5 Unusual Tips to Make Better Product Photography
TL;DR: There are lots of articles about that on the web but I will give you unusual, easier and cheaper ways to give you professional packshots in no time.
If you have an eCommerce website, chances are that you need product photography. And in regards to product photography, you basically have three alternatives: you either try to find the pictures from your vendors, you hire a professional photographer or do the photography yourself. Keep on reading, I’ll show you why it’s so simple.
You tried them all and you know, like me, that vendors pictures are not always consistent and you have to edit them in Photoshop and it takes lots of time… when you are lucky enough that they can provide you pictures!
Hiring a professional photographer can be very tempting as you don’t have to take care of the hassle of managing thousands of photo files all named DSC_1249.JPG, you don’t have to take 5 minutes per picture to position the product the same way as the previous pictures you took, you don’t have to do the Photoshop. All is done for you… at a price! And your photographer won’t come to your store every single time you receive new products.
Best thing: do it yourself. We’re always best served if we do it ourselves, our way. But there is a downside: it’s complicated, fatuous and very long. Not with my tricks. Keep on reading and I’ll show you my tricks.
I’m the founder of MisterECommerce: a Canada based product photography company and we are faster than Chuck Norris. In the last 18 months, we have taken 74,848 pictures of all kinds of products. From fresh fish to really cute human models with bikinis. Yes, we preferred the fresh fish, we are professionals! We took thousands of cereal boxes, shoes, makeup, skis, light bulbs, glassware, furniture and even dildos. We master the product photography science, but I’d say we have developed so many ways to make our photo treatment better. I’ll give you a few tricks in this article. Feel free to check our other blogs for more tips.
Let’s start with what would seem obvious to many…
Product alignment consistency
Yes, LOL. I personally don’t understand why so many articles about product photography talk about camera settings, lighting and how to setup a good white background, and none talk about consistency in your pictures. Silly, isn’t it?
Silly, but still, a very very hard challenge. I remember when I was at a major grocery store chain taking pictures of slices of cheese on a slate plate. I had to face multiple challenges for the setup:
How to position the plate so it’s exactly the same angle of the last time we took pictures for this business?
How high should I place my tripod and the camera to make sure the angle of view is exactly the same?
What was exactly the lighting we had the last time to make sure there are no shadows?
But once the plate was positioned and the camera was set exactly how we wanted it, we had to face the killer challenge, and it happened for each single cheese slice: how exactly was the previous one positioned, and what angle, what distance from each side of the slate plate?
No need to tell you how important this is. Nobody would like to shop on a page where products are all positioned differently – moreover, when shopping for food or clothing, trust in the pictures equals trust in the purchased product. So you definitely want to spend energy there to make sure your pictures are consistent.
There are three solutions for that. There is a mobile phone that will help you do it, you can use a cardboard template or estimate with an iPad. Think about all the views of a single product when you choose.
With the mobile phone app, it’s the easiest. You can download SnapShop and snap a picture of the template picture on your screen. The app will show on the screen of your phone a ghost version of the template picture while showing also the camera view. So it’s easy for you to position, in seconds, your cheese slice exactly the same way it was the last time!
Furthermore, they will display the ghost picture of the right view each time. Let’s say you take shoes pack shots: one side view, one front view, one back view, one 45 degrees. You select the four views in the App and it will display at first the side view, then the front view, then the back view, and finally the 45 degrees view, and repeat the pattern. Pretty cool, eh? (Yes I’m Canadian, Eh!)
There is a classic solution: the cardboard template. What is it? Really easy to do, but it will not help you with the camera position, or the slate plate position. You place your cheese exactly the way you want it to be. Then you take a piece of cardboard and cut it along the border of the plate and the border of the product.
Then for each product, you clean your plate and you use the cardboard template to position the next product. Voilà!
The iPad solution is not the most precise of them all, but it works. You download on the iPad the pictures you plan on using as templates and you compare the camera view with the iPad, each time you try to position the product.
I know you don’t want to hear anything about Photoshop. Nobody likes Photoshop, except the fancy designers working with an electronic pen . I’ll tell you how to make everything so easy you will cry on the time you wasted on Photoshop. (I know because I cried too)
If you are using a all-inclusive photo App like SnapShop, you don’t have to do any Photoshop. But if you prefer to use Photoshop, here are my tricks.
There are two very important and time consuming tasks to do on Photoshop for product photography. The worst is clipping the product. You want to remove the background of the product so it’s perfectly white. (Later I’ll explain why you want your main pictures to have a perfectly white background)
The easiest way to remove the background is if you already have taken your pictures on a contrasting background. A white product ? Shoot the picture on a grey background. This is the key. Then you use the Quick Selection Tool to easily select the border of your product. This tool will make you save time. Note that you can use ALT key to remove parts of your product from the selection.
If you took your pictures so that the lighting is good enough to make the background almost perfectly white eliminating almost all the shadows, then there is a cool way to “purify” the white background using a software made by Adobe that is called Lightroom. The thing I absolutely looooooove with Lightroom is that you can manage edits on thousands of files easily. All your pictures are slightly too dark? Copy & paste brightness settings to them all at once!
Back to my trick to purify the background. Use the Graduated Filter Tool from each side of your product and make it adjust brightness to a very high level. Tadam ! Almost a perfect white background.
Otherwise, there are multiple companies (like ourselves, MisterEcommerce) that offer the clipping service in 24 hours, saving you headaches and giving you time to concentrate on making more money with your store. You’ll thank me for this later.
Before I forget: you have to make sure your pictures are square with equal margins on them all. Why? Because otherwise having vertical and horizontal pictures might screw up the design of your website. I’ve seen it and believe me, you don’t want that.
You can easily do that using Photoshop Actions. You create a new action that have these steps:
- Script (Click here to download it)
- Close File
And then you go in File->Automate->Batch and select the Action you have just created.
If you want to know how to create actions, visit Photoshop Guide on How to Create Photoshop Actions.
It’s for a reason that all the big e-commerce players only display pictures of products on perfect white on their website: it’s more consistent and pleasing to the eye. But the main reason is that the eye’s focus stays on the product, and nowhere else.
Sure you could have lifestyle pictures – and numbers show that it sometimes performs up to 60% better. But it shouldn’t be the product’s main picture on the product list for consistency.
So how do you do that? There are a few solutions. Again, if you use a smartphone app like SnapShop, you don’t have to take care of the background, you can shoot your products on your kitchen table if you want to. But if you want to do it yourself with a regular DSLR camera, with some efforts you definitely can.
The standard trick is to use a sheet of paper that you curve so it’s underneath your product and behind it. You can attach it to something bigger. If you have small products, just go to your local office supply store and buy a regular 11×17 pack of sheets, it will do the job just right.
For larger products, you will have to go to a photography store and purchase a white background. They are very useful for multiple reasons. It’s not reflective, it’s fully opaque, and you can cut it with scissors. If you find it too large and want to save it for later, you can use a saw to cut in half the cylinder of paper. Very convenient.
You will have to properly adjust lighting if you don’t want shadow at all. It’s a very tricky part because lighting cause shadows. Lighting of the shadow to eliminate it will inevitably cause another shadow. It’s virtually impossible to remove all the shadows while still lighting the product sufficiently. What I try to do is always have 3 lighting sources: one pointing the product exactly the way you want it lit, and two others pointing the background from each side.
You might have to play a little bit to get the result you wanted. Don’t give up, you will always be able to make corrections on Photoshop after.
The other way to have a perfect white background is to purchase – or make yourself – a backlit table for product photography. Here is one you can purchase, and here is a DIY back lighting you can make. The concept is very cool: you light your subject the way you’d do it on a traditional background, but there is another light, a little more important, coming from the background. So then the background appears fully white to the camera. The only downside I have lived with this strategy is unwanted reflections and too much background lighting will make the edges of the product look white-washed. But I highly recommend this technique because you will save time photographing the products and retouching your pictures and time equals money.
Are you a professional photographer? Damn no you’re not. Setting a camera in Manual mode is really complicated and can take so much time.
I have a very cool trick for that. I usually put my camera in P mode and try to take a few pictures playing with the P setting. Usually, you can make it lighter or darker, and this is the only setting. Once you find a good picture that you like, check the picture information and use the Aperture and Speed settings to setup your camera on Manual mode and make all your pictures taken with the very same settings.
Make sure to never forget the setup your white balance and ISO to a fixed value.
Do you really need a 24-megapixels DSLR camera to do your pack shots? Not at all. Right now I’m using my iPhone 7 to take product photos and I get very good results. The iPhone 7 camera has 12-megapixels and is really sufficient enough for e-commerce pictures.
12-megapixels gives pictures 4000×3000 pixels wide. My Macbook screen has a resolution of 1440×900 pixels. It means that the iPhone pictures are almost three times too large to fit on my Macbook screen, in full-screen mode. On a website, it’s really rare to have full screen product photos, usually it’s 1600 pixels wide.
24-megapixel cameras gives 6000×4000 pixels pictures. Then again, way too big. Know what? I wouldn’t spend $2000 on a camera that gives too big pictures while my phone does the job. But I’m not you, I’m not rich 😛
Photography lighting equipment can be soooooo expensive. I know that because I have $30,000 worth of equipment in my employees’ car. And sometimes they break it.
What they don’t tell you is that you can purchase $2 light bulbs at your local hardware store or Walmart – yes, light bulbs, can you imagine?
For small products, I use simple desk lamps with CFL lightbulbs. True: it’s not adjustable. It only has one color temperature (I’ll explain that). But it’s damn affordable and it works well. Also, if you break it, it only costs $2 to replace, not $1,000.
What you want to make sure is to purchase a cold-white lightbulb. If you can see the color temperature on the package, look for anything greater than 4000K.
What is cold-white you ask? For consumer lightbulbs there are two main white colors: warm and cold. Warm is like fire lighting, yellow-ish, makes you feel comfortable. Cold is used in kitchen, drugstores and in product photography. It imitates the sun lighting. Buy that. $2.
So, what are you waiting for? Start now and put these products on your website. They are not going to sell by themselves, sitting on your shelves!