5 Quick Tips for Better Product Photos

I first met Robert Clay at the annual Rev War reenactment I manage, Battle of Charlotte in September 2019. He took an enormous amount of fantastic photos, including the title photo. He loves photographing our living history community! Just like me, Robert also wants to help makers succeed and promote their products well. Enjoy the following article from Robert Clay and if you’d like more help, contact him here.

5 Quick Tips for Better Product Photos

by Robert Clay Photography

Professional product photographers routinely use 3, 4 or even 5 large strobe lights, hidden behind giant softboxes; bouncing that light off of reflectors or hiding it behind obstacles, as they find the perfect illumination for an object placed with nearly scientific accuracy in front of their expensive cameras. They will take incredible amounts of time, both in the studio and in post-production to be sure that their images convey every bit of color, shine, texture and creamy goodness.

The rest of us rarely have the time, tools or expertise to do any of that. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get quality photographs – for social media or your E-commerce site – with your cell phone, a few household items and a little bit of knowledge. 

Here are 5 quick tips that will help you improve your product photography right now:

1. It’s all about the light

Your cell phone is capable of taking a far better photograph – technically – than the cameras that were used to capture images that hang in art galleries around the world, and are studied by photography students today. But technical ability is only one part of the equation! The reason those photographs rise to the level of art is because the photographers understood light. 

I’ll skip the details (These are quick tips, after all.), and just encourage you to focus on these three thoughts as you consider light.

  • Use more of it. The brighter the scene, the sharper your picture will be. 
  • Make sure your product is the brightest thing in the picture. Use a flashlight if you have to, but make sure that your product is brighter than the background or surrounding elements. Our eyes are drawn to light. You want the viewer to be naturally drawn to the subject of your picture.
  • Experiment with the direction of light. Light that hits your subject from the side will reveal the texture of your item. This is especially important for textured fabrics and embroidery.  Want to get rid of the wrinkles? Then light it from the front, rather than the side. (That’s true for faces, too!) 

I grabbed a couple of quick pictures of a little screen cleaning mouse that sits on my desk. The first one shows him just as he normally is, lit by the overhead light. For the second picture I slid him over to the window. Notice how that light from the side draws attention to the texture of the fabric.  Experiment with your products to see what direction of light works best for each one.

2. Show us the details

Don’t be afraid to get in close. Fill the picture with your product (Like our mice!). Then take another shot, even closer, to allow us to see the fine details of your work. If you are using Instagram, the first image should be a shot of the entire product. Then one that shows off the stitching, or whatever bit of detail there is that makes your product different. Then perhaps a final shot of someone wearing or holding the item. That will help your customer understand the size or scale of the product if it is small; or the fit of a piece of clothing. 

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    3. Work the angles

    Experiment with the placement of your camera. You have, essentially, three options:

    • A bird’s eye view. (Top shot) Directly over the top of your object. This is generally best for flat objects, like fabrics, embroidery, or pizza!
    • A worm’s eye view. (Low angle) Put your camera low. Really low. So low that the bottom is touching the table in front of your product. This is generally best for taller subjects. This is the angle I used for this photo of an orange.
    • Eye level view. Your eye level. Just hold the camera where it feels right, and shoot. This is the way we are used to seeing things, but it is rarely the best angle for a product shot.

    4. Keep the background clean

    If you are shooting overhead, just use a simple fabric, large stone, or piece of wood. Resist the urge to add other items. If you are shooting down low, consider the background carefully. A clean wall or other backdrop that complements the color of your product works well.

    For the image of the orange, I created a “sweep” using a 69-cent piece of poster board from Dollar Tree. Here it is is on a kitchen counter. Notice, no fancy lights. The only illumination was from a skylight in the kitchen on a cloudy day.

    5. Relax. You can do this!

    You can improve your photography just by taking some time, improving your light, and experimenting, Look at product photos in magazines, television commercials, billboards and social media. It won’t take long before you begin to see the same concepts applied over and over. 

    You are a creative person! If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be doing this. So just take these simple hints, and begin to apply your own eye to them. I can’t wait to see what you do with them!

    Robert Clay is a Commercial, Portrait, and Lifestyle photographer, serving Rock Hill, Fort Mill and the Charlotte Metrolina area from Edgemoor, South Carolina. He specializes in headshots, social media and product photography for businesses as well as executive portraits, artistic portraiture, and fine art photography. Find him at robertclayphotography.com

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