As soon as I considered selling my work online I knew that the pictures would make or break how well I did. I started out going really cheap and making my own light box and have come a long way since then. I have learned a lot along the way and I believe my pictures demonstrate that. I'm not going to dive into what cameras to use or what software you have to use; instead I will focus on what different options look like and hopefully better equip you to make the correct decisions for your application.
Step 1: Equipment Setup Choices
Like I said, I started out making my own light box that probably had a footprint of about 14"x14". It worked ok but I got tired of having a giant fabric covered wooden frame hanging around. In its place a purchased a collapsible light box with multiple backgrounds. I read bad reviews about most of the lights so instead I used 3 work lights with the brightest standard daylight bulbs that I could find. The pros of this setup are that you can take great pictures and it is really easy to put away. The downside is that it took awhile to setup and have the bulbs get to full brightness. This also meant that I would only set the photo box up every few weeks and then spend an hour working though all my new pieces. An additional down side of a photo box is that the lights are shining in your eyes while taking pictures so you see spots after awhile. When I started making bigger bowls I also had a hard time not getting the edges of the box in the picture.
I finally took the plunge and purchased professional lighting and a large backdrop from Amazon.com. The pros of this setup are I can leave everything in my guestroom (except when people come to visit) and take pictures whenever I want and the size of the object doesn't really matter. The downside is the cost and the space it takes up. All things considered, if you depend on good pictures to sell your product, its worth spending the money to make it easier.
Step 2: Basic Camera Choices
Without going too deeply into camera types let me say I use a nice digital camera to take all my product photos. If I want I can set the white threshold level on the camera or choice where the focus is. I also realize that I can do all those same things with the camera on my phone! When I put a picture from my camera right next to a photo from my phone I was surprised by how similar they are. Both would need some basic photo editing to make the colors truer. I think the choice of cameras isn't terribly important to me because I always edit and shrink down the file size to make it easier to upload.
Step 3: Lighting Sources and Background Choice
The common advise is to always use ambient light when possible but that has never worked for me! Seldom do I take my pictures during the day and it is difficult getting just the right amount of light. If you are going to take pictures inside with artificial light you will need to pay attention to make kind of bulbs you are using and how many lights you have. With a standard ceiling light your projects will look warm and have a lot of shadows. Using a light box or similar setup with day light bulbs the resulting pictures will have a much cooler light and fewer shadows. An additional advantage to custom lighting is you control where the shadows are!
It is surprising to see how much of a difference the background of the picture can have. For the white and dark backgrounds I didn't change any lighting or camera settings and neither picture has been edited for color. For my product I always lean towards a white background because it makes my items standout more and the look fresher and more vibrant. If I have a really light colored bowl I might consider using a dark background just so you can see it. I sell most of my bowls on Etsy and if you look at what people use in their collections, white backgrounds tend to show up more because they blend well with the other photos.
Step 4: Photo Angles
The angle that you take the picture from generally comes down to what is easiest or what looks look to you. I try to put myself if the buyers position and think of how they would want to hold the product to look at it. If I'm buying a bowl, for example, I am going to want to see if from different angles and see the bottom as well. When I see a bunch of very similar pictures or extreme zoom versions of other pictures I wonder if they are trying to hide something. For the main thumbnail photo I try to prop my items up to give them an interesting tilt in addition to taking the picture from an angle. For the remaining photos I try to take straight forward pictures that tell the items story. Try to capture your product from each unique angle so a shopper knows what they are spending their money on and there are no surprises.
Step 5: Photo Editing
It doesn't matter what photo software you use you should always crop your photos. You don't want someone wondering what the main subject is because there is so much extra stuff in your photos! I try to keep balanced margins between left and right and top vs. bottom. I will normally leave extra space on the top and bottom if the picture is getting too far away from square.
The 2nd and last thing I do is correct for the lighting. It doesn't matter if I use a white or black background, when I look at my pictures the colors aren't exact. If your software is smart enough it can to the hard work for you and achieve a much better result! What I tool that I have used from the very beginning is level correction. What I love about this is that if you use a white or black background you can click anywhere on the background and say what color it should be. As in the examples above it took the slightly grey background and made it white and it took the blueish color and turned it black. You should also notice that the colors on your object look closer to actual tints. Another cool tool that I have been using lately is the Smart Tone Tool. The Smart Tone allows you to adjust the shadows and brightness easily and see the changes real time.
Step 6: Use of Props
Let me start by saying I don't use many props. I have also seen lots of pictures that used props and they looked great. I think that my wooden items speak for themselves and don't need something extra. I also believe I could learn a lot about how to stage a picture to really stand out. You really need to determine how adventurous you are feeling and how much time you want to put into preparing for a photo shoot. If you are a painter, your painting should be able to stand alone. If you make baby slippers then people are going to want to see how they look on a baby (just don't walk through the park and ask to borrow one).
In conclusion, to take great product photos you should have equipment that doesn't restrict you, a solid understanding of what backgrounds and lighting make you item look the best and an eye for what a buyer would want to see. For more formal examples of my product photos please check me out at:
For more informal examples that I like to share:
I would love to get your feedback on how my pictures turned out or possible improvement ideas. Thanks for looking.