Product Photography is in my opinion the most important part of your online Ecommerce store. Would you buy a new pair of socks or a gadget for the kitchen without seeing a picture of them first? I'd don't need to tell you this! that's why you're here, reading this, isn't it? So let's crack on.
ALL OF THE LIGHTS
Lighting isn't the most sexy of subjects but I would put it up there as perhaps the single most important part of taking quality product photography. I bet at some point you've been out at night and wanted to grab a quick picture of the family or your friends on your phone only to find that the image looks flat and has no detail. Without going into full camera nerd mode and explaining in detail why this is, it's because the sensor isn't getting as much light as it needs so your phone is trying its best to make as good a picture as possible and end up having to smooth over and washout details. There's a reason why flash exists!
What should I do then?
Buy some lights! You don't have to blow the budget on a set of pro level studio lights because believe me, as a product photographer, it's easy to think you need the biggest and best equipment! If you are a start up brand that is after a budget friendly setup then set a budget and stick to it.
What Type of lights do I need for Product Photography?
I would look to buy continuous studio lighting. This basically means the lights are always on. The other type of lighting that I personally would avoid for product work is flash.
Where can I buy lights?
There are a number of sites for buying photography lighting so I've linked to a few below that will help you get an idea on budget.
Many product photographers I know look to buy used equipment as it can work out much more cost effective. Most reputable sites offer warranty on their used equipment so you still get that peace of mind but at a fraction of the RRP. Here's a link to MPB.com who I have bought from and sold to loads. I've rarely had any issues and when I have, their customer service is 5*, 10/10.
Product photography lighting top tips for beginners
I'm going to dump some bits to think about in here as I don't want this post to become the same length as the most recent Avatar film!
One light is fine, two lights are better
Light modifiers are your friend. Try to get something that will diffuse your light
If buying used, make sure you get a tripod or stand that your light will attach to
Buying a continuous lighting kit is a good place to start as it will have everything you need.
Mains or battery? if you have access to power, buy mains. They are more affordable and you don't have to worry about charging batteries!
BACKDROPS AND PROPS
Backdrops and props can make a product photographers job much easier by already being the correct colour, shape or size that you need. They are essential to getting the look you want for your product photography
What are they?
Backdrops are the background of your photos. Sometimes they come on a roll and can also be the floor. They can create a seamless transition from floor to background by curving up. This is especially helpful if you are looking to have a solid colour behind and underneath your subject.
In a lifestyle product photography scene, you may add flowers, rocks or even a car! In a food photography scene you may add cutlery, plates or bowls. This is up to you and what you feel will add to the scene.
Do I need them?
You may not need to use props or backdrops. It depends what style of photo you are going for. If you want a plain white background like you see on Ecommerce sites then you want a pure white backdrop and some white boards to bounce the light. To make this easier, brands have designed and built 'product photography tents' which pop up and create the perfect mini studio like this. these are great but limit you to that size of product and give you no creative control.
If you are doing a lifestyle shoot, you will want to use props. placing your product alone in a scene won't look right and will need a little something to bring it to life. There isn't a right and wrong answer for props, you will need to make a call on what to use and where but get creative!
Where can I buy them?
Backdrops can be bought from lots of places. You don't have to stick to specialist websites, you can buy wall paper or sheets of paper from craft shops. Specialist suppliers will have great quality products and more choice. I've linked some below;
Props can be anything so it's impossible for me to tell you one place to get everything you need! I find that charity shops and bargain stores can be great places to find cheap props that you can get your hands on before buying to make sure they fit you product aesthetic. Personally I've spent hours in charity shops searching for the perfect props. If you have the time to do this then it's well worth it.
Perhaps the most discussed, argued about and hardest choice is 'what camera do I need for product photography?' Should you go out and spend your life savings on a top of the range camera? No, no you shouldn't.
What camera should I buy for product photography?
This can't be answered quickly as it's not a one size fits all approach when it comes to product photography. Depending on what type of photography you are doing you will need different things. I'll go over a few points below and try to summarise it as best i can.
Can I just use my phone camera?
Sure you can! using it in combination with the above (lights, backdrops and props) you can get some images that will look great on social media. I wouldn't suggest using your phone for your Ecommerce sites photography though.
So I should buy a camera then?
Well not necessarily..........
If you have a large number of products and plan on bringing new ranges out that will need photographing and uploading to your site then yes, invest in a camera or outsource it to a company that can take the workload off your hands. Otherwise you can look at renting from sites like the below;
Renting is a great way to get your hands on the latest bits of kit for a fraction of the price. Why spend thousands to use a camera for a few weeks and it then gather dust in a cupboard somewhere?
Nope, I want to buy a camera, what should I get?
Okay, are you ready to go down this rabbit hole? The world of cameras is huge and can be pretty daunting for a newbie. Aside from the sheer amount of cameras out there you will then also have to think about what lenses to buy for that camera!
If this was me and I was starting from scratch I would reach out to my friends at MPB.com and look to buy an oldish full frame DSLR and a cheap used lens. I use a brand called Canon so I'll give an example of what I might buy from them.
Canon 5D Mark III - https://www.mpb.com/en-uk/product/canon-eos-5d-mark-iii This was Canons flagship camera a few years ago and now you can pick up a decent example for £400! I'd then pair it with the EF 100mm Macro Lens https://www.mpb.com/en-uk/product/canon-ef-100mm-f-2-8-macro-usm This lens should have you covered for most product photography shoots and will set you back about £300.
You should do some research about what you want before buying because a lot of it is preference and you could find some even better bargains if you go for third party lenses.
Other misc bits you will need for your camera.
Remote shutter release (depending on your camera and software)
Luckily for you budding product photographers out there, you will want to edit your images as little as possible as don't want to distort or change the colours of your products. You will need to do small corrections as nobody is perfect and you will always find a stray hair, crease or dust spot and trust me, when you see it, you will have to remove it!
Photo editing software sounds complicated!
Editing can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. As mentioned above, you shouldn't have to do much editing so don't worry. Editing software is extremely clever now as makes some really useful techniques as easy as one click. Spot removal tool is my best friend. Any specs of dust can be removed with a simple click of the mouse!
What do you use?
I have a subscription to Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom which costs £9.98 a month. I chose to use this as I can have them on multiple devices and its cloud based so I can access and edit my photos anywhere on any device. Here's a link https://www.adobe.com/uk/creativecloud/plans.html?filter=photography&plan=individual
Free photo editing software?
There are plenty of editing tools about that you can use and the Adobe software I use has a 1 month free trial period that you could use to get you started.
Other top tips for product photography
Here will be a whole host of lessons and things I've picked up over the years as a product photographer that don't really fit into a category. I'll try to keep it short and sweet.
Reflections are a *****! If you are photographing a reflective product, use white boards to block any bad reflections.
If your equipment supports it, tether your camera to a computer / tablet and get a real time live view of what you are photographing. Thank me later.
Get a sturdy tripod as you will want your camera as still as possible. If you are shooting from above, buy a C-Stand which will allow you to hang your camera above the products. The sites linked above will have a good selection of both.
If your product is shiny, wear latex gloves. This will feel strange at first but you'll soon get it the 3rd or 4th time you have to wipe down your product to remove fingerprints!
Get organised ASAP! You may have hundreds of photos to take and you don't want to be in a situation where you can't remember if took the side profile shot of the product 34 products ago! Trust me!
If you aren't 100% sure you charged your battery, charge it again! Its soul destroying getting all set up ready to go and then realising your camera is dead.
I think this covers most aspects of what you would need to get set up for product photography. There will be some things that I miss as each person would want something different out of their photography studio setup. Feel free to check out some examples on my website using the button below
If you have any questions about how to set up a product photography studio drop me a message and I'd be happy to help.