Marketing for Small Businesses

Photography Tips For Your Small Business Products

When working with our small business clients on marketing and social media we often ask for photography of customers, products, and more.  And unless they have a background in photography or graphic design they panic. If you need some “high-quality” product photographs to promote your small business or to use in online advertising, I’m confident you can learn everything you need with these fourteen product photography tips, ideas, and techniques.

My tool of choice is no longer 35 mm film or even my DSLR, but my iPhone, which is typically attached to my hand (sad, I know). It’s amazing how far camera phones have come. Nowadays, your iPhone already has a built-in, high-quality camera, so you don’t even need expensive equipment to get high-quality shots.

For eCommerce businesses, the high-quality product photography is key to conversation and purchases: 93% of consumers consider visual appearance to be the key deciding factor in a purchasing decision. So let’s dive into some simple product photography tips and techniques that will take you from novice selfie photographer to almost-professional business photographer.

Product photography tips for beginners

#1: Use an iPhone or Android phone if you don’t own a high-quality camera.

We always recommend using a DSLR or high-quality camera of some sort as your first option, if available. These will produce sharper images with their higher-resolution capabilities and customizable features such as ISO. If you don’t own a camera, no worries, you probably have one right at your fingertips. Nowadays phones are being built with top-tier cameras and features, for example, the iPhone’s portrait mode feature that takes high-definition pictures as if they were shot by a real studio professional.

Just be sure to keep your angles and setting in mind when shooting your images. If you are going to be shooting straight on, be sure to clear your background from any distracting, unnecessary items and get level. Keep the background clear and complimenting to the eye as to not take away from the products you’re focusing on. If you have your products set up on a table or ledge, get eye level with them to create a more professional-looking photo. You can also invest in an affordable product lighting box for small products to ensure you are always shooting in a well-lit area with a clear background.

If you are wanting to create a flat lay image, (where you lay all of your products and props on the ground and shoot from above), make sure your background is clean and utilize complimenting props to enhance the products you are shooting. Or you can keep it really nice and clean with a simple background. Whatever your style may be, go with your gut and think about, what would my ideal customer find pleasing or enticing?

#2: Lighting Is Key

Let’s start with product photography lighting. Without proper light, neither your product nor your background is going to appear how it does to you in person.  There are two options for product photography lighting:

The product that you’re photographing, the purpose of the photo, and the platform on which you’re advertising it will help you decide which setup to go for. Natural lighting can work really well for product photographs featuring edible items, people, and clothing, and these natural-looking photos can work well in social media contexts, like Instagram.

The things that you want to strive for are nice, even diffused light. This means the light is not directly hitting the subject or product from one side like a flashlight, but it softly wraps around the subject/product. This can be achieved by shining light through a diffusion material (like sheer white curtains on a window or a softbox light that is specifically designed for shooting small products), or by using a reflector or white objects (paper, sheets, white walls, etc) to bounce light around. This is how you avoid a lot of harsh shadows and color casts on the object.

If you’re photographing inside, you will want to set up your product facing a window so that you are gaining all the natural light that comes through. On the other hand, if you are able to photograph your products outside, do it! The best times to do this are early morning and late afternoon when the sun is out but is not too harsh. Slightly overcast days are also preferable. If you take out your product inventory at noon when the sun is beating down, you are going to get a lot of glare in your snaps. Be sure to shoot from angles that do not create any shadows or place your subject(s) in harsh light causing overexposure. You want the products to be placed in even light and are clearly legible to the eye.

On the other hand, if your product is primarily used indoors (e.g., cookware), features small details (e.g., artwork), or is being sold on Amazon and Google Shopping, then artificial product photography lighting is preferable. Luckily knowing a few basics and building a simple studio setup can help you get over your intimidation of light. Even a small phone studio light like this one can help.

Using artificial product photography lighting may seem intimidating, but it’s necessary for those of you advertising on Amazon and Google Shopping.

#2: Tripod Creates A Cleaner Image

Tripods might sound like a nerdy, unnecessary piece of technical equipment, but they make a huge difference in the clarity and quality of your product photography. And they are not necessarily expensive or difficult to use! Tripods are essentially ways to stabilize your camera from your shaky hand. Using a tripod will ensure a reduction of the blur, which is critical if you want your product photographs to look professional and high-quality. Whether you are using a professional DSLR or a simple iPhone, there are many tripods on the market in varying price ranges for every type of camera out there. Go on Amazon and get one for your camera. It is 100% worth taking the extra minute to set up a tripod for better-looking product photographs.

#3: Shoot to publish

Have you ever stayed up late, half-awake, to write a paper and thought, “I can just edit this in the morning.” Then, once the morning arrives, you have to start the entire assignment over, because your first draft is so sloppy that it’s taking more time to edit than it would to just scrap it.

This is what happens to lazy photographers. If you think you can throw together some sloppy product photographs and work your magic on them in Photoshop, think again. While photography editing is a skill that can make a substantial impact on the quality of a product photo, these edits can only go so far. I like to think of editing as making small touch-ups to enhance an already beautiful piece of art. If you need to change the background or completely crop something out, this is a problem.

When shooting your product photographs, try to shoot for minimal edit. With this mindset, you’ll shoot knowing that you plan to do very little editing that will simply enhance the photograph without completely changing it. This will make for a far more desirable result. Not to mention, far less work on your hands later when you take the time to set up your shots with purpose.

#4: Understand Photography Basics

While editing should be minimal in most cases, it’s still a necessary skill to have in your product photography handbook. Making some small edits – like tweaking the saturation or even masking small flaws within your product photograph – can make a real difference to the finished product.

The trouble with editing is that there are SO many things that you can do that it becomes quite overwhelming if you are attempting to do it on your own without any formal training. Especially if you are using a tool like Photoshop, you will want to learn some foundational knowledge from the pros so that you don’t get completely overwhelmed as you attempt to edit your product photographs.

If you’re not open to shelling out the big bucks for a photo editing course, don’t worry! Simply head to YouTube for there are plenty of free tutorials that will teach you the basics of the editing software of your choosing. Or try one month of Skillshare for free when you sign up and take as many photography classes as you can, only continue the subscription if you want! Skillshare has thousands of great classes taught by leading industry professionals and let me assure you, there is no shortage of quality photography classes available.

#5: Be Inspired By Brands You Love

It is always helpful to look to others for inspiration. You likely already have some brands in mind that you love. Take a look at their product photography and ask yourself how a similar shot or technique could work for your products.

For instance, imagine you’re operating a local women’s boutique. Look up your favorite women’s clothing brands on Instagram and reflect on what you love about their product photos. Perhaps you love the post from JCrew below. The monochromatic color scheme and simple background really highlight the product – can you create something similar with your own products?

Another great option is searching for inspiration on Pinterest. There are so many amazing photos for you to take inspiration from as well as tutorials and how-to guides for shooting product photography. Search for your favorite brand’s product images or get specific with it, such as pink and girly cosmetics product photography. Here are a couple of general search ideas to get you started:

#6: Understand The Rule Of Thirds

Most introductory photo classes, as well as many art classes, teach the rule of thirds because it is a powerful tool. This rule teaches you to visualize your canvas as nine equal segments, like the example below.

The rule of thirds was designed to help artists create a well-balanced composition in each piece. It’s also useful to determine where to place the focus of your piece – your product. Your goal is to have your product positioned along the lines, optimally at the point where two lines intersect.

“Studies have shown that when viewing images that people’s eyes usually go to one of the intersection points most naturally rather than the center of the shot,” says founder of Digital School Photography, Darren Rowse. “Using the rule of thirds works with this natural way of viewing an image rather than working against it.”

#7: Simple Is Better

When it comes to product photography props, do not get overly ambitious! Remember, the main focus of each product photograph should be the product. With that said, props can be welcome and help brighten the photograph for your viewers.

So how do you decide what props to use? I always recommend erring on the side of light when it comes to props: keep them simple, aligned with the color scheme, and relevant to the scene or your product.

Take the example…if you’re photographing a sunscreen bottle, place a pair of sunglasses, flip-flops, a beach tote or a cooler, and/or flowers around the sunscreen to create a tropical feel like you’re getting ready for the beach. For more ideas, refer to tip #5 and utilize any of the general Pinterest searches for inspiration.

#8: Give Yourself Options

If you have a fairly large line of products you need to shoot, it might be tempting to just take one or two of each product, then move along. However, this is not going to help with shooting for the edit. Taking multiple shots from a variety of angles will show your customers exactly what your product looks like. Plus, it will help give you options when it is time to edit, and you won’t be left thinking, “Should we re-do this one completely?”

Whenever we photograph products for social media, we like to shoot from above and from a few different side angles.

Sometimes I’ll have an idea in my head as to which angle will work well, and I’ll be surprised to find that what I expected to choose would be the complete opposite. The beauty of product photography is that you have the ability to take several shots and then strategically choose the best one. Moral of the story, take multiple shots of the same products from varying angles because you never know which photo might be the one.

#9: Show Your Product In Context

It’s important that your prospective customers are able to envision themselves using your product. After all, if someone sees photos of your product online and can’t easily picture herself using it, why would she buy it?

Typically, before anyone with limited disposable income buys something, he or she needs to feel confident that the product will improve daily life in some way.

It’s difficult to envision yourself using certain products when they’re removed from context. For example, someone who’s in the market for a couch to furnish his new apartment likely can’t see himself using one that’s advertised simply sitting against a blank background.

Alternatively, he can very easily envision himself using a couch that’s advertised in the context of a home, as seen here:

Considering Amazon and Google are the leading (and, to be frank, only) search engines consumers use to look for new products, it doesn’t make sense to create a guide to product photography that doesn’t include a few tips specific to them.

#10: Follow Photography Guidelines

Google Shopping product photography specifications

  • You must submit product photos as TIFF (.tif/.tiff), JPG (.jpg/.jpeg), GIF (.gif), PNG (.png), or BMP (.bmp) files.
  • You accurately portray the product you’re selling. No stock photos allowed.
  • You cannot include promotional text, watermarks, or borders.
  • Non-apparel product photos must be at least 100 x 100 pixels in size. Apparel product photos must be at least 250 x 250 pixels in size. You cannot submit a photo larger than 64 megapixels or scale up a photo.
  • A white, gray, or lightly colored background is very strongly recommended (and, for all intents and purposes, required).
  • The photo URL must link to the main product photo and it must be crawlable.

#11: White Or Light Backgrounds Always Work Better

When I took a food photography course in college, I quickly learned how powerful plain backgrounds are. When photographing something like food, the worst thing you can do is put your prop against a patterned, busy background. Your delicious plate of pasta or beautifully decorated cake should be the star, but it gets lost in the distracting scenery.

Keeping your background plain and simple will ensure the product you are trying to sell doesn’t get lost in the shot. While other light colors like pale blue, pink, and yellow can often work well, white is always a great option to ensure your product is the star against a crisp and clean background.

Choosing a white background is a good tip if you’re using your product photos beyond social or your website, and it’s a requirement if you’re using these photos for product listings on Amazon. For Google Shopping ads, this white background isn’t a requirement, exactly, but it’s a strongly encouraged best practice.

#12: Display Every Detail

You can verbally describe the nitty-gritty details of your product as much as you want, but there’s no guarantee that doing so will truly get the message across to your prospective customers.

Although some people can simply read a couple of bullet points and create accurate mental images in their own heads, many others need visual guides to help them absorb information.

To ensure that even the most visual learners get a complete idea of what your product has to offer, take the time to snap photos of each important detail. That way, nothing is left to the (often inaccurate) imagination.

For example, if you sell backpacks, your product listing should include photos of all the best features—mesh pockets on the exterior, a laptop sleeve in the interior, ample zipper pockets for supplies, etc. Providing these photos gives your prospects a much better idea of what it is selling, thus making it more likely that they’ll buy.

#13: Create A Diagram

This product photography tip is primarily geared towards those of you who sell stuff with features that can’t be fully explained through standard photos. It goes without saying that people won’t buy your product unless they understand how it works.

A basic diagram is an effective way to clearly identify the individual details of your product and to succinctly explain what each contributes to the product as a whole.

Here, the seller zooms in on the mattress and breaks it down into four parts. As such, any consumer who previously didn’t know what differentiates memory foam mattresses from standard mattresses now understands.

In other words, you’ve used a diagram to demonstrate the unique value your product offers to the consumer. You can’t ask for a product photo for much more than that.

#14: Show Off What Your Product Can Do

Many of you sell several products within the same product category. For example, those of you who sell dinner plates probably sell more than just one plate in particular.

This is important because your prospects have unique personal tastes. Across all the consumers who search for dinner plates, very few have the exact same idea of the plate they’re looking for.

As such, in the pursuit of your goal to drive clicks from interested consumers, it’s wise for you to show off the range of your products. That way, your product photo appeals to a wider array of personal tastes.

Contributor: Kelly. Noon

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