The one thing that every successful creative business needs is amazing product photos. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling your products via social media, an Etsy shop or your own independent website. If your products don’t look good, no one is going to purchase them.
Why not? Because product photos are the one and only way potential customers can see your product. Gone are the days are dark, dank photos taken in your living room. (Yes, that was a typical Etsy shop photo when I started my shop 8 years ago.)
What a relief. Today, product photos are bright, naturally lit and have relevant props that bring products to life on the screen.
And think about it. Without product photos, your product is just a jumble of words that your potential customer may or may not read.
It turns out that 93% of online shoppers believe that product photography is essential when making buying decisions. 93%. That’s a lot of people.
When taken correctly, product photos can wow your customers. They can make them stop right in the middle of their scrolling tracks and click on your product listing. Even in the sea of hundreds of other products that came up in their search.
But creating amazing product photos takes time and planning. It’s not always easy to make your products look good enough to buy. You need patience and the right lighting to get the shot exactly right.
Should I just Hire a Professional Photographer?
It depends. When I started my business, as important as I knew great product photos were for the sale of my products, professional photography just wasn’t something that I could afford. But I could afford a DSLR camera. So, I started there.
Also, I created new products weekly. It was too expensive to bring in a professional photographer every time that I made something new.
If you don’t create new products as often or you really believe that your product photography skills are atrocious, consider hiring a professional photographer. This is definitely an area that is important enough to hire out.
Find someone local who specializes in product photography. You can ask other entrepreneurs or put a call out on a local Facebook group.
Due to necessity and ease, I’ve been shooting my own product photos for my stationery shop for years. I usually schedule photo shoots for once a week and get a list of products photographed during this time.
Over the years, I’ve learned a number of things that help my products look stunning no matter what happens during the photo shoot. Here are some easy tips for shooting your own amazing product photos.
The type of camera that you use matters to the quality of your photos. I use a Nikon DSLR camera that we purchased when I started my business. It has become one of my best friends for product photography.
No DSLR camera? Don’t worry, you can also use a phone camera if you have a really good quality one. The camera lens has improved so much on phone cameras that product photography has really become about lighting and props.
The first birthday after I started my small business my parents purchased a beautiful lighting kit for me. After having a lot of family disputes over the fact that I started my own business, it was their way of showing their support for my new venture.
As much as I loved the lighting set up, I immediately missed using natural light. I ended up returning the kit – don’t worry I told them – and started using natural light on a regular basis.
There’s a thing with natural light. It’s a lot easier to manipulate and make work for the product photo that you’re trying to take. Also, when you transfer the photos onto your computer, they look warmer and you can edit them more easily.
If you are taking product photos where you want a stark white background, a lighting kit might be a good choice for you. But if you want to give a more natural hue to your pictures, try taking them without electric lights.
I set up my camera cart by a window in the studio. For the studio, I shoot when the natural light is the brightest. Usually this is in the afternoons and I plan my work schedule accordingly.
If I find that the light is too harsh that day, I use two foam boards placed together to help control it. These foam boards also create a white, neutral background for all of my photos.
Having difficulty finding natural light? There are days when my photography area seems a bit dark. Particularly when it’s cloudy or in the mornings. On these days, I will take my photography set up outside and try to capture some of the natural light there.
When using natural light for your product photos, don’t be afraid to play around. Test out different times of day to see when the light is best. Or try different windows. Every side of a house or building gets the best natural light at different times.
Incorporate your Brand
If you own a creative business, then your business has a brand. Your brand is the features that allow your customers to identify your company and products.
Everyone’s brand is different (or it wouldn’t be your brand). Your products and company have distinct features that make you unique from everyone else.
When staging your product photos, be sure to incorporate elements of your brand in your photos. You can create your own “style” to your product photos by incorporating colors, lighting and props.
And, in the beginning, play around with your options. You don’t have to stick with just one look. Try a few out until you find a style you like that represents your brand.
Know your Photo Types
There are two kinds of product photos that you can take.
The first is just of the product itself. You might use a unique background or props, but the photo focuses on the product.
The second type of photo is a lifestyle photo. It incorporates your product in action.
To see both of the photos used in one listing, check out this product listing for black and gold candle holders. The first photo showcases the product with a wonderful array of props. The second photo shows the product in action.
For an amazing product listing that sells your products, you really need to include an assortment of both kinds.
Lifestyle photos can be hard to take. You can stage lifestyle photos when planning your product photo shoot.
Also, don’t be shy to take your products on the road. I love using my designs to decorate my home or give to others to use at their events in exchange for photos.
If you have customers who are really good about sending you amazing photos of your products in action, you can ask permission to use them in your listings and social media. Some of my best lifestyle photos have come from customers’ using of our designs.
Focus on the Square
Think about the last time you searched for a product on Etsy. What happened? You should have had grids of little squares pop up onto the screen. Each of those little boxes is competing for your attention. Which one will you click on?
Probably the prettiest. Or the most alluring.
The truth is that many people sell similar products these days. It’s the way of online business. To make the sales and build a successful online shop, it’s how you stand out among those boxes.
When taking your product photos, focus on the square. And you only have a 1.5″ x 1.5″ box. That’s not a lot of real estate.
Think about how you can make your square stand out amongst the herds. It’s not that much different than your product sitting on a store shelf.
Why would a customer choose your product over the one next to it if you sold in a brick and mortar store? How can you make your product look more appealing and stand out amongst the other squares?
I’ll admit that standing out was easier a few years ago. Other Etsy sellers hadn’t perfected their product photography yet, so the marketplace still had a lot of dark and blurry photos competing for attention. If you photographed your product with a bright and neutral setting, you would get clicks. Your product just looked better.
These days, though, a simple search showcases that Etsy sellers have gotten their product photography together. So, you need to think more about what you want to include in that box. Once you can get your product’s square to look better than the rest, your product will sell. And often.
I recently had a chance to listen to Alicia Shaffer from Three Bird Nest on the RISE podcast. She was discussing how she grew Three Bird Nest on Etsy. One of the things that she always included in her product photos was a personal twist.
For her photos – of women’s clothing accessories – this was a tree in the backyard of their shop and an assistant from the shop. By combining the two, Alicia was able to create unique photos of her products. These photos helped boost her to the highest selling Etsy shop until she left the platform to sell solely on her own website a few years later.
When thinking about your product photos, how can you add a personal twist to them? For me, I like to add a vintage element when I can. Especially some antique stationery item.
I also enjoy adding party supplies to my photos. With kids’ stationery goods, it adds a bit of pizazz to the photo.
Your personal twist might be a setting, lighting, filter, background, prop or person. It doesn’t really matter as long as it speaks to you and you are consistent with using it.
For example, if you live along the Maine coast or the Colorado mountains, you could use those majestic backgrounds for your product photos. Or if your business has a resident dog, you could use him in all of your pet supply photos.
Whatever personal twist that you choose, make it identifiable. It should become part of your shop branding. Over time, customers should be able to recognize that the photos are from your shop without having to read the logo or watermark.
Each product photo that you take has a different use. One might be used as the first product photo in your Etsy listing. Another you might incorporate into a Pinterest image.
When I started taking my own product photos, I only took one photo angle. Usually straight on. Thinking back, it makes me almost laugh. All of that time setting up the photo shoot and it never occurred to me that I should try a different angle.
Don’t make the same mistake that I did. When you take your product photos, snap them from different angles. Maybe do one straight on and another from up above. Even one more might be taken from the side.
Also, try changing the height of the product. Place your product on a pedestal or another object to raise it up.
As you take your pictures, think about how you will use each one. Nowadays, I always include a Pinterest image in the set. This specific photo is taken vertically and includes white space above the product. You can find more ideas for taking Pinterest worthy photos of your products here.
Props are Friends
Oh, my favorite part. Props.
And it’s not because it gives me an excuse to go shopping. Okay, maybe it is.
Props bring your product photos alive. It makes your products feel like they’re part of something.
Once you decide on the product that you want to photograph, you can build the scene around that product.
For example, take this set of dog bowls. The personalization is in gold paint. So, to pick up this elegant feel, the photographer used a gold bunting blurred in the background as a prop. No dogs necessary.
Or take this product photo of black candle holders. Many people use candles when they’re trying to relax. So, the photographer chose a soft blanket, dried orange slices and cinnamon sticks.
Props can be lots of different things. There aren’t any rules. You can choose items from nature, vintage treasures or even some things from your favorite local shop.
I keep an assortment of props in boxes on my photo cart for easy access during photo shoots. You never know exactly what will inspire you, so having a collection with a variety of things is helpful.
To start your own collection, begin by collecting things around your house that you already have. Go to each room and see if there are props that would bring out the look and feel you want in your product. You’ll be amazed how many items you already own can be incorporated into photos.
Then, organize these items in boxes or in a closet. They will give you lots of props to choose from the next time you do a product photo shoot.
Another thing that’s really fun when taking product photos is choosing your background. There are so many options to choose from, the process can sometimes seem overwhelming.
When choosing a background, make sure you select something that’s neutral. Select a color and texture that doesn’t stand out too much. Remember, it’s a background.
Your background should allow your product to be the star of the show. Some good background ideas include a brick wall, neutral colored fabric, marble or wooden slats. Have two or three background options that you can switch around based on the product that you’re photographing.
When taking your product photos, choose the best background that fits the look and feel of your product. Don’t be afraid to try a few different backgrounds also. This will give you more options in the editing room.
Clean It Up Later
Taking product photos is just the first step shooting your own amazing photos. After you’ve taken the pictures, it’s time to edit them.
Although I am a fan of editing my product photos in Photoshop Elements because of all the editing functions you can use, there are lots of other photo editing programs you can try. Since most of the time you are only trying to tweak the photo, you only need a simple editing program.
Check out a variety of free photo editing programs here. My favorite one is Pic Monkey. Pic Monkey is so easy to use. But the program also offers a lot of effects, templates and touch up tools to make your photos shine. Kind of a win win.
No matter which photo editing tool you choose, make sure to clean up your pictures before posting them. Improve the lighting, sharpen the image and adjust the colors. You can make a sub-par photo look amazing with just a few simple touches.
One of the most important parts of any product listing is the product photos. They help tell your product’s story without your potential customer having to see and touch your product physically in a store.
Although you might want to hire a professional photographer to take your product photos, you can take your own amazing product photos with some basic tips. With some practice, this can be easier than and cheaper than hiring someone.
If you’re a little nervous, try taking your own product photos first. Just use your cell phone camera and try to lay them out using some of the tips above. You can always hire someone as a back up plan.
And remember to keep it simple. Some of my favorite product photos that I’ve taken have had a white background on a cake stand. Your pictures don’t need to be complicated. They just need to showcase your product and make it look pretty.
Here’s to snapping amazing product photos. I can’t wait to see how they turn out!
I, too, have a wonderful camera (ok, two). But, not all my product pix work wonderfully. Just saying.
Thanks for the feedback and stopping by. I completely agree with you. Not all of my product photos work perfectly. Much of it comes down to trial and error. And lighting. Good natural lighting is key. I do think that you can, with some practice, learn how to take your own product photos. But if you struggle with this part of e-commerce, it’s definitely something to consider hiring out. Amazing product photos are invaluable. So, it’s worth the investment if you are having trouble getting it right.