoshop, and it will help create this visual connection between your products. You could also use saturation as a tool. I don’t mean editing the saturation in a photo editing software, but I mean creating product shots that feature bright, high color products, backgrounds, or props. This is the method I currently use, however I intend to switch over to a more minimal look soon, as I believe it fits better with my brand.
4. Remember what your subject is.
Props and backgrounds can be a great way to show your product in its best light. But always be cautious about overwhelming the viewer with too much information. You want him or her to immediately know what you’re selling, and not to be distracted by a really interesting prop you’re using. I’ve often fallen into the trap of taking a great photograph at an interesting angle, and gone back to realize that I was no longer photographing the work. The subject of the photograph had shifted to a mug I was using as a prop because the picture looked nice, but my work wasn’t the main subject of the picture anymore. Typically you want your product to be the biggest element in the photograph, and for it to be near or in the center. I would not recommend ever photographing your work in a way that crops it outside the picture plane. The picture may look great, but buyers want to see what you’re selling and that’s hard to do when they can’t see the whole product!
I know this dinosaur planter is super cute and fun, but I made the mistake of having it be the focus of my photo and not my actual product! You’ll see that my product is even blurred here while the dinosaur is in focus. Makes for a fun photograph but not a product photo. The image on the right is much cleaner and clearly displays my product as the main focus.
5. Think about angles.
Consideration of the angle your photograph is taken is an often underappreciated element to your work. When I go into an online shop, I love to see all of the products photographed from the same angle, and usually that means looking straight down on or across from the subject. This means either a 0 or 90 degree angle from the ground. I think these are good angles to shoot as because it captures your product from the most objective point of view. Adding in angles and different levels of focus and blur can create really great and dramatic pictures, but it’s not typically appropriate for this situation. These angles are also great for encompassing your entire subject in the shot, which we talked about in Step 4.
Now what are angled shots great for? Detail detail detail. I highly recommend taking angled and zoomed in shots of your products to show in some of the secondary pictures you show of your product. These can give the customer a sense of the level of detail in a product, it’s texture, or simply show it at the angle you might most commonly see it once actually in use. For example, if you are looking to buy a chandelier or hanging light fixture, you want to see it photographed from the side when you are shopping because that angle gives you the highest level of detail in one picture, letting you see what it really looks like. Once you click on the item, however, I would want to maybe see the chandelier from the bottom or from an angle taken from below because that is the angle you will most commonly view the product, and you want to make sure it looks good.
6. Show it in use.
Depending on your product, you may or may not want to show it in use as your primary image. For clothing, I always recommend showing it in use in your primary photograph unless you are going with an extremely minimalist approach. Nobody wants to see you knit hat on a foam mannequin head. It doesn’t tell us anything about what it would look like on a real person, and you get a lifeless photograph as a result.
For home products, you might consider a more minimal approach to displaying your work before showing it in use in one of your secondary photographs. This goes back to not distracting your viewer, but it depends entirely on what your product is. Think carefully about what your target customer would want to see initially when browsing through a list of products? What would make him or her click on your shop and not the listing above or beside you? Having at least one photograph that shows your product in use or in an environment that it might appear once purchased is a great way to sell your work. As a buyer myself, it really helps me get a sense of how I would use the product and how it would fit in my home or wardrobe.
7. Be consistent.
Be consistent is Step 7 because it is the most important aspect of your product photography to create a strong and consistent visual language across your brand. You can take stellar photos and still look like a novice seller if you have a mish mash of styles in your photography. If you take your photos from a specific angle, take all of your primary product photos from that angle. If you use a white background, use it in all of your shots. This applies to every previous step I’ve mentioned, because customers love a consistent brand where they know what they can expect.
Taking these steps into consideration when photographing your products can easily and dramatically increase the quality of your photographs while not busting your budget or taking up too much of your precious time. Often simple and small changes can go a long way, so try out a few different things, see what you like and what’s working, and practice! It’s fine if you don’t think you have perfect photographs yet, I certainly don’t! But if you practice implementing the same strategies and techniques for every product, you will not only get a consistent look but you will get better and better at doing so every time! What is your favorite tool for getting high-quality product photography? I’d love to hear your suggestions, too!