First impressions are more important in sales than almost anywhere else, so it helps to know some tips for product photography in marketing your business. While they won't always guarantee a sudden wave of impulse buys, good product photos can make a world of difference in sales down the line. They determine how people see your product and its quality within the first few seconds of looking at it.
This doesn't mean you have to allot thousands of dollars in special equipment to bring customers through your doors. Here are some tips for getting the most out of photographing your products.
Basics of Photographic Composition
Composition is the arrangement of the objects and subjects in your photograph. Good composition for product marketing goes by a few different guidelines. These include:
- The Rule of Thirds: When you're getting ready to take your photo, use a set of two horizontal and vertical over the frame. These lines will divide your picture into nine equal segments and serve as a guide. For the best results under the rule of thirds, arrange your product along these lines, including where they intersect.
- Balance: The rule of thirds will often place your product off-center, making your photo feel lopsided. To offset this effect, put a prop or another object that's less important into the empty space so the "weight" of the photo is equally distributed.
- Leading Lines: Give your viewer's eyes something to follow in the photo. Downward slopes, long rows of products or vertical displays guide your customer through the photo.
- Cropping: Keeping the frame focused tightly on the product you're photographing will keep unnecessary clutter out of the picture and result in a sharper, cleaner image.
- Clarity: Make sure your product is in focus, otherwise it'll be harder for your customers to know what you want them to see. Use aperture priority on your camera (usually marked by the letter "A" or "Av" in its settings) to adjust the depth of field, making your product the object most in focus in the image.
These product photography guidelines are just that—guidelines. Not every single photo you create has to follow every tip as law, but they will create dynamic, eye-catching photos for your website, social media and catalogs.
Lighting is Important
The lighting in your photo affects image quality and the way your customers will respond to it. There are two main colors of natural lighting that reflect the warmth or coolness of the light: blue and yellow.
Blue light can look cold, sad and surgical in photographs, but it also looks mysterious. Many fluorescent lights appear blue in photographs, so avoid taking photos in your office. If you have no other option, use some additional lighting—including windows with outside light—to help balance out the lighting. Blue lighting is good for some lifestyle photographs, such as for cold-weather or nautical-themed products.
On the other hand, yellow light looks warm and inviting. Old-fashioned Tungsten lighting tends to have a warmer glow than fluorescent lighting. If you're trying to get an appealing, inviting lifestyle shot of your stoneware or other products, your best bet is to use warm lighting or wait for what photographers call the Golden Hour—the time around dawn or dusk when natural light takes on a golden, almost pastel tone.
Blue and yellow lighting can be mixed to create different effects for your photography. If the images are going to be used in your webstore, a neutral mix between the two types of lighting best shows what your product looks like in person.
Tools for Product Photography
While product photography can be done on a high-res smartphone or point-and-shoot camera in a pinch, it's best to have a few pieces of dedicated equipment on hand if your budget allows.
You don't have to break the bank on a high-end camera in order to take great product photography, but a decent digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera will help you control the light, color, clarity and other aspects of your photos. More than any other device, a DSLR camera is one of the most valuable options for both lifestyle and web store images.
Having a lightbox for product photo shoots is a must if you run an online store. Lightboxes allow you to take your photos in an evenly-lit environment, so your customers can see exactly how beautiful your product is before purchase if they order it online.
For example, Sunset Hill Stoneware has a dedicated lightbox where we take product photos for our online store. While our setup includes a white sheet as an even backdrop for our images and some specialized lighting, your preferences may vary. Walmart, Amazon and other online retailers sell lightboxes in a wide price range, but there are also tutorials for making your own lightbox using some common household items.
Editing software is necessary for everything from correcting blemishes that you didn't notice on your products to helping their colors pop out from the rest of the image. Adobe Photoshop is the best-known photo editing software available and is the gold standard for perfecting images, but the latest version requires a subscription with Adobe to use. Earlier versions of Photoshop are available for a small one-time fee.
Other types of photo editing software on the market include Aviary, PaintShop Pro and GIMP, the latter of which is free to use.
Editing is Not Bad
Some photographers or aficionados recoil at the thought of digitally altering photos, but basic photo editing can take your money shot from good to excellent and bring out the subtle undertones in your Made in the USA stoneware's glaze. It's a must for lifestyle photos and makes the composition guidelines from earlier easier to follow.
Entire books, classes and webinars are dedicated to the ways to use Photoshop and programs like it, so we'll start with the basics. Here are four simple tools you can use when editing photos:
- Brightness. Making your photo even slightly brighter or darker can affect its mood and how your customers perceive it. People usually like brighter photos, but too much brightness makes photos look washed out.
- Color Balance. Changing the color balance in your product photos brings out its more subtle hues. For example, we've adjusted our color balance before to help bring out the blue shades in our Root Beer glaze, and it can be used to draw out the red in people's cheeks, among other things.
- Saturation. Adjusting the saturation in your product photography can enhance all of your product's colors and make them pop, especially if you're selling brightly-colored or accented products. Lowering the saturation has the opposite effect—an ideal tip for brands using muted tones or pastels.
- Spot healing. Newer photo editing software usually has this handy tool, which removes everything from unwanted mustard stains to shadows or fabric wrinkles.
Don't be afraid to experiment with some of these tools and the huge catalog of other options in your photo editing software to see what best fits your brand and taste. If your customers respond to one way of editing your photos better than others, that process is yours to recreate. After all, a large part of marketing is trial and error—what works for your brand might not work for anybody else.
At the end of the day, these product photography guidelines are yours to follow or break. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so work with the tools you have to make your product photos look their best.