How to Master Product Photography on a Tight Budget (We Did it With Less Than $50)

Product Photography

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it can also be worth thousands of dollars in revenue. The most successful online selling channels for today’s retailers are the ones on which they post unique, high-quality images. You must learn how to take professional product photos.

DIY Product Photography Tips

So, to turn browsers into buyers, you need to show potential customers your products in their best light, including how they can be used or worn. This helps to put the images into a lifestyle frame of mind for customers, who can then identify with the usage of the item, or move on to another brand. But, before you just grab your phone and begin taking pictures of your goods while brunching, or at a cool art wall across the street, know this: 67% of consumers consider image quality “very important” when making a purchase online.

This makes sense. After all, an image of an online product is one of the only visual confirmations a user has before they pay. With brick-and-mortar, they can touch, try on and get an overall feel for the goods. Not so online –– so your product photos need to do some extra leg work for both you and your potential customer. You’ll need to show the real details and quality of your products in pixels rather than person.

Taking high-quality product photos should be a high priority for any online store, especially those looking to scale their operations. But, with limited bandwidth and expensive freelancing fees for professional photographers, it can be difficult for those with limited cash flow to produce the quality photos needed to generate an increase in conversions.

If this sounds like you, here are a few steps you can follow to produce incredible photos with these photography tools for as little as $50.

Get The Right Photography Equipment

The first thing you’ll need is a camera. Consumer DSLR cameras are getting more affordable every year, so if you plan on taking lots of products photos, it may make sense to invest in a good digital camera. But, if that isn’t in your budget right now, an iPhone can do the trick. Free apps like VSCOCam will help you get some pretty cool pictures out of a smartphone –– specifically channel-specific images that will do well on sites like Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, for instance.

To prove that product photography doesn’t have to be shot with expensive gear, several examples in this post were shot with my iPhone 5 using VSCOCam.

If you are using a DSLR, here are a few things to keep in mind when pulling together your gear:

  • Don’t use a wide angle lens. You will distort your product.
  • Use the right aperture for the right shot. A wide aperture like f2.8 or f4.5 will narrow your depth of field, leaving parts of your product out of focus. A small aperture like f8 or f11 will give you a wider depth of field, keeping your entire product crisp and in focus.
  • Use the correct white balance. When shooting, you should set it to the same Kelvin temperature as your lights.

Which takes us to the next piece of gear you should invest in — lighting. Whether you are shooting with a DSLR, a point-and-shoot or a smartphone, you need to master your product photography lighting with the proper equipment. In the next section, I’ll describe a great lighting setup that works for just about any product.

Finally you’ll need to use a tripod to stabilize your camera and easily duplicate the same shot for each of your products. I would also suggest getting a timer remote or a shutter release trigger, that way you can take your pictures without any camera shake.

Perfecting Your Photography Lighting

When it comes to setting up your shot, start by figuring out what kind of background and lighting you need for the product as well as the setting. For example, the way I would set up lights for a wine bottle is completely different than the way I’d set them up for a phone case.

But, there are a few ways to easily set up your product shots for just about anything. Behold, our $50 product photo studio:

Product Photo Setup

First, you will need to select a background. There is equipment you can get exclusively for taking product photos on a light tent or a full set for beginners. But to embrace the DIY approach, I created a seamless white background with some white poster board taped to the bottom of a large clear plastic storage container that’s flipped onto its side. That part of the setup shouldn’t cost more than $15.

Next, we will set up the lights. You will typically need at least two lights. I am using two light clamps that I picked up at Lowe’s for about $10, and then attached to the top of the clear plastic container. As for the lightbulbs, you want to make sure that they are identical, ideally a pair of cool colored 5000K bulbs. I found these for $7 each.

Bonus product photography tricks: One fun trick is making a product “float.” Use thread from a standard sewing kit to elevate the product and then erase the thread in post processing. Another pro trick is placing a small piece of plexiglass under the product to create a subtle reflection. This works really well on any solid color background and should be less than $10, putting your entire setup at under $50.

Here’s how a toy race car looks thanks to our budget tabletop studio:

product shots

Sometimes a solid white or black background isn’t the best look for your product, especially for products that need to be shown in action. For example, a purse could easily be photographed on a clean white background, but you may also want to show a woman wearing the purse to give it the proper context. Take photos of items like sunglasses both in and out of the sun. Take images of watches both on a wrist and off. Allow the customer to get a good sense of the product in order to increase their trust in purchasing an item they have never seen in person. This will increase conversions and decrease chargebacks for improperly described items.

Also consider the colors in your product, its shape and the environment you may find it in. I would suggest doing a quick Google search for commercial photography, or maybe the type of product that you have, to find some inspiration. Free stock photography sites like Stocksnap.io can help you to generate lifestyle product photo ideas as well.

Check out how Jeni’s Ice Cream uses GIFs and high-quality product photography to showcase its products being used in various ways.

Product Photo GIF

Or, check out how Native Union uses product pages like landing pages, including multiple photos of various usage as well as stand-alone images of the product.

Product Photography GIF

Rinse & Repeat

It’s best to spend some additional time getting the lighting and set-up ready before you begin to take product photos. Keep in mind the size and needs of individual products, and base your standard staging environment on those needs. For instance, if you have a lot of jewelry to photograph, a smaller set up may be used and the floating technique may be one of the best available for your earring images. For smaller products like these, make a mark on the background where you have the product placed, and as long as your products are approximately the same size, moving from one item to the next will be a breeze.

For those taking photos of larger items like couches for instance, you may want to use an entire room as your staging environment, rather than a small set.

I would also suggest making a diagram for yourself showing how you had everything set up. Measure the distance between the light and the product, the distance between the camera and the product, the angles that the lights are set at and the height of the lights compared to the product. Such notes or a good diagram will make doing another round of photos that much easier. No need for trial and error going forward because you already know what looks good, plus you can easily duplicate the setup so new shots match your existing ones.

Finally, be sure to get multiple angles of the each product, showing your customers every side and each detail of the product. Your photos should accurately depict your products, and a variety of views is the best way to do that. This may mean doing a couple of additional setups, cycling your products through again so all the photos match across your product line. Or, you could do a set of primary product photos with the initial setup, then take your camera off the tripod to freehand various angles and close ups.

Here’s one product, shot two different ways, with an iPhone 5:

diy product photography

Edit Your Results

After you’ve finished shooting, it is time to start editing. Post processing gives you the opportunity to clean up and enhance your photos. Even if you made a small mistake when taking your picture, the right software can help you end up with perfect results.

If possible, I suggest shooting in RAW so you have the most options. RAW files have a much greater dynamic range within each photo, giving you more flexibility when editing. If you don’t have access to Adobe Lightroom, then I would suggest free software like Irfanview or Picassa, which can also edit RAW photos.

If you aren’t shooting in RAW but still need to clean up a few things, Adobe Photoshop is a robust tool, but it isn’t cheap. If you don’t have access to Adobe Photoshop, there are a ton of other free options you can use. For example, Pixlr Editor is the closest thing to Photoshop, and it’s a free web-based application.

product image

The above series shows a toy basketball shot with a DSLR before editing, the same picture after editing and the same product shot with an iPhone 5.

Don’t Rush

Finally, take your time. Be patient. The best way to master photography is simply by practicing. Keep tweaking until you are happy with the results. Your hard work will literally pay off.

 

  • Rob

    Great post Tyler. I love how you can take really amazing photos with just your iPhone and some photo editing apps. We product a really cool photo box (http://shotbox.me), but your setup will work just as good as long as you get the lighting right.

  • E-Commerce Product Photography Tips:

    > Shoot against a white background.
    > Use Sufficient Lighting.
    > Stabilize your camera.
    > Photography is a Technical & Complex field that’s why you need to learn & understand your Camera much more.
    > Remove the background
    > Try to use a Template.

  • Chris Leininger

    Thanks, Tyler! Super helpful. The photos look so professional, I can’t believe you used a plastic bucket. Great tips, thanks.

    I’m just starting to do some “practice” still life photography — my instagram: https://www.instagram.com/chrisleininger/?hl=en

  • Daphne

    Any advice on shooting beauty products? I make whipped shea butters and I want to take better pictures of my product. I did invest in a lightbox in fashion photographer in Delhi, dslr and other camera equipment.

  • Its Great post Tyler The transparent plastic sheets idea is really so excellent and creative.

  • Magpie

    Hi, I m into natural skincare products. I loved your blog and got great tips,
    Do you have any ideas or how I can add in effects to enhance my product photography.

  • Sam Smith

    Nice post….Post processing gives you the opportunity to clean up and enhance your photos. Even if you made a small mistake when taking your picture, the right software can help you end up with perfect results. http://www.skugphotography.com/

  • Jessica Parker

    Thanks for the blog, I learn many things from here….

  • Alii

    PIXELIO will help you to create professional product photography, pack shot, 360 degree movie & much more! What you need is: PIXELIO + your smartphone + free app.
    Check the results: https://youtu.be/3MmgGDk_Zd0

  • Product Photography

    For great photos light boxes can be really tough to perfect the shadows. Comparing shots from the light box and a professional quality is like night and day. I recommend stick with selling and delegate the product photos to a company that specializes in it like on white product photography

  • ashfaq ahmed

    You
    are absolutely right admin. If you think about small businesses, great product
    photography is more than just a luxury — it can make or break your entire
    brand. If you’re selling products on your website or thinking of creating an
    online store, your photos need to be top notch in order to instill confidence
    in your customers and to close sales.

    Get
    more ideas about photography/ product photography from http://briandumas.photography/product-photography/

  • kkabir

    Great job admin…thank you for your tips.

  • Wow people always seek for stunning photography with the best pricing package, its looking quite possible now. Thank you for sharing the idea with us also.

  • Tyler: What do you mean “shooting in RAW”?

  • Thanks for sharing all your ingenious product photography tips. i love your DIY using the clear plastic storage container. I recently paid $250 for a light tent to photograph my skincare products. I had to return it because the lighting was not strong enough. Can’t wait to set up your $50 photo studio.

  • Thank you very much!

  • Hey Jasmine! Great question! One of our partners and guest bloggers, Remove the Background, will be writing up a piece on that specific industry really soon. They publish once a month on our blog, but I’ll be sure to link it back to you in here. You can check out this post from them though for info right now: http://s13543.p20.sites.pressdns.com/blog/guide-to-product-photography/

    That said, if you aren’t already, I’d hop over to the forums on NaturallyCurly.com and ask some of the women there their advice. It’s a community of self-starters, particularly within the natural hair community. The site and their readers are really great at giving advice on how to take snapshots of photos that sell well. Their YouTube channel is particularly helpful, too!

    Forums: http://www.naturallycurly.com/curltalk/
    YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/naturallycurlydotcom

    Hope that helps!!

    Best,
    Tracey

  • Any advice on shooting beauty products? I make whipped shea butters and I want to take better pictures of my product. I did invest in a lightbox, dslr and other camera equipment.

  • For shooting apparel small, medium or large is to use a light solid color background which can be remove it with Photoshop or Lightroom. If you decide to use a mannequin, you can make it disappear if you cover it with fabric with the same color as the backdrop / background. Increase light to the subject and speed and try to get the most illuminated the subject without burn it on light. The rest is a workflow in Photoshop / Lightroom to remove the background used

  • Lis

    I’ve been tip-toeing around amazon for a light tent set for months now. I just can’t seem to pull the trigger. The ones around $100 have wildly differing reviews – “horrible piece of crap, nothing works” to “great beginner kit, perfect for my needs.” I wish I could just make a decision! Maybe I’ll buy the one you linked to.

  • Ed

    Yes, use a tripod + and electronic cable release.

  • Hi Tyler! Did you manage to write that post about shooting apparel? I’d love some suggestions–especially if we do not want to shoot the clothes on a mannequin.
    Thanks!

  • Setting up the place and the product is very much important before taking the final shot. Some good tip has been shared here. Thank you.

  • James

    Now this is what I call value engineering. Thank you so much for sharing, you are ingenious!

  • Using a clear storage container as a diffuser is simply brilliant! And that plexiglass “floor” looks rad.

  • Tyler Kapper

    Hey Andrew,

    I’ll be sure to check out your website!

    Thanks!
    -Tyler

  • Tyler Kapper

    Hey Melanie,

    Like Andrew said, your best bet here really would be to invest in some lighting equipment. A lot of times you can rent the equipment that you will need, and if you’re unaware of how to use the equipment I am sure that your local camera store will offer courses on how to use the equipment or lighting in general.

    I will be writing another post soon on apparel photography and larger scaled items by the end of the month.

    Thanks Melanie!
    -Tyler

  • Tyler Kapper

    Hey Tiffany,

    One thing that you can do is invest in a good tripod that will allow you to point your camera to the ground. Here’s an example of one for about $40 – http://www.amazon.com/Ravelli-Professional-Camera-Tripod-Release/dp/B004RBX0GO/ref=sr_1_17?ie=UTF8&qid=1389973709&sr=8-17&keywords=tripod.

    Set up your paper on the ground and attach the clamp lights to the tripod legs.

    Hopefully this will give you the look you are looking for.

    Thanks!
    -Tyler

  • thanks for featuring Delush!

  • These are great tips. I will have to try the plexiglass trick. Do you have any suggestions if need to shoot from directly above? I sell paper goods (i.e. note cards) which are flat. I always find it hard to set up correctly to get directly above the product without having to get on a ladder or chair! :)

    Thank you,
    Tiffany

  • Julie Neumann

    Good question Melanie! I’m sure Tyler will have some suggestions, but I actually think that warrants an additional post for all our clients selling clothing or larger items. I’ll put in a special request to see if we can turn this into a series!

  • Hi Melanie,

    For larger items you’ll want to use special back-drops. Ity can be paper, vinyl or fabric. Theses are available on large rolls in various sizes. Just do a Google search for photography background/backdrop.

    Lighting will be your biggest problem. If you really want to take good pictures of clothing, you’ll need to invest in at least 2 flashes (ideally 3) with “umbrellas” that reflect the light to create good, even coverage.

    Thanks,
    Andrew

  • Great post Tyler!

    Especially I like the way you have used transparent plastic sheets to create that “shiny” glass surface effect. I have also done some tutorials on budget product photography, you can check them out here:

    http://andrewminalto.com/category/product-photography/

    Thanks,
    Andrew

  • Any tips on larger items? Like apparel? I love the plastic container idea, but I cannot fit a half mannequin in a box! Any tips on how to photograph a half mannequin?