Take good product photos yourself in 3 steps

Today I would like to take up a practical topic.
I will show you in this article what you need to make yourself professional product photos to make. I will go into all aspects, so that after this article you not only know how to do it, but also what you need for it.

So we start right away and miss Give your online store a major sales upgrade with your own product photos. ;)

Why product photos in self-direction?

First of all, of course, the question of questions: Why should you create your own product photos for your online store at all??
Right off the bat, two answers come to mind, which will also have an immediate effect on your turnover.:

Ask yourself if you have necessary rights of use to use existing pictures of the products in your store! Because just because a manufacturer offers product photos of their goods for download on their website does not mean you have permission to use them. This would have to be z.B. collect them separately by e-mail. Please do not think here, by selling in the interest of the manufacturer and thus on the "warning safe" side to act. Partly manufacturers want to strengthen the retail trade or also the retail trade itself can be bothered by your offer and look for reasons..
I don’t want to give legal advice at this point – I don’t have the legal background for that. But I want to make you aware of the problems.

Avoid using other people’s product photos or check their rights of use carefully!

Very important are now good pictures to attract attention. Good images are enormously important for your conversion rate! Show details here and pay attention to good quality. Of course, this also applies to your product texts. Both are weighty reasons to take your product photos into your own hands. And you even have the possibility to offer a consistent look and quality throughout your store. This creates trust and looks professional.

What should a product photo show?

Product photos are always particularly important when advertising a product that the potential buyer does not have directly in front of his eyes. This can z.B. because it is still in the packaging (product photos as imprint), it is ordered online or looked at in the catalog.

The appropriate Motifs for your product images is relatively intuitive to find: Just imagine that the product is new to you and you are holding it in your hand for the first time. Surely you will rotate it and look at it from all sides. So show it also in the photos from different perspectives!

Which side dominates? Are there important details to highlight? Then shoot this in a close-up as well! Try first and foremost a objective view, because with this you bring "calmness" into the picture. This in turn leads to your viewer being able to grasp your thoughts and the details of the product more quickly.

Think about what you would also look at yourself in the store.

You would certainly look inside a bag – record it! You would want to feel the lining of a coat. It’s hard to show this, but with suitable light a close-up of the fabric structure can give an idea of this feeling.

Also, don’t forget to visualize products where sizes and proportions are crucial. So with a particularly small lawn mower, you only recognize the advantage of its small size when you have the relatively large person mowing the lawn in the photo. Whereas this might not be relevant for a standardized file folder.

Let these thoughts work on you, make a few notes for the beginning and go now to the conversion!

1. The technique – the basis for your own product photos

So now we come to the technology. At this point I try to show you a good middle way between quality, cost and effort and also explain why I recommend this way.

Depending on the size of your online store, I recommend setting up a mini-studio for your product shots for reproducible results. D.h. Ideally, you should set up at least one corner of the room for this purpose.

Your advantage: The structure remains as much as possible the same. In this way, you produce comparable images, which you then transfer to uniform results with the targeted use of automatisms (more on this later).

The camera for your product photos

For product photos cameras with interchangeable lenses offer more flexibility

Basically, almost all cameras nowadays offer a sufficient minimum quality.

Maybe you already have a camera that you can use (ideally exclusively) for this purpose. In that case, of course, you don’t have to buy a new camera..

Often the products of your store are limited in size. D.h. you often need a large image scale. Here you quickly come to limits when it comes to sharpness.

A product photo should Product mostly completely sharp represent.

You can achieve this more easily with a crop camera than with a full-frame camera. D.h. for product photography a smaller sensor area is rather beneficial. With this, all sensors below 35mm size are recommended. (APS, Micro-Four-Third)

The worse noise behavior of the smaller chips does not play a role for your product photos. Because we use the light in sufficient quantity and purposefully.

Furthermore, I would recommend an SLR or system camera, because you are more flexible with the choice of lenses. I think z.B. to macro lenses or even tilt-shift lenses. Even the latter could be. of the focal plane in some cases make sense.

As far as the camera manufacturer is concerned, everyone should stick to the system he knows and loves.

I consider the following cameras suitable.: Update November 2021

The tripod

Now we have the camera. But out of hand we do not take the pictures. We want for good product photos reproducible results.

Here stability is important and that brings a good tripod. The tripod must not wobble or move unintentionally.

But since we don’t want to take it with us on vacation, the weight doesn’t matter. So it does not need to be a carbon tripod. Here you can even have a look if a good used tripod can do its job.

Personally, I have been a fan of the Manfrotto tripods for many years. But this is just a personal preference, because they are not so cheap either.

The following tripod I consider suitable:

The shooting table

Next to the camera you need something where you will place your product. Here are different possibilities for the most different requirements. If my suggestion does not fit your products, write it in the comments or directly by email to [email protected] and I will gladly give you a tip that is suitable for you.

Try to find a table suitable for the bulk of your products. Do not choose the table too big. However, the product should also be able to stand safely on it. For product photos, smaller tables are often suitable, because you can get closer with the light sources.

The basic idea is that you put the table on a wall. Place the camera in front of it and the light sources on the sides. On the table you now have different design possibilities for your product photos. Much depends on personal taste.

The easiest way is to put a white paper on the table and fix a white paper behind on the adjacent wall. This creates an artificial horizon.

If this is not desired, you can take a larger sheet of paper and attach it to the wall. This is only attached at the top, so that the paper forms a fillet to the table.

This has the advantage that there is no artificial horizon behind your product. If you don’t have the possibility to put the table against a wall, there are also small tools to build a cove.

I think the following shooting table is suitable:

Of course, there are also larger shooting tables that make even your table superfluous. Here decide only your budget, your preferences and your products.

The light

Product photos need soft light - this is provided by softboxes

Now we come to the light. Basically you try to keep the light of the product photography as shadow-free as possible. This already eliminates the use of direct sun / lamp or direct flash.

It is often advised to shoot at a window. In principle, this is also not a bad tip, which quickly leads to useful results. The problem for you as an online store operator is only the repeatability. D.h. if you take a product photo in the afternoon, it will look different from the one you took in the morning.

So you would have to post-process each photo individually differently. So this may be good for a single product photo. However, I would like to show you the more sustainable way, which will save you a lot of time in the end.

So I recommend you a corner of the room, z.B. in the basement, for your product shots to set up. However, do not take a corner directly, because you still have to set up lamps. I mean this more in the sense of a quiet area/room where the setup is not constantly in your way.

First you have to avoid stray light and turn it off. so you can not only turn off the light, but also darken the window? If no, you should think about it now. Because stray light can have a massive negative effect on the quality of your shots and you lose our goal of the Repeatability.

For product photos you should switch off the so called stray light to get repeatable results

Not only in the film area one goes there the quick& dirty way with Molton and Gaffa. Simply cut it to size and stick it on the window sash. So you can get it open for airing at any time. If you use the room in another way, you can of course use a curtain.

And also leave the room light on until you take the picture, so you can still see something. ;)
When you have turned off all stray light, set up the shooting table and the camera, it’s time for targeted illumination. The advantage of this variant is that you leave nothing to chance and you can repeat the results for each of your 1000 products.

Lamps are needed for targeted illumination. 2 lamps should be the minimum here. A flash system provides brilliant light, but with all the light shapers it’s not exactly cheap and requires more knowledge about lighting. the lighting time, light assessment and light measurement. Therefore I recommend you at least for the beginning sog. Continuous light lamps.

There are small sets that include 2 lamp heads, 2 light shapers and 2 tripods.

The following lamp set offers a good start: Update November 2021

Put best one of your products as "light model" on the table resp. the background cardboard. then place the lamps left and right next to it. However, sufficient light should also hit the product from the front. For the beginning, place them in such a way that, when viewed from above, an angle of approx. 45° between product and camera and product and lamp is formed. When shooting you will still align this arrangement exactly.

Basically, product photos are about a as even as possible shadow-free illumination.

Why is this so, when shadows can also create excitement?
This has rather technical reasons. Because in most online stores products are "cropped". This means that they have no background at all and are therefore directly embedded in the design of the store. A product is easier to crop in postproduction if it is illuminated without shadows. In addition, the customer wants to get as objective a picture of the product as possible and is less interested in promotional and emotional images at this point. Product photos have a factual character. You inform about appearance, color, structure.

Finally, do not forget about efficiency and charging time.

For online stores, loading times are enormously important for a positive customer experience.

If the background is isolated or. monochrome (and this does not include a monochrome gradient), the photo can be compressed more efficiently. As a result, the image file is smaller and can be loaded faster by the customer’s browser. This in turn benefits the customer experience and indirectly the search engine ranking. (but that would lead too far at this point :) )

The light tent

If the result is still not shadow-free enough or if you should use a different lighting technique, then a sog. Light tent help further.

A light tent is a small "tent" that is at least large enough to accommodate your product. It consists of a fabric that can be shone through. This way you achieve a completely shadow-free illumination. The lens then protrudes through a small hole in the tent. How to photograph the product without shadows.

However, light tents are not among my personal favorites. The light characteristics are almost boringly homogeneous and it quickly appears low-contrast. Often it is the change between light and dark in the reflections that give the product a certain character.

However, you have to decide between personal preferences and efficiency. When dealing with large numbers of products, an "almost perfect" result that takes only a fraction of the time to shoot is often the better option.

If you want to use a light tent, this would be an example:

2. The process

The goal is to standardize a process

Now we come to the workflow. Let’s assume you have your first product in hand. Then put resp. you put it first in the middle of your cove. Now you roughly set up the camera from the cutout and switch on the two softboxes.

Before you continue, make sure you darken the window and turn off the room light. Otherwise unsightly reflections arise.

Then you bring the softboxes approximately to the height of your product and as close as possible (without them naturally appearing in the picture detail). Stand behind the camera and take a good look at your product.

So first bring the product into position.

Set up the camera the way you want to shoot it. If the camera is too low, you won’t see anything from the top side. If it is too high, you will see too much of the upper side.

Trying z.B. with a radio, let the most important side dominate (i.e. z.B. the front). Then turn it slightly to also show some of the depth of the device. Now bring the camera into a slight top view. You should be able to see a little of the top side – without the main side losing its dominance.
Now take your notes of your subject considerations from the section What should a product photo show?? at hand.

Also try to make sure that your product is completely surrounded by the background. Ideally the background goes to the edge of the picture. If not, this must be removed later in post-processing.

But keep in mind that post-processing will cost you additional time for each individual product!

Now look through the camera or. if possible from the same angle of the camera to your product. Look at it closely. Are there reflections from your lamps? If so, bring it a little deeper, further back or forward…until the reflection is gone. Sometimes it is only a few centimeters.

Make sure the main side of your object is bright enough. Often the dark space "reflects" and makes this side too dark. A remedy here is z.B. a white sheet. You can fold this and place it vertically. Put it in front of the front side. This sheet "reflects in the front and thus give it light. However, the trick is to make the leaf or the background bright enough. not to have the brightener in the picture at the same time.

But always try to be as precise and exact as possible, as this will save a lot of time later due to automatisms. It is the same with Dirt and dust on the product or the background. Wiping this away once is much faster than having to do it for every single image in post processing.

The shots

The accuracy in shooting, make automatisms only possible

Now it’s time to take the photo – the 1. Product photo. Set your camera to manual. Adjust the sharpness. The front side must be perfectly sharp. Switch off AF now at the latest! Set a small aperture (small aperture = large f-number). I recommend f/11. Depending on the lens, there should not be too much diffraction blur yet.

The aperture priority shows the right shutter speed or. already provides a good basis. The key is to use these settings for all shots to keep. To avoid the following postprocessing regarding. To simplify the process of determining the color temperature and correct exposure, you can use certain aids for the test shot.

I recommend you to use the sog. Spidercube:

Place the camera as close as possible to your product. Take a shot with it and then take it away again. To be on the safe side, you do this once before each series of similar products (not for each individual product). The Spydercube provides a quick and accurate guide for fine-tuning your exposure and white balance in post-processing.

Then comes the actual recording. Here you can decide for yourself whether you want to connect a MacBook to your camera and sog. Tethered shooting. It bypasses the step of first recording to a memory card and then transferring it to your computer. You have the results directly in Lightroom and can judge them better and faster on the monitor. Take the first pictures in raw format. Once you have the process to the perfect product photo ready, you can optimize the process. If this part was too fast for you? This is because it doesn’t matter whether you have a MacBook, use Lightroom at all, or prefer to shoot to a memory card. Try at least for the beginning "your" background Finding a way with existing means.

3. The postprocessing

Post-processing is very individual. Basically you always have to try to find some kind of Template for your product photos with the 1. Photo to create. D.h. set everything up once and tweak the result until it fits. Then you try to reproduce these steps exactly for all products (or at least for a large number of products). If you proceed in this way when taking the photo, you will also benefit from it during post-processing.

But this also results in quite individual processes. I can therefore only explain the postprocessing as an example.

Now mark all images in Lightroom and open the first Spidercube shot in the Develop module. Select the white balance pipette and click on one of the gray areas of the spidercube. After that all images should have the right color. Choose the exposure so that the highlights on the sphere are still visible and the hole of the spidercube as well. (If the picture is too dark, the hole disappears. If it is too bright, the highlight is overblown)

For the process optimization mentioned above, you can already set the camera (shutter speed and manual white balance) so that all subsequent products can be captured directly in JPG format.

Then you export all product images as JPG into a folder. The further processing is now done via batch processing. To do this, you create Photoshop actions individually adapted to your process. This regulates an equal aspect ratio, possibly cropping (if necessary and possible) and also an optimized export into a format suitable for the web.

Image formats JPG, PNG, WebP advantages/disadvantages

Which image format one uses in the individual actions depends on the application purpose. Basically, JPG offers the best compromise between quality and file size (which has a positive effect on the loading time for your store). JPG does not offer the possibility to display transparencies.

For this you need the PNG format. This compresses but not so much, because it compresses lossless. The file size can grow quickly. Here you have to decide if you need transparencies (cropped products) for your product pictures. The upcoming WebP format can create a good compromise here in the future. For the broad e-commerce area I would not recommend it yet. But I like to keep you up to date at this point.

Export / Compression

The same applies to the compression. Ideally you compress each image separately, because it depends strongly on the motive. But for a store you should try generic values and apply them to all via an action. The sheer volume of images that can quickly accumulate in an online store makes individual compression of the individual product photos too inefficient. There are other tools, too, but I don’t want to go into them here, because I don’t want to go beyond the scope of this article.

But I hope that this article has given you some more profound help for your product photography. Basically the first product photo is decisive and determines the whole process. After that you can optimize and simplify it very much. You have to work very conscientiously in any case, because a small mistake will of course affect your whole series.

If you have any further questions or suggestions, feel free to write them in the comments or send an e-mail to [email protected]

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