Avoid These Common Product Photo Mistakes and Make your Images Stand Out

jeff piece

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:

  1. Poor lighting – Either too flat and dull or too harsh and contrasty
  2. Color balance – Greys and whites should be neutral in color
  3. Color cast – Watch for odd colors washing in from a window or a light
  4. Item too small in the image – Make the product a large portion of the image
  5. Not representative of the product – make sure colors are accurate and scale understandable
  6. Underexposed – No detail in the shadows
  7. Overexposed – No detail in the highlights
  8. Pixelated – Watch for blocky edges on what should be smooth edges
  9. Stretched image – Be careful when resizing and image so it does not change proportions
  10. Model with poor expressions – The human face is capable of 40+ expression don’t send the wrong message
  11. Models with bad poses – They should look natural and comfortable
  12. Poor staging – Put the product where is intended to be used
  13. Distracting backdrop – Make sure the backdrop does not compete with the subject
  14. Strange effects or filters – Save effects and filters for things other than product photos
  15. Grainy images – This happens while shooting in dark places
  16. Blurry images – Watch carefully for clean, sharp focus
  17. Not leading with your best image – Don’t hide you best image put it up front
  18. Dirty products – Dust is everywhere. Clean before a photo shoot and clean again in post
  19. Strong hard shadows – Hard shadows distract from the subject
  20. 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.

Three Tips for Photographing Small Things

Megan here!  I have some very exciting news to share today.  After three long years, my boyfriend finally received his MFA in Photography.  He’d always dreamed of becoming a professor at a prestigious art school but due to the recession, the colleges weren’t hiring.  So instead, he’s decided to become a professor for makers who want to take gorgeous photographs of their products.


Today he’s sharing his best tips on how to photograph small things like jewelry.  This is something a lot of makers struggle with because their product is either out of focus or it appears as teeny tiny in the final image.  I think you’ll learn a lot so let’s get started!

When I photograph a small item, there are a few requirements I keep in mind to ensure I get a stunning photograph that grabs people’s attention.  First, I want to have nice, soft lighting because harsh shadows and highlights are distracting on small items. The last thing you want is for the shadow from your piece to overpower the piece itself. Second, I want to get close enough to the item so that the details appear large in the final image. If your customer can’t see the details, they won’t feel confident about hitting the ‘buy’ button because they don’t quite know what they’re getting. And lastly, it is very important to me to show the scale of small items because if you start to show things larger than life-size, it can be hard to discern the actual size and that also decreases your customer’s confidence that they know what they’re buying.

Create Nice, Even Lighting

To get nice, even lighting when photographing something small, I use one or two lights and diffuse them with tracing paper. For shiny or metal objects, I place one light on the left and one light on the right, both pointing at the subject. For other items, I simply use one light from above. Then, to diffuse the light, I place tracing paper between the light and subject.  The easiest way to do this is to stretch some tracing paper over a thin metal picture frame.  Once you tape it over the frame, you can keep it like that and always have it handy for your photo shoots.  It’s a trick professional photographers use when in a pinch or when they don’t want to shell out the money for a ‘professional’ diffuser.

mmeBrooches (2 of 2)

Wine charm by Lingering Daydreams using a diffuser to create even lighting.

Show the Scale

Showing the scale is important with any product and even more so if it is small. To show the scale, one strategy is to put the object in an environment where it makes sense and where its size can be compared to the things around it. Another way to show scale is to put the object in someone’s hand. While hands vary in size, we understand what the average hand size is and can easily imagine it is our hand in the photo with the product. Psychologists have actually proven that photographing someone wearing a ring or holding a book sans any identifying features such as a face, help sell the product better.  Think of those beach calendars where all you see are someone’s feet and the ocean.  Another great example of this strategy is Apple’s advertisement for the iPad 2. They show how much slimmer the newer model is by placing it in a model’s hand and you immediately imagine what it would be like to hold yourself.

mmeBrooches (1 of 2)

Close up of Studio MME’s brooches using a macro lens.

Get in Close with the Macro Setting

Virtually all point and shoot cameras, and many other cameras, have a built in macro setting. The macro setting enables the lens to focus on close up subjects. This mode is accessed by the button with the flower symbol. Normally your camera may not focus on something less than a meter away but with this mode on your camera will have the ability to focus with the lens just few centimeters away from the subject.

In the dSLR world, you will find zoom lenses with macro settings and prime or non-zoom lenses that are designed as macro lenses. This is indicated on the focus ring of the lens by the word Macro. Most often it is as easy to use as turning the focus ring toward the word macro. All lenses have a minimum focusing distance that varies depending on the type of lens you own and that distance can be found in the owner’s manual under tech specs.

A way to make a non-macro lens into a macro lens is with a close up filter. This is a special filter that screws onto the front lens that allows the camera to focus on much closer subjects.

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.

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