Why And How To Take Great Product Photographs

This is a topic I love to talk about. I like photography, am good at it and get a lot of satisfaction from taking good product photographs. However, I am not writing about product photography because I like doing it.

Product photography is very important part of your craft presentation. When selling online photographs of the crafts can literally make or break a sale.

After all, this is the only means the buyer has of viewing the craft. If you are not bothered with showing off your crafts in the best light, what kind of a commitment can you really expect from the buyer to buy your work?

Not only is the photographs of your crafts pivotal in making it sell they project an image of your business.

“What does bad product photography say about your business? Nothing good. The first impression poor photography creates is that you are an amateur.”

This is the last thing you want to buyers to think if you are expecting them to pay a premium price for your work.

The advantage of selling online is that you can cultivate a carefully crafted image for your business. You might be making things on your kitchen table and yet have a professional brand image. This is what allows you to charge a premium price for your craft. By taking bad photographs you are getting something very essential wrong.

how to take good pictures of products

Product photos are the only way that a buyer is going to see your craft online. That is the one and only impression he is going to have of your craft. Bad product photos tell the buyer the following things.

  • You are unprofessional or not bothered with the aesthetics of your work. 
  • If you are careless about something so elementary you are probably careless about the quality of your work as well.

These reflections do not remain limited to a particular craft the buyer is looking at, but permeate to entire image that a buyer forms of you and your business.

Blame the Tool

Yes, in this case it is likely to be true. If your existing camera refuses to give you good results, you need to invest in a good camera. A single reflects camera known as an SLR gives you the best results by far.

These days entry-level SLR's have become very reasonably priced. They are cheaper than many high end point and shoot cameras. I have personally used both SLR and high and point-and-shoot cameras.

The SLR cameras are just so much better suited to the job because of the superior image quality. If your existing camera is not up to the job invest in an SLR camera.

We know that it is easy to think of this as a secondary expense. It really isn't. The product photographs are your most important asset when selling your crafts online. You need to do everything you can to make sure they are of a very high quality.

Learn to use the camera.

Sounds obvious? It is. But unfortunately very few people do this. I have seen them go and buy a good camera with a lot of enthusiasm. But when it comes to learning how to use it, their eyes almost seem to glaze over with boredom.

The basics of how to control the exposure, using the right aperture, shutter speed etc. are not difficult to learn at all. Force yourself to understand these functions if you feed that you are not naturally enthusiastic towards photography.

Learning just the basics of photography will not take much time and will really help you get very good results with your camera. Read the photography guide that comes with the camera. We are developing a section on the blog that deals with product photography and will teach you everything you need to know to take great photographs of your crafts.

However, in the meantime you can learn from online guides, forums and videos. Certain SLR camera models from Canon come with a start-up guide to start-up photography. In case this guide has not come with your camera you can also buy a book on basic photography from your closest bookshop.

Things that matter

We are going to list the things that you should learn about photography in order to take good product photographs. You can search online for each and find helpful tutorials.

  • What camera to use.
  • What lens to us.
  • What additional equipment e.g. backgrounds and extra lights do you need.
  • Aperture and how it affects the picture. 
  • Shutter speed. 
  • Relationship between shutter speed and aperture. 
  • What is white balance and how it's crucial in producing natural and real colours. 
  • How much light do you need to click good pictures. 
  • How to find good light to click good pictures.

WHAT CAMERA TO USE

Camera technology has come a long way. The DSLRs that used to be very expensive and not for the common guy, are now very affordable. Not only are they reasonably priced, but the quality of pictures to come from the most basic of models is very good for our purpose.

Some point and shoots are even more expensive than beginner DSLRs and give very quality of pictures. Some of the current models made by Sony are amongst such models. 

However, our recommendation is to avoid buying a very expensive camera unless you have other reasons to do so. The beginner range of DSLRs from Nikon and Canon are very good and so are the kit lens that come with them.

Some people wonder if they can use their phone cameras. Yes, some phone cameras do take good high res pictures, some even in RAW. Some boast of 20+ megapixel cameras. If you have good light, you can click with a phone.

The 3 areas of problem I find with a phone camera are getting the depth of field when required, getting the right white balance and getting good details in the picture. Even the cheapest of DSLRs from Canon or Nikon will give you much better results.

WHAT LENS TO USE

The kit lens that comes with the modern day DSLRs  is good enough for most purposes. You will usually get a zoom lens such as 18 – 55mm or a 24 – 105mm or something like that. The maximum aperture range will most likely be 3.5 – 5.6. I will explain why thats important a little later.

These modern lenses have superior coatings on their glass as well as more or better glass elements that really gives very good results, under the right conditions, of course. By right conditions I mean good lighting and setting.

When clicking with a kit zoom lens, remember to avoid clicking at full zoom and the widest setting. Thats is, for an 18 – 55m lens, never shoot at 18mm (widest) and 55m (full tele). The image quality suffers. The more expensive and pro lenses also suffer from this but to a lesser extent. To get good results from your kit zoom lens, shoot in the mid rage of the zoom which is about 24 – 35mm.

Also, if the light permits, stop down the aperture to 5.6 or 7 and never more than 8. This will further enhance the sharpness of your pictures quiet a bit.

If you want to buy additional lenses, buy a prime lens to start with. A prime lens is one that does not have zoom. They will have fixed focal lengths like 24mm, 40mm, 50mm, 100mm etc. Go for a lens with wide aperture like 1.4, 1.8 or 2.8. These lenses when stopped down to 4.5 or 5.6 give REALLY sharp pictures. The bigger the aperture of the lens i.e. 1.4 or 1.8, the better is the boketh. Boketh is the blurred area that you see behind the subject that is in focus.

This looks very pretty as it isolates the subject from the background but is also something you need to be careful with. Shooting at full open will give you more blur, but it can also blur out areas of your subject if they are behind or ahead of the spot you have focused on. Also, at wide open, the image tends to be softer, although wider lenses like 24mm and 40mm from Canon are very sharp on wide open.

So like with the zoom, stop down the aperture from full wide a couple of stops. In stead of shooting at 1.8, shoot at 3.5 or 4.5. That will give you a very sharp image, thats in focus and a shallow depth of field for isolation.

Just for clarification, the smaller the number, the larger is the aperture opening. 1.8 is a bigger aperture opening than 2.8, and  so on. Stopping down the lens means reducing the aperture size, like going from 1.8 to 4.5, and so on.

(‘Depth Of Field’ is the term used for the area behind and in front of the subject that is in focus. Shallow depth of field means that things even slightly behind or in front of the subject get nicely blurred).

If you shooting against a backdrop in your studio, then the depth of field and isolation doesn't matter anyway.

ADDITIONAL EQUIPMENT REQUIRED

See what else do you need. I do a lot of product photography where I use the ambient light or the light of the room. Maybe you can do the same if where you are working has enough illumination, that lights up the subject well and doesn’t cast harsh shadows. If not, invest is a simple day-light balanced camera light. They are inexpensive and provide a lot of flexibility regarding where and when you can shoot your crafts.

Buy a simple background, 2 – 3 lights and you literally have your own studio where you can take very professional looking photographs of your art and crafts.

A tripod is a good buy if you are shooting the same angle or an uncomfortable one. It’s much easier and convenient to set up a tripod and camera over a table rather than bending over it. You will get steadier shots with a tripod, which means clearer pictures. And of course, your back will thank you for it.

THE RIGHT WHITE BALANCE

It’s surprising that few people pay attention to this. White Balance means that your pictures should look like they have been clicked in neutral white light or daylight. There should not be hues of yellow, blue or any other color. The reason is that in color balanced light, your craft will look true to its colors. And white balanced pictures just look better 99% of the times.

There is an AUTO white balance setting on all cameras, but they are usually incapable under many artificial lighting conditions indoors. Even the auto setting are known to get things wrong. So the answer lies is setting a CUSTOM white balance on your camera.

The exact procedure differs from camera to camera but they all need you to take a picture of something perfectly neutral in color. The best thing to do here it to have a 50% grey card meant specially for this purpose. You can order one inexpensively online. Take a picture of this card in the light you are going to shoot your subject under, and follow the steps as laid out in your camera manual.

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