The perfect product photos in 5 steps
So you just landed here because you just opened your Etsy shop, or your online shop? Welcome!
And, congratulations! Or you may have been running your own shop for a little while but want to achieve better photography for your products to get noticed online? Either way, you have come to the right place!
To create great product photos, you need to know what makes a good photo, so you can make your own, as good. It is not a complicated process, but it requires observation. The five points I am sharing below are what I believe to be an essential process to achieve a good looking product photo.
1 - The light, and its direction
Working with light is the most important part of shooting your product, and it should always comes first. You may have a great product, a perfect angle and a beautiful composition, yet if you do not master the light, your photo will not look very professional. It is important to learn to see the light.
Let me explain: when most fine artists learn to draw, they place their subject next to a window, or next to a source of light. Generally, that source of light will embrace the subject from the left, creating a shadow onto the right. We may not notice these things, yet for the sake of our shop appearance we should.
It feels like a very natural way to see the direction of the light coming from the left when we look at an illustration or an object, but you can also have it coming from the right. The most important thing is that you do get a sense of light direction. Light direction gives a sense of movement, which in turn gives a sense of life. These subtle details can make the whole difference in your final photo.
On the picture below I simply want to show you how I set up my space before I shoot my scenes. In winter, the best times are between 10am and 1pm (UK), and in the summer as early as 7.15am!
I use a wooden table, onto which I add different backgrounds. One is a plain white table top, I also have a few handmade wooden planks that I painted in white, and one white "wall" (I need to know how this is specifically called but it is like a plasterboard for wall insulation or something like that which I found in a DIY shop and also painted in white). Then on the right is an A3 foamboard (I talk about this on my next point below).
Extra tip: Pay attention to the light during the different hours of the day. Later in the day, your photo will have more blue in it, so it is worth playing with technical settings such as temperature to avoid too warm (yellow) or cool (blue) photos. The temperature setting is even available on phone apps such as VSCOCam.
2 - The shadows
While most people think they have to wait for bright sunshine outside to take their product photos, the best way is in fact to have a (white) cloudy day. With clouds, the light softens and spreads out evenly on your product, which means a softer finish, a more delicate and polished effect, with softer shadows. The golden rule is that your product is and needs to stay the focus point.
Place your subject next to a window (avoid flash at any costs unless you know how to use studio equipment), if possible with the light coming from the left. If you struggle with the amount of light you get into your room, get a piece of foamboard (A3 is good) from the craft shop and place it on the other side of your subject. it will bring back some light into and will soften the shadow (please refer to the set up photo on Point 2 if it is unclear).
Here is a little gif of 2 photos from the same product, one shot without the foamboard, and one with it. Can you notice the difference in the shadows?
3 - Shooting views: straight, flat lays and angles
The best way to show off your product is to show it as a whole, either straight or as a flat lay. Remember, the product is the focus, so now is not the time to start playing with angles (not yet!). Your potential customers are interested to see what they will get, and when they will first arrive to your shop, you need to catch their attention and make them want to see more.
Your first product photo should be airy, with some negative space around the product and nothing too distracting. It should be shot straight (I mean by this that you could place a ruler along side your product and it would look in line) and precise. Try to shoot in a landscape format, especially for Etsy, and make sure the photo is not cropped when appearing on your shop's front page.
Extra tip: I normally upload featured images as 1200x800 pixels.
Once you have that main photo, you should upload at least a couple more, to featured different usage examples, or a close up so your customer gets as much visual information as possible. It is not a physical shop, so imagine yourself going to a shop and seeing something you like, you would want to touch it and feel it right?
You can use an angle or a more explorative shot to show off some detail. Again, we are not trying to experiment for fun, but we want to showcase our product, as it is and needs to stay the centre of attention. Always keep that in mind when shooting with angles and ask yourself:
- Does it really show something good about the product?
- Will it help the customer see the detail of my product this way?
- Does it enhance or help the product description?
If it does not add value, then do not bother adding in onto your online shop or website. Maybe keep it for social media instead?
If not keen on angles, try to showcase different lifestyle examples for your product: for a piece of jewellery, you can create a mood by setting it next to a crystal, and then on the neck of a woman for example.
4 - The props
This is the fun part! Remember though, less is more! Before you get carried away, choose your props wisely and ask yourself these questions:
- Do they help to achieve telling a story about your product?
- Are they discreet and plain?
- Do the prop colour enhance my product?
- Are they the same colour combination?
Avoid patterns or strong colours, you do not not want the customer to be attracted to the prop instead of the product. Depending on the size and purpose of your product, you could 1 to 3 different props and it should be enough. Make sure that your prop is proportionate to your product in size too, it needs to stay fairly small to be discreet.
Extra tip: pay attention to the warmth of the photo: if you have a card that has a very warm illustration on it, it is nice to have a sense of repetition by having a touch of warm in a prop, yet the background should be kept neutral to avoid the "too much" effect of warmth.
Exercise: place your product on the chosen background and pick up your props. Place the ones you like on the photo around the product and see how it feels. The best way for me to decide, is to actually take a shot, see it on the screen, and analyse the photo. See the example below:
On this photo, I feel there is a little too much going on, don't you? There is the wooden background + a piece of linen + some hearts + some stars + a ribbon on top of the main products. The other problem is that I also have 2 different types of hearts on top of already having 2 different colours. It is just a little too much, but at the same time I am achieving the atmosphere I want to create, a quite and peaceful feel yet bright and colourful. So I am going to try again, this time by putting away what does not help convey this atmosphere.
See the next example:
I feel much better about this. There is a repetition of the blush pink, the ribbon is cropped so we can see it but it is not overpowering, and the stars are here yet seem to fade in the background quite well. I should still pay attention to the piece of ribbon that is attached to the letter, the way it is placed does not feel great, but that is the kind of detail I can only spot once I see the photo on my screen. So yes it can take a few trials, but each time you learn something more and you will see, in a couple of days you can make a huge progress already!
Also notice the negative space on this photo, there is room to breathe and you definitely want that on your online shop too.
5 - Consistency
Now that you have achieved a good photo that tells more about your brand, your story and what you want to convey, you can move onto the next product photo! You might get excited to go on exploring creative photo options here, and whilst this is something you can do through props, make sure that your product photos are all consistent. The angles should stay the same, as well as the light amount and light direction.
Have fun playing around with your product photography, and please remember this: these amazing products you created, you probably put all your heart into them. The same thing goes with photography: have fun, let your soul speak and remember how you felt like when you created your product, what it was that made you have that idea, what you wanted to share through it. Photography is simply an extension of your product story. Have fun!
PS. if this feels too overwhelming for you, you can join me in the Pretty Handmade class where I will teach you step by step how to style and shoot beautiful product photos for your brand.