DIY Product Photography: A How-To Guide for Ecommerce Entrepreneurs
So, your website is finally set up and ready to share with the world. Your products have been delivered to your "warehouse" (i.e. apartment!) and all you need to do is start selling, right? Well, hold onto your horses, because you're definitely going to need some good quality images to showcase your wares to potential customers. There's a reason the big brands spend thousands on their product photographers - you know, those guys who meticulously set up and position their product along with nine different lighting sources, while their crew of assistants run around with reflectors and cables, just for that one 'perfect' shot that somehow always looks better than reality. And the reason those big brands are happy to spend? It's because like every other successful business out there, they know appealing images of their product can seriously influence people to buy from them.
Good quality imagery is even more important when you’re selling online – after all, your customers can’t hold the product in their hands so your product shots have to work extra hard to convey the physical information they are missing. But when you’re just starting out, it can be incredibly hard to find the revenue for several thousand dollars worth of product shots, even when you know how important they are for selling. There is, however, another option: although you may think of DIY product photography as simply leading to amateur, badly lit and composed shots, with a bit of experimentation and practice, you’d be surprised at how good they can look. (Don’t believe me? All the product shots on this page were shot using the very method I’m going to outline for you below.) So follow my how-to guide and in no time you’ll be flaunting your products like the pros.
PREPARATION: WHAT YOU WILL NEED
The first thing you’re going to require is a camera of some kind (obviously). I’m going to assume that most of you will only have access to either a phone camera or compact digital camera. If you have a Digital SLR camera or equivalent, all the better, but a fancy camera isn’t necessary. Be warned though; that one megapixel camera you got back in 2001 and which has been sitting in your cupboard for over a decade is probably not going to cut it!
The next thing you will need is a tripod – keeping the camera steady and in the same position for a series of photos is much easier if you can attach your camera or phone to a tripod. There are a huge range of options when investing in a tripod, but for taking product shots in your home a cheap, small tripod will absolutely suffice. You should be able to pick one up for about thirty dollars online or in your local photo store.
Now it’s time to create your ‘studio’. For this, you’ll need a desk or table, or at the very least, a wall connected to a floor (which they usually are!) Go to your local art supply store and pick up a large sheet (the bigger the better!) of thick, white paper and a roll of tape. All you need to do next is tape one end of the sheet to the wall and the other end to your desk or floor and, voila! You have a white, curved background, just like any professional studio would. The curve eliminates any horizon line, which will save you a lot of time when you come to edit your images. Whilst at the art supply store, you should also probably pick up a few pieces of roughly A4 sized white card to use as reflectors.
Finally, we have to light our table-top studio. You won’t need to hire studio lighting, with all that fancy apparatus just to light your products correctly. A window will do just fine. If you live in a basement or cave, first of all, I’m very sorry (I’ve been there myself!) but don’t worry; you can just set your studio up outside somewhere, or find a friend who owns a window. It’s better not to shoot your products on an amazingly sunny day – an overcast, but not too dark day works the best. The clouds diffuse the sunlight, eliminating hard shadows and glare and giving the light a softer quality.
TAKING THE PHOTOS: TIPS & TRICKS
Set up your studio at a right angle to your window and position your first product. Take a look through your camera. How does the composition appear? Is the lighting too harsh? Move closer to the window, or wait until there’s a little more cloud cover. You can also use the A4 cards I mentioned earlier, positioning them opposite the window, reflecting light toward your product and changing the quality of light. In short, experiment with your setup to find the best way to shoot your products. Do you want them at an angle or totally straight-on? Will you need multiple angles or views of the product? (The answer to this question, particularly when shooting for ecommerce, is usually “yes”.) A bit of time spent checking these points beforehand will help you have a more streamlined shoot, and save you hours of editing time afterwards.
Now it’s time to start taking the photographs. This is probably the easiest part so far. Place your camera on the tripod, pointing toward your correctly positioned product. Make sure everything looks good and off you go! If your images look too dark or too light on your camera, you should change the exposure settings to reach the result you want. At this point, however, do not delete any of your images! Although they make look great on your camera screen, there may be problems such as camera shake or exposure problems which will only become obvious once they are viewed full size on a computer. You should treat your first few shots as tests, and then check them on your computer before shooting the rest of your products. From these tests, you should be able to work out the best settings for your images and it’s then just a matter of snapping away.
EDITING: THE FINAL FRONTIER
Well done! You have a few hundred images of your products saved and transferred to your computer. It’s time to pick and choose the ones that best represent your products. I recommend giving your final selection a quick touch up with an image editing program such as iPhoto (Apple’s photo editing software), Photoshop, Gimp (a free online editing software), or even Microsoft Paint at a pinch! You will want to brighten the images so that the background is almost totally white, giving the product a ‘floating in free space’ quality. This looks very clean and simple on any e-commerce website. Remember to rename the images so you can readily find them on your hard drive in future and so they contain SEO boosting keywords when you upload them to your website.
DIY images like this are never going to be a complete substitute for professionally shot product photographs, and as your business grows you will hopefully be able to outsource this time consuming task to a professional. But if you don’t have a budget of thousands of dollars then I hope this article will help you get the best quality you can, all by yourself.