The Complete DIY Guide to Ecommerce Product Photography

diy product photography at home

There are various forms of photography and while you can do it for fun or just to create memories, brands are now using DSLR cameras for product photography. The value of any brand is usually based on their products or services and the level of their trustworthiness.

Visual presentation of any content matters a lot and this means that high-quality product photography goes a long way.

As much as the production of quality images is important, not every brand can afford to hire the services of a professional photographer. If you are just starting out as a store owner and you need to create images of your products, you might opt for DIY product photography which is a cheaper alternative. If you have the right tools and equipped with the right techniques, this process can be even more easy and simple.

However, photography is not all about aesthetics. You have to produce high-quality images of your products in order to increase your brand’s conversion rate. The way images are presented is what will create the difference between product sales or nothing and if your products are going to be distributed online, this can be even more challenging because you will be competing with thousands of other brands.

food photography of a raw steak
Food photography in the process

Potential clients usually use image quality to determine the value of the product. A low-quality image means that your products will be negatively impacted.

If you are just starting out and you can’t afford the services of a professional, you don’t need to worry because there are thousands of guides and tips on how you can perfectly do DIY product photography.

This type of photography is not as difficult as most people tend to think. There is a wide range of techniques that you can use to successfully shoot product photos and one of the most commonly used ones is the Window Light Technique.

If you are a business owner on a tight budget and you want to do DIY product photography, below is a tutorial that will provide you with the necessary information about equipment, techniques, and tricks that you need to know. It’s a simple and easy to understand guide that you can use to create perfect professional images.

Equipment Required For DIY Product Photography

diy-product-photography.
Diy product-photography.

For newcomers, DIY product photography can be exciting as well as a challenging task. The use of the right equipment as well as how to set them up can be very confusing. Since this is a DIY project, a lot of people also fear that the equipment required for the shoot can be very expensive. However, this is not true.

You don’t need to spend thousands of money to buy high-end equipment because you can still purchase something good at a cost-friendly price. In fact, you don’t need to overspend anything since some of the required equipment can be shopped online for a few dollars.

Some of the essential equipment that you need for this kind of DIY setup include:

1. The Camera

affordable-camera-for-product-photography
Nikon d810 – affordable and good for new product photographers

This is the most essential equipment that you need before anything else. Although there are numerous high-end digital cameras, you don’t require an expensive camera.

However, if you don’t have a camera and you want to purchase one, it is essential that you carry out the necessary research in order for you to get something that matches your needs and budget.

Research online on qualities of a good camera and you can even look for some product photography tips on photography blogs. If you have a smartphone only, you can still look for a helpful guide about smartphone product photography.

As much as the camera is a piece of essential equipment that you need to take a photograph, there are still other equipment and factors that have to be in place in order for you to get the best results. Photography is made up of settings which include lighting, styling, exposure, post-processing among others.

2. A Tripod

tripod-for-product-photography-diy
Tripod for product photography

You don’t have to spend huge chunks of money to purchase a tripod. There are numerous brands of tripods that you can choose from and you can get something good from as low as $20. You can head to online retail stores such as amazon.com for a quick search.

Of course, a more expensive tripod will give you more stability and I can tell you from my experience shooting small items, you don’t want any movement from your tripod so the image won’t get blurry, especially when you focus stack.  So bottom line it’s all about what you can afford.

3. A Shooting Table

A table is required because this what will be used to hold some of the equipment as well as the product. You can use a wide folding table with measurements of about 24 x 48 inches. If you are planning to use light stands, then even a small table with a surface of 24″x24″ will be fine to shoot small to medium products.

4. The Correct Room

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A room with a lot of natural light – lowering each shade to control the light spill.

You need to look for a room which has a window next to a wall. Placing your table close to the window will easily help to create a softer type of light that has softer and darker shadows.

As much as being far away from the window will mean that your setup will receive more light, it leads to the creation of shadows that are lighter and sharper. Also note that the larger the window, the better because this means more light will be let in. (Note: A room with natural light is only if you are not going to use flash or moonlights).

5. A White Background

a-roll-of-a-white-photography-seamless-paper
A roll of a seamless white paper

There are numerous white background options that you can use but if you are shooting a lot of photos then you can as well as purchase a white sweep. Sweeps usually get dirty easily so it is good to purchase a paper sweep because you can easily cut off a blemished part and then roll down a new piece of paper. I would recommend personally a seamless Photography background paper, can be found online at Amazon.com or B&H shop online.

You can even opt to buy a cheaper white background from your local retail store by getting a white poster card. There are poster cards that cost as low as $5 for multiple white sheets. Remember to choose a pure white poster board and not cream or off-white.

6. Foam Board White Bounce Cards

foam-boards-for-product-photography
Foam boards for product photography

One of the results of using window light ( or any other photography light) is a bright side and a dark side. The bright side is where the light is directly striking on the product while the dark side has the shadow. The white bounce card is used to reflect backlight on the shadow to eliminate its dark areas of the product.

Foam Board white bounce cards are the best option to use because they are rigid. If you can’t get a white foam board, you can still use a black foam board which will make the shadows even deeper. This type of board can be helpful especially if you are carrying out a white product shoot on white background. Add black foam boards to the sides and this will create some dark edges on the white product.

7. A Tape Or Clamp

A Clamp or a tape is usually used to secure the board in order for it to properly sweep.

Getting ready

After you have assembled all the necessary shooting gear then it is time for you to set up the shooting area. Below is a step by step guide on how you can shoot your product on a white background.

Step 1: Set The Table

diy-setup-product-photography-camra
Table front of a window with a diffuser behind

The table should be placed very close to the lighting source i.e. the window but ensure that there is no shadow that is falling on the table from the windowsill. You can do this by ensuring that the window is at 90 degrees to the left or right of your table set up.

You can also use a different style and shoot with the window straight or rotate the set up such that the window is positioned at 45 degrees. The larger the window and the closer your setup is to it then the softer the lighting will be.

The set should be placed away from direct sunlight which is harsh and causes products to look very bad. Do not forget to turn off other sources of light in the room where your set up is because this will negatively affect your set. This is a common mistake that a lot of people usually forget.

Step 2: Set the Sweep

A sweep can be set in various different ways but the end goal is that the sweep should be vertical and you can even use a board to attain this position. To effectively set up the sweep, place the table against the wall and then tape the sweep to the table and the wall, and if you are not close to the wall, you will need a reinforcement such as a wooden block or bricks in order to secure the sweep’s back.

After that, place the product at the central part of the sweep’s flat part and then leave enough space where the white reflector card will be placed later.

Step 3: Set Up The Camera

dslr-camera-setup
Dslr camera setup

Note that every camera is not the same and some cameras are designed with the auto feature which makes it possible for users to make adjustments. The great thing about the window-light setup is that everything can be set to auto if required. To set up your camera:

• Turn off the flash.
• Set the camera’s white balance to auto i.e. from WB to AWB.
• Set the camera’s image setting to the top quality. Normally “JPG fine”.

RAW- if your camera has this option, then use it. The RAW setting creates the biggest image files and it also utilizes the camera’s full bit depth. RAW can be manipulated better without losing compression quality on post-processing.

shooting-raw-or-shooting-jpg-file
Shooting raw vs shooting jpg

Note that if you are going to use RAW, you will need image editing software such as Lightroom, Photoshop, etc. Remember to set the ISO to 100 because ISO helps to control the sensor’s sensitivity. Know that the more the ISO, the more there is noise.

A camera such as Canon as the following settings:

1. Quality Setting It includes N for Normal, F for Fine, and S for Superfine. If you have a camera such as this, ensure that you set it to the superfine setting because it helps to effectively determine the number of camera pixels that are used on the sensor. Failure to use all the pixels means that the resulting image will be of lower quality.

2. Size

It includes S for Small, M for Medium, and L for Large. Always pick large because it helps to determine the image’s file size. Large size also helps to create high-quality images. Note that you can always reduce the image size but you can’t be able to make it bigger.

The Camera’s Exposure Setting

dslr-exposure-settings
Camera exposure settings

When it comes to exposure settings, there are multiple options that you can use.

Option one: Manual (M) Recommended option!

The manual setting is the best exposure setting that you can use for this type of shoot because there is no object (product) motion or any product change that will occur while you are taking the pictures. Under the manual exposure setting, ensure that the f/stop is set to the highest number because this is what will guarantee you the highest depth of field.

Using the live-view, preview the image at the camera’s back and if everything looks dark, then it’s ok. After that, set the shutter speed and then rotate the dial in order to ensure that the image is well exposed.

As you rotate the dial, the shutter number should be decreasing, for instance, it can go from 1/60 down to ¼. The lower the number, the more light will be let in and you can adjust the number according to your needs until you get an image preview that you need.

Option two: Auto Exposure Not Recommended

If your camera has the auto-exposure feature, the much you can do is use the exposure-compensation dial where you will be required to add a +1 in order for you to get the best exposure and if have the running-man images, then try to choose something like the sunset. Note that if you are using an iPhone then you will need to tap in the area that you want to be correctly exposed.

Option three: Aperture Priority Not Recommended

If your camera has the aperture priority feature, then ensure that its f/stop is placed at the highest number. This will cause the shutter to automatically adjust and you can use the camera’s exposure compensation dial in order to add more light.

One of the best product photography tips that you can use during a product shoot is to ensure that you pay more attention to the histogram so that you can know if the exposure is right.

how-to-read-image-histogram
Histogram of an image

How To Use The Zoom In Feature (in some lenses)

Cameras usually have a digital and optical zoom feature. However, avoid using the digital zoom feature because it always lowers the image quality. Digital zoom essentially means cropping of the digital image but if you use optical zoom, you can zoom in as much as you want.

Bear in mind that a longer image zoom usually removes the distortion that is caused by the wide-angle lens. For instance, cell phones are designed with a large wide-angle lens which causes distortion issues.

Step 4: Place the Product Right in The Middle of the Surface

As much as setting up a product appears simple, it can time a very long time for you to perfectly set it up in the middle of the shooting surface. For example, if you are shooting something with a label, you have to ensure that the label is centered.

This might require numerous small movements as well as adjustments in order for everything to get perfectly lined up.

Step 5: Set the Reflector Card

The white reflector card is the best light modifier that you can use for a product shoot. Set up the card according to your needs and you can try it at different angles in order to get the best angle of the shoot. Light usually bounces off the reflector card and fill in the shadows.

Step 6: Take the Product Picture and Carry Out Evaluation

Take the picture and thereafter take your time to evaluate what you have captured. Image evaluation is where your photography skills and experience come in. You need to know what is perfect and what should be adjusted in order to make the image better. You can do this by carrying out different experiments.

The best thing about product photography is that your image evaluation skills will improve naturally with time. For an even better view, upload the pictures to your computer and you can use a software application such as Adobe Lightroom to organize the images. This in-depth software can also be used during the advanced image editing process.

Step 7: Retouch the Pictures

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Retouch your product image using photoshop or lightroom

This is the last step of the product photography shoot. Once you have the final image that you need, it’s essential that you retouch it. Photo retouching helps to enhance the appearance of an image by making ordinary images to be extraordinary.

But there are so many things which are associated with on-white image retouching and it mostly requires a professional. If you are not trained or are not well-skilled in Photoshop, you can outsource retouching services by hiring a retouching company.

The cost of these services is usually cheap and you can get one online for as cheap as just $1.50.

 

How to Optimize Your Images for Website

The development of ultra-modern technology means that SEO has become an essential part of any e-commerce. All online retailers who want to stay on top of the game need to utilize search engine optimization which helps to drive in traffic and to increase the loading speeding of a website.

No one wants to wait for minutes for a website page to load and large images usually lead to slow loading speeds of web pages.

When optimizing images, you need to perfectly balance image optimization and quality. Don’t over-optimize the image because this will lower its quality. Try to ensure that you shoot the smallest photograph possible and do not make it more than say 200kb.

To start the process of image optimization for a website, resize it for the container. This is done by resizing its width and height. If for example, your actual image is 1500px square and your website’s container has 648-px square, then this image will be loaded at 648-px square, leading to more load time. Below is how you can go about image resizing.

1. Know The HTML Container Size Of Your Website

website-html-container-size
Know the image your website need

Before you upload an image to a website, the image has to perfectly fit the site’s container size. To know the image container size of a website, go to the Developer Tools section on your website, right-click the image, and then select the Inspect Element option.

You will be shown the container’s pixel dimensions on the sidebar. You can resize your image such that it is 1.5x bigger than the website’s container. This helps the image to look great on a retina screen.

2. Resize Your Image

The best thing about technology currently is that there are thousands of free software that you can use to perfectly resize your images. If you are using windows, you can utilize the Microsoft Picture tool and if you are using an Apple computer, you can use the Mac Preview because these two software are in-built, versatile, easy, and simple to use.

If you do have Adobe Photoshop

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Resizing and editing images

, that would be the preferred software for all editing.  After you have completed the resizing process, export that image, and save it at 100 percent JPEG on your desktop.

3. Image Compression

After you have saved the image with a Preview quality of 100 percent, you will actually notice that the image’s size is actually big. When an image is compressed, what normally gets removed is data that is not used.

Compressing it so much will alter the image and result in something that is very blemished. Moving the JPEG-Compression Slider while the image is in Preview doesn’t deliver any noticeable results hence there is no need to compress it at this stage.

A smart way of compressing an image is by using the Adobe Photoshop Save for Web-Function and you can do this by lowering the slider as you get a preview. You can also try out other software such as JPEGmini.com that has an algorithm that is used to determine the best quality of image compression.

Image Resizing Summary Recommendations

Overall, if you want to optimize your image for a website;

• The image size has to be 1x or 1.5x the size of the HTML container.

• The image format should be in JPEG and the colorspace SRGB.

• Use the JPEGmini.com to compress the image after the export.

From the outline of the above-mentioned product photography tips, a lot of people might be wondering why we have opted to use the window light instead of the light tent. There are numerous reasons why window light is the best option.

Window Light or a Light Tent? 

photographing-in-a-light-tent-vs-window-light
Photographing-in-a-light-tent-vs-window-light

Window light is simply easy to use because it has a single light setup. It’s the cheapest option and easy to use. Using a light tent requires a set up with multi-light which increases the complexity of the shooting. Furthermore, the multi-light option has numerous setup issues which include:

 

Purchasing expensive gear.

  1. This means that the cost of the light tent as well as that of lighting will go higher and probably cost more than hiring a professional photographer.
  2. The process of color balancing the lights makes everything even more challenging because there are multiple light sources and each source produces a different color i.e. color temperature. The image quality can be greatly affected by the extreme color differences.
  3. You have to know how you should balance the camera’s exposure to different lights. It will be necessary for you to learn how the shutter speeds and the f/stops work about the lights. This is quite demanding and challenging.
  4. The light quality from the light tent is usually even without any shadow. In order for you to capture the best image, the source of light should produce shadows that are important in creating the product’s shape and provide the viewer with a sense of location.

Compared to the light tent, an image produced from window light is of high-quality, more interesting, and dynamic.

• In case you decide to use a flash and not continuous light in light tent image shooting, prepare yourself to face numerous challenges. You should be aware that flash exposure is only determined by the f/stop, and it has limits on the sync speed.

Furthermore, it needs special trigger equipment. But if you still want to use the light tent, you should prepare yourself to learn and understand how the ISO, shutter speeds, color balance, and f/stops are usually set on the camera and also with the individual lights.

 

Disadvantages to consider.

Just like other DIY projects, this photography setup also has limitations. A common problem that most people face is that the final images don’t look superb. For instance, people who want to photograph reflective products struggle to use this method because it usually reflects the window as seen below.

A natural single source of light like the window light used in this technique is often used to shoot great photos in one light environment. However, photographing reflective products usually requires a studio with a multi-light setup in addition to skilled photographers.

Such a limitation may make you consider hiring the services of a professional product photographer. The cost of hiring a professional white-background photo is affordable and it can averagely cost around $30 to $40, and there are numerous online options.

This could be a great investment to your brand because quality photos of products usually lead to better conversions. You can even search online for product photography services near you.

Final thoughts

You are doing e-commerce, remember that most of your clients and your target audience will judge your brand based on your photography skills and the design of your website. It is therefore important to produce high-quality photos that help to add a quality feel to your website and to convert traffic into sales.

Overall, it is very simple and easy to do this DIY project. Just ensure that get all the necessary equipment that you need for the shoot and the right room. Furthermore, you can do more research regarding angles, exposure, etc. to help you come with the perfect shoot.

Once you have the setup and know the techniques, you are good to go.  If you’re looking for a professional and clearly priced product photographer, please contact us for more information.

 

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