5 Things You Must Get Right to Take Stellar Product Photos





5 Things You MUST Get Right to Take Stellar Product Photos


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again until the end of time – product photos are your KEY to building a successful online handmade business.

Photos are the number one marketing tool your business has – because your photos are the window through which your customers can peer into your world.

Sure, product titles and descriptions are important – but in this ever-more-visual age, it is the photo of a product that will be what first draws someone into your shop – and what convinces them to ultimately click the ‘buy’ button.

So – how do we make sure we’re taking THE best product photos we can?

There is a LOT that goes into this process (which is why we’ve created and released the new Product Photography Guide) but today I wanted to highlight the 5 things that you must get right in order to take stellar, clickable product photos.



Your background is to your product photography what the choice of canvas is to art.

It underpins the entire feel of your photo. Not only that, your choice of background fundamentally affects the feel and branding of your online shop.

Therefore, it’s really worth thinking about carefully, and experimenting with.

You might decide to have exactly the same background for every photo (such as a plain white) or you might decide to follow a theme. For example, in my shop, I use a few different grey-blue toned backgrounds, as well as a wooden background for my oxidised jewellery, because the dark jewellery just doesn’t ‘pop’ against the dark background.



Styling is the next layer of your photography. You can style the same item on the same background many, many different ways.

Not only via the props you do (or don’t) use, but also the positioning of your product, and the angle you photograph it from.

I always like to move my jewellery around in different orientations, and photograph it from lots of different angles. From many years of experimentation, I have a feel for what angles will work best, but it’s always worth trying new things. I usually end up with between 20-40 images of EACH product, which I then whittle down to 5 or so.

Often, it’s not until you look at all your images next to each other on the computer screen that you can tell which ones really work and capture the eye.



Your choice of lighting really affects the mood of your photos.

Do you want super-bright and fresh looking photos, or do you want them to be a little bit dramatic? Again, it comes back to your branding.

So long as your item is clear and easy to see, you can play a bit with your lighting to help create the feel you are after.



It should go without saying that in order to craft an excellent product photo… it needs to be in focus.

However, there is more than one way for a photo to ‘be in focus’. Maybe the whole image is in focus. Maybe you only have a key part of the product in focus, and the rest of the image blending into blurriness. This is controlled by the depth of field setting on your camera. (If you have no idea about that, we explain it in our Product Photography Guide).

You can play around with this, and decide which type of focus and what focal point really shows your product at its best.



Publishing your product photos to your shop without editing them is like making up a cake mixture and forgetting to put it in the oven.

Editing is a VITAL step that will take good photographs into the realm of amazing.

Things like cropping, adjusting the white balance, and playing around with brightness and contrast are fundamental editing steps that can’t be ignored. I edit every single one of my photos.

One thing to remember with editing is to not go too far. You’re not trying to fundamentally change the look of your product – you want it to be as true-to-life as possible while still standing out.


No matter how beautifully you manage to implement any of these 5 elements… if one of them is off, it will detract from the final photo. They all need to be in harmony – working together – to create a truly breathtaking product photo.


A Case Study (pardon the pun)

I thought it might be useful to pick one product and show a few different examples of how it can be photographed.

I looked through my faves and found a men’s leather satchel I’d added. After a quick search on Etsy, I found a heap of different example of similar bags photographed in very different styles.

Let’s compare them, shall we?

I want you to scroll through these photos, and keep the 5 elements we covered above in mind. How does the lighting, background and styling affect the ‘feel’ of the brand and product? Where does the focal point fall in the image? Can you see any obvious signs of editing (colouration, whitening of background…). I’ve numbered them below each image for easy reference.

Which ones appeal to you? Do you like the modelled shots or the plain product shots – and why? Dark or light background?

Really consider which images you’re drawn to the most, and why – try to see the technical elements that come together to produce a particular feel.



1. {emili}



2. {canvas lifes}


3. {Satch & Fable}


4. {Milan Studio}


5. {Vortex Limited}


6. {Mr Vintage Style}


7. {Luscious Leather NYC}


8. {Luscious Leather NYC}

I’d love it if you would share your thoughts on this exercise in the comments below!

I bet we’ll find that there are some personal preferences, but that there are some commonalities in the technical analysis.


A Note on Good Camera Use

Prior to thinking about these 5 core elements of good product photography, you really need to get a handle on what your camera can and can’t do.

If you’re like me, the only time you looked at your camera manual was when you took it out of the box to unpack your camera… upon which you promptly put it straight back in and never looked at it again. Honestly, manuals are important, but they’re often so jargon-filled and dense that most of us just pop our camera on ‘auto’ and hope for the best (go on, you know you do…).

If you’d like to actually UNDERSTAND things like camera modes, white balance, depth of field, and macro, and how altering them can dramatically change your product photos, check out our new Create & Thrive Guide to Product Photography. Professional photographer Jeffrey Opp actually explains these things in plain English so you can quickly grasp what they are, how they work, and how they affect your photographs.

Of course, he also covers the 5 core areas I talked about above in way more detail. You can find out more about the Guide here.

Image sources: main image via unsplash. All other images via the shops linked to below them.


Van Den has written 388 posts in this blog.

Jess Van Den is the editor of Create & Thrive, and has been a full-time creative entrepreneur since 2010. She makes eco-conscious, contemporary, handmade sterling silver jewellery under the Epheriell label, and blogs about her jewellery and other beautiful things at Epheriell.com. You can catch her on twitter @JessVanDen.


Sarah Hudson

Hi Jess
Great post! I like images 1 and 5 – one for mood and branding and 5 for clarity of product.
I find taking,uploading and editing photos of my jewellery a very time consuming process and one that often drives me nuts! I have swung between digital camera and iPad; magazine background and plain background; mannequins of various types and a host of other creatively inspired options.
My issue is that adding text to my images and uploading to Instagram and Facebook is easier with my iPad – I don’t know how to do this with a photo taken on my camera. I also struggle with creating a white background as I’ve found a lightbox doesn’t work for me and white cardboard comes out with a blueish tinge.
I’ll continue experimenting so thank you for motivating me to lift my game to take better photos!


Sarah, you’ve given me a great idea for a post – I actually add all text etc to my photos on the computer, so I might write about how to do that. Also re the blue tinge on your photos? You can fix that by learning to adjust the white balance setting on your camera – its one of the steps Jeff covers in the guide 🙂


It could also be because white is the predominant colour in the photo and digital cameras automatically make that 15% grey. You can get over this by metering with a grey card or by shooting in RAW if your camera has it and editing it before saving as a jpg so not to lose any pixel data in the saving process.

Penny- Elizabeth Neil

Sarah, that picture of your Natalia necklace with the gold urchins and the pale wood – run with that. Use that background in natural light and you will have gorgeous pictures which suit your jewelry’s modern rustic simplicity. 🙂

Sarah Hudson

Cool – thanks Jess. I can’t adjust the white balance on my iPad so I might need to find another way! 🙂

Allison Dey Malacaria

Wow. The whole post really pops because of these examples. It makes the advice more real than just ideas, so thanks for that. My responses to each pic.

#1 The colors are bold, deep, dramatic and so is leather. The red tones in the case is set apart from the blues/greys/blacks and the case pops but has emotional weight to it. That drama. Nice photo even though I’d rather not have a half-naked guy in it. (I don’t like the whole sex-marketing thing.) But at least it’s a gorgeous photo of a beautiful person even though it’s not even the most beautiful of all the bags featured here. Brilliant.

#2 The random liquor…and is that a box behind the case on plain white? Why? It’s random and conveys no meaning. Meaningless. No story. Except maybe: Buy this bag and you too can live in a warehouse and drink alone….

#3 Love the antiqued look, but too monotoned and looks like it’s a photo from a concentration camp with those tones AND the striped shirt.

#4 No contrast. Bag lost.

#5 Can that guy try harder to look sexy? It’s insulting and I don’t even see the bag, just a guy staring right through my clothes. What bag? Get away from that guy, you don’t know where he’s been.

#6 At least I know what I’m getting. Perfect.

#7 The bag is cooler than any of the rest of the cluttered photo, except maybe the purple couch. Now I want to see the purple couch more than the bag. Fail.

#8 I always hang my bag precariously in front of a cafe window for anyone to steal. Really? Why is this hanging in front of a menu? Did they think it would look like people who go to trendy intimate local cafes carry these bags and then hang them over concrete sidewalks? Not with my laptop in it! Fail.

If a photo can be a story, marketers really need to be aware of what that story is. Otherwise just stick with #6. Etsy loves #6. Boring but catalog-worthy.

This is why I teach about construction of meaning and story. Admittedly, if you look at my own photos, you won’t get much brilliance, but I live in someone else’s house and am seriously restricted. But I understand how the mind takes pictures and ideas and constructs story, and if a photo is going to convey a story it should be well-crafted, not just aim at trendy or “cool” looking. So glad you posted this. It’s a great visual puzzle! Thanks so much.


Allison, this comment made my day – you had me giggling! Fantastic analysis – so great to hear your insights!

Allison Dey Malacaria

Glad I could lighten up your day. LOL I loved analyzing these. It was fun AND a great way to learn about how to look, how to see.

Allison Dey Malacaria

I’m sorry, I also meant to add that in #1, the red tones of the bag and the red tones of the man’s skin are very close making the story: touch the bag and you touch the skin. Mmmmmm……. Okay, not my thing, but seriously brilliant.


Allison seems to have said what I think… but in a much more interesting way than I would have said it.

For me #1 and #6 are the strongest shots, but I also find there is something to #4 that I like. I think it shows promise but need a little je ne sais quoi… It seems to set a mood that calls me to come and take a closer look.

Penny- Elizabeth Neil

It’s going to be really interesting to see people’s comments on this- which one of those images you think is best depends on your own personal tastes, but for me personally I’m in the middle of studying USPs, customer profiles and target marketing, so I’m super-nerded out in expectation of the info that will come up here! Before i go in though I want to make sure everyone knows I think these are all gorgeous bags, and I would stock them all in my BnM shop in a heartbeat. But the images let them down.

1. is amazing as a magazine ad- the lighting, the colours, the skin- it all denotes something warm, sexy, natural, rough but polished; everything leather is. Again though this is for admiring in passing; as a listing photo it’s good for the ‘pimp’ (what I call the last image), but as a ‘come buy me’ it fails.

2. awful! It looks factory made product which they’ve attempted to give soul to with manly props. The cutout around the paper is too stark, the whole thing is a teeny bit 1970s Father’s Day card.

3. good for an ad (though a bit ‘life is hard’), no good for a product shot. The B+W means I have no idea what the bag looks like in reality. What exactly is he doing with his hand in his lap like that..? The logo stamp is distracting, hard to read and a bit useless, as anyone copying that image can just crop it out. Clicking through to that listing though, the 3rd image is KILLER. But again, logo problems.

4. is my favourite, hands down. Classic, simple, rustic, elegant – it makes me think the bag is handmade, dependable, quality made and expensive. Its often funny too me that people leave this element out of constructing their images. Make it look expensive! That way the price will either be something they’re prepared for, or a nice surprise. (I’m working on a blog post about this right now.)

5. just looks like a shot for his Grinder profile, and that’s all I’ll say on that.

6. is the most boring soulless, uninviting thing ever. Is there medical supplies in there? It makes it look like a cheap factory bag made by overseas labour. I’m looking for the wholesale order number.

7. is just some guy with a bag. Too much going on everywhere else.

8. is a picture on someone’s blog where they visited a market and saw a cool bag hanging on a peg. It doesn’t sell anything to me, it’s just a bag. On a hook. I’m more interested in seeing the cake menu!

Conclusion – I’d go with 6, with just a teeeny bit more colour difference between it and the background. And then promptly sell 39293 of them and stick your fingers up at Team White Background. You want a handmade product to look handmade, and you want a leather satchel to look handmade even if it isn’t. White backgrounds are the antithesis of handmade and they should be burned at the stake!


I would like to respectfully disagree with the “anti-white backgrounds” sentiment… There is DEFINITELY a place for them, even in artisan handcrafted goods. For me, the plain white background image is the easiest and best to see the details of the satchel. I think that every product should have at least one really great white background photo that allows the shopper to SEE the details what they are buying and then add other more stylized and “mood” pictures…

I studied professional photography many years ago (pre-digital days!) and do I actually LOVE doing my product photography… That being said, I still have much to improve and really liked this article and reading the fabulous comments and awesome insights to the case study photos! 🙂

Penny- Elizabeth Neil

You’re allowed to disagree, it’s all just opinions. 🙂 I should’ve been more specific- it’s more the proliferation of them (on Etsy) that bothers me; everyone’s shops just end up looking like part of the same big parent company. Which I know is something Etsy sees a benefit in. But a background is part of your brand, especially online when images can easily lose their link. I studied photography too (way too pre-digital to even remember half of it!) but I never did any studio shot stuff. What I know now for my product photography is really just adapted from flower studies!

Allison Dey Malacaria

I think the whole white background debate stems in part from wanting to have a personal, branded, online handmade craft business vs. a mass-produced wholesale sales catalog image. I was a retail buyer for years and catalogs are neat, photos all about the item, not the story of it. So when Etsy (to use an online standard) says “tell your story” but at the same time highlights almost, not quite, but almost exclusively white background (or highly plain) photos that are simply catalog-worthy shots, sellers become confused and frustrated. A be-creative vs. be-professional-like-mass-producers conflict is born.

I love the all-white background. It’s easy to see the product. I can attach my own story. I’m not simple-minded enough to need a marketer to construct a story for me. When I see a white background photo, I slip into the buyer’s mind and see just that one single thing floating in an endless sea of sales possibility.

As long as someone else is calling the shots, there will be a standard. “Take great photos!” is not enough. Photo 1 is a great photo. It’s also not 1000 pixels square (Etsy nirvana). Crop it square to see the bag and you have a terrible Etsy photo, too dark, and no reason not to be on a simple background. All you’ll see is two disembodied hands holding a bag. No sweet naked guy.

Etsy (among others) isn’t doing anyone any favors by encouraging all this random messaging about storytelling rather than just admit that it’s just a big online catalog and the neutral or white background is the industry standard. In particular, Etsy, because it is a moving target of constant “becoming”, keeps changing the page formats, systems formats, and messages about where and when and how to “brand, “be creative”, and “tell your story”. It’s no wonder sellers are really confused. So here’s my simple advice: your Etsy or other main online catalog product photos are not your story photos. Save those for additional photos, your blog, FB, press releases, etc. It’s not really an either/or, it’s what style fits what format.


I have 2 favorite photos, and they are my favorites simply because they catch my eye and interest me in the product. Picture 5 because it shows it as a saddle bag and Picture 4 because it shows the saddle bag as an everyday average Joe useable product. I know many say backgrounds have to be WHITE or monochromatic – but that isnt what piques my interest to BUY. I know my etsy shop probably has too many backgrounds…..but I really am not into the sterile hospital white background.
Thank you for this!


I meant pics 7 and 8 !!! Not 4 and 5…..OOPS !

Pat Hayes

I’d love a product shot that actually opens up the bag to show what it is like inside. Sure the outside of the satchel looks good, especially in shot number 1, but I don’t buy a bag or a satchel so other people can admire how it looks slung over my shoulder, I buy it to use and so I want to see the inside. Show me shot number one with him taking an A4 folder out of it and I’ll buy. I want to know I can actually put things inside my satchel, files, pens, items of use.

I don’t care that it’s the most beautiful satchel on the outside, I want to know it’s the most useful and userfriendly satchel on the inside.

To me that is the story. Look at me, I’m fabulous to look at, and even more useful than you can imagine on the inside.

In purchasing bags and other useable items the story is it’s easy to use me, I can do what you need and what you want, and I can be stylish doing it.

This is the very aspect of useable items that is missed in these product shots. I need to know that the item will fulfil my needs. A pretty bag is pretty useless if you can’t fit your folders, files, lunch or whatever into it.
When selling online surely this is a critical issue that should be covered by your product shot. After all, I can’t post my A4 study folder to you and ask you to slip it inside the satchel to see if it fits. And measurements don’t always give the information required. You can buy a satchel that appears like it should fit your A4 folder inside it, only to discover that the leather is so rigid that it won’t stretch to accommodate the folder, book, work tool you need to put into it. These are issues that could so easily be fixed or avoided by having an action shot as your product shot.

Or am I coming at this all wrong?

I try to take a blend of static and action shots for all my product photos to avoid exactly this issue. Of course I am selling handcrafted jewellery which can be a little tricky, but seeing how a necklace lays around my daughter’s neck gives the customer an idea of how it will lay around their neck.

Of course, I’ve never been featured on the Etsy front page because I do this and thus don’t fit their items floating in the air concept. But then, most of my jewellery would look stupid floating in the air. They need to be on a display bust, on a human or displayed in an action shot. And so do these satchels.

What say you?