If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is that picture is worth to you when trying to describe your products to potential customers? Would you read a thousand words describing a product before you decided to buy it?
Good product photography is a real skill which, like anything worthwhile, needs understanding and practice to really get the hang of. To tell you everything you need to know about the how’s and why’s of great product photography would take more time than you have to read this article, but hopefully this will give you some useful tips to help get you started.
How can you make your product stand out?
From websites to social media feeds, images are an invaluable tool for connecting you to your customers. We all know that social media is a fantastic marketing tool if it’s done right. But if you post poor quality images, what will people think about your products?
Branding is a key part of any successful marketing plan, and your product images should match your theme. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be a professional photographer with thousands of pounds worth of equipment and years of training and experience to produce great “branded images”. In fact, you’ve probably got everything you need right now! It’s probably in your pocket or you may even be using it to read this! Maybe you just need a little reassurance in how to make the most of what you’ve got.
Whilst I have a dedicated studio fully equipped with all kinds of cool gadgets (and plenty that are now gathering dust on a shelf) as well as a powerful editing suite with all manner of digital wizardry, you really don’t need to invest in all that gear to put together some nice pictures. Your smartphone will more than likely produce images which are more than good enough to get started. After all Apple, Google, Samsung and the others didn’t invest billions of pounds in developing great phone cameras just for taking selfies (despite what teenagers may tell you)! What’s even better though is those phone cameras are designed for taking and posting pictures on the internet – not for making glossy magazines – which is perfect for selling online.
The secret to any great picture lies in just two things - composition and lighting
The core principles of photography don’t really change based solely on the equipment you are using. A good picture is about more than what type of camera you take it with.
Put simply composition is putting things where they look best in the picture. Think about symmetry, colour (or mood) and shapes. As a rule of thumb, “less is more” because the less there is in picture for people to dislike, the more reason they have to like it. The less cluttered your foreground and background are, the more people can focus on what you’re trying to show them and you can really make your products stand out. The trick here is to plan the shot before you take it. And remember, if you don’t like how it looks simply change it and try again. With digital images you can shoot, delete, repeat until you are happy.
You also need to think about what media you will be using your images for. If you use Instagram a lot, then you’ll know that square images work best. For websites and Facebook, portrait or landscape pictures work really well. Your smartphone has built in editing features to crop and apply filters which best match your brand and media platform.
Now that you’ve mastered composition, the other thing to think about is lighting. Here there are two options, either use natural light or artificial. But remember, if you want to use natural lighting it will be hard to replicate the same brightness every time, also you may find your composition struggles as you are “chasing the light” trying to get the best angle from the sun.
The alternative is to invest in an artificial light. LED lamps are becoming cheaper and more reliable all the time, but one of the best solutions for smaller products is a clip on ring light which attaches directly to your phone.
The extra benefit of artificial light is it means you’re not tied to taking pictures during sunny days, which lets you manage your time more flexibly. Apart from being brilliant for selfies, these cast the light directly from your camera to the subject which means if your phone doesn’t move then it will look the same in every shot you take.
If you also invest in a small phone tripod then you can leave your phone alone while you move your products in and out of shot and adjust them so they look their best in each picture.
There are of course lots more tricks and techniques for mastering product photography, but hopefully this has helped you get a better understanding of where to start. Just to recap, the key takeaways are shown below:
If you would like to know more, then I’m always happy to help out other small businesses and have a chat over a coffee. Or if you really want to get serious, I run a simple product photography training course with tip sheets to take away with you and online support afterwards.
The biggest piece of advice I can give you though is, practice. The more you practice, the better you get and the easier it becomes.
Steve is well known amongst the Manx photography community, having been the Chair of the Western Photo Society and a regular judge for all three local clubs. A Gold Medal winning photographer, Steve runs his own dedicated studio in Union Mills where he offers training courses on all aspects of photography and well as providing a range of photography and design services. When he’s not taking taking photos & videos, editing or training, Steve also teaches at Ballakermeen High School and the Isle of Man College. Having grown up on the Island, Steve lived and worked in the UK for several years before returning with his family to enjoy life back home.