Camera Tips for Killer Product Shots:
Turn Your Website Into a Photo Gallery
First, let’s start with a basic, fundamental principle of advertising: products sell better when people can see them. That’s why every product in your Lands’ End catalog has a nice (really nice) product picture taken by a pro photographer using professional models. Oh, and a Nikon commercial, digital camera that costs more than $2000 before you start adding lenses.
Here’s the thing: you don’t have to be a pro, use professional models or own a $2K digital camera to improve the quality of your product shots. Even if you take them into Photoshop to enhance them, Photoshop can only work with what you’ve produced so take a lesson on producing product shots that sell the product.
The Only Thing Worse Than No Photo Is a Bad Photo
Pop over to eBay to see this point in action. The better, more professional sellers have nice looking product shots, often ripped from printed product information. First-timers, or sellers that just don’t get it, plop the product on the kitchen table, snap a digital picture, upload and they’re done.
You can actually go to eBay and see some of the most awful photos ever taken. A chimp could take a better snapshot. The point, here, is that if you aren’t going to do it right, don’t do it at all. No picture really is better than a bad product picture.
Staging involves laying the product out for the shoot. Consider a couple of factors here. First, if the product contains more than one item, i.e. a headset, separate ear cups, a USB adapter and a user’s guide, show the entire package and all of the components in the package.
You usually see this with the unopened pack center stage with the components laid out around the complete package. The reasons for this are obvious. It shows all of the pieces the buyer will receive and it presents an array (display) that looks pretty impressive.
Another staging tip? Use a neutral colored background. If you’re serious, go to a photography store and buy what’s called “seamless.” It’s thick, seamless, matte (no shine) paper used by professionals. It creates a neutral background that keeps the buyers’ attention on the product.
Keep it simple. Don’t dress up the “set” with distracting doo-dads. One thing you can add is a human being – all of one or just a part of one. For example, if you’re selling wet suits for scuba buffs, having your brother wear one of your products is a pretty good idea – as long as you can still shoot against a neutral background! If you plop your brother in the backyard for your product shot, guaranteed visitors will be looking at the above-ground pool behind him.
A hand, foot or face is also a good addition for some product shots because it provides scale. The buyer can see how large the handbag is or how small the MP3 player is. Just make sure that the hand is clean, well-manicured and nail-polish free. Focus on the product, not on the shade of polish she’s wearing.
When staging products, prop them up rather than lay them flat against seamless or some other neutral background. Pick up a children’s block set. You’ll find blocks of different sizes you can use to create a professional looking layout that catches the eye of the web buyer.
For some reason, lighting is always a stumbling block to high-quality product shots. Maybe it’s because the photographer simply uses the direct flash from the camera, which is product photo death in most cases.
You usually see a bright, white reflection of the flash off the product, making the product look like it’s glowing, while the rest of the background goes dark. It’s terrible. Looks like a five-year-old took the shoot.
Never use the camera’s built in flash as your sole source of light. It’s fine for holiday snapshots but it does absolutely nothing to make a product look better.
Actually, the best light for many products is natural light, preferably on a partly cloudy day. Photographers call it “gray” or “flat” light and they love it. You will, too. It’s even, it’s just bright enough to light the product without any glare and it creates a neutral “atmosphere” invisible to the viewer. Once again, we want them focused on the product.
If you do shoot indoors, use at least two different light sources. Incandescent lights don’t work. They aren’t bright enough and they cast a yellowish hue. And stay away from florescent bulbs entirely. They give your shots a sickly green hue guaranteed to make the best product look icky.
You can rent lighting at the local photo shop or ask your friends. The best lighting setup? One general fill light on the right, a narrower spot light focused on the product from the left and the camera’s flash from the front. The side lighting mutes the harsh camera flash. The result is a well-lit, clear, professionally looking product photo.
The quality of digital cameras is measured in pixels. The more pixels, the sharper the image. Now, you don’t have to go out and buy a top-of-the-line camera. A mid-priced camera, like the Panasonic Lumix FX01, is available for less than $250. If you plan on taking lots of product pictures, a decent camera is well worth the money. And, you can use it to take pictures on the family vacation. Not bad.
Use a tripod. If you don’t have one, borrow one or buy one. You can find just what you’re looking for at less than $35. A tripod not only gives you clearer shots (less hand shaking), it gives you an extra set of hands.
While staging your products, lock down the camera so it covers the field you want – the height and length of the actual, finished picture. Now you can make adjustments to products, glance at the camera screen and readjust as necessary. You don’t have to keep reframing each shot. The camera is locked into position so all you have to do is stage the products and click.
It’s also a good idea to take a backup shot of each product. Adjust the lens aperture or speed a notch. This will give you a couple of exposures from which to choose. Another tip: identify each shot you take by product number, or at least a brief description so you can find a particular shot when you need it. Believe it – this is a real time saver when you start uploading shots to your site.
If you intend to change products often, it might make sense to set up a simple studio somewhere. You’ll need fill and spotlights, a flat surface, seamless paper and blocks to show products in their best light. If all of your photo supplies are in one place and set up to shoot, regular updates of new products on your site won’t be such a time-consuming chore.
You don’t have to be a professional. You don’t have to hire a professional photographer. But you do need some basics to take product shots that actually sell the products – the right lighting, background and a decent digital camera.
Oh, and you’ll also need to practice and experiment. So, take your time, have some fun and save some money by creating your own product shots.