A juicy, flavourful patty of Angus beef topped with fresh leaf lettuce, tomatoes and crisp red onions on a delicious sesame seed bun. Om nom nom. Makes your stomach grumble just thinking about it. It looks even better when McDonalds advertises it on billboards and TV.
You know it looks nothing like that in the restaurant, but when you see the advertisements you don’t care anymore. You just want to eat it. That’s the power of fantastic product photography.
In this post, Paula Jakubik, from Pixc, takes you through every step of creating amazing product photographs on your own. This is an incredibly detailed guide, so take notes and bookmark this page for future reference. We also have a summarized version of this post for you to download and print out.
Take it away, Paula!
Great product photography is sure to improve your customers’ shopping experience and increase your eCommerce sales. A lot of online store owners are intimidated by product photography, thinking it requires the skills of a pro photographer and a lot of fancy and expensive equipment. But, with a bit of practice and a few simple steps, it’s super easy to create retail-ready product images that’ll give your eCommerce store a professional look.
Before you give up on your product images or spend thousands on an expert photographer, grab your camera and follow this 10-step guide to awesome product photography for your eCommerce store.
1. Prepare your products
You’d be surprised at how many eCommerce store owners overlook this step and just shoot, but an organized photoshoot will make the entire process a lot more efficient.
Create a list or even a spreadsheet of products that you need to shoot and list the photos you need of each product, such as alternative angles, close-ups etc. The last thing you want to do is set up everything all over again. It’s also a good idea to group products together based on their size so that you spend less time adjusting the studio set-up.
Make sure you clean, polish, iron, dust and do anything else you need to make your products look fantastic before you photograph them, and not during the shoot. If you have a second pair of hands, one person can work on preparing the next product on the list as you take the photos.The Ultimate Guide to DIY Product Photography - Step 1: Prepare your products Click To Tweet
2. Create a white backdrop
For great photos, you need to create what’s known as a ‘sweep’. This is simply a white backdrop that ‘sweeps’ from the vertical to the horizontal surface, creating a seamless transition between the two.
It’s super easy to make one. If you’re on a budget, buy a long, wide roll of plain paper like this one. Tape it to the vertical surface (ideally a wall) and let it ‘sweep’ to the vertical surface. There is no perfect size for a sweep, it just needs to be larger than your product, and you want it to fully cover the vertical and horizontal surfaces within the camera frame. If you’re shooting really big products, I’d suggest using a clean bedsheet.For great product photos, you need to create what’s known as a sweep Click To Tweet
If you’re not on a budget, you should be able to buy a professional sweep at any photography store. The material itself is unlikely to have a huge impact on the final image, but professional sweeps come with a stand so it’ll be easier to set up; you won’t need to shoot against a wall or improvise with a stand.
And why use a sweep? It’ll save you a lot of time editing your photos later on. You won’t need to make any brightness and contrast adjustments (if you nail your light sources) because the sweep will reflect white light onto your product. Dark colours absorb light, so shooting against a dark backdrop will not give you a well-lit product image. Have a look at the two photos below; the left was taken against a black backdrop and the right was taken against a white backdrop. You can see that the left is overexposed, particularly when you zoom in.
You also won’t need to make any colour adjustments, because the sweep will help get your camera’s white balance calibration right. All light sources have a certain colour temperature, and while our brains can adjust to these various temperatures and process colours for us, digital cameras have to guess what the true colour of something is by using a white element in the frame as a reference point. For this to work, if you’re using a point-and-shoot or DSLR, set your white balance to ‘Auto White Balance’ (‘AWB’), and if you’re using a smartphone, turn off any artsy filters.
And, if you choose to remove the background, it’ll be a lot easier to do if the product is on a plain, white background.
3. Choose your light sources
The key to amazing product images is your lighting; you could have the best camera in the world but if you don’t have great lighting, you won’t have great photos. You can use either natural or artificial light sources but whatever you do, turn off your camera’s in-built flash. Unless you have the photography skills to manipulate the flash so that it works for you, you’re not going to get great results using it. The shooting space needs to be sufficiently lit to not need a flash.
Natural lighting is easy and cheap. A set-up near a window is your best option, because you need to use the sun as an indirect light source. If you find that your products are over-exposed, you need to diffuse the light with anything white and translucent – a thin, white sheet works best. Just remember that the sun’s colour and intensity changes throughout the day, so a quick and organized shoot is really important for consistent photos.
The set-up is simple: the sweep and camera on opposite sides, a window and fill light on the other opposite sites, and your product in the middle.
A fill light is something that’s placed opposite the window to reflect light back onto the product. You will need this if you have only one window, as the light source will only hit the product from one side and may result in harsh shadows and an unevenly lit product.
The fill light needs to be white and taller than your product, and the easiest way to make one is to fold a piece of white paper in half and stand it up. It’s difficult to find a fill light for larger products (and if you have a bright enough room you probably won’t need one) but you could really use anything from a whiteboard to a huge piece of white card. You will need to play around with the angles to see what works.
Artificial lighting is the more difficult and expensive option, but will work better for larger products and you’ll also have a lot more control over the results.
The set-up is also simple: the sweep and camera on opposite sides, two lights on the other opposite sides, and your product in the middle. You will also need a third light either above and slightly behind, or below and slightly in front of the product. This will light up the entire frame and give your product some dimension. The ideal position for this light will depend on the product and the light itself, but placing it above will most likely look more natural.
In terms of equipment, this heavily depends on your budget. You can make do with desk lamps fitted with 15-watt fluorescent bulbs and 60-watt incandescent bulbs, or pick up some clamp lamps and spring clamps from a local hardware store. This set-up will be tedious and if you’re planning on photographing product frequently, you’re better off just buying a studio lighting kit.
You will also need something to diffuse or reflect the light. As with natural lighting, artificial light sources also need to be indirect to avoid harsh shadows, light glares, and overexposing your products. You can diffuse light by fixing a translucent material over your lights, like white tissue paper or a thin white sheet. If you’re buying professional lights, buy them with softboxes. Alternatively, you could buy an umbrella-style reflector to reflect the light instead.Natural lighting or artificial lighting. Which should you use for your product photos? Click To Tweet
4. Stabilize your camera
You may think you have steady hands, but stabilizing your camera is guaranteed to give you clear images. You can use any hard, stable, and even surface; anything from a stool to a pile of books will do.
Your best option is a tripod. It’s the easiest to set up and you can easily adjust it to the level of your product. You don’t need a super sturdy tripod for extreme action shots in the great outdoors, so find a cheap one online or at your local photography store and it’ll do just fine.
5. Adjust the camera settings
Firstly, you need to adjust your image settings. It’s easy to compress files and reduce their quality later but if your photos aren’t good enough, you’ll need to shoot again.
You should always ensure that your camera is set to take the best quality images it can. Smartphones and point-and-shoot default to taking the best photos they can, but you may need to change some settings on your DSLR. Each camera is different, but the size settings usually go from large (L), to medium (M), to small (S), and the quality options are normally superfine (S), fine (F), and normal (N). Always go with large and superfine.
If you’re shooting on a DSLR, I highly recommend shooting manual. It can be overwhelming at first, but you only really need to know aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. The perfect settings will depend on your set-up and your product, but if you know the basics of each one you’ll be able to make adjustments until you get the perfect combination.
The aperture is a hole within a camera’s lens which determines the amount of light that travels into the camera. Aperture size is measured in f-stops and the larger the f-stop number, the smaller the aperture as a result, the darker the image. It’s also linked to how much of your image is in focus; a smaller aperture captures everything clearly in the frame, a larger aperture will give you an in-focus foreground and a blurry background. You need an aperture small enough to capture your entire product, but large enough to give you a bright image. I like using f/8.
The shutter speed determines the amount of time that light is let into the camera with each shot. As mentioned above, a smaller aperture means that your camera takes in less light, so you need it to be open for longer in order to product a well-lit image. Match a small aperture with a slow shutter speed for a great product shot. Slow shutter speeds can product blurry photos if you don’t stabilise your camera, so don’t skip step 4!
The ISO determines your camera’s sensitivity to light. The higher you go, the lower the quality; you’ll notice the photo gets granier and ‘noisier’. Keep the ISO as low as possible and never exceed 400. ISO is the biggest issue when it comes to smartphone photography, because the camera automatically adjusts the ISO depending on the lighting conditions; it sets it low when it’s bright and high when it’s dark. Sufficiently lighting up the shooting space will help keep the ISO low, but there are iOS and Android apps that will allow you to manually control this setting which you should definitely try.Here's what you need to know about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, for your product photos Click To Tweet
6. Shoot your products
When shooting, make sure your product is in the center and takes up the majority of the frame. If you’re not close enough, move the tripod or use the optical zoom (rotate the lens). Don’t use a digital zoom (the ‘+’and ‘-’ signs) because this just crops as you shoot and you’ll get a bad quality image.
A good tip is to use a 2-second timer when shooting to allow your camera to refocus after you’ve applied the downward pressure to release the shutter.
7. Remove the background
Let your product do the talking and place it on a simple, white background. This will draw attention to your product, make all your images consistent, and give your website a clean and professional look.
It’s a fiddly job but will get easier the more you practice. Just follow these steps:
- Open your image in Photoshop.
- Select the pen tool. You will use this to create a ‘path’ around your image.
- Start by clicking anywhere on the product’s outline. Your first ‘anchor point’ will appear.
- Create your next anchor point by clicking another spot along the outline. The path is straight by default.
- When you get to a curve, it get’s a bit tricky. Hold down the mouse then click and drag away from the anchor point; you’ll see ‘bezier handles’ appear, which allow you to manipulate the shape of the path. The handles affect either side of your anchor point and you can adjust them individually by holding down the ‘alt’ key, then clicking the handle you want to change and dragging.
- Work your way around the product until the first and last anchor points meet. If you make a mistake, hit ‘command-z’ to undo the action. If need be, you can change anchor points later by using the ‘Direct Selection Tool’ — just hold ‘command’ down on the keyboard and click and drag the point you want to change.
- Save the current path by clicking ‘Selection…’ in the top palette (the pen tool must be selected). Marching ants (a dotted line) will appear in the place of your path.
- Go to ‘Select’ > ‘Inverse’. The marching ants will now be around the background.
- Hit ‘command-x’ and your background will turn white. You can now save as a JPEG, or continue to the next step for a transparent background.
- Go to ‘Select’ > ‘Re-select’. Marching ants will appear around the white space again.
- Go to ‘Select’ > ‘Inverse’. Marching ants will appear around the product.
- Hit ‘command-x’ and the product will disappear from the canvas, having been placed in your clipboard.
- Go ‘File’ > ‘New…’ and a dialogue box will appear that allows you to choose your new file settings. The dimensions will be the same as the size of the image in your clipboard.
- Select ‘Transparent’ in the ‘Background Contents’ drop-down menu.
- Click ‘OK’ and your new canvas will appear. It should have a white and grey checkered background — this represents transparency on Photoshop.
- Hit ‘command-v’. Your product will appear in the canvas.
- Save your image as a PNG file to keep the transparent background, as JPEGs do not support transparency.
8. Create a template
Create a template for your product images to optimize them for your site. There’s no point in having great product images if they don’t look great together. The template will ensure that your images are the same size, and the products take up the same amount of canvas space.
You might be thinking that this is unnecessarily big for a product image, but here’s why these dimensions work. The image you upload to your website is the ‘base image’, and it’s going to be resized automatically to fit the various templates on your eCommerce store (the product listing template, the shop page template, the thumbnail template etc.). You need the base image to be larger than your largest template to allow for a zoom function, because regardless of whether it’s a click-zoom or hover-zoom, the zoom function just displays the image at it’s original size.Create a template for your product images to optimize them for your site Click To Tweet
Your base image should resize perfectly into your product image templates if they have the same width x height ratio (assuming that your website is coded correctly). The safest ratio is always a square because it will work with products that very long vertically, or very long horizontally.
It’s very easy to create a template, just follow these steps:
- Open Photoshop.
- Go to ‘File’ > ‘New…’.
- Choose your file name.
- Set the width and height values.
- Ignore ‘Resolution’ as this is only relevant when you’re printing images.
- The colour mode should be ‘RGB Color’ and ‘8 bit’.
- ‘Background Contents’ should be set to white unless you plan to use another colour. Make sure you take note of the hex colour swatch as it needs to be consistent across all your images for best results.
- Click ‘OK’ and your new file appears.
- Go to ‘View’ > ‘New Guide…’ and create a horizontal center line by typing 50% in the ‘Position’ field. A thin aqua line will appear that cuts across the middle horizontally.
- Repeat this step but this time, create a vertical center line. You have now identified the center point of the canvas. Don’t worry — these lines will disappear when you save the file. The only exist in Photoshop.
- You now need to create guidelines to determine what percentage of the canvas you want to be taken up by the product. I would suggest experimenting with 85%, 90%, and 95% on your website to see what looks best with your website design’s padding space. If your template is square, go to ‘View’ > ‘New Guide…’ and create horizontal and vertical guidelines at 10% and 90% (or which ever percentage you choose). If your template is not square, you’ll need to work out what the pixel amount is for 10% and 90% (or which percentage you choose). The guides don’t default to pixel measurements, so make sure you add ‘px’ after the value in the ‘Position’ field.
- Save your template as a PSD file.
9. Apply your images to a template
- Open your product image in Photoshop.
- Hit ‘command-x’ on the keyboard. Don’t freak out! It’s supposed to disappear!
- Open your product image template in Photoshop.
- Hit ‘command-v’ on the keyboard and your product image appears.
- Enable ‘Free Transform’ mode by pressing ‘command-t’. You’ll see a square/rectangular outline around the product image with little squares in the corners.
- Hold shift and click and drag the corners until the product is touching the either both horizontal guidelines or both vertical guidelines. No part of the product should be outside of those guidelines. You will need to move the product around until it’s centered as you do this.
- Save your file as a JPEG. This is the best format for websites and you won’t need a transparent background on your site.
Never digitally stretch your products to fit a template – only make them smaller. If the product is smaller than the template, you need a larger product image or a smaller template.
10. Save for Web
If your images are over 500KB, your website may start to get slower the more and more images you upload. You can take this extra step for a super speedy site.
Go to ‘File’ > ‘Save for Web…’. I’ve found that a quality setting of 60 always compresses images under 500KB and the quality difference is so minimal, it’s worth it.
So, there you have it! 10 simple steps that’ll help you create your own awesome retail-ready product images that so you can convert your visitors into paying customers! It may seem like a lot to take in but once you get the hang of it and figure out what works best for you, you’ll be a pro.
Product photos have a direct impact on your conversion rates and sales. Poor quality photos signal to customers that you don’t care enough about your products and store. And if you don’t, then why should they?
By following Paula’s guide, you can create appealing photographs that rival even McDonald’s images. Download the checklist for easy reference so that you can repeat the process for each new product you sell. When you’re done creating your new product photos, come back here and tell us if they made any impact on your sales.