Making your product photography POP
As with most things, the more you can prepare before you start taking your product photographs, the better. Preparing means first of all, looking at your equipment and your set up, then your products, then the photographs themselves.
Your equipment and set up
A few things here, and I will warn you: you’ll need something a bit better than a point-and-shoot camera. It doesn’t have to be a fancy DSLR but you will need to be able to adjust the shutter speed, the light sensitivity (known in camera world as ISO settings) and the exposure of your camera. Anything beyond that is an extra bonus.
You will also need some lights – but you can use a couple of lamps from home as long as you are able to swivel the light around. If you do use lamps from home, make sure you don’t use those new energy saving globes as the light they emit is too blue/green and will make your products look positively stern and stark.
A studio: you can create a makeshift one of these at home in your bathroom, as long as it’s white and features some natural light and a couple of power points. You will also need a very new white sheet or two, and some masking tape. Surrounding your product with white space is standard practice and will make things much easier for you when it comes to editing your photos later on.
Reflector sheets are more useful than they sound because they eliminate the pesky shadows that will lend darkness to your photos. They come in various diameters and usually are gold on one side and silver on the other.
Before you begin taking your photos, carefully consider your audience and what you are trying to convey in your product photos. Whatever you do, let your product sell itself and give your customers a reason to stay on your site.
Photos carry a lot of meaning, much of it subtle, so before you start snapping away, ask yourself, is it a photo to show how to use a product? Is it situational and will I need a model? If you are unable to explain to someone in a few words what your product actually does, a simple photo won’t cut it. Take a sequence of photos with a model demonstrating how to use the product or showing what it does. Put the best part of your product at the front and in your customers’ faces: it will be what they remember.
Whatever you are trying to photograph, make sure before you start that it is free of stains, dust, rips, cracks or any other the product, inspect it carefully for tears, stains, cracks, chips or other imperfections before you start snapping away. Try coating sealed products such as hard plastics with a thin coat of hairspray to increase its sparkle and shine. Remember, though, if it is shiny there will be a reflection, so make sure that you can’t see yourself in it!
Next, take some test shots to see how your camera, lighting and studio settings are working. Especially check your exposure so that your photos are not too shadowy or blown out with too much light. Adjust as necessary: reduce exposure if your shots are too bright; increase it for the reverse.
Think about the angle of your shot. It’s true that some folks like to have a photo taken from a certain angle rather than others: this is also true of products. Play around and see which angle works best for your products.
Take a note of the settings that work for your products: this will save you having to try and replicate from the beginning every time you start a photography session. This is especially relevant for your colour control settings, which most DSLR cameras feature. You can usually pick and choose how saturated with colour you want your shots, but if your product is already really colourful, you could try adjusting your setting to a more muted one.
Also make sure that you are shooting pictures in the right image format. If you are only going to be using your pictures online, you can get away with using jpeg format. You can use a RAW format, which is like a digital negative file, but because it contains a truckload more data than jpeg format, it takes up a lot of space and you will need special converters when you touch up your images on the computer.
The next step is to edit your photos. To do this most geeks will have and use Adobe Photoshop or Elements. Elements is easier to use if you are new or starting to learn about digitally enhancing your photography. But there are several photo editing programmes around, some free and some very expensive. By using a photo editing programme you have the ideal opportunity to really make your photography stand out and catch your customers’ eye.
When you edit you can remove shadow, lighten an under-exposed shot, amp up your colour saturation or your contrast; and you can crop or reduce in size the shot itself. This will also be where you can save your photo to the right file format, dimensions and size for your website. It’s a good idea to play around with your test shots in your editing programme for a while first, so you can get a good idea of which editing tools do which jobs.
Once you have uploaded your imagery to your website, make sure that you have also included captions and alt tags. Check, double check and triple check that you have spelled the name of the product correctly in each instance. Poor spelling makes your website seem unprofessional and amateur.
And on that note: one of the basic rules of photography is that the less busy the background, the more focus on the subject of the photo. This is especially true for product images, which should really be cut out, properly masked and presented against a white background so your customers can see the product (most) clearly. Apply this rule consistently to maintain a professional feel to your imagery.
Here is an example of the above techniques produced by Gavin Crossley at The Craft Emporium (site coming soon).