Along with robust product descriptions and a solid ecommerce platform, good product photos can transform your online store by engaging customers, creating conversions, and boosting site visibility. Your product shots can also contribute to online and offline marketing by promoting your brand on social media, online advertisements, catalogs, brochures, billboards, and more.
Product photos are arguably the most important piece of any ecommerce listing. They convey everything from physical specs to emotional attributes, and photo quality directly correlates to perceived value.
Even on the tightest of budgets, product photography can be done using equipment and materials you may already have around the house. Here’s how beginners can create beautiful product photos that sell in six easy steps:
Step 1: Choose the Type of Photos You’re Shooting
Without the opportunity to touch, feel, and experience the product in person before buying, online consumers rely on product photos to thoroughly inform them.
While a detailed shot of the product alone against a clean white background can say a lot, it also leaves much to be desired. What size is the item relative to the room it will go in or the body part it will be worn on? How do you use it? How will it make the user feel?
These questions and many more can be answered through different types of product photos. It’s recommended that you upload as many pictures as it takes to showcase every major detail of your product, which usually means four to 12 images. The majority of these should be simple and informative with a plain, non-distracting background, plus a few dynamic shots that demonstrate the real-world glory of the item.
Here are the seven main types of product photography shots and how to incorporate them:
Studio shots, also called individual shots, provide a basic look at the product by itself against a clean, minimalist background.
Their purpose is to clearly and attractively display the item, often from multiple angles. Most studio shots feature a white backdrop, but alternative options like wood, grass, or stone can brand your images and help convey emotional product attributes.
This type of photo is a must-have for any product in every category. Aim to have three to eight studio shots in your listing.
A lifestyle or “in-context” shot shows the product being used, worn, or otherwise displayed in its natural habitat.
These shots allow the customer to imagine what having the product in their life would mean for them. They connect with the audience on an emotional and practical level and encourage the customer to relate the item to their existing preferences, hobbies, interests, or aspirations.
Lifestyle shots are highly beneficial for nearly any product in every category and can supplement or replace some studio shots in your product’s gallery. Include at least a couple of dynamic, in-context images among other simpler photos.
Detail shots, also called macro images, present an up-close view of the product, often focusing on a specific characteristic.
They serve to provide further information about how the product looks and what it’s made of, as well as showcase special features or indications of quality.
These shots are helpful for many types of products but may not apply to every category. Even if your item doesn’t have a purposeful detail to show off (like the machined finish on the barrel of the pen shown above), try to include at least one macro shot to help the customer feel like they’re viewing the item in person by offering a rich visual description of textures and materials.
A scale shot demonstrates the size of a product and can be accomplished in multiple ways.
Some photographers will include a well-known, recognizable object next to the item that they’re shooting for scale (like a soda can or a gift card).
A more elegant way to convey size is to display the product relative to its environment—like the scratcher-toy shown above, complete with a cat on top of it.
Relative size is usually a vital piece of info for customers to have, but in some cases, the size of a product is either implied or irrelevant. If your buyers would benefit from a scale shot, aim to include just one or two in your item’s gallery.
Group shots display multiple related items together in one scene. These setups have a few applications that serve slightly different purposes.
A group shot can be used to recommend buying other items in a collection by presenting them together, as is done with the chic ceramic incense burners pictured above.
It can also be used to showcase multiple variations of the same product, like jewelry in white, rose, and yellow gold options, or a blush powder in every available shade.
One other way group shots are used is to demonstrate what a purchased set of goods looks like by presenting them together, like a set of four dinner plates or an assortment of gel pens.
This style of shot is great for nearly any product that is offered in variations or as part of a full collection. Adding one to three group photos to your product listing will help viewers get a more complete feel of the product and their options.
Packaging shots demonstrate how the product is, of course, packaged.
While this counts as a frivolous detail for many products, packaging is a large contributor to branding and even sales for plenty of goods. In the example used above, a mattress and pillow set are pictured as they arrive on the buyer’s doorstep. The product’s compact and manageable packaging is a big selling point for the brand, so it makes sense to photograph it.
Incorporating packaging shots is a good idea for items that have unique packaging elements or will likely be sent as a gift. One or two photos of the product’s outer appeal is plenty for a product listing, but they’re also great promotional tools to use around key holidays.
A process shot provides insight into how the product was made.
These images emphasize authenticity and craftsmanship and are helpful selling tools for handmade or artisanal products. They promote an emotional connection with the item as well as its origin and allow your brand to build trust as it connects with your audience.
One or two process shots will augment a product listing, but they’re also useful for social media posts and advertisements.
The right combination of these photo types will give your customers the information and encouragement they need to confidently make a purchase.
Shooting multiple styles of shot in different environments requires making adjustments to your setup and sometimes procuring different equipment, so it’s wise to plan your gallery before getting started.
Certain marketplaces have rules concerning what is allowed in listing photos hosted on their platform. Amazon, for example, prohibits close-up detail shots and prefers that sellers use a pure white background. Be sure to know any applicable guidelines before shooting to maximize your usable images.
Step 2: Set Up Your Photo Studio
Taking great product photos doesn’t require a high-budget, professional setup, but you’ll need some things other than your camera or phone.
Depending on your desired shot and available environment, you may need nothing more than a park bench and the right weather, while other circumstances call for a more complete toolbox.
Here are the basics of a DIY photo studio:
You’ll need a flat platform large enough to easily display the product—this can be your dining table, your desk, a “TV tray,” a chair, or another similar surface. If you decide to shoot outdoors, make sure your shooting table is portable.
You can also purchase a dedicated photography table with a built-in sweep for $50–$125, like this economical option. Portability, durability, and convenience are the main benefits of buying this gear, but DIY emulations can work just as well.
A sweep or infinity curve is a seamless backdrop that smoothly transitions from the horizontal to vertical surfaces in your shot. It creates a distraction-free, shadowless background to let your product take center stage.
The size of the sweep you’ll need depends on the size of your product (and any other subjects to be featured in your shots). When working with small goods, poster boards or foam sheets make effective sweeps. Larger products call for a larger setup, which can be made from fabric or purchased inexpensively.
To assemble your own sweep, first suspend the top of your poster board (or other material) above the back of your shooting table. If the surface is pushed up against a wall, you can use a temporary adhesive to hang it. Otherwise, construct a stand to attach it to by setting up scrap wood supports on your table or placing a coat rack or ladder behind it.
Secure the sweep to your support with clamps or tape, then drape the material down over the top of your shooting table.
If you don’t have the time to DIY, Square Photo Studio offers the lowest cost for professional photography anywhere—starting at just $9.95 for a set of high-res product photos.
While white-background shots are the popular standard, more expressive options can be used while keeping the focus on your product.
In lieu of a sweep, try arranging a material on your shooting table that is congruent with your brand and complements the look of your item.
Other attractive background ideas include wood, tile, decorative pillows, grass, and plant life. If you can manage to find your desired backdrop preexisting in a well-lit area—like the marble countertop in a bright kitchen or a rustic wooden picnic table at the park—it can function as your shooting table and background all in one.
Keep in mind that, depending on your setup, this type of backdrop will likely limit the angles you can use to capture an attractive shot.
In the best-case DIY scenario, you won’t need to buy or use any studio lights. Working with natural light is much easier and more forgiving and leads to better results. Artificial lighting does provide more flexibility and convenience, though, especially if you don’t have the proper weather, windows, or daily schedule to capture any sun.
If you opt for artificial lighting, seek 5000K daylight/cool white LED bulbs to provide a glow that’s very close to natural light. Many household bulbs create warm white light, which casts a red-orange tint in photos, while most fluorescent lights cast a greenish hue. Plenty of inexpensive LED options are available online.
To use your bulbs on your set, cost-effective clamp lamps are perfect for turning any handy household object into a stand. If you’re shooting often or in many different areas, you might find it easier to purchase tripod stand lights or an entire studio lighting kit.
For both artificial and natural light sources, reflectors are used to mitigate unexpected color variations and contrasts in photos. They also allow you to manipulate and evenly distribute light and shadows, which can make a world of difference in product photography.
Small, portable reflectors are available from about $15, but simple white foam boards are highly effective as well.
Keeping your camera or smartphone as stable as possible produces consistently crisp, clear photos. Shooting by hand works, but it may lead to blurry or out-of-focus images.
It’s possible to stabilize your device by setting it on a household object of the appropriate height, like a stack of books or a piece of furniture. If you choose to invest in a proper tripod, they’re cheaply available for both digital cameras and smartphones.
Stands and Supports
Product stands or risers help to lift items off your table to reduce hard shadows at the base. They’re also great for staging product assortments, group shots, or incorporating decorative props.
Stands can be made by draping upturned items, like boxes or storage containers, in cloth. They can be the same color as your sweep in order to blend in or to add a pop of attractive color or pattern.
Some products look best when arranged or positioned in a certain way, which is where supports come in. Fishing line tied to a simple rod can be suspended about your setup to lift or hold parts of the item in place, like the handle of the purse shown below. Small picture display easels can prop or stand items upright, and glue dots are a popular choice among photographers for keeping everything securely in place.
Ask any professional and they’ll tell you that you can never be over-prepared for a shoot. It’s wise to keep little amenities readily on hand, like a pen and paper, extra tape, safety pins, scissors, and spare batteries (or a charger for your phone).
With all of your equipment in tow, you just need to find the right space. As long as your studio area is large enough to house your gear and subject with enough room to maneuver around it, the only real consideration is light. The next step addresses how to choose the right spot to stage your shoot and make the most of the light it gets.
Step 3: Master Low-Budget Lighting
Lighting is key to taking great photos with any camera. Here are some tips to make the most of the light you have available.
Shoot Outside for Soft, Natural Light
This is a top product photography tip. A wash of soft, natural light provides the best color balance for product photos and minimizes harsh shadows.
You can find the perfect light outdoors on an overcast day (when the clouds serve to diffuse the sunlight nicely), or at midmorning and early evening (when the light strikes from a smaller angle).
The unedited product photo below was taken on an outdoor picnic table during an overcast day. This shot was captured using a Samsung Galaxy smartphone on its automatic setting with no additional equipment, and it’s practically perfect for a product listing.
Use Natural Light From a Large Window or Glass Door
If shooting outside isn’t possible or convenient, try the next best thing—setting up indoors next to a large window or glass door.
By arranging your shooting table next to a bright natural source, you can still capture plenty of light. It may need to be manipulated for your subject to be lit evenly without harsh shadows, so be sure to have reflectors on hand.
Setting up a few pieces of foam board reflectors can make a great window-side stage for your product, like the example shown below.
Create Diffused Light Indoors
If the perfect natural light isn’t accessible, you can mimic it in a number of ways. The key is to diffuse—meaning to spread out and soften—the light. This minimizes shadows and enhances colors in product photography.
For small items, you can do this by using a device called a tabletop light tent or light box. They’re available to purchase starting at around $19 and come complete with rudimentary lights.
Of course, you can build one yourself using basic household materials, but you’ll need to supply your own studio lights. Here’s a detailed guide to construct your own lightbox.
For a simpler DIY approach, the pros at B&H Photo Video recommend wrapping paper towels around a picture frame and holding or securing it to your light as a diffuser. This works effectively for products too large to easily fit in a standard light box and can be done with white paper or fabric and clamps, as well.
Let More Light in With a Tripod
When you’re running low on natural light but don’t have viable studio lighting, tripods make it easy to capture crisp, detailed product shots without a flash.
Using a device’s flash alters colors, disrupts the background, and casts hard shadows, but with enough stability, you can increase the exposure time instead (which is a setting we’ll discuss later in this guide). It allows more of the available light to enter the shot over a slightly longer period.
Another plus to using a tripod is that you can set the shutter delay so that your device takes the picture a few seconds after you touch the screen. This ensures sharp, in-focus images every time.
Step 4: Adjust Your Camera
A popular adage among professional photographers says, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” In the case of DIY product photography, that means great product photos can be taken with almost any modern device you have on hand (or can borrow from a friend)— whether it’s a digital camera or your camera-equipped smartphone.
If you’ve followed the lighting tips from earlier, both device options can be used on their automatic, point-and-shoot settings to easily yield usable shots.
If your lighting situation is less than ideal or you want to fine-tune your photos, you can adjust the image attributes by trying new settings or switching your device to manual mode. Here’s a look at how it’s done.
Most modern phone cameras have a variety of automatic options to help refine your shots based on the scene. When shooting product images, it’s helpful to try a few different settings to see what produces the best look. Here are some of the options your phone likely has:
- Macro/Detail: This setting is useful for creating images that capture close details in focus while blurring the background. It provides a professional look for your detail shots and keeps the viewer’s attention on the product.
- Portrait: Some phones have to detect a human face in the frame in order to take a picture in portrait mode, so its use in product photography is limited. If your device allows for it, this setting can take attractive shots of an object by adjusting the camera’s aperture to soften the background.
- Daytime/Outdoor: These settings optimize light and white balance when shooting outdoors or in bright natural light.
- Night: This mode creates a slower exposure to capture more light. When used with a tripod or other stabilized setup, it can help take crisp product shots indoors.
- HDR (High Dynamic Range): This option enhances the lightest and darkest parts of your image while balancing colors. It’s best suited for shooting outdoors, or any scene with a wide range of color attributes. Processing time is increased when shooting in this mode, so it’s important to keep your device stable.
- Focus: Most phone cameras have an auto-focus feature that’s activated by tapping the desired focal point. The result will be a crisp, in-focus image for your web store.
If you aren’t achieving your desired look with your phone’s auto modes, try switching into manual or “PRO” mode to calibrate its advanced settings.
To learn more about adjusting your smartphone’s advanced camera settings (and other ways to level-up your shots), check out our tips to improve your product photography.
Whether you’re shooting with a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex), mirrorless, or compact camera, your auto setting will adjust the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO for you in response to your scene. Most will even pick the area of focus and turn on or off the device’s flash, so all you need to do is point and shoot.
Your camera likely has a few other preset program modes in addition to the basic auto setting—each designed to bring the most out of a particular scene. They make it easy to capture refined shots without delving into the complexities of manual mode. Here’s what they can do for your product photography:
- Macro: This setting is designed for shooting subjects at close range—particularly small objects. It optimizes the camera’s focus and depth of field for close-ups, so it’s helpful for capturing detail shots.
- Portrait: This setting increases the camera’s aperture to soften the background and allow your subject to pop. On digital cameras, its usage isn’t limited to human subjects, so it can be a handy mode for product photography.
- Night: Using your camera’s night mode will slow down its shutter speed, leaving the shutter open for a longer period of time to capture more light. It can be useful for low-light situations, but if used without a tripod it will leave you with blurry images.
- Scene: If your camera’s settings include a “scene” option, adjusting to it will actually bring up a whole other set of modes to choose from.
Each one is optimized for a different set of conditions, like “party,” “beach/snow,” or “sunset.” Even if your image doesn’t correspond to any of the circumstances they’re designed for, experimenting with these settings in your product photography can be useful.
Even with these numerous automatic options, it’s often hard to capture the perfect shot without manually adjusting your digital camera’s settings. To enter manual mode, switch the mode dial to “M.” Check out our list of more advanced tips on product photography to learn about making the most of your camera’s manual option.
Step 5: Take Photos of Your Product
With your studio, lighting, and device settings in order, it’s time to shoot.
Have your products arranged on your set or shooting table using the stands and supports you produced for your studio. Consider attractive ways to represent how the product looks in action, like removing the lid from a jar of skin cream and propping it up against the item’s side.
Take plenty of test shots to determine the best equipment arrangement and settings for your available lighting. Once you find a setup you’re confident in, focus on capturing the best and most important attributes of the product.
If you’re taking simple, standard studio shots, this step is relatively straightforward. Aim for photos that clearly and attractively present the item front-and-center and be sure to get pictures displaying it arranged in multiple ways. Capture any and every detail that may be relevant to your buyer.
Try to include a number of photos taken at a 45° angle. This viewpoint mimics how the customer would encounter items in a brick-and-mortar store, allowing for a more personal experience.
If your goal is to take more visually stimulating photos, here are a couple of creative composition techniques to try out:
The rule of thirds is a tried-and-true photography standard, and it can be used to provide an alluring look for your product photos without straying too far from simplicity.
It works by moving your subject away from the middle of the frame and placing it at the intersection of two imaginary horizontal and vertical lines. This creates a more compelling and natural feel to the arrangement.
The rule of odds states that your composition will be more appealing and dynamic if its elements are arranged in odd numbers. It makes for exciting images by working on a psychological level. The human brain can easily interpret and organize evenly-numbered values, so by arranging your set using odd-numbered quantities, you provide subconscious tension and intrigue.
To avoid cluttering your scene, focus on the number three with this technique. Create group shots with three related products in the frame, or add a couple of non-distracting props to an individual item.
Don’t sacrifice quantity for quality, but be sure to take plenty of photos. Professional photographers often shoot a great excess of pictures in a single session with the intention of picking the top 10%–20% for actual use.
Once you’re satisfied with your photoshoot, you can tweak your images in the editing phase.
Step 6: Edit Your Photos
Most phones and computers have rudimentary editing capabilities to adjust and save your pictures, but better photo editing programs and apps offer more options. Plus, they allow you to optimize your files to load quickly, look better on browsers, and increase page visibility.
Here are some top-rated free photo editing programs and apps to try:
GIMP is a free open-source photo editing software that gives you virtually all of the retouching, cropping, and file-saving power of Photoshop—but without the cost. It’s widely regarded as the most sophisticated free image editor online, and it’s used by more retailers, scientists, graphic designers, illustrators, and photographers than any other program in its category.
While it doesn’t have the robust features of Photoshop or GIMP, Fotor makes basic photo editing unimaginably easy. For those who don’t want to invest time in downloading and learning an image manipulation program, this tool can be used directly from your browser to accomplish great edits quickly.
As a free counterpart to the gold standard of photo editing, Photoshop Express is an app intentionally built for mobile device photography. It offers much of the needed functionality of the computer version with the added benefit of cost-effectiveness and convenience.
This Google-owned app rivals desktop photo editors by boasting an impressive range of features and a highly intuitive interface. In addition to advanced filter options, Snapseed offers sophisticated tools that are ideal for product photography, like precision masking and “Selective Adjust.”
These software choices allow you to improve lighting, balance colors, replace backgrounds, remove supports and mannequins, and correct distortion—all of which come in very handy for making product photos look attractive and professional. Check out your program’s user guide for detailed instructions on making the edits you need.
Another option for retouching your photos is to outsource the task. Platforms like Fiverr can connect you with freelance experts who not only have skilled experience but also have access to high-tech (and expensive) software.
Services are available on a per-image basis or in package deals, and pricing is highly affordable (starting at $10 for one image).
In addition to editing, you’ll need to use your software to reformat and optimize your image files, which we’ll cover in the next step.
Step 7: Optimize Your Files
Now that you’ve taken your product shots and polished them into gallery-worthy images, there’s one last consideration to take before uploading them to your store.
Your photo files need to be optimized for a few purposes—namely platform compatibility, load time, and search engine visibility.
Image size & resolution, file size, file type, and file name are the main factors to assess during this step. Here’s what you need to know:
Image Size and Resolution
Your ecommerce platform (like Shopify or BigCommerce) will state its preferred image sizes in its setup guide or store management tutorials. Usually this will be listed and measured in pixels (px), which is a screen measurement. All photo editing apps will let you change your units to this when saving images.
It’s important to heed these recommendations in order to strike a balance between sharp detail and use of zoom features as well as minimal space and load times. Not only do these factors affect upload capability and buyer experience, but they impact search engine rankings too.
In addition to image size, you’ll need to observe your shop host’s file size requirements. These are listed and measured in megabytes (MB) or kilobytes (KB).
An image’s file size is determined by color range, dimensions, and quality. Since controlling your images’ color range isn’t very doable and you want to adhere to the dimensional requirements mentioned above, quality is the main factor to adjust.
Your photo editing software will allow you to toggle the quality of the image to achieve different file sizes. Another option is to use free compression tools such as WeCompress and Optimizilla, which sometimes results in greater retention of image quality.
While your photo editing software can create files in many different formats, JPG and PNG are the two file types that are most commonly used for product photos.
JPG (sometimes called JPEG) stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. It allows for vivid colors at manageable file sizes, making it the best choice in this circumstance.
PNG (or Portable Network Graphics) is similar to JPG but yields a higher quality image. This comes along with larger file sizes and longer load times, so it’s wise to only use the PNG format for product photos that need to have a transparent background.
When saving (or exporting) your edited and optimized image in your program/app of choice, you’ll see a “Select File Type” option—this drop-down menu allows you to choose JPG as your photo’s format.
Though it may seem like a trivial detail, how you name your product photos when saving the final file to your computer has an impact on the listing’s search engine rankings.
Engines like Google send out “crawlers,” which are essentially programs that explore the web and capture data for use in providing search results. These “robots” rely on file names and alt tags to interpret photo content, so the text you put in these fields must be rich and descriptive. Skipping this step can mean losing out on substantial site traffic.
When naming a product photo file, think of what your target customer would be looking for when they opt to buy your item. It’s important to incorporate keywords here, but focus more on the buyer than the search engine (over-engineered content optimized for robots rather than people will hurt your rankings).
Formatting is also important; be sure to use dashes between words in your file title and omit articles like “a,” “an,” and “the.” For example, rather than titling your product image “mug studio shot front.jpg,” go for something like “rustic-white-ceramic-stoneware-mug.jpg.” Keep it short, sweet, and expressive.
The same concept applies to your images’ alt text, which is a part of a page’s HTML code that provides a description of a picture in case it can’t be shown or viewed. Most ecommerce platforms allow you to edit this value from the product’s details or media page.
Type a specific representation of the image using your keyword and details from the file name, but use standard spacing rather than dashes. The same mug photo’s alt text could read, “Rustic white ceramic stoneware mug.” Keep this content under 25 characters for best SEO results.
Do’s and Don’ts of Product Photography
In a poll by Etsy, it found that a staggering 90% of its customers ranked quality of product photos as the most important factor in their decision to make a purchase. It goes without saying that pictures of your items are vital to your online store.
Here are some final tips for taking great shots at home:
Craft your product description, photo gallery, and site layout to work in harmony.
Keep all of your listing’s assets on-brand and cohesive for an immersive experience. Check out our in-depth guide to writing a powerful product description that works with your photos.
Try planning your photoshoot by itemizing your products along with the details of each shot you want to take of them. A spreadsheet works beautifully for this task, and can serve as a style guide to refer to when replicating your shots for future listings.
Prepare products beforehand
Obtain, clean, iron, polish, and style your goods prior to shooting—not during.
Use a cluttered or distracting background
While props and attractive backdrops can enhance your photos, make sure not to go overboard. Your product needs to be the unquestionable star of the show.
Mix light temperatures
Whether you’re investing in a studio light setup, working with lamps from around the house, or trying to supplement the dim light from a small window, never combine cool- and warm-hued lights. It can throw off your camera’s white balance calibration and result in unattractive shots.
Stuff text with keywords
In terms of SEO, it might seem like it makes sense to include alt text that says something like “cedar cigar humidor cigar humidifier wooden cigar storage best humidor for fresh cigar,” because a potential buyer might be searching for any of the included keywords.
In reality, modern search engine algorithms are sophisticated enough to not require multiple iterations of the same keyword, and doing so will definitely hurt your rankings.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of high-quality product photos. As the quickest way to gather information, pictures are what viewers naturally gravitate toward, and they make the strongest impact of any asset on a webpage.
Thankfully, excellent product photography is attainable on any budget and can be done from the comfort of your own home, backyard, or balcony. With minimal equipment and space, you can take excellent photos that engage customers, make sales, and increase your listing’s traffic.