Share your star product shot on your own Instagram account. You MUST tag it (in the caption) #CTShowUsYourShot + tag us @CreateandThrive.
Sit back and cross your fingers!
I will share up to 3 of my favourite entries on the C&T Instagram account each day while the competition runs. This is a totally personal choice – I’ll be sharing the photos that really catch my eye.
However, the competition winners will be chosen randomly using random.org. I want to choose a winner this way because I don’t want ANYONE to feel that their product photos ‘aren’t up to scratch’ or ready to be entered into this competition. It doesn’t matter where you’re at in your own product photography journey – I want to see what you’ve done. All entries are equal.
I know some of you aren’t on Instagram yet… but if you aren’t, I hope you use this competition as a little push to give it a go! Truly, I’m starting to think it’s one of the best possible places you can be to market your handmade business – because it’s all about the photos.
So, by now I’m sure you’re wondering… what’s up for grabs, eh? Let me tell you…
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.
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.
I’m really excited to be making this resource available to you all. After I launched the last Guide, I started thinking about what I could focus on next.
It was a no-brainer really – I mean, how many times have I told you that product photos are THE key to having a successful online handmade business? Exactly.
So… then I thought ‘hmm, I do okay with my photos, but I don’t really have the technical know-how to write this guide by myself’.
Solution? Find someone who did.
I figured the best thing to do would be to work with someone who REALLY knows their stuff to put this guide together.
Thankfully, that someone came to mind pretty quickly – Jeffrey Opp (who just happens to be Megan E’s other half, AND holds a Fine Arts degree where he majored in photography). When I got in touch, he was super-enthusiastic to put this together, because helping people with product photography is what he does. Score!
Jeffrey is the professional photographer behind Mister Scheimpflug, and he’s put together a truly excellent guide that will help you elevate your own product photos from ‘just okay’ to ‘freaking awesome’.
Seriously, I learnt a LOT when I was editing the Guide, and I’ve been working on my product photos since 2008!
A little bit more about Jeffrey (because he’s awesome)…
So, what’s inside the Guide?
(Excuse me while I giggle at the unintentional rhyme…)
Jeffrey covers quite a number of topics (in simple, plain English – though there is a Glossary for the few technical words he does use)…
A Brief Introduction to Camera Types
Depth of Field
How Do I Photograph…
Here are a couple of peeks inside…
Product photos are SO IMPORTANT to having a successful online business, and I am stoked to get this Guide out to you!
The Guide is available now for just $25.
You can get your copy (and find out more about what’s inside + read testimonials) over here.
P.S. Jeffrey’s also put together a separate photographic guide to setting up your own ‘Studio-in-a-Box’ at home – ideal for those who make small things – especially things with glare and shine like jewellery, glass and ceramics – which all owners of this Guide and all C&T email subscribers will score for FREE. (Hop on the list here if you haven’t already to get your copy.)
Hi Jess! I follow your blog from France and I just love reading the interesting articles published. This is really useful information! I’ve seen a post about photographing small things and I’d like to ask a question about the opposite : what about photographing big things, such as aprons on a mannequin ? I hope you can answer my question and give tips and advice on the site. Thanks, Myriam
Well, this is actually a question that Jeffrey answers in more detail in the upcoming Create & Thrive Guide: Product Photography, but I thought I’d share a snippet from the Guide that might help you head in the right direction…
Photographing Big Things: Use a Wide Angle Lens or Move it Outside
Fitting a large item into the frame of your camera is a tough challenge to overcome. One way to fit it in is to use a wide angle lens or the widest setting of a zoom lens (somewhere between 10mm and 24mm). A wide angle setting can squeeze more space into your frame but creates some distortion. If you can’t fit your object into the frame of the camera, you just need to back away from it. If you cannot back far enough away, that is when you may need to move it outside or to a larger space. For example, photographers who shoot cars take advantage of enormous studios that are much larger than a standard garage.
Find some outside space you can turn into your own large studio.
Bring your large item outside on an overcast day to take advantage of soft, diffused light. Just make sure that you stage the area to look like a studio or the environment where your large item belongs.
There’s obviously a ton more to consider – like backgrounds, modelling options, editing etc… but getting the right space is the first step. That final line is a really important step – if you’re taking something outside to photograph it, don’t just use a random garden background. Find something that works with the item – something that both compliments your branding and looks natural. Unless ‘outdoors’ fits with your branding, set things up so the customer can’t even tell you’re taking the photos outdoors!
Do you have big products? How do YOU photograph them?
Want even more information on how to make your photography eye-catching to customers? Check out The Create & Thrive Guide to Product Photography, which covers basic photography processes that eliminate these common mistakes and help make your products pop thanks to composition, backgrounds, and lighting. Available now!
It doesn’t take much time scanning online marketplaces for handmade items to see common mistakes in product photography.
I realise that since the items are handmade by very small business, perhaps just one person, that there is not a photo team to work on the sales images. But there are so many small things that can be improved, often at no cost to you, that would make your product shots go from substandard to stellar.
It can simply be a technique here or there, understanding a setting on the camera, or changing the way something is displayed that lets your product stand out from the rest.
Here is a list of common mistakes that I see in product photography:
Poor lighting – Either too flat and dull or too harsh and contrasty
Color balance – Greys and whites should be neutral in color
Color cast – Watch for odd colors washing in from a window or a light
Item too small in the image – Make the product a large portion of the image
Not representative of the product – make sure colors are accurate and scale understandable
Underexposed – No detail in the shadows
Overexposed – No detail in the highlights
Pixelated – Watch for blocky edges on what should be smooth edges
Stretched image – Be careful when resizing and image so it does not change proportions
Model with poor expressions – The human face is capable of 40+ expression don’t send the wrong message
Models with bad poses – They should look natural and comfortable
Poor staging – Put the product where is intended to be used
Distracting backdrop – Make sure the backdrop does not compete with the subject
Strange effects or filters – Save effects and filters for things other than product photos
Grainy images – This happens while shooting in dark places
Blurry images – Watch carefully for clean, sharp focus
Not leading with your best image – Don’t hide you best image put it up front
Dirty products – Dust is everywhere. Clean before a photo shoot and clean again in post
Strong hard shadows – Hard shadows distract from the subject
Composition – Watch out for odd angles and things being cut by the edges of the frame
Professional product photographers spend their lives perfecting their craft. If you are a maker, you may not have these years of experience to draw upon but you can improve your photos by watching for these mistakes and taking corrective action when you see them.
To see these mistakes, you have to be objective and honest when reviewing your own photos.
If you see something that needs attention, don’t be afraid to refine your approach. Often a bit of research on a technique, learning a camera setting, or changing the way something is presented will make a three-star pic into a five-star photograph.
Want even more information on how to make your photography eye-catching to customers? Check out The Create & Thrive Guide to Product Photography, which covers basic photography processes that eliminate these common mistakes and help make your products pop thanks to composition, backgrounds, and lighting.