Product photography plays a crucial role in the success of your website; poor quality or amateurish images cheapen the look and feel of your work, and have a big impact on your audience’s first impressions, not to mention their decision to buy your products. Still, ecommerce is awash with terrible product photography, from out-of-focus and under-exposed, to poorly colour-corrected or crooked images. One might be mislead to think that product photography is just too technical for most of us to achieve on our own. We’d like to let you in on a little secret: Product photography doesn’t have to be difficult, or time-consuming, or even expensive. It can be done right in your own home using a few basic materials – and a little bit of DIY know-how. Before you upload images of your work, be sure to read these 9 simple DIY product photography tips, then watch how these photos transform the look and quality of your website.
Choosing the right camera
Despite what you might’ve been led to believe, you don’t need an expensive camera to take great photos. Even an iPhone or smartphone with a good lens will do the trick in a pinch, especially with some added power by way of the dozens of inexpensive photo apps available, like Camera+ for iPhone and Camera Zoom FX for Android. Ideally though, try to borrow or rent a digital SLR camera that allows you to take RAW files and to adjust camera settings. While it helps to have a macro lens to shoot detailed objects, the standard lens that comes on any digital SLR camera should do the trick.
Choose a location
Chances are, you already have a great spot for your DIY photography studio in your own home. The best location to shoot product photos is next to a window that lets in plenty of natural, but not direct, sunlight. To set up your studio, place a table next to the window. Your table should be big enough to hold whatever you’re shooting, as well as a stage (or sweep) for it to sit on. If you can’t shoot your photographs during the day or don’t have a great light source in your house, take a look at tip #3 on how to construct your own light tent.
Build a Sweep
Even if you’ve taken a crisp image of your work, awkward background angles and shadows can diminish your final image results. To solve this problem, you’ll need to build a corner-less sweep. All you need is a piece of bright white bristol board (about $1 at a craft shop), some tape, and something to prop the bristol board up against. If you have a table in a corner next to a window, tape the piece of bristol board to the wall and to the edge of the table so that you have a smooth curve with enough room on the table to place your object (don’t fold the board). Otherwise, a stack of books or a piece of furniture can act as a support. Your sweep should be big enough for allow room for about three times the size of the product you’re photographing on all sides. If you’re not shooting with natural light, a light box is crucial. Check out Digital Photography School’s tutorial on how to build one using a cardboard box, some bristol board, and a high watt bulb.
Use a Tripod, or Fake One
A tripod is a photographer’s best friend, especially when shooting with the kinds of camera settings that are best suited to product photography (see tip #4 for more information). Sure, a great tripod can cost a small fortune, but several perfectly decent models are available to buy on Amazon for under $50. Craigslist, eBay, or your local second hand shop are also bound to have even cheaper (and often great quality) tripods available. Look for brands like Manfrotto and Benro, which are often expensive when new but deeply discounted second-hand. For more information on what to look for in a good tripod, read TechRadar’s stunningly complete report. If you’re shooting with a smartphone, the Joby Gorilla Pod is the perfect tripod alternative (and it also comes in handy when you want to shoot a great selfie). The Gorilla Pod hooks on to just about any surface, and clocks in at about $40. If you’re really strapped for time (or cash), however, the best way to fake a tripod is with some heavy books, a level, and a bit of silly putty or poster board tack. Simply place the heaviest books you can find where you would normally place your tripod, use your level to make sure that the surface the camera will sit on is on an even keel, and use a bit of tack or silly putty to keep your camera from slipping away. If you feel like getting even craftier, check out these Instructables on alternative tripods.
Know Your Camera Settings
This is where it really helps to have a camera with manual settings. Make sure that your camera is set to the highest possible quality, which, for digital SLRs, is usually a RAW file set on “superfine” quality. RAW files need professional editing software like Photoshop, but will go a long way in preserving your photos’ quality. As for manual settings: You’re going to need the biggest depth of field that your camera allows. Depth of field is determined by your “f-stop”, which, for most cameras, is around f/8. Maxing out your f-stop means that your camera will let in less light, which is why you’ll need to compensate by setting your shutter speed to a very low speed (this is also where a tripod really comes in handy). Next, there’s you’re ISO, which will control your camera’s sensitivity to light. Set your ISO to a low rate, 100 is usually optimal. Any higher, and your images risk coming out grainy. Finally, exposure: Most cameras, even on smartphones, allow you to adjust your exposure. For product photography, it’s usually best to adjust your exposure to become brighter, so +1 or +1.5. Take heed: finding the right camera settings for your shoot can take time. Take plenty of test shots, then upload them to your computer to see what kind of quality you get before you start shooting different products and angles in earnest. Your photos don’t have to be perfect from the get go, but it helps to have them in good shape before you head to the editing stage.
Taking Your First Photo
Once you’ve tested your camera settings and have the product you want to photograph placed in middle of your light stage, it’s time to get shooting. Make sure not to use your zoom, as this will diminish the quality of your images, and if possible, use a timer. Using a timer will help you to avoid rattling your camera as you press the button, which should provide crisper photographs.
Use a Reflector Card
Scraps of foam core can be used to make a bounce sheet (otherwise known as a reflector card), which will help to evenly disperse light around your object and get rid of any distracting shadows. If you don’t have foam core or can’t find it in your local craft shop, try cutting apart a tetra pak carton and using the reflective interior side as your bounce sheet. Ideally, your bounce sheet should be able to sit on its own, which can be done simply by folding whatever material you’re using in half.
Editing Your Photos
Now that you have the photos you’d like to work with, it’s time to move onto the editing stages. Explaining the basics of photo editing software like Lightroom, Photoshop, or their freeware cousin, Gimp, would be too lengthy to describe here, but here are some great resources to help you learn how to edit photos yourself:
- Product Photography Retouching Photoshop Tutorial: How to (YouTube)
- How to Quickly Isolate Product Photos Onto White Backgrounds Using Lightroom and Photoshop (Tuts+)
Exporting Your Photos for Your Website
With IM Creator, the photos you upload are automatically re-sized so you won’t have to worry about cropping beforehand. Still, in order to retain the best image quality once your photos have been uploaded, make sure that you export your photos as .jpgs. Your photos’ dimensions should remain as big as possible, while keeping your DPI at around 72 or 100. Make sure to keep your images set on RGB, not CMYK. Image Credits Nikon D7000 Digital SLR Camera 05 by Bernie at Wikipedia Commons Aperture Diagram by Cbuckley at Wikipedia Commons