Introduction: Intro to Product Photography (for Instructables)

Picture of Intro to Product Photography (for Instructables)

This instructable is meant for anyone making an instructable or slide show who can't seem to get good pictures, or is always criticized about their pictures. These particular tips are intended for shooting small to medium sized projects that can be maneuvered relatively easily, and put in a studio environment. But even if your particular project doesn't fit these criteria, many of the tips I'll be giving are universal, and can be applied to any photographic documentation.

In most projects, it's not practical to take the pictures for each step in front of a backdrop with proper lighting. In these cases, it's often still good to take pictures for the intro slide like this. A good intro picture will attract many more viewers.

Step 1: The Camera

Picture of The Camera

Please try to refrain from using cameraphones or web cams. If you absolutely have to, be sure to have plenty of light, and to rest the camera on something to keep it steady.

Other than that, most cameras should work...use the best one that you have access to. If you don't have access to any cameras, one suggestion is to buy a disposable one, use it, and have them scan the images onto a disk.

Step 2: Backgrounds

Picture of Backgrounds

There are two main things your background should be: Simple and Contrasty.

With a nice, simple background, your product will stick out and call all of a viewers attention to it. A cluttered background will take attention away from the product.

The background color should contrast your product as well, in order for it to be visible. White is preferable over all else, but if your product is very lightly colored, black works well. If neither black, nor white works, use a nice neutral color like light gray, or whatever you have access to.

The look in professional pictures of a background going on forever is actually easily achieved. All that's required is a curved backdrop. With no crease of where the floor meets the wall, it looks like it's all one. This effect is very pleasing to the eye.

Two backdrops that work well are poster board, and sheets or comforters. A piece of white poster board, with the back held up by something (I use weights) makes a great, professional looking background. If your object is too big for one, or even two, poster boards, or white just doesn't work (and you don't have any other colors) you can do the same thing by tacking, or weighting down, a sheet or bed comforter.

Also, it's best to have the subject be as far away from the background as possible. Due to depth of field, the background will get blurrier the farther you're focused from it. A blurry background will help make imperfections (wrinkles, creases) less noticeable.

Step 3: Lighting

Picture of Lighting
In general, you want nice, even lighting all around, so turn on a bunch of lights, open window shades, etc., until you have a clear, bright picture. It's best not to use your on camera flash if you can avoid it...they blow out shiny surfaces.

If You're Getting Shadows

There are a few things you can do about shadows:
  • If it's coming from the on camera flash, position the flash directly in front of your subject, instead an offset picture. This means you'll have to shoot landscape (and crop later, if needed).
  • Position a light or reflector on the side of the shadow

If the Picture is too Dark

  • Add more lights
  • Turn on your flash
  • Back away from the subject, or zoom out, and crop later on..being farther back allows more light to enter the camera.


Diffusing makes for softer light. There are many ways to do it, but some easy methods include bouncing and holding a piece of white printer paper in front of your on camera flash.


Bouncing is a method of diffusing that involves bouncing light off light colored surfaces (like ceilings or walls) onto your product.


Reflectors help by redirecting stray light (like from a window) onto your product. This can be helpful if you are getting some shadows. Simply place something reflective or white on the side of the shadow, and they will be taken care of. White poster board makes a good reflector, as does tin foil covered card board.

Lighting the Backdrop

If you're not using ambient light from all over, and just have a single light on your object, you may want to light the backdrop as well, if it's white. Otherwise, it will turn out gray, and not as attractive.

Step 4: General Tips

Picture of General Tips
  • Before you take all of your pictures, take a few test shots to find out what lighting set up works best.
  • Don't take everything down until you have a chance to look at your pictures...You may want to retake a few of them.
  • If your pictures require you to be up close, check to see if your camera has a macro mode. The symbol for it is a little flower, and it may be on a top dial, the back control panel, or in the menus.
  • Photographs of electronics (like circuits) should always be taken from directly above, to insure the best clarity possible.

Step 5: Post Processing

Picture of Post Processing

After all the pictures are taken, and you've uploaded them to the computer, it's time to take a look at them, and edit. I recommend Picasa (a free program by Google) for this, because it allows you to easily view and edit photos right then and there. Take this opportunity to crop and make any other little brightness/contrast adjustments that are needed. Make sure to crop as tightly as possible, without cutting anything out.

Step 6: Final Notes

Don't accept mediocrity in your pictures, make sure each one is focused, clear, and easy to see. If any pictures are a bit blurry, go back and re take them (if you can). But most of all, have fun with it. Don't let taking pictures be something you dread, but instead, something you take pride in. Experiment with your set up a little bit, and see what yields better results. I hope you've been able to take something away from this to use next time. Let me know if you have any suggestions.


strcrusher (author)2009-07-31

lol you have the same whistle as my friend

Gorfram (author)2009-03-24

...take... ...the... ...from... ...directly.... ...above...

... mind blowingly self-evident, but I would never have thought of it in a zillion years - thanks mucho!

killerjackalope (author)2008-01-19

A great Item I found is the sunlight bulb, it's a CFL bulb that's usually around 25 watt and puts out really brilliant white very close to the colour temperature of sunlight, whether it's an SLR or a webcam it makes a big difference and seems to help with autofocus (even I don't get that bit of it) that and if you pick up a few cheapy canvases add some tape and a good bulb, I suggest fluorescent becasue the output is clearer with that than incandescent bulbs. You make a box with an open side and no top, place your object a few inches away from the back and if you have an adjustable flash unit then aim it directly at the object with triple folded kitchen paper as a 'muffler' (I like that term) and put the bulb so the majority of light is falling behind the object you get pretty good definition and also any textures etc will have some contrast because there's slight shadowing. another useful trick is using a room with a low ceiling or a big cardboard box painted white inside and directing the flash straight up or to directly above the objects.

you can get the "sunlight bulbs" at the grocery store they come in almost every conceivable style.

Aye but the incandescent ones are pretty rubbish compared to the CFL ones...

I've never heard of sunlight they have them at hardware stores?

I found them at B&Q which is pretty much a hardware store...

here's a link

Also on the way to one for you (I see Uk pages first) I found that you can get daylight bulbs that produce negative Ions at the same time, by the way those seem a bit pricey if you hunt about a bit you can get them really cheap. Lifetime seems to be about 3 years and running

Very cool...a lightbulb that cleans the air!

yeah I liked it, also i had heard negative Ions are good but didn't no they helped bad smells...

Patrik (author)Weissensteinburg2008-01-20

Even better - REAL sunlight! Great lighting, ideal for macro-photography... There's a reason why almost all TimAnderson's pictures for examples are taken outside in the sun. Might not be quite up to scratch for "product photography", but it's a great solution for a nice DIY instructable...

Weissensteinburg (author)Patrik2008-01-20

Not in the evening..

Kiteman (author)Weissensteinburg2008-01-19

Try sewing shops - embroiderers use them when working after dusk.

djsc (author)2008-07-31

nice. I've had a few tries since reading this, having some trouble; any suggestions what kind of lights to use? I tried halogens and they weren't as white as I thought they would be. Also not enough light on the subject with 2 60Watt bulbs and reflectors.

knarx (author)djsc2008-08-01

Sorry, I am not a native speaker, so if you meant white with "white as I thought" try the white balance on your camera. If you meant bright with "white as I thought" use a construction spotlight, you can get in every hardware store for a few buck. Be careful, they have 500 Watts and can become very hot. With them you also have to use the white balance on your camera, but brightness should be no problem anymore.

Weissensteinburg (author)knarx2008-08-01

I think he means that they were both too dark, and the wrong color. I could be wrong though.

djsc (author)Weissensteinburg2008-08-01

yeah, thats what I meant. thanks for the tip knarx.

Derin (author)2008-06-26

I am gonna so try this!pics coming soon

Bran (author)2008-01-20

Is it possible/plausible to build a black lightbox? Nice Instructable!

PKM (author)Bran2008-01-21

You can put a black backdrop in a lightbox- I did this for some funky low-key-ish photos of dark shiny things, only lighting the lightbox from the sides and underexposing to get side highlights. I would link to the examples on my Flickr account but that's too much of a shameless plug even for me to do on a comments board- if you're interested then PM me

Weissensteinburg (author)Bran2008-01-20

I'm sure you could..but why?

Bran (author)Weissensteinburg2008-01-20

Well, now that I think about it, I'm not quite sure. For light-colored subjects, I suppose. By the way, I signed up at Phodeo - nice site!

Kiteman (author)2008-01-19

Good piece, W'berg.

We should get a rash of better pictures now ...

(Yes, I know all my pictures break your rules, but Shed would sulk if he didn't feature in my 'ibles)

PS - am I the only one amused by step 4's self-referential image? A macro shot of a macro function...
It must just be me, then

Weissensteinburg (author)Kiteman2008-01-19

Thanks...I hope so!

I understand in your case (sometimes)... puddles and beds don't go along so well...

Kiteman (author)Weissensteinburg2008-01-19

True, but I was thinking mainly of all my shots lit by fluorescent strip-lighting on a green cutting mat with white markings and a background like my workbench ...

Weissensteinburg (author)Kiteman2008-01-19

Ooh, you've reminded about something I wanted to add: In most projects, it's not practical to take the pictures for each step in front of a backdrop with proper lighting. In these cases, it's often still good to take pictures for the intro slide like this. A good intro picture will attract many more viewers.

Oh, and that wasn't directed at you...It was just something I had forgotten to put in.

Kiteman (author)Weissensteinburg2008-01-20

I realised that - why not edit the comment into your final step?

Weissensteinburg (author)Kiteman2008-01-20

I added it to the intro.

killerjackalope (author)Kiteman2008-01-20

I like that but would prefer a macro shot of a camera doign the macro shot...

John Smith (author)Kiteman2008-01-19

*gasp* YOU NOTICED THAT TOO?!?!?!?
I thought I was the only one who noticed that macro thing...

zachninme (author)Kiteman2008-01-19


GorillazMiko (author)2008-01-18

Too smart. You are too smart. Great Instructable, I like the idea of the weight things and the blanket sheet thing. The pictures are great, the details are awesome, great Instructables Weisensteincheeseburger.

P.S. Weisensteincheeseburger was stolen from Brennn10.

Thanks...but what does Global Warming think about it?

He likes it, maybe. Look at the slanted face.


He is thinking...

He wishes he had opposable thumbs for camera-ing

Yeah, but he doesn't need no fingers, he has skills inside of that body, and arms shoot out with a high-tech camera, with the best quality ever, and it can snapshot anything, maybe even a picture of an Instructables staff member trying a new experiment, like trying to turn eggs into chickens in the blink of an eye. Yeah, these are the questions... these are the questions.

Nope, he only has a web cam, and as step 1 says, you shouldn't use that for instructables.

Oh... true. Maybe his wheels have super jet like powers, and he can shoot across Squid Labs or the Instructables HQ as fast as the lightning being shot from Zeus's hands, and he can take any pictures.

Need Help?

Call Instructables Robot.
Anytime, anywhere.
He'll be there.
(555) Ins-truc-tab-les.

P.S. This is fake.

By the way, do you have AIM?
It would be easier to talk on that. :P

Or maybe...he can roll really fast!

If you can guess my AIM, you can have it =]

Oh. No, that'll take forever. There's over 100,000,000 possibilities.

no it won't.

How come you're not responding? :'-( I'm Xenotonick. You're not saying anything.

John Smith (author)GorillazMiko2008-01-19

Cool AIM name. I'm Alt Ctrller. (get it? Alternate Controller????hahah)

I guess you don't have AIM.

Yes, he can roll really fast. Exactly what I said, but easier.


I will tell you what's next, NEXT TIME, ON DEAL OR NO DEAL!!

~3 days pass.~

Welcome to Deal or No Deal.

The Instructables Robot is awesome. But this is his demon brother.
So Weissensteinburg, maybe he can... darn. I'm all out. =/
That would be cool to have a Robot like that in your workspace, sending email and greeting members.

By the way, that plate looks like it has some yummy food on it. Just kidding.

I would totally feature this Instructable.

If I could.

The plate had yummy food on it, but I eated it.


Dang, you should have saved some for me.
What was it?
A Weisensteincheeseburger?

I have them hold the cheese on my cheese burgers. Nope, it was a hot dog. I had everything set up on my parabolic cooker, but when I took it outside, I realized that it was cloudy. So I had to stove it.

You actually made one of those? Those are awesome. Awthum. Cheezeburgur, me wants.

About This Instructable




Bio: I enjoy photography, horticulture and carpentry, and am almost always doing something relating to of those things.
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