If you’re not in the market for a third-party photographer, you probably don’t have a huge budget for your product images. Fear not! With a little know-how, it’s more than doable to get amazing product images and spend less than $50. I’ve compiled a guide on how to get great pictures on the cheap from start to finish below…
Setting things up
Unless you’re constantly releasing products, you have two good options for your camera.
1. Use your phone. Your gut may say that this is too amateur, but reserve judgement for now. I have photographer friends who shoot product images for companies like GAP and Apple using only their phones. If you have a high-end smartphone made in the last couple of years (think iPhone 6S and forward, Samsung Galaxy S6 and forward, Google Pixel 1 and forward), that will be good enough for most products. Your photos won’t have a very high resolution, but the quality will be just as good as spending money on a $500-600 camera. There’s a reason modern smartphones cost near $1000 – they have amazing cameras!
2. Rent a quality camera. People often compromise their photos because they can only afford a camera in the $300-500 range, but you don’t have to! Your shoot will only take you a day or two, so it’s a no-brainer to spend $20/day renting a great camera. It’s best to visit a local camera store, where daily rentals are often allowed, versus online companies that will require that you rent the camera for at least 4-7 days. My personal recommendation for a camera rental would be the 5D Mark IV.
This one is simple. Professional photographers will shoot with a Cyclorama, which is essentially just a two-sided large white box with round corners, but this is far from necessary.
I’ll show you an example. I took the following photo of my setup when I was first getting into product photography. I had a 100sqft studio at the time, which is probably smaller than your closet. I shot with some cheap lights I borrowed from a friend, a sheet of white paper, and stool/table I picked up from Goodwill.
The champagne? It’s cream soda mixed with water. Don’t be afraid to get creative on a budget; product photography is all trial and error. Even a setup as primitive as this can be used with some amazing results if you’re not afraid to experiment and fail a little.
You have a couple of options here:
1. Use a lightbox. You can find tons of these for sale online, but most are cheaply made. The goal of these is to eliminate most of the editing you’d have to do, as they blow out the background to be as close as possible to the pure white (RGB 255, 255, 255) that Amazon requires for the background of your main image. They make things easy, but they aren’t very flattering on products, and make shooting white or clear products almost impossible. You will end up with mediocre (though totally usable) images, but your workflow will be really efficient. This will also be the simplest background solution.
2. Use natural light. This is what I personally recommend. Set up a sheet of paper near a window as depicted earlier. Make sure it’s not direct, harsh sunlight, and try to shoot in the morning. You can get a phenomenal soft look to your photos using this technique, but you’ll have to spend a little more time editing them to remove the background in post-production.
Taking the Photos
I try to produce all main images so that they can be used on Amazon, because most will need to be eventually. Here are the list of the main points you need to hit to make sure your listings comply with Amazon’s guidelines:
The full product must be in frame (and take up at least 85% of the image); don’t cut off corners.
The full product must be in focus (Shoot at a high aperture and in good light).
Backgrounds must be pure white (RGB 255,255,255).
The image must not contain additional text, graphics, or inset images.
The main image is often what will make or break your product, and it’s very important to get it right. Experiment with lots of angles and have a few different photos that fit the above requirements. From there, you can cycle these as your main image and see which gets the best conversion. Customers will often latch onto an image that you never expected to be successful.
This category is made up of every image other than your main image. Do not just take the same photo from multiple angles. Take the opportunity to get close-ups of the features you want your customers to see about your product. I recommend looking at the text list of features on your listing and take a photo that clearly displays each of those. Many customers only look at the images and reviews of a product and completely ignore the rest of the listing text. Your photos need to tell your story.
Editing Your Photos ($20)
If you’re shooting with a lightbox, you may only need to adjust things like the shadows, contrast, saturation, and highlights in your photos to make sure the background is close to a pure white and your product is attractive. Make sure to crop your photos as close to the edge of your product as possible.
If you shot with natural light, you’ll have to edit a little more (but it’s easier than you think!). A subscription to Adobe’s photography plan ($10/month) will get you Photoshop, Lightroom, and their full suite of mobile apps. Let’s assume you’re not an experienced Photoshop Master. If you’re an amateur, you can fairly easily do this on your phone. Download Photoshop Mix on your phone or iPad. It’s explicitly made to cut shapes out from backgrounds, and even has an automatic tool to accomplish this. Look at its tutorial, use the automatic tool, and then adjust it a bit manually at the end. Also, make any needed modifications to the color and contrast. See example below:
You’re done! I’ll be posting guides for choosing a good starter camera, using natural light, editing, and shooting lifestyle photos soon. If you want to be notified for those tutorials, use the email signup in the sidebar. I promise not to spam you.
Good luck with your photos and feel free to email me or get connected via social media if you have any questions or suggestions for a new post.