Did you know that a whopping 93% of consumers consider the product images they see to be crucial to their purchasing decision?
The biggest companies out there know it well, which is why brands like Apple, McDonald’s, and Nike put so much importance on how their brands are received by the consumer’s eye.
While you may not be able to compete with these companies in most ways, there is good news. You can still appeal to your potential customers in the exact same way when it comes to product photography. This is because when we see an image, we don’t decide consciously whether we like it or not. It either pleases us or it doesn’t. This means that with great product photography, your company can capture that edge over any competition.
Creating Masterful Product Photography
Before we look at the 3 steps to mastering product photography, we need to understand a bit more about just how important and influential it is.
Let’s take a look at some examples of some of the best (and worst) product photography from some small businesses.
Here’s a BAD Example
This is a great brand with a memorable (and hilarious) name. It also happens to be made by an award-winning barbeque grill master. But do you know what it is? Upon first glance at this blurry image, it’s impossible to tell whether it’s a cooking ingredient, a cosmetic, a pharmaceutical, or a cleaning product. And that’s just the first of many problems with this product photo (the product is a meat rub, by the way).
In terms of its customer appeal, this photo is just plain boring. For something that is supposed to make our mouths water, it couldn’t be more of a turn-off to the senses. Greys, whites, and pinks dominate, which don’t appeal to the appetite at all. This photo is certainly not helping to sell this product.
Here’s Another BAD Example: lighting is key!
This is another confusing photo that leaves the potential customer scratching his or her head. It’s unclear exactly what the product is, and the set up is not espousing the personality of the brand in any way.
Most of the issues plaguing this photo are caused by bad lighting. Vibrant pink and jet black colors on a white background have the potential to pop and captivate, but not if everything is obscured by grey shadow. Lighting is one of the most important parts of product photography to get right (more on this later). This photo makes it very difficult to imagine this product looking good in anyone’s home.
This gets into an important idea – GOOD EDITING! In the above image, the uneven lighting distracts the customer, when it could have been smoothened out considerably! Not only that, but the uneven horizon and the asymmetrical crop could have made this picture pop!
Here’s a BETTER Example: good lighting, but bad placement!
“Bad + boozy.” How about just bad? While this photo is miles ahead of the previous two, it’s still not doing anything to excite or influence a purchase. The lighting is on point and the background is fun, but the t-shirt itself has just been plopped down without a care in the world. The layout is not symmetrical (both arms look different) which impacts how the image pleases us. The tag is also blowing in the wind and wrinkles abound. And for cripes sake, WHY is the hanger still in the neck!?
This photo makes this shirt look more fit for a trip to a thrift store than a trip to our shopping carts.
Look familiar? This is “bad and boozy” done right. This photo features good lighting, a pretty (yet not sterile) shot of the shirt, a background that’s easy on the eyes, and some accessories to add to the personality of the product. This Etsy seller has done their homework (or hired a smart photographer).
We can see here that there’s much more to a product shot than just the product itself. You need to use all the creativity you can muster to give your brand a personality that your target customer will connect with. The customer here is likely a millennial woman who has money and cares about her appearance. Any suggestion that this shirt might be thrift store material (like the above example) is put to rest by the associated brands (Apple and Sephora) that lend it legitimacy. The sunglasses add another layer of cool confidence.
Here’s another GOOD Example: product front and center!
The Body Shop is not a small business anymore, but we wanted to include this photo on the list because it’s so rich in value. This is a front and center shot that leaves nothing to the imagination (your target’s imagination running wild with your image means that you no longer have control over your brand). We instantly know that this is a vitamin C balm thanks to the type of container and the visible lettering. The lighting and photo editing make the product shine with health much in the way the customer might if they make a purchase.
We also love the way the colors are glowing and juicy (like an orange?). This color appeals to the appetite (as vitamin C is something we normally get through our food) and suggests that when we use this balm we’re providing delicious nourishment to our skin. The way this photo jumps out and appeals instantly to so many of our senses produces a powerful attraction.
Here’s another GOOD Example: symmetry and colors!
This is a fantastic photo that we just can’t stop looking at. The layers, colors, and textures create a playground for the eyes. The dance between symmetry and asymmetry is captivating, and the colors are calming but at the same time visceral. The obsidian black bottle and the slick green aloe make us want to reach out and touch this product, and the chalky and creamy whites make our skin crave a bit of moisturizer.
We’ve included this photo, another skin product, to show that the type of product you have will often be much less important than the personality of your brand. Look at this photo compared to The Body Shop photo above. Both are skin care products, but their personalities and photos are very different. One is abrasive and in your face. It demands your attention. The other is subtle and complex. It draws you in and doesn’t let go. Both are very different. Both are very effective.
This photo is also a great example of good editing – it’s subtle, but the photo uses a blue/white based filter! It gives a “sterile” feel that the pictures just oozes, and makes you want to buy!
Master Product Photography in these 3 Simple Steps
Mastering product photography can’t be done in a day, but if you follow these three essential steps, you’ll end up with photos that rival the pros.
Step 1: Know your product and your customer
Before putting your hands on a camera or even starting to design your shoot, you need to understand your brand’s personality and how you want that to connect to your target. Youmay know that you have a great product, but communicating that to an audience is a different matter.
Think of it like online dating. You know you’re a real catch, but when making an online profile, you need to communicate your personality through photos. Simply typing that you’re caring and adventurous won’t do anything for you. Uploading a picture with you on a motorcycle holding a puppy, well that’s solid gold match material.
Capturing the perfect product photo is the same. But how do you do it? If you haven’t done enough market research to understand your target, that’s the best way to start. Once you know what their values are, you’ll be able to build those elements into an image that speaks to them.
This is the planning stage, and it’s the most important. Even the best product photography will flop hard if it falls on deaf ears (or blind eyes, should we say?).
Step 2: Build your set; Find your setting
Home is where the heart is. This is true for product photography as well, and when it comes time to shoot, your set will be the home for your product. For this step, you have two options:
- Build a set: Control the environment completely by choosing a backdrop, setting up the right lighting, and arranging any necessary props to boost the appeal of your product. These product-only shots don’t let anything get between your product and the viewer.
- Find a setting: In-context shots are taken out in the world (stemware at a dinner party, a lawn chair near a campfire, etc.). You don’t have as much control over your environment, but you can show your product in action.
You are by no means limited to just one of these. Product-only shots are great for showcasing your product from all angles and zoomed in. They’re also easily scrollable on a webpage. In-context shots are ideal for social media sharing and blog posts.
By this stage, you’ve already got your plan. You have chosen your colors, backdrops are in place, the position of your product is set, and any props you want to use are on hand. During the shoot, the most important elements are the angle of the shot, the lighting, the lens, and the aperture.
- Angle: Do you want your target looking up to your product or down on it? Do you want it to seem regal or reserved? Angle can play a big role in perception.
- Lighting: You can opt for natural light or studio lighting. Studio lighting will require more prep and work, but it also brings you more control over the shoot. If you choose natural lighting, shoot at the brightest time of day. Minimize strong shadows by placing a cloth over your window.
- Lens: There are plenty of lenses that work great for product photography, and if you have a DSLR camera you should be just fine. We recommend avoiding a wide angle or your product’s dimensions may seem distorted.
- Aperture: You generally want a wider depth of field here so that your image comes out as sharp as possible. Go for an aperture of f8 or f11 to nail the perfect shot.
Step 3: Edit with purpose
We’re not just talking about removing glare and redeye. Editing your photos gives you the opportunity to add that glitzy pop, rustic hue, or dark edge that really makes your product photo stand out.
You see, there’s a big difference between making your photo look good and making it look appealing to your target. Editing must be done with purpose. If you’re making your background darker, adding some sheen to a surface, or applying a filter, you should know exactly why you’re doing it (and “Because I think it looks good” is not the right answer).
Editing can open the doors to product photos you never knew you could produce. Suspend things from string during the shoot and edit it out to make it look like your product is floating, for example. The possibilities are endless.
Photo editing tools available these days allow anyone to have professional photo editing capabilities right in their own home. Some of these applications are even free.
What You Need to Conduct a Masterful Product Photography Shoot
By now, we’ve seen the consequences of just tossing your product on the counter and snapping a few shots off with your phone. Here are the essentials that you’ll need to conduct a product photography shoot that will bring home the bacon.
- A good camera: New smartphones like the iPhone 10 and the Pixel 2 have cameras that are good enough for product photography, so you may not need to drop a stack on a pro camera.
- Lighting: Rent some studio lighting if you need to. You’ll need at least two lights to have control over shadows, though we recommend three.
- A proper backdrop: Use a white sheet or some large paper. If you need color, staple some cloth to a piece of cardboard.
- A tripod: All of your planning goes out the window if you’re going to rely on the steadiness of your hand. Using a tripod is a must.
- Photo editing software: You need to edit your photos is you want them to compete. Get some good software and learn how to use it (it’s not hard!).
Remember, these are just the essentials. Your photo shoot could require different lenses, props, wind guards, or whatever else is needed to get the perfect result. The steps in this guide are only the first. The next will all be defined by your creativity!
Taking your own professional product photos is a rewarding endeavor, but it is also time-consuming and can be costly. Luckily, just because you may not have the time or resources to do it all yourself doesn’t mean you can’t get amazing product photos.