Making Small Business Product Photography Look Professional

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Are you a small business in need of product photos? Here are tips to nail your product photography and make it look professional!

According to research from Etsy, 90% of online shoppers say that product photos are “somewhat or extremely important when making a purchase.” In fact, the quality of photos ranked as more important than other factors, like reviews or even costs.

Today’s leading brands understand the power of great photographs. As part of a recent fragrance campaign, for instance, Gucci drew inspiration from 17th-century still lifes. They incorporated richly colored fruits and flowers. Dior, meanwhile, referenced Pop Art through bold color blocking in a campaign last year.

With a little creativity, you don’t necessarily need an unlimited budget to create photographs that suit your brand aesthetic. In this guide, we’ll cover five simple ways to elevate your small business product photography and grow your brand awareness through images.

License this image via Muhammad Haris Ibrahim.

What You Need for Product Photography

You can shoot product photos on your phone, but a dedicated DSLR or mirrorless camera will give you much more versatility. Manually adjusting your exposure settings—aperture, shutter speed, and ISO—will allow you to control elements like depth of field, motion blur, and noise for higher-quality images. 

Plus, with a DSLR or mirrorless camera body, you can experiment with different lenses. This gives you totally different effects, from standard 50mm photos to up-close macro shots. Consider renting or buying a used camera to stay within a budget. Lenses with a wide maximum aperture are ideal for creating a soft, out-of-focus background effect that’s popular in product photography. 

License this image via Ground Picture.

Finally, using a tripod (and a remote shutter release) means you can avoid camera shake, while leaving your hands free to style your shot and adjust as you shoot. 

Tip #1: Create a Brand Style Guide

Your style guide is one of your brand’s greatest assets. Basically, it describes who you are as a brand and how you show up in the world, covering everything from logos, to color palettes, to typography. It also helps shape your approach to branded photoshoots.

When building your style guide, consider the feelings you want to convey and how you can represent them visually. If, for example, your brand is soft and romantic, you might incorporate dreamy pastel colors. On the other hand, if your brand is bold and daring, you might introduce loud, bright colors. 

The point of creating a style guide is to create a consistent identity, meaning that people can recognize your branding and design when they see it. It can help to pull reference images from brands you love for inspiration and ideas. 

License these images via Muhammad Haris Ibrahim, Muhammad Haris Ibrahim, and Amawasri Pakdara.

Tip #2: Start With Soft, Even Lighting

Lighting is everything in product photography. Harsh shadows can instantly ruin an otherwise perfect shot. If you’re using natural light, your best options are to shoot outside during the golden hour, when the light is warm and diffused. You could also shoot using indirect window light indoors. If you’re using a window, sheer white curtains create that soft, diffused effect. 

Of course, studio lighting is also an option. Skip your in-camera flash. Instead, you can use continuous LEDs (they’re easier to use and more affordable), or experiment with speedlights if you need more power. Either way, be sure to diffuse that light by using a professional softbox or a DIY solution. 

License these images via Muhammad Haris Ibrahim and Muhammad Haris Ibrahim.

Whether you’re using natural or artificial light, consider using a reflector to bounce light back onto your product and fill in any unflattering shadows. You can get reflectors in white, gold, or silver, depending on the style you want.

Tip #3: Invest In a Great Backdrop 

Backdrops can come in all sorts of materials, from industrial metals to cool marble. But one place to start, especially if you’re shooting for eCommerce, is with a plain white seamless background. If you have the flexibility to get more editorial/creative, you can try different surfaces. Check out a local hardware store for new materials. Browse fabric shops for unique textures. 

Refer to your style guide here. If your brand is rustic and cozy, maybe you choose weathered wood. If it’s luxurious and modern, consider marble. Vinyl backgrounds are often made to emulate the appearance of other surfaces, so consider that option as well. You can also incorporate sand for a beachy vibe or play with foliage or botanicals for a natural look. 

License these images via Muhammad Haris Ibrahim, PCPartStudio, ISHA FRANDIKA HUTAMA, and Artem Avetisyan.

Think about colors too. If you want to create contrast, pair your product with a background in a complementary color. For example, a pale yellow shampoo bottle with a pale lavender background, or a warm orange perfume bottle with a cool blue background. For a monochromatic look, place your product against a background of the same color in a different value (lighter or darker). 

Tip #4: Build a Shot List 

Planning your shots will help you stay on track during the day of the shoot. Make a checklist of your essential shots. These can include flatlay/overhead shots, straight-on shots, and shots taken at a 45-degree angle. List the props and backgrounds you want to include. Consider making a rough sketch of some of the compositions you have in mind. 

Customers like variety, so aim to mix it up with lots of angles and backgrounds. Shoot some photos in landscape orientation and others in portrait. 

Tip #5: Style With Care

When it comes to styling, less is often more, so use props wisely and sparingly. Consider including some negative space or “breathing room” around your product to create a clean, effortless look.

When used thoughtfully, props can help tell the story behind your product, so think about textures and colors that speak to your brand’s personality. For beauty and self-care products, consider using raw ingredients to convey flavors, such as strawberries, lavender, or cucumbers. For a more minimal aesthetic, consider photography blocks or plinths in a solid color. You can use these to create different layers and heights within your composition.

Another idea to consider is adding a human touch, such as a hand reaching into the frame. These kinds of shots can personalize your photos for customers, while also providing a sense of scale. For that reason, they tend to be a go-to in shot lists. Starbucks is one brand that does this especially well. 

License this image via tickcharoen04.

Parting Thoughts When Shooting Products

When in doubt, keep it simple. You can start with natural window light, seamless paper, and a few key props and backdrops. As you grow your brand, you can add to your collection and incorporate artificial lights for more control. That way, when you’re ready to hire a professional photographer, you’ll go into the conversation with a clear understanding of your brand’s aesthetic and ideas about future shoots.

License this cover image via Muhammad Haris Ibrahim and Amawasri Pakdara.

Give your branding a boost with our tips and freebies:

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