I am a long time seamstress, a handmade business Gypsy Spoonful shop owner, a homeschooling mom. What I am not is a photographer. When I was younger I would love taking photos with my 35 mm camera and then collage-ing the photos into memory albums, but with the invention of digital cameras (and camera phones) and thanks to a busy life in general, I stopped taking as many photos. I never really learned all of the ins and outs when it came to lighting and camera functions, so when it came time to open my first online shop, my photos were dark, fuzzy and down right horrible! Over the years I have picked up some tips and tricks when it comes to product photos, so today I wanted to share some of the tools and tricks I use and how my photos have “developed” over the years.
Before I had an online shop, I made diaper bags and baby blankets for family and friends. After many years of encouragement, I opened my first shop and my photos were far from appealing. I knew that I needed them to be “light and bright” but I wasn’t really sure where to begin. I didn’t have the extra funds to purchase high-end photography gear and I didn’t know enough about photography to know what a good value would be. My photos were dark, rough and many times blurry.
After very little research, I began mimicking what I thought looked good in other online shops. I started seeing this trend of photos on wood backgrounds. With no understanding of how it all worked, I purchased some scrapbook paper and started taking product photos. Still dark, still out of focus, I was getting frustrated.
There are lots of classes and free videos to coach you through photography and editing, but I got lucky and had a little one-on-one help from someone I met on Facebook. With her help, I ordered some vinyl backdrops and got a light kit, I upgraded my cell phone and my photos started getting better.
When it comes to the actual photos, I found that you don’t need an expensive, high-end camera! Most new cell phones today have cameras that are more than capable of getting a good product photo. A few tips I learned along the way:
Take the case off of your phone when taking photos. Many times the case will cause a shadow around your camera lens, causing the photos to be darker than they should
Clean the lens before and during your photo shoot. The smallest smudge may not be visible when looking at the phone display, but when you go to edit your photos, they will be blurry.
Take lots of photos! The great thing about digital photos is that you can take a lot of photos of the same thing and simply delete the ones that don’t cut it!
Let’s talk photo backgrounds…
There are a lot of opinions about photo backgrounds. Some people will always recommend a solid white background. Some will tell you to use mockups. Lifestyle photos versus flatlays are also something to think about.
So here’s my two cents:
Your photo background should compliment your business aesthetic. Is your logo blue and green? Don’t use a black backdrop… Do you sell wall/home decor? Photographing your products outside on the grass is probably not going to help your customer imagine that piece in their home. No matter how much you sew, a cutting board is not a good backdrop. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on photo backdrops! Vinyl backdrops are a number one choice as they are specifically designed for taking photos. There are many shops now that offer a variety of sizes and styles to give you plenty of options. I have also used contact paper (dollar tree) and scrapbook paper. The downside to the contact paper is that some are glossy and will give a lot of shine behind your product, with scrapbook paper you are a bit limited with regards to size. If you are looking to use a plain white background, poster board can be a great budget-friendly option!
2) Mock-ups and props. You always want your product to be the main focus of the photo. If you are using props, be sure they complement your product but they really should be a back seat item, never the focus. If you do mockups, be sure that you are clear in your description of what is included with purchase. If I go to a shop filled with digital mockups and no finished products, I generally don’t make the purchase.
3) Lifestyle photos. These can be great to help sell your online items. Since your customer can’t touch or try on your product while shopping, seeing your product in use helps customers imagine that item in their home. I myself and still working on getting lifestyle photos, so be sure to check back for more on this topic!
Lighting, Lighting, Lighting…
I struggle with lighting. I have always struggled with lighting. I feel like no matter what I do, my lighting is just never “right”. How in the world do we get “indirect light”? Although I am still working on getting that perfect lighting down, I do have tools that help!
1) Lightbox! These can be purchased or you can make one yourself. We’ll be doing a lightbox tutorial soon, so be sure to subscribe to the email list! Although I own a lightbox, I don’t use mine much as my backgrounds and products tend to be too large. Whether you are using indirect light or electric lighting, a lightbox helps filter and soften the lighting when taking your photos.
2) Stand lights. I have the light set listed below and I just can’t live without them! My lights have covers, as shown, which helps filter the light coming through so I’m not getting a bright glare on my product and background.
3) Sunlight. I struggled with good old Mother Nature for quite some time. I tried early morning, different afternoon hours, in the shade, outside, inside, nothing seemed to be working! After doing a little research I finally figured out that I needed to be at my living room window between 10 am and noon (your time and place will vary) to get the best indirect lighting for my photos. Even with that, I still use my stand lights to help with angled lighting.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to product photography is that you want it to represent your business and give your customer the impression they would get if they were standing in your brick and mortar shop.