Humans are visual creatures. An image can leave you speechless, changing up your mind and convincing to make a decision you would have never made in other circumstances. So no wonder so many brands want to have it in their arsenal, not sparing any resources when investing in their product photos.
Quality images help to establish trust between you and your customers. With their help, you can engage, convert, stay in the memory.
Yes, the product and its packaging need to look great on their own, but part of the success is knowing how to create the right image. Product photographers know it is a subtle art that you can easily get wrong if you don’t pay attention to details.
While today you do not even need to have the real product, getting away with product mockups instead, the real product photography is nowhere near disappearance. It is still the quickest and most effective way of getting the images you want, especially if your products and packaging are ready and waiting to be displayed.
Is the real-life photography the route choose? Then stay with us, we will happily show the way around.
What is product photography?
Product photography is a subtype of commercial photography. Its main subjects are the items and products that the company sales. Then the images are used in the online and offline stores, for advertising, catalogs, other types of ads, brochures, posters.
Since the main goal of product photography is to increase sales, the images need to present the product in the best light. They need to make it more appealing and desirable.
Each product — be it a food item, clothing, or a technology — thus needs a special approach. And product photographs have many techniques at their disposal that help them make product photos look exceptionally well.
1. Choose the type
Ask yourself the following question: Why do I need those images?
When answering the question, choose between the two most common types of product photographs:
- Clean-cut white background images product organizing images. Those images are mostly used on the website. You will need to have many of them and of great quality. Remember that those images need to make you the customer feel as if they can ‘touch the product.’ They need to be detailed and realistic. Since you are working with people who have already visited the page and are usually interested in making a purchase, your main goal is to convince the customer to make the purchase.
- Context or storytelling photographs. White background images aside, you might also need to have contextual photographs. They are used to show how customers can use the product in real life. To do that, you can tell a story and say something about your product, directing their perception. Those images will mostly be used in the ‘first contact’ channels, such as social media, banners, ads, brochures, and magazines, and need to be alluring and self-explanatory.
The process will, of course, depend on the product photos you want to take. Images for a trendy eCommerce will look nothing like the ones made for a regular brick and mortar shop. Different products come with their own set of peculiarities and difficulties.
2. Let your creativity loose
Have you chosen the type already? Then, it is time to pick the right theme.
For conceptual photography, you need to develop the concept, tell a story, hire stylists and professional models. If you are doing clean-cut product photography, you still need to decide on the right angles, forms, folding, etc.
So, before moving on to working on your setup, lights, cameras, ask yourself these questions: What do I want to say/show with those images?
And when looking for ideas, you can, for example:
- Search Pinterest and Google for inspiration
- Look at what your competitors are doing
- Check out special lists
- Look through special forums for suggestions/customer feedback
Great! Now you have decided on the theme. But the work does not stop here. To create stunning product photos, you cannot just copy others. The next step is turning those ideas into your own.
3. Are you special, really?
If you are an established company, you will probably already have a way of doing things. But if you are a newbie, even better — it is time to work on establishing your ‘signature style’.
Product photos are integral to your brand identity. Your ‘style’ should shine through the images, not only helping others decide but also making it easier to distinguish you from others.
When differentiating yourself, have the following question in mind: How are you different?
You can differentiate yourself with your:
- Branding elements (types, colors)
- Consistently used creative elements
What you do will depend on if you are preparing images for an Amazon shop, websites, eCommerce brand, or ad. Some of those elements are a necessity, others — a stylistic choice. But all of them can help you achieve brand awareness and exposure.
4. Now, to the setup
Product photos often look very expensive. But it is nothing more than a perceptual trick — they need to channel quality, right? While product photography might seem like a lot of work and money. And while it certainly can be, it should not be.
You can go overboard if you want to, but it costs less than many people think to create quality images whether you do it yourself or even outsource the work to professionals to save time.
The basic setup of product photography consists of:
- Light (Natural light sources and artificial ones)
And, of course, we cannot forget about the reason you are doing it all:
- Product or packaging itself
You need a camera to create your product shots. The photoshoot wouldn’t be impossible without it.
What it does not mean, however, is that you need to spend a lot of money to make it happen. If you want to invest in the best camera or ask a professional — go for it. But if you are short on budget, your old camera or the latest smartphone will do the job.
If you are shooting with the professional camera, the tripod is a necessity. It is the only way you can shoot with a small aperture (and ensure a depth of field) and avoid the blur.
We don’t have time to get into details, but if you want to learn more about that basic concept in digital photography — here is a link to a video explaining how shutter speed, aperture, and ISO work.
That aside, a tripod can also help you fix the camera under the right angles, helping you make sure all the images look exactly the way you want them to.
You can also use a mobile grip that would help you take great static shots on a smartphone camera.
Photographers know that the secret behind great images is — you guessed it — lighting. So, do not treat it as an afterthought. Before you shoot, spend some time planning and organizing it.
You have two choices here. You can either use natural light or use special studio lights to achieve the desired results.
Natural light is the best one (and it is also free). So, it’s possible, arrange your photoshoot near the window. Or, if you are shooting outside, try to arrange the photoshoot at golden hours.
But if natural light is not an option, artificial ones are an option. Photographers on a tight budget can use cheaper options. For example, flip-on lights are not at all expensive, and you can easily purchase them online. If you have more money to spare a set of two softbox lights, setup will be perfect. With its help, you can get nice and soft shadows.
Light reflectors are mostly optional. They help you make sure the images look even, and the lights fall softly.
Use a simple white bounce board if you want to achieve softer shadows. If you get the opposite result and make the shadows feel more dramatic — look for a black instead.
Look through this tutorial if you need help setting it up.
If you are organizing a contextual photo shoot, then the location you choose is your background.
But if you are creating clear-cut images for the website, you need to either look for a studio or set up a home studio.
You can use white cardboard to set up a perfect white background with no corners and blemishes. To achieve it, all you need to do is curve the board.
After you are done with the background, you might need to think about the props.
Most of the time, if you are shooting for product pages, simple images are the best. But if you want to spice up the image, tapes, flowers, and other smaller props that thematically add to the overall image will make them look more memorable and interesting. It is your chance to add personality to the images.
Products and the Packaging
You have probably heard about the crazy photography trick us often used in product photography. And while you would not want to eat a hamburger with a sponge inside and pancakes with motor oil, you probably would not mind making people want to purchase your products.
Your product photos should present your brand in the best light. They are what will help attract your customers and convince them to make a purchase. And while we in no way ask you to lie, exaggerating some of your product’s qualities is definitely not a crime.
Make sure the packaging you have printed is flawless. Iron and clean clothes and other items before taking photos. It is your opportunity to become the brand you want to become, and the way you treat your products is how people will end up seeing.
While you can fix some imperfection in post-production, you shouldn’t fully rely on it. So, here comes the next point…
5. Shoot for minimum post-production
While ever can do wonders in Photoshop, the best photographers shoot as if they are magicians themselves.
Shooting for minimum post-production will not only save you a lot of time (especially if you have thousands of photographs to go through) but also help you be more deliberate with your shots.
Think of the process as of a puzzle game. Your goal is to take the shortest route to the final image. And, believe us, planning out details beforehand, taking good product photos, and relying only on nominal editing will always be the way.
The post-production includes the following:
And you can use:
- NDigitec (we offer photography and color correction services, for those who don’t have time for all the above)
- Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom
You will also need to have photography guidelines, but that’s a topic for another day.
Product photos at work
No matter what field you are working in, you will need product photos at some point. In the digital world, when it is the only way people can communicate with each other and tell more about their products, they are the unspoken part of the brand and its branding.
And if it was not today, save this little guide to come back to it when you need it.