Product photography for Amazon is challenging. You need a clean white background and you need big images for zoom and if you’re selling fashion related products, you need to show colors as close to accurate as possible or you’d end up with a bunch of returns.
This post is for those who are working on their product photography skills. Start by skimming the list, then pick one or two each week and try to learn them. When you get through this list, you’ll know what you need to do to improve your product photos.
Each of these tips can be an entire blog post on its own so this list is meant to be a quick start – click on the links below to learn about them in more detail.
Many of the tips below are based on using a DSLR. And before doing down the list, I want to highlight one key setting - shutter speed is one of the most versatile camera settings used in product photography. It controls how much light enters the camera. A slow setting allows lots of light to come in while a fast setting limits the light coming in. So based on how much light you have in your studio area, try different shutter speed settings to get the product looking it’s best. More on shutter speed for product photography.
Once you understand shutter speed, the rest of the A-Z list below will resonate better.
Aperture: The Aperture setting in your camera is what gives you the blurry background in a photo. For ecommerce product photos, you don’t want blurry so set the aperture at F14 – for tabletop photos that you are photographing from 1-2 feet away, this setting usually works well. Here is more detail on aperture settings.
Background: To get the background white, you need to light the background. Just because your backdrop is white doesn’t mean the camera sees it as white. For example, a white wall in a dark room is not going to look white. So point a light directly at the background and one below the item so the bottom surface and background are both white. Here is the type of background that allows you to do this – note that the table is made of plastic so placing a light at the back and the bottom comes through the background. If you don’t want to perfect the lighting, take the best image you can and use a service like pixelz.com who will make the background white in photoshop.
Camera: If you’re shooting large items that are 1-2 feet or more per side, then your phone or a point and shoot will work fine. For smaller items like jewelry, belts, etc. that require you to shoot from up close, you need a DSLR to be able to control the aperture and shutter speed. The Nikon D3400 is a great starter DSLR which is perfect for product photos. Don’t buy a pricier camera – most of the features in high end cameras are not too beneficial in product photography.
Depth of field: This is a technical term that relates to Aperture. It refers to how much of the item will be in focus based on the aperture setting. For tabletop items that you photograph from 1-2 feet away, F14 keeps the full item clear and in focus. However, a setting like F5 will show the front of the item clearly but the back will blur out. The ‘depth’ refers to how far back the camera will focus.
Exposure: Exposure is brightness. Too much light makes your item looks too white and doesn’t show the details. Given the lighting set up you have, you can tweak the shutter speed setting in your DSLR to adjust how much light is captured by the camera. You want to get the exposure right so your image does not look too bright or dark. More on shutter speed later in this post.
Flash: Switch the flash off for your product images. Regular camera flash is harsh light and will create shadows of your product. Flash is typically not used in product photography.
Gear: You don’t need the most expensive gear – get a starter DSLR for under $500, a sturdy tripod for about $100, some LED lamps or bulbs for light and some white paper that you can roll over a table as a background.
Help: Here are some product photography courses to consider, or join a photographer meetup and ask questions.
ISO: The ISO setting on your DSLR controls how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to the light coming in. An ISO 100 setting gets the least amount of light to the sensor while a setting like ISO 20000 is good when shooting in dim lighting conditions such as at night. However, high ISO settings cause the image to be a bit grainy, which you don’t want for product work. So always use ISO 100 or 200. If the image still looks dark, add more light or slower your shutter speed instead of increasing ISO.
Lighting & Lenses: There are multiple lighting set ups that are available – from tents to big box light with stands. If you have the room to set up a studio that is flexible enough for big or small products, try something like this. If you’re working from home and need something compact, try these lights on a table top with white background paper. The tent like set ups are fine too but the lights that come with those set ups are usually not too bright. This tent has bigger lights but due to the shorter light stands, it’s not very flexible.
Lenses: If you are using a DSLR, stick with the 18-55mm lens that comes with your starter DSLR. This is sufficient for most products. For small products like rings or nose rings, it helps to get a macro lens – these can get pricey so don’t get one unless you really need it.
Modes: Shooting in ‘Auto’ mode is fine for shooting large products that are 1-2 feet wide or bigger. When shooting up-close, you need to be able to control aperture and shutter speed – a DSLR lets you do this. There are 3 different manual modes in a DSLR - The Aperture priority mode lets you set the aperture and picks the shutter speed automatically – this is the mode to start with in tabletop photography. Set the aperture to F14 and test it out. The Shutter priority mode lets you set the shutter speed and picks the aperture automatically – this is not used much in product work. And then there is Manual mode, which lets you control both aperture and shutter speed. Quick tip: start with aperture mode, if the image is still dark, then switch to manual mode and slower the shutter speed.
Photoshop: Most product photos need some post processing. Learn how to remove spots/scratches, sharpen images and change contrast in photoshop or photoshop elements. The latter is easier to use and has everything you need to edit product photos.
Replace Color: A feature in photoshop that lets you change colors in your product. For example, if you have an item in 5 colors. You can photograph one product and then create different versions in photoshop of the different colors. Saves time. Here is a video that shows how to change color in photoshop (also a feature in photoshop elements)
Reflectors: A reflector is a piece of white board that reflects light back to the product. Here is an image to illustrate – the light that hits the two boards is reflected back to the product, hence the angled placement. Reflectors are very useful in product photography – moving them around puts reflects light in different ways and can create nice effects on metal.
Spot Healing Brush: This is a very frequently used tool in product photography. It’s a photoshop feature that easily lets you remove dust and scratches from your product. Here is a video to illustrate how to use the spot healing tool on products.
Trial & Error: Product photography requires some trial and error. Even the best photographers have to experiment with different settings to see what works best in different situations. So be patient and take the same photo with different aperture and shutter speed settings to see how images change.
Tripod: Get a sturdy tripod – most cheap tripods break fast and are not easy to raise up and down. There are many in the $100-$200 range that will last a lifetime. Here is a tripod has a horizontal arm so you can shoot from top down instead of trying to prop the product up with something. Or a more basic one like this which is sturdy and not too pricey.
Unsharp Mask: This is a feature in photoshop elements and other editing tools that sharpen your image. For web photos, if you are using a starter DSLR and shooting at F14 or similar aperture, start with an ‘amount’ setting of 70 and radius of 2 – in my experience, this works well most of the time. If not, then move the sliders around till you like what you see. Here is a more detailed video on unsharp mask.
White Balance: This setting tells the camera to adjust colors in the image by indicating what kind of lighting you are using. For example, sunlight gives products a yellow/red tint, or shooting in dim light (like at night) gives images a gray tint. The white balance setting tells the camera to eliminate these tints so your product colors look close to accurate. There is an ‘auto’ setting that usually works fine so leave it at that. But test out the different settings and see if your images look better in one of the other settings.
Zoom: Zoom in or move as close to your product as you can so most of the product covers the LCD screen on your camera. The more the area the product covers, the more megapixels are used in capturing your product, hence more the clarity. For example, if your camera has 20MP but your product only covers 20% of the screen, then only 4MP of that 20MP is used to capture your product. So when you crop the image and view it up close, the details aren’t clear.
There is a lot of info here, yet it only skims the surface. To take good product photos, the key camera settings you need to understand and start using are aperture and shutter speed. Use white lights like LED’s. For editing, start off with Photoshop Elements instead of the full Photoshop software. It’s cheaper and has all the core functionality you need to edit product photos. Key features to learn for product photography – healing brush, hue/saturation, and brightness/contrast.
Hope this helps! If you have specific questions, please comment and let us know.
Ash Moosa is a product photographer at jewelryshoot.com. He specializes in jewelry but also does other tabletop product work like accessories, gift boxes, toys, gadgets, etc. For more photography tips, please subscribe to his blog.