Since the internet has democratized commerce and made it more accessible, small enterprises get to be on the same playing field as big brands.
Now, they have as much of a chance as the most prominent companies to build a robust following. But that also means that grainy images shot with a smartphone just won’t cut it anymore. To become a real contender online, producing high-quality images is a must.
If you’re ready to take your business to the next level, try these six tips to help you create eye-catching product photos that will definitely compete with the best in the industry.
01. Adjust camera settings
Before you start shooting, adjust specific settings on your camera first to optimize picture quality.
To avoid grainy images, for example, consider sticking to ISO levels between 100 to 800. Keep in mind that the higher you go, the more noise you will have.
To make sure products look sharp, use a small aperture (f/16 to f/22). Setting the camera to Aperture Priority and letting it decide the shutter speed automatically will be easier. Since your camera should ideally be on a tripod anyway, you don’t have to worry about motion blur caused by long exposures. Also, if the shutter speed gets lower than 1/60th, use a remote control or timer to avoid unwanted camera shake.
Exposure compensation will also help in underexposing images if you have a white backdrop since cameras don’t read plain backgrounds effectively. Look for the exposure compensation button (the one with the -/+ symbol) and increase exposure by around two stops. Done correctly, the resulting photo should give you a genuinely white background.
02. Choose the right lighting setup
When people think of product photography, most of them probably imagine expensive studio sets that can be complicated to build, but that isn’t always the case.
Depending on the size of your products, sometimes an inexpensive tabletop lighting set (most cost less than a hundred dollars) is all you need. Just make sure that the kit has continuous lights that don’t flicker, which could cause some of your images to be dark.
For bigger products, you might have to purchase a larger studio setup that can cost a few hundred dollars more. The upfront cost may hurt your pockets initially, but with the type of photos they produce, you’ll be confident you’ll get your money back in due time.
Now, for small business owners, the good news is you can start off photographing products near an open window of your house. Natural light isn’t only simple and free, but most of all, it also produces beautiful pictures. You'll be surprised how the light coming from a window looks warmer and more natural than bright artificial lights.
Sometimes, natural light is also better for certain situations. For instance, if you’re photographing sunglasses, doing it beside the window looks more natural than using lamps.
The only downside is since you’re relying on indirect light from the sun, you don’t have control over it. As the sun moves, you may also find unappealing shadows and reflections, and as a result, the lighting is not going to look uniform if you need to take photos of products all day.
Ultimately, one lighting setup isn’t necessarily better than the other. Use whichever you think is appropriate for the product and the mood you want to achieve.
03. Apply color theory
Color is highly effective in influencing emotions, and that is why you need to be mindful of the basics of color theory when photographing products.
For example, when it comes to food photography, you want to make sure that you highlight the colors of the food that you’re working with. Stick to neutral colored backgrounds to allow brighter food to shine, and avoid using primary colored backgrounds (like red, blue, or yellow), because they can cast reflections onto the food and alter their shade on camera. Always keep in mind the interactions between the colors of your products, either through contrasting or compelementary combinations.
Complementary tones make products pop and grab people’s attention. To find out which color combination to use, look at the color wheel: the colors opposite each other are complementary, which means they work well together. Blue and orange and yellow and violet, for instance, would make great combinations because they are precisely opposite each other.
Now let’s talk about how colors influence our emotions. For instance, black could mean dark and enigmatic, and red is often associated with passion and romance, while yellow typically represents bright and bubbly. With this in mind, you can use the characteristics of colors to build a color scheme that consumers could relate to: If you want a fun, youthful atmosphere, then use bright colors. If you want elegance or mystery, choose darker tones.
04. Keep layouts simple
Avoid cluttered spaces when taking product photos. You want consumers to see what you’re selling right away. You need their eyes to go directly to what you want them to buy. To help them focus on the product, include negative space in your image. Use a plain background to avoid any distraction.
You can include props every once in a while, but try to keep them minimal. Whatever object you add to the image has to help direct the audience to the product. Otherwise—especially if your props occupy more space than the product—people might have a hard time figuring out what you're trying to sell in the first place.
05. Make sure the logo is visible
Before pressing the shutter, check if your logo is visible. Unless you’ve created an entirely new invention that doesn't look like anything else we've ever seen, there’s a good chance that thousands of other companies are selling products that are similar to yours. Whether you’re selling your make-up or shoes, sometimes the only mark that separates what you wares from others is the logo.
People also develop an attachment to brands. Showing your logo helps consumers remember your business and helps build trust between you and them. If your products are top-notch, they will associate your company with excellent quality, and that’s what you want. Be proud of your emblem and display it every chance you get.
06. Engage the senses
When people go shopping, they don’t just look at the merchandise they’re interested in, they touch and scrutinize it. If they’re buying food products, they want to taste it as well (hence the reason for food-tasting kiosks in the supermarket). Although you don’t have the opportunity to let people touch your products through photographs, you still need to engage their senses in every possible way.
For instance, when shooting food photos, make it colorful, and show ingredients that are readily recognizable—whether they’re peanuts, bananas, or strawberries. Depending on the mood you’re after, you can also photograph food in warm light to make them look appetizing.
If you’re photographing a non-perishable product, show some of its texture to help people imagine how it feels to the touch. Arrange the lighting to emphasize its shape and highlight its physical features such as buttons (if there are any) and other hardware. It would also help to shoot from different angles to show all the details of the item.
07. Take it outside
Just as it’s crucial to engage people’s senses, capturing people’s imagination is just as important. Since most products are shot indoors in an artificial environment, they can sometimes feel sterile and uninspired. So, how do you make people connect with your images on a more personal level? Take your products outside and photograph them in real locations.
Non-studio locations provide people a more immersive experience than indoors. Place your products in backdrops where you expect people to use them. If you’re selling kitchenware, then it just makes sense to shoot in a kitchen. If your merchandise is meant to be used at the beach, then by all means, take some photos on the sand.
Just remember that the same rules apply to backgrounds regardless of your location. Keep it simple and uncluttered. If the place is visually busy, use a wide aperture to create a blurry background.
In recent years, there have been many stories of small businesses achieving significant commercial success thanks to their online presence. If you keep at it, you’ll make it big as well—so start taking pictures that sell! Most people equate quality photos to quality products, so pay attention to the tiniest details of your images. Also, look at what your competitors are doing and think of something that would make what you offer stand out. No matter what you do, give consumers something unique, and you’ll increase your chances of success.