Tonje Lilleås

Product photography for beginners – 7 tips to get you started

Wether you find yourself in a creative rut, in need for a new photography challenge or just want to master a new skill, product photography can be the way to go. Hence I give you product photography for beginners – 7 tips to get you started!

Tips in this post

  1. Think about the gear
  2. Light the product, not the background
  3. Choose the right background
  4. Careful styling is key
  5. Shoot different angles and compositions
  6. Add some action
  7. Make sure the edit suits the product

Do you want to learn more about a different kind of product photography? Please check out this post about flat lay photography for beginners.

Why should you learn product photography?

You may think that product photography is only for the professional photographers shooting for commercials. Well, it’s not. Product photography is great fun, and a very good way to improve your skills as a photographer. You need to work out that creative muscle, fine tune your lighting skills and bring out your best compositions to make a good product image. Therefore I’d say that every photographer should do product photography to become a better photographer.

Would you like to see more of my images? Please head on over and follow me on Instagram.

How can you use product photography as a content creator?

Product photography is just a form of still life photography where a certain product is the main subject of the image. As a content creator you’ll find many situations where knowing how to produce a proper product image is useful.

When trying to convey the mood in a cabin your staying at, you can utilize your skills as a product photographer to capture some great detail shots. Or maybe you have been asked to make some lifestyle images showing off the new knitted mittens your friend is selling? If you’re a lifestyle blogger, you need to know how to show off the products you’re reviewing or advertising properly. And if you want to jump on the trend of showing off your every day carry, knowing product photography comes in handy.

In my opinion every content creator or photographer needs to know the basics of product photography. The skills transfer to so many areas where we are asked to shoot images. So let’s get to my 7 tips to get you started with product photography as a beginner.

Product photography for beginners – 7 tips to get you started

1. Think about the gear

First of all; you can make a good enough product photography with your phone. If you just follow the six next tips on this list. But to go from good enough to great, you have to think about the gear you are using.

You’ll need a tripod to make sure your image is as sharp as possible. Preferably you’d like to shoot with an aperture at least around f 8 to get all the details of a product pin sharp. Smaller aperture often means longer exposure, hence a tripod for stabilization is key. If you can, use a remote shutter as well.

As for lenses a macro lens is often preferable for details, for instance a 100mm f 2.8. However my favorite for product shots is the 50 mm f 1.4. You should avoid very wide or long lenses as they may distort the product. Remember that you’d want the product to resemble how it looks in real life.

You can make product images with only natural light, however to get full control of the light it’s nice to have at least one studio light. If you do have artificial light available, make sure to diffuse it. A one light setup can work fine with a huge soft box. Also some reflectors or foam boards to control the light will come in handy.

2. Light the product properly

Artificial vs natural light

You may have some artificial light you’d like to use. If you do decide to go that route, choose between natural and artificial light and stick to your choice. The characteristics of natural light and artificial light will suit different products.

Natural light is good for the kind of products that will look best in a soft light. Artificial light is generally harder and more focused light, even if you can achieve a softer light using a soft box.

You can achieve proper light with only natural light by placing your product close to a window that lets in a lot of daylight. You’ll use reflecting surfaces to reflect light upon the parts of the product that needs more light. And you’ll use dark surfaces to subtract light from parts of the product that needs less light. This way you can control the light and make sure your light is lit properly using only natural light. Neat, huh?

Artificial light will let you control the light with even more precision, which can be used to emphasize certain details and textures in a product for instance.

Lighting the background or the surface – creating separation

If you have several artificial lights available, many will suggest a setup where you use some of them to light the background to make separation between the product and the background. This is a good tip, but maybe not as practical when you’re a beginner.

However an important tip for a beginner is; don’t light the surface. If you place a product on a surface, you want the viewer to see the product and not the surface. You want to create separation from the surface, and you want the product to be in focus. Hence; make sure it is the product that is properly lit, not the surface.

Think about the shadows and highlights

You will want to control your shadows. As a beginner in product photography this might be a bit difficult, but for product photography controlling the shadows is important. This means you don’t want harsh shadows in places where you don’t intend them to be. You can either use fill light or reflectors to make sure you get rid of shadows where you don’t want them.

Another thing you want to control is the highlights not burning out or creating bright lines or shapes on your object. This is especially difficult with reflecting surfaces, like the can in the images above.

3. Choose the right background

You don’t want your background to take away the focus from your product. However at the same time it often is more interesting not to have a plain white or black background. Think about what suits the product and the theme for the image best. If you’re shooting a catalogue image however (for either webshop or lookbook), don’t experiment too much. Stick with the pure white background.

If you do decide to go with a pure white background, make sure to avoid the horizontal line between the surface and the background. This can be achieved by something as simple as using a large white sheet of paper that you bend at the horizon line and tape to the background and the surface.

4. Careful styling is key

No matter what kind of product image you are shooting, styling the product to look it’s very best is crucial.

Start with making sure you’ve cleaned and dusted the product itself. Having to remove a lot of dust in post is not fun. Then place the product in the scene so that it looks it’s very best by itself. Then add other pieces to style the image if you want. If you do add other pieces to the scene, make sure they suit the product. You don’t photograph a baby toy with a knife just because the knife looks good. Make sure the product and the accessories you use to style the image go well together in every sense.

Also don’t overcrowd the image with your styling. Less is more in most cases.

5. Shoot multiple different angles and compositions

This tip pretty much says it all in it’s headline; shoot multiple different angles and compositions. Don’t settle for the flat lay and the 45 degree of each product. Try out different angles, add and take away things from your composition, elevate the product from the rest of the scene, play and try out different versions of the same image.

Shoot details where you fill the whole frame to emphasize that detail, but always make sure to make images where you give the product some breathing space as well.

If you like me shoot with a 50mm prime, you have to move around a lot. See how the light changes when you move around, change the light accordingly to get what you want and shoot a few images from this new angle/viewpoint. You’ll never be sorry you have more than one composition or angle to choose from when you get to post processing.

6. Add some action

As a beginner you should know that product photography doesn’t have to mean there’s no movement. Add some action to your shots to make them more interesting.

A suggestion would be to add movement by shooting the product in water or by adding some mist or smoke to your scene (but remember; less is more). Another way is to let someone interact with the product and adding their hand in the frame for instance. Get creative and think about how you can show the product being used, while at the same time holding on to the product being the focus of your image.

7. Make sure the edit suits the product

Beginners in product photography may find this last tip the most difficult. As beginners we tend to develop a style that we prefer, or to slap on our favorite preset. When you’ve done everything you can to capture the best product shots in your camera, it’s time to edit. I’m not going to tell you how to edit your images, but a good advice will be to make sure the edit suits the product.

Let me elaborate a bit; it’s not necessarily your normal editing style that will suit a product the best. First of all you have to make sure that the final image shows true colors. Meaning you can’t play around with the colors of the product if you are going to make an image that sells the product the right way. I love the desaturated blues, dark and desaturated greens, but that wouldn’t work if the product I was shooting was a bright blue and green jacket now, would it? I also don’t particularly like neon colored clothing in my images, but if I was selling a neon yellow jacket I couldn’t make it warm, desaturated yellow instead. The image and the edit has to represent the product truthfully.

Also; if you have shot a banger image of the latest Super Mario toy, you might want to not choose to edit dark and moody, or teal and orange, right? I think you get my point. The edit needs to suit the product and give an honest representation of it.

Prompts to get you started

  • Make a series of five different images to sell your watch.
  • Shoot a single image to show off your favorite interior design piece.
  • Capture a series of three images to show us your every day carry
  • Shoot a single image to sell a smoothie
  • Share a series of three images to show your favorite shoes

Get out and shoot

I hope you’ve gotten inspired to start shooting some product photography from this post. I certainly want to explore the category more myself in the future.

Let me know if you liked this post by giving it a thumbs up, leaving a comment down below and consider subscribing to my blog. It would really make me happy! I’ll be back with a new post next week, so stay tuned!

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