July 9, 2023 • Branding

DIY Product Photography: 21 Tips & Principles for Better Photos

You can shoot it.

Olivia Steuer / SHAVAUN.COM

When the professional photographer I really wanted had a starting cost of $9,000, I opted to DIY product photography at the start of my product-based business.

Perhaps you, too, are an online store or small business owner trying to juggle (and pay for) it all. And now, it’s (product) picture time. Oh my. 😖

Product photography is very important in how your product or service is perceived. It can be the difference between getting a sale and not.

Here’s what I know

After four years of DIY’ing product photography for my sensory candle brand, Spoken Flames, and having those product images published in Cosmopolitan, New York Magazine, and Architectural Digest, here are the essential things I’ve learned towards having publication-ready, brand-building, and scroll-stopping product photos.

So, if you want to capture million-dollar product shots without a million-dollar budget, keep reading.

Below are more than 21 DIY product photography ideas, tips, and principles to help you take high-quality photos.

Learn how to DIY compelling and scroll-stopping product photography of your own.

DIY Product Photography: 7 Tips

1. Lighting is Key

Good lighting is crucial for product photography.

Whether you’re using natural or artificial light, light can highlight what’s most important in your product shot and even cast shadows to add to the visual story—think the shadow of a palm leaf over your scene to add a tropical beach narrative.

This is the power of light and shadows.

Any Lane

In the spirit of cost-efficiency, I recommend natural lighting. Simply shoot near a window. Sunlight is free.

Manipulating Natural Light

Avoid direct sunlight, as it can create harsh shadows and cause overexposure, which is difficult to fix in what’s called ‘post production’ (edits that take place after your shoot). However, lighting will be a stylistic choice, whether soft or harsh, depending on your desired aesthetic.

If you’d like to achieve a natural DIY product photo, consider a sheer curtain, reflector, or an actual light diffuser to diffuse or direct light and create a soft, even illumination on your product or subject.

Sometimes capturing photos with less light offers greater flexibility in post-production. You can always add brightness to your image without compromising quality. Dialing down the effects of overexposure in post-production is challenging.

Manipulating Artificial Light

Examples of artificial light include but are not limited to, studio lights, flash, or a ring light. You can use bounce boards and diffusers to manipulate artificial light—and can adjust the light’s strength and color temperature, too.

You can also adjust your camera settings, which will impact how much light enters your product photo, regardless of your light source.

2. Use a Clean Background

A cluttered or distracting background can take away the focus from your product. Choose a clean, neutral-colored, or white background that complements your product. You can use a white foam board, a clean tablecloth, or even a roll of seamless backdrop paper. This will help your product stand out and be the center of attention.

Consumers shopping online are bombarded with so much information; having a clean background will help your product stand out.

If you’re using a white background, be sure to clear away any dust or debris. Anything you can see, your camera will pick up. It’s best to clean your background to save time in post-production.

Ironically, when it comes to food photography, having some crumbs or food products slightly scattered actually adds to the authenticity of your photo.

Spoiler alert: watch out for the lettuce. 🥬

Using a ‘clean’ background is relative, and you should aim for a photo with a clear hero in your shot.

3. Showcase Different Angles

Capture your product from various angles to provide a comprehensive view. Show the front, back, sides, and any unique features. This helps potential customers better understand the product’s design and details. Experiment with different perspectives and compositions to find the most appealing shots.

You might even capture your product on a white background from multiple angles and submit it to a rendering artist or studio that can make a 3D render your product, offering greater creative flexibility and more detailed shots. But that’s thinking ahead.

4. Invest in a Tripod

Using a tripod ensures stability and helps eliminate blur or camera shake. It lets you fine-tune your composition and keeps your camera steady during long exposures. A tripod is handy when capturing close-up shots or product shots with a shallow depth of field.

Product photographers use tripods to keep the camera in a locked position. At the same time, they may adjust the scene or lights without compromising the placement of the camera or the product.

A tripod is also helpful for exploring unusual angles, as you can make slight adjustments with every shot while maintaining control of your composition.

5. Optimize Images: Edit and Enhance

After capturing your product images:

  1. Use photo editing software to enhance the final result.
  2. Adjust the exposure, contrast, and color balance to make the product look its best.
  3. Crop the image to remove unwanted elements and ensure the product remains the focal point.
  4. Be mindful not to over-edit, as you want the product to look realistic and accurate.

Product photography should look natural, but don’t be afraid of using photo editing and tools to fake a natural look.

Remember, practice makes perfect. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different techniques to find your style and showcase your products effectively.

6. Have a Plan Before Shooting Product Photos

Whether you work with a product photographer or DIY product photography, I highly recommend you start with a plan or a ‘shot list’ as it’s called in industry terms. 

A shot list is your creative game plan before going into your photo studio or setup. In fact, the shot list will significantly influence what your setup will be. Will you need window lighting? A fishing line? Or studio lights to achieve your desired look?

Have a mood board before your shoot to determine setup, lighting, and prop requirements for a successful product photoshoot.

7. Add Texture

After many years of DIY’ing my own product photos, I’ve learned that adding texture of cloth, paper, or color helps the image feel more organic, especially for lifestyle photos. 

Texture in your shot also gives you a greater range to add and remove layers. Your product photography ideas can be endless when simply swapping out the texture in your shot.

6 Reasons Why Product Photography is Important

Big brands spend tens of thousands of dollars on professional product photography because the right photo can make all the difference in creating desire, intrigue, and sales.

Ever thought of how your mouth waters when looking at that perfectly stacked BigMac—with a single shred of fresh lettuce off to the side?

McDonald’s

Commercial photography is a booming business. Hiring a professional photographer can be worth the investment.

But as a small business owner, budgets might be tight. So learning some tricks of the trade can help you achieve the highest quality photos for your ecommerce store or small business and show your product in just as great of light as a lettuce-rich BigMac.

What you can’t necessarily spend in dollars, you can spend in time to invest in high-quality product photography, which can yield great returns by attracting customers, enhancing perceived value, and establishing a solid brand presence.

Product photography can be an essential element of your marketing strategy. High-quality product shots can help grab attention, communicate product features, build trust, and increase sales.

Still not convinced you should spend a few hours on YouTube (or this blog post) learning how to improve your product photos? Well, let’s break down the importance (and opportunity) of product photography even further.

Here’s why product photography is so important:

1. Adds Visual Appeal

Humans are highly visual creatures, and attractive images capture attention more effectively than text alone. High-quality product photography helps make your products visually appealing and enticing to potential customers. It allows them to get a clear and engaging look at your offering, increasing the chances of capturing their interest.

2. Enhances Perceived Value

Well-executed product photography can significantly enhance the perceived value of your products. By showcasing your products in a professional and visually appealing manner, you create a positive impression and convey a sense of quality and professionalism. This can justify higher price points and attract customers who associate high-quality visuals with high-quality products.

3. Builds Trust and Credibility

Product photography is crucial in building trust and credibility in the online marketplace, where customers cannot physically interact with products. 

High-quality and accurate product images help customers better understand what they can expect to receive. Transparent and honest representation of products through photography helps establish trust with customers, leading to increased confidence in making a purchase.

4. Communicates Product Features

Product photography allows you to effectively communicate your products’ features, details, and functionality. By highlighting essential aspects and presenting them in a visually appealing way, you help customers understand the unique selling points of your products. Clear and detailed product images can answer common customer questions, reducing the need for additional clarification and improving the buying experience.

5. Increases Conversion Rates

Compelling product photography has a direct impact on conversion rates. Customers are more likely to be persuaded to purchase when presented with visually appealing and informative images and product descriptions. High-quality product photography can contribute to a positive user experience, driving conversions and increasing sales.

6. Branding and Differentiation

Product photography also plays a crucial role in building your brand identity and setting your products apart from competitors. Consistent and visually appealing product images that align with your brand aesthetics help create a recognizable and memorable brand image. Unique and well-executed product photography can make your products instantly recognizable and reinforce your brand’s values and positioning.

What Makes a “Good” Product Photo?

A good product photo effectively captures the essence of the product, engages the viewer, and drives them toward making a purchase. 

Your photo should clearly represent your product, accurately showcasing its features, details, and textures.

It should leave no room for ambiguity or confusion.

Customers should be able to understand the product’s size, shape, color, and other essential attributes through the photo alone. Having props in your shot can help establish size and perspective, too.

Secondly, a good product photo is visually appealing. It should be well-composed, with balanced elements and an eye-pleasing arrangement.

Attention should be given to lighting, ensuring the product is well-illuminated and free from harsh shadows (unless it’s a stylistic choice).

The background should be clean, uncluttered, and complement your product. Additionally, the photo should be of high quality, with sharp focus and proper exposure.

A visually appealing photo catches the viewer’s attention, evokes positive emotions, and creates a desire for the product. On social media, we call it a ‘scroll-stopping’ photo.

Here are a few principles to clarify what it means to capture a ‘scroll-stopper.’

The Principles of Good Product Photography: 8 Examples

What exactly makes a “good” product photo? Well, a lot has to do with the principles of product photography, which include:

Clear and Accurate Representation

Product photography should provide a clear and accurate representation of the product. It should show the product’s features, details, and textures as accurately as possible. Avoid misleading or deceptive representations that may misguide customers.

Consistency

Maintain a cohesive and professional look across all of your product images. It helps if you have a style guide for your brand. Use a consistent style, setup, and background for the core of your product photos. But feel free to take creative liberties for seasonal or select campaigns to help depict your product in a different light. But generally speaking, keeping consistency across the core of your DIY product photography helps establish your brand image and allows customers to easily recognize your products.

Attention to Detail

Pay attention to small details and ensure they are well-presented. This includes checking for smudges, dust, or imperfections on the product. Make sure labels, logos, and text are clear and legible. Great attention to detail helps create a polished and professional appearance.

Composition and Framing

Use strong composition and framing techniques to highlight the product effectively. Consider the rule of thirds, leading lines, and balance when positioning the product within the frame. Ensure that the product is the main focal point and that there is enough negative space to prevent clutter.

Context and Lifestyle

Sometimes, showing the product in context or in use can benefit customers. It helps them visualize how the product fits into their lives and gives a sense of scale. Consider using lifestyle shots or contextual setups to showcase the product’s purpose and potential benefits.

Branding and Style

Maintain a consistent brand aesthetic in your product photography. This includes using consistent colors, props, and visual elements that align with your brand identity. Your product images should reflect your brand’s values, personality, and target audience.

High-Quality Images

Ensure your product images are of high quality. Use a good camera or smartphone with a high resolution and sharp focus. Pay attention to proper exposure, lighting, and color accuracy. High-quality images instill trust in your products and make them more visually appealing.

Experiment and Innovate

While consistency is important, don’t be afraid to experiment and innovate with your product photography. Try different angles, perspectives, or creative lighting setups to make your products stand out. This can help capture attention and make your product images more memorable.

By following these principles, you can create compelling product photographs that attract customers and showcase your products in the best possible light.

5 DIY Product Photography Ideas

Here are some DIY product photography ideas that you can try to make your final image look like a million bucks:

Lifestyle Shots

Instead of solely focusing on the product, consider incorporating lifestyle elements into your product photos. 

Show the product used in real-life scenarios or a context related to its purpose. For example, if you’re selling camping gear, capture images of the equipment in a scenic outdoor setting. This approach helps customers visualize how the product fits into their lives and creates a sense of connection.

Creative Product Arrangements

Experiment with unique and creative arrangements of your products. Play with different compositions, unusual angles, and props to create visually interesting setups. 

This can add an artistic touch to your product photography and make your images more eye-catching. For example, if you’re selling cosmetics, you can arrange the products in a visually pleasing pattern or create a flat-lay composition with complementary props.

Macro Photography

Macro photography involves capturing extreme close-up shots of your products to highlight intricate details and textures. This technique works particularly well for products with small parts or unique textures.

You can buy or rent a macro lens or extension tube to get closer to the product and reveal its fine details. Macro shots can be highly artistic and showcase the craftsmanship or quality of your products.

Creative Lighting Techniques

Experiment with different lighting techniques to create a unique and dramatic effect for your product photos. You can use techniques like backlighting, side lighting or even experiment with colored gels to create interesting lighting effects. Creative lighting can add depth, mood, and visual interest to your product images.

Pro tip: if you set a slow shutter speed on your camera while moving a light in your scene, you can capture a motion blur effect which can be a nice stylistic choice to add to your list of product photography ideas.

Your shutter speed determines how much light enters your shot. You might also consider different shutter speeds to achieve varying lighting strengths in your photo.

Environmental or Natural Settings

Instead of shooting your products against a plain background, consider using natural or environmental settings that complement your product. For example, if you sell outdoor furniture, photograph it in a beautiful garden or patio setting. This helps create a more immersive and appealing visual experience for your customers.

Remember, these ideas are meant to inspire your creativity and help you showcase your products in unique ways. Don’t be afraid to experiment, think outside the box, and find the approaches that best suit your products and brand image.

Simple Setup for DIY Product Photography

A simple setup for DIY product photography can be created with a few essential items:

Background

Start by selecting a clean and uncluttered background. A white foam board, a plain tablecloth, or a roll of seamless backdrop paper can be an excellent backdrop. Ensure the background color complements your product and helps it stand out.

Lighting

Natural light is ideal for product photography, so position your setup near a window or in a well-lit area. Place your product and background in a way that allows the light to evenly illuminate the subject. You can also use artificial lighting if natural light is limited. Softboxes or light diffusers can create softer light and minimize harsh shadows.

The Difference Between Lighting Sources

Artificial lighting can offer greater control and consistency in your product photography. You could literally have the same lighting setup, temperature, and strength at 9AM as you do at 9PM, which means you can shoot at any time of the day.

Versus with natural light, you never know if the day will be sunny or overcast, and you can only shoot during daylight hours.

I prefer the aesthetic of natural light; however, artificial lights can simulate sunlight’s color temperature, and strength. 

It all comes down to your preferred aesthetic and how much you’re open to investing upfront.

Artificial lighting will cost but is highly controllable. And, of course, sunlight is free—but unpredictable.

Tripod

A tripod is highly recommended to ensure stability and sharp focus in your photos. Mount your camera or smartphone securely on the tripod to eliminate any shake or blur. This is particularly important when shooting in low light conditions or using longer exposure times.

Reflectors or Fill Cards

To control and enhance the lighting, consider using a bounce or reflector board, or a fill card. These can be as simple as white foam boards or silver reflectors. Use them to bounce light onto the shadows or to soften harsh lighting. Reflectors can help create a more balanced and pleasing lighting setup.

3-in-1 Photography Reflector Board3 in 1 Photography Reflector Board

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Props and Styling

Depending on your product, you should include props or styling elements to enhance the composition. These can add context or visual interest to your images.

I enjoy shopping for unique decor items on Etsy.

Select props that complement your product and help tell a story. However, be mindful not to overwhelm or distract from the main focus—the product itself.

Experiment with different angles, compositions, and settings to find the most appealing results. Take test shots, review them on a computer screen, and adjust as needed.

This simple setup lets you capture professional-looking product photos without expensive equipment or dedicated studio space.

Stable Surface

Much like a tripod offers stability for the camera, using a stable surface will provide stability for your product. Your product must remain still in the shot so you can capture multiple photos, make subtle adjustments, and swap props if needed.

A stable surface is also generally a safe choice to avoid damaging your product or surrounding photo set.

Can you imagine the domino effect that could take place if your surface becomes unstable?

Getting Inspiration for Product Photography

I use a Pinterest board to collect creative product photography ideas for my ecommerce website. The images become an excellent example for inspiration, guidance, and even research for future shoots. 

You can also type ‘[insert your product category] product photography ideas’ into a Google search for even more inspiration.

The aesthetic for my candle brand tends to skew images with natural lighting, organic textures, and neutral tones. I also created a mood board for my brand that defines this aesthetic. 

The document with product photography ideas specific to my brand is helpful to share with creators when I invest in influencer marketing.

Next time you shop online, consider taking screenshots of product photos that catch your attention. You’ll begin to notice a pattern and will be able to study the detailed shots. 

Ask yourself: How are the shadows (soft or harsh)? Which direction is the light coming in? What textures are used in these product shots to give dimension or tell a story?

Using Presets for Photo Editing

I used to DIY product photography at home and hire retouchers who I thought would magically improve images through photo editing. While retouchers can be very skilled, I later learned to invest in quality presets to help achieve consistent and high-quality edits.

preset is a predefined bundle of photo edit settings that you can apply to any image. A preset can be for mobile or desktop, and you can use the preset’s settings to achieve a close-to-final and edited photo in just a few seconds.

I typically buy presets on Etsy. I ensure the presets are compatible with my mobile image editing app, Adobe Lightroom.

FAQs About DIY Product Photography

What equipment do I need to take product photos?

At the bare minimum, you need a camera to capture product photography. Whether it’s your phone or a starter DSLR camera, you need that device to capture a photo. The next most important piece of equipment, which might be optional depending on your desired aesthetic, is a lighting source.

What camera settings should I use for DIY product photography?

Suppose you’re shooting on an iPhone or another mobile device. In that case, you can adjust exposure or set Portrait style photos. Suppose you’re shooting on a more advanced DSLR camera. In that case, you have greater control over settings like shutter speed or the size of the camera lens opening (also known as f-stop). 

There are no hard and fast rules to what settings to use. Still, it is common for professional product photographers to test multiple camera settings during a shoot. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Maintain a curious mindset and give yourself ample time during your at-home shoots to explore and test.

There is no right or wrong way. However, to create a consistent product photography style for your product or brand, you should note which camera settings you typically use, so future shoots can apply a similar treatment.

What are the best backgrounds for product photos?

A white background is the most common for a product photo you feature on your ecommerce store. However, the best background for your product photos will depend on your product’s features, color, and texture. Show your product in different scenarios—think of lifestyle photos or shoot with food products.

Can I do a DIY product photography shoot at home?

Absolutely! I often clear off a corner of my bed (which happens to be near a window near lots of natural light) and stage a scene using my bedsheets and some relevant household items to add dimension. You do not need to rent out a photo studio. But that can certainly be an option that offers more space and a fresh perspective. Having an at-home photoshoot can be cost-efficient and still effective.

Do I need professional software for DIY product photography?

Photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom are commonly used; however, it’s unnecessary for your DIY product photography. You can achieve a high-quality photo using presets and filters available through apps on your phone. Generally, product photos used for 

What are some inexpensive props I can use for my product photography?

Tissue paper, newspapers, blankets, and wood boards are all inexpensive props you might consider in your DIY product photos. These items might already be available in your home or with one trip to a local department or hardware store. Those props can add texture, color to your shots, and even depth if you choose to stack the props. Subtle props like these can make all the difference when up-leveling your product photography.

Is natural lighting best for DIY product photography?

When it comes to taking high quality photos, natural lighting isn’t necessarily the best choice for lighting, but it is undoubtedly the most cost-effective.

You don’t have to worry about multiple studio lights or the settings required to accommodate artificial lighting. However, the one challenge with natural sunlight is inconsistency.

You cannot guarantee that the sun to shine at a specific time or place.

If, for example, your shoot is an hour long, the sun, your light source, will be moving the entire time—we can’t stop science!—so working with natural light will take practice and become a skill.

You are also limited at which time you can shoot. Only when the sun is up, of course. But consider spending your evenings planning for shoots and being inspired for when the sun will rise again.

 

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