How to Take Perfect Product Photos for Your Store

Investing in high-quality product photography is one of the best things you can do to increase your store’s conversion rate. 

Ninety-three percent of buyers said visual content is the critical deciding factor in their purchasing decisions, according to Justuno. Not just visual content, but quality visual content. 

Your photos should bring your products to life, and customers agree. Seventy-eight percent of online shoppers want product photography to help them imagine the items as a part of their lives. Good product photos make the difference between customers clicking “add to cart” or “close tab.”

The data shows that product photos can make or break your online store. This can be intimidating, especially because shooting your products is not an easy or intuitive process. 

This guide is here to change that. Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of product photography. You’ll learn how to take high-quality, captivating photos of your products in no time. 

What You Need To Get Started with Product Photography

The following section will help you choose the materials and equipment you need based on your budget, location, product type and more.

A List of Products to Shoot

An organized shoot is an efficient shoot. Planning ahead of time is the best use of your time and resources. 

To start, create a list or spreadsheet of which products you need to shoot and the specific photos you need of each product, like different angles or close-ups. Group similarly sized products together to minimize your setup time.

A Photographer’s Toolbox

Next, create a toolbox to ensure you’re ready for anything. Your toolkit should have:

  1. Tape: Tape keeps things in place. Try to have as many varieties as possible, including one extra-strong, one clear, and one double-sided kind.
  2. Pencil and paper: In case you need to scribble notes about your setup, camera angle... or a reminder to call your mom back.
  3. Clamps: These will come in handy to hold your backdrop, reflector or sweep in place. 
  4. Fishing wire: If you’re photographing jewelry or other items that can’t stand up on their own, be sure to have a fishing wire.
  5. Pocket scissors: These will come in handy to cut paper, fishing line and loose fabric threads. 
  6. Glue dots: When working with small objects, glue dots keep things fixed in place. 
  7. Spare batteries or a charger: There’s nothing worse than your camera or phone dying in the middle of a shoot with no way to recharge it.
  8. Sanitizing wipes: Your camera will pick up on dust, dirt or anything else on your products — wipe them down for a quick polish. 
  9. Gas dusters: For products made of leather or plastic, sanitizing wipes can leave a smear or stain. A compressed gas duster can will blow away any grime without damaging your product. 

If you’re shooting clothes, you should keep the following supplies on hand, too:

  1. Non-damaging hooks: If you’re shooting clothes on hangers or towels/sheets in a hanging position, use non-damaging, removable hooks on the walls.
  2. Safety pins: Use safety pins to make small adjustments for a better fit. 
  3. Iron: Customers don’t want to see wrinkled clothes. Keep an iron or a garment steamer handy to keep your products looking pristine.  

Camera

Not all cameras are created equal. See if your camera is suitable for product photography with the following checklist:  

  1. A high megapixel count produces high-quality and zoomable photos. Shoot for a megapixel of 12 and up. 
  2. Manual mode lets you tailor the ISO, shutter speed, aperture and white balance to the product you’re shooting.
  3. Autofocus saves you time and energy. You might not want to use autofocus for every photograph, but it’s useful to have.
  4. Good color quality saves you time during post-processing. Your camera needs to depict the colors of your product correctly. 
  5. Low light capability adapts to your lighting. Your camera should still perform well in low light conditions.

Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR) vs. Smartphone

Contrary to popular belief, your camera isn’t what makes or breaks your photoshoot. While a professional camera is the standard choice for, well, professionals, you don’t necessarily need to shell out hundreds of dollars on a new camera to produce great photos. 

In fact, your camera might just be in your back pocket. 

The latest smartphones — such as the iPhone XS, Google Pixel 3 and Samsung Galaxy S9 — can produce high-resolution images. So before you splurge on a new camera, try taking photos with that first.

If you’re working on a budget or want something user-friendly, a smartphone is easier to use than a DSLR, and you don’t have to worry (as much) about sophisticated settings. Dozens of mobile apps can help you with every step of your process, making it a one-stop-shop for product photography. Not only can you take photos, but you can edit and publish pictures directly from your phone, too. 

Smartphone and camera photographing graffiti wall
Image source: MUO

If you prioritize customization and manual control, get yourself a DSLR. You can create your preferred shots by tinkering with the settings on a DSLR, which we’ll cover later. If you’re interested in dedicated product photography equipment or plan to do product photography for a while, then it might be best to invest in one.

The quality of your photos depends more on lighting, background and post-processing than your camera. As long as your camera has the basic requirements for a product shoot, it will get the job done.  

Sweep and Table

The best product photos are shot against a “sweep,” a white background that smoothly transitions from the vertical to the horizontal surface. The best sweep and table will depend on the size of your products as well as your budget. Keep reading to learn what sweep is best for you. 

DIY Tabletop Photography Setup

The most economical option is to build your shooting setup, especially if you’re shooting small items. It’s an all-in-one sweep solution that gives you flexibility and control when it comes to your light sources. Later on, we’ll cover how to build your tabletop setup.

Professional Tabletop Photography Setup

A professional shooting table is a good option if you have the budget for it. These portable shooting tables range from $50 to $110 online.

Large Sweep for Larger Products

Your sweep should always be larger than the product itself. Ideally, your sweep should fill the entire shot frame. 

When you’re shooting larger products like furniture, finding a proper sweep can prove more difficult. Buying a sweep from a photography store is your best bet since they typically come with a stand, making it easy to set up your studio. 

Location

When choosing where to conduct your shoot, keep  lighting top of mind. If you don’t want to spend money on a studio and artificial lighting gear, select a location that has as much natural light as possible. It could be a corner of your home, a spare room or even a garage. 

If your preferred location gets sufficient natural light, that’s a great location. You might opt for artificial lighting, in which case your area needs to be spacious enough to set up a studio. 

Hair product bottle against white sweep next to window
Image source: Your Camera Story

Tripod

Unstable cameras produce blurry, inconsistent photos. The best way to avoid this is to invest in a tripod. 

There are dozens of budget-friendly tripods online that will make all the difference in your product photos. If you’re shooting small items, a mini tripod is the best option. If you’re shooting larger items, you should buy a full-size tripod. If you’re using your smartphone and are looking for a budget-friendly tripod alternative, use a stack of books or other items to stabilize your phone. 

Light Source

Lighting alone can be the difference between a professional- or amateur-looking shoot. You have two options: natural light and studio light. This decision hinges on the current season or timing of the shoot, your budget and your shoot’s location.

Natural Lighting

Natural light is a budget-friendly option. Since you’ll be using the sun as an indirect light source, you need to set up your studio near a window. 

However, natural light can be finicky, challenging to master and unpredictable. The season, time of day and weather may leave you with unexpected colors and contrasts in your shoots.

These issues are fixable with a reflector or foam board that acts as a “fill light.” This lets you manually distribute shadows when using natural light. Even if you use artificial lighting in your shoot, a reflector can be handy.

Side by side photos of rose wine next to a reflector
Image source: BigCommerce

Foam boards are a lot cheaper than reflectors. You can get a pack of 10 for less than $20. Basic reflectors cost around $30, and larger ones are upward of $50.

Artificial Lighting

Artificial lights offer more flexibility and control. 

Due to the high costs, it may not be worth investing in artificial lighting unless you’re setting up a permanent studio. There is a steep learning curve when it comes to mastering lights, but once you get comfortable with it, it’s smooth sailing.

For those who can’t shoot during the day, artificial lights are the best option. It doesn’t matter what time of day you shoot since you’ll be replicating natural light with your tools. 

Sock on foot mannequin with studio lights and background
Image source: Andoer

If you want to use artificial lighting but don’t have the budget for it, there are some DIY options, like using ordinary light bulbs (15-watt fluorescent bulbs and 60-watt incandescent bulbs). Note that incandescent bulbs are less energy-efficient and much warmer than fluorescent bulbs, so you may need to play around with some custom white balance settings. 

For DIY artificial lights, use adjustable desk lamps or grab some clamp lights and spring clamps from your local hardware store. If you want to upgrade to better-quality studio lights, invest in a lighting kit. There are lots of different kit options online.

How to Shoot Product Photos

Now that you have your tools ready, it’s time to keep everything organized and in-check to facilitate a fuss-free shoot.

Prepare Products to Shoot

A disorganized shoot is a bad one. Organize your products in one place to streamline your workflow and help you keep track of the hundreds of photos you need to take. 

Make sure your products are ready to be photographed before you start your shoot. Clean, iron, polish and dust before your shoot, not during your shoot.

Set Up Tabletop and Sweep

Arranging your photography tabletop and sweep is crucial for conducting a smooth and seamless shoot.

As mentioned earlier, a white sweep is the best choice for your background for a few reasons. First, it reduces the amount of editing needed. It also reflects white light onto your product, giving you a well-lit photo that needs few brightness and contrast adjustments. A white background will also help your camera calibrate its white balance as accurately as possible. 

For a makeshift sweep, you’ll need a wooden chair, spring clamps and enough white paper to cover the back of the chair. Clamp your sweep material to the top of the chair and let the paper “sweep” down to the seat.

Blue coffee mug on chair with white sweep
Image source: A Better Lemonade Stand

If you’re shooting larger items, tape your sweep material to a wall or pin them to a stand. Let gravity do the rest.

If you’re buying a sweep, it’s a good idea to invest in a support stand, too. A support stand minimizes the hassle that comes with making your sweep. 

Set Up Your Lights

The way you set up your lighting depends on the lighting method you selected. 

Natural Lighting

Situate your tabletop as close to a window as possible, but in a way where the sunlight isn’t directly hitting your set. Try to find a window that’s large enough to let a lot of natural light into the room.

Placing the table at a roughly 45-degree angle will get you just the right amount of light. Direct sunlight creates photos with shadows that are difficult to edit out afterward.

Side by side shots of photography setup for photographing pink sneakers next to professional photo of pink sneakers
Image source: Shopify

If you’re shooting midday or in warmer months, the natural light might be too intense. Cover the window with a white sheet or white paper to diffuse the light. The sheet must be white, as a sheet of a different color will alter the color of the light, and ultimately your image.

Foam boards are another way to bounce light back onto the subject or absorb light. White foam boards will brighten the lighting of your products, while black foam boards will soften the harshness of the light if the sun is too bright.

For DIY product photography, foam boards are better than reflectors. Not only are they more versatile and easier to mount, but they are also much cheaper. 

Reflectors are mainly for professional use. They tend to be more expensive, and the light they reflect is harsher, adding more contrast to the final images. They tend to last longer and are easier to store if you’re shooting on-the-go. 

Artificial Lighting

The ideal artificial lighting set-up requires three lights. Two lights will sit on either side of the studio to light the entire product. To avoid harsh shadows near the bottom of the product, place them closer to the front and lower to the ground. 

To give your product dimension, place a third light above and slightly behind. By doing this, you’re creating a balance between the light that’s directly on the product and the light that brightens the set. 

There are two fundamental principles for artificial lighting: Don’t mix light temperatures and cover all the windows.  

It’s crucial to use indirect or soft light sources, as direct light sources can create harsh shadows and glares, leaving your products overexposed. You’ll need a way to diffuse or reflect the light. To reflect light, shine lights in the opposite direction of where you want the light to fall, and use reflectors to cast soft light onto the spot you want. Using an umbrella-style reflector is the most efficient tool, which usually costs under $50.

Studio photography setup with white sweep and three softbox lights
Image source: The Softbox

Any white translucent material will diffuse light, like tissue paper or a thin white sheet. Alternatively, you can purchase a softbox. A softbox fits around your lamp; the outside walls are dark, the inside walls are reflective and the front wall is made of diffusion material. It’s straightforward to attach and quick to set up and adjust. If you’re starting your DIY studio from scratch, buy a kit that comes with a reflector or diffuser. 

Stabilize Your Camera

Unstable cameras produce blurry, inconsistent photos. The best way to avoid this is to invest in a tripod. 

There are dozens of budget-friendly tripods online that will make all the difference in your product photos. If you’re shooting small items, a mini tripod is the best option. If you’re shooting larger items, you should buy a full-size tripod. If you’re using your smartphone and are looking for a budget-friendly tripod alternative, use a stack of books or other items to stabilize your phone. 

Camera Settings

No matter what camera you’re using, the main thing to remember is to shoot the largest and highest-quality photos possible. You can always make files smaller or compress them later. It’s next to impossible to make a photo larger while maintaining the quality. 

Canon DSLR on pavement
Image source: Tech Radar

Smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras will automatically capture the largest and best-quality images. 

On a DSLR, configure your setting size to large (L) and your quality setting to superfine (S). Later, we’ll go into more detail on what each DSLR setting means and how to configure it for manual shooting. In the meantime, here’s a quick run-down:

  • Set your ISO to between 200 and 800 when working with natural light, and 800 and above in areas with low light conditions.
  • Set your aperture setting between f/4.5 to f/7.1 if you have a plain, white background, and f/2.8 or lower if not.
  • Set your shutter speed to 1/125 or higher to ensure clear and crisp shots.
  • Set your white balance to AWB or Auto White Balance. If you’re on a smartphone, make sure you’re shooting in a normal mode, and not in one with predefined filters.

Set Up Your Products

Your product should be in the center of your tabletop. If you’re shooting smaller products like jewelry, secure them in place with glue or tape, as they tend to move during a shoot. 

Situate your products so that your light source isn’t directly hitting the product. Place it in a way where it gets the right amount of light. There should be few to no shadows.

Shoot and Test

To make sure your lighting and camera settings are how you want them, take a few test shots. Once you’re happy, go ahead and start your shoot. 

Remember to turn off your camera’s flash. Regardless of if you’re using natural or studio lights, your product needs to be well lit without the help of flash.

Your product should be in the center of the frame, taking up the majority of the canvas. If you need to get closer, move your tripod. If you’re using a DSLR, adjust the optical zoom by rotating the lens left and right.

Professional camera shooting grapes and wine glasses against white background
Image source: NeedPix

Don’t use the digital zoom. Ever. Digital zoom (pressing “+” and “-” on your camera) just crops the photo while you shoot, which lowers the quality of your image. 

Take your time during the test shoot phase. Take several shots to make sure your setup and settings are how you want them, and spend time evaluating your photos. If you're going to experiment, now’s the time to do so. Once you’re happy with your test shots and ready to shoot, set the camera on a two-second-time mode. This mode gives your camera enough time to refocus after you press the shutter button. 

How to Shoot Manual (M) if You’re Using a DSLR

Using a DSLR gives you a ton of flexibility when it comes to customization. The settings may be overwhelming at first, especially if you’re unfamiliar with photography. To keep it simple, focus on the three most important settings: aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

Multiple photos of a rainbow shot with different light settings
Image source: Photography Life

How you combine these three settings will depend on your studio set-up and what type of photos you’re shooting. Once you have a basic grasp of what these settings are, you’ll find the best combination in no time. 

Aperture

The aperture controls how much light travels into the camera by opening and closing much like the pupil of an eye. Aperture is directly linked to the depth of field, which is the area of your shot that’s in focus. 

Aperture is measured in F-stops, which range from F1 to F22. Aperture can be a bit confusing at first, as a small f-stop means a large aperture, while a large f-stop means a small aperture. A large f-stop number A large f-stop (a small aperture) captures your entire image clearly. A small f-stop (a large aperture) captures the foreground very clearly while blurring the background, basically isolating your product in focus.. 

Multiple photos of sunglasses shot with different focus settings
Image source: Pixelz

When it comes to product photography, you want to have an aperture setting that’s small enough to capture the entire product clearly, but large enough to give you a well-lit product. Around f/8 will do the trick. The exception is when you’re taking a photo that highlights a detail, like a buckle on a bag or a zipper. Use a lower aperture to draw the eye to the focal point.

Shutter Speed

While your aperture is the amount of light the hole in the lens lets in, the shutter speed is the speed at which this hole opens and closes.

Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. When you’re using a small aperture, your camera is taking in less light, which means the shutter needs to be open longer to produce a well-lit photo. Play around with different combinations for shutter speed and aperture. Here’s a tip: Combining a small aperture with a slow shutter speed will produce the best images.

ISO

The ISO determines the camera’s sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO, the less sensitive your camera is to light, which results in finer grain and better image quality. A higher ISO usually results in more grain. Grain, also referred to as camera noise, lowers the quality of your photo. To avoid this, keep your ISO as low as your lighting conditions will permit. Try to stay below 400.

Get Multiple Shots

eBay Research Labs found that having more product photos increased sales. While the number of photos you have is important, the quality of those photos is important, too. Product photos help customers visualize your product. 

Multiple images of a black backpack from different angles and modeled on a person
Image source: Incase

Take photos from all angles and provide close-up shots of any details, special features or textures you want visitors to see.

Retouching Photos

The real magic of product photography happens after the photo is taken. 

Even a professional photographer needs retouching to produce a perfect final product. Editing photos includes removing the background and imperfections. 

Before and after shots of a chair, shoes, a shirt, and a plant with the background removed
Image source: Remove

You have two options for how you retouch your photos: You can edit them yourself with a variety of free and paid options, or you can use a service to edit them for you. Companies like Pixc and Pixelz will professionally edit your product photos for a small fee.

Optimize Your Images for Web 

A key step that many business owners overlook is image optimization. Optimizing your product images reduces load time and creates a better user experience for your visitors. Optimization also puts your photos in search engine results, raising your store’s visibility.

Keep reading to learn how to optimize your images.

Reduce File Size

Large files take longer to load. When photos take a while to load, customers often get impatient and just leave the site. 

Keep load time down by having files smaller than 70KB. Smaller file size does not mean lower image quality. Certain file types, like JPEGs, can be downsized without affecting the photo’s quality.

If you’re editing your images on Photoshop, use the “Save for the Web” option to compress your images automatically. Other tools like WeCompress, Pixlr and PicMonkey will compress your images while maintaining the quality.

Choose the Right File Type

The most commonly used file types are JPG, GIF and PNG. 

JPG or JPEG is usually used for photos since they display colors vividly. GIF is used for smaller images like icons and logos, in addition to animated imagery. PNG is similar to JPG but better in terms of quality. PNG tends to result in larger file sizes. 

JPG is the best choice for ecommerce product images. The file size stays small, but the quality is still top-notch. If you have an image that has a transparent background, you can use PNG. 

Include Alt Text & Alt Tags on Your Photos

To increase visibility in search engines, add alternative text to your images. This is also called alt text and alt tags.

There are bots that index web pages and ultimately decided if your photos show up in search engine result pages. These bots can’t see what your image is — instead, they rely on text to determine the contents of the photo. 

Attaching alt text to your pictures will help these bots determine what’s in photo and how to rank it in search engines. Alt text also helps users who are visually impaired or disabled understand the visual content.

Here are three tips on how to write good alt text.

Left-hand side pictures a bag of Doritos, right-hand side pictures alternative text
Image source: Moz

1. Keep it Short

Keep your alt text short. Try to limit it to 125 characters to help screen reading tools. Describe the image as best as you can without going overboard.

2. Make it Descriptive

Explain the product type, color, size, shape, make and model in detail. You might not be able to include everything since you want to stay under 125 characters. If you have to narrow down your description, write what you want users to know about the product.

3. Don’t Use Too Many Keywords

Keyword stuffing is a big no-no in SEO. Search engines might flag your site if you use too many keywords. To prevent this, only use keywords once. Use the rest of the characters to describe the product.

Use Detailed File Names

You might be used to naming files generic names like “Photo-1” when you save images. This method is fine if you’re just organizing files on your computer, but not so much for image optimization. 

For SEO purposes, your file name should be descriptive. Keep it short and readable. Use dashes between words and avoid articles like “a,” “an” and “the.”

Let’s say you’re selling a black computer bag. When you assign your file name, think about what your potential customers would type in a search engine to find the product. Instead of naming the file “bag.jpg,” a name like “black-16-inch-leather-computer-bag.jpg” would be better.  

Get Started!

Now that you’ve learned about product photography, it’s time to get started. Your product photos will have a long-lasting effect on your business and brand image, so take plenty of time researching and preparing before your next shoot.

If your photos don’t turn out perfectly right away, don’t be discouraged. Photography takes practice and patience. With time, resources and the right attitude, you’ll be shooting photos — and moving more products — in no time.

Alexandra Rood

Alexandra Rood is a freelance content writer specializing in ecommerce, travel and lifestyle writing. When she’s not working, she’s probably doing improv or snuggling with her pitbull, Mabel.