Learn some amazing product photography tips and tricks so you can take great photos of your makes for listings and social media promotion!
“Photos are a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.”-Unknown
One of the most important aspects of the maker business is product photography.
Product photography is a key essential to having success in selling online. Since customers cannot see and handle your items in person, they must be able to see and even FEEL them through your photos. Yes, even a well-taken photo can give the customer a feel for the item and who you are as a maker. While there are many factors that go into taking quality photos for your listing pictures and social media posts, I am going to hone in on just one key component in this post.
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Lighting is the greatest component in taking high quality product photos.
Lighting goes a long way in telling your story to the audience. If the light source is too dim, the result will be a photo that is grainy with colors that are untrue. Lighting that is too bright can cause the photo to look washed out and also warp the color of the product. There are three different scenarios in which you will want to obtain optimal lighting for your photo shoots when you are trying to take pictures of your product for Etsy listings or social media promotion. Each scenario requires a different technique and a different approach. When taking photos of your products, you will either be using natural lighting indoors, natural lighting outdoors, or artificial lighting.
Natural Lighting Indoors
When I am taking product photos, using natural lighting indoors is my favorite option. This may be my favorite option because I have had the most practice using this method, and therefore, I am more comfortable manipulating the light and my product to get an optimal result. However, regardless of whether or not it is the method that I have the most experience in, it was still by far the easiest to master.
There is a certain technique to taking photos indoors. When done properly, you can showcase your product and highlight all the very best aspects of what you are selling for your customers to see, view, and experience online. The main components to keep in mind with indoor photography are light source, light strength, and light direction.
The best lighting for product photography is NATURAL FILTERED LIGHT from the sun. I’ll say that again and shout it for those in the back. THE BEST LIGHTING FOR PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY IS NATURAL FILTERED LIGHT FROM THE SUN. Nothing is more frustrating as a designer than getting photos back from testers that are dark, grainy, and blurry. You cannot expect to get a good picture of your product by laying it on your bed in a dark bedroom with little to no natural light source. Natural light from the sun is simply the best way to capture the true colors of your product as well as provide enough light for the camera to obtain a clear image.
Now that we have established that the sun is the best lighting source, did you notice that I said natural FILTERED light? This is another key area in which people go wrong. They find the brightest most direct spot in the sun and plop their product down there to take a picture. *HOOONK! (Game show buzzer)* Wrong! This method is a very common mistake that many people make. Using direct lighting will cause harsh shadows and wash out the colors of the product.
Not only must you filter the light, but it is also very important for you to direct the light onto your product accurately. Before we talk about this in more detail, I have an experiment for you. Find a large window in your home that lets in a lot of natural light. Stand with you back to the window and take a selfie. Now face the window and take another selfie. Which one looks better? It will undoubtedly be the one you took while facing the window. You were standing in the exact same spot, but the difference maker was the direction in which you were facing. When taking product photos, you want to highlight the very best area of your product with natural light. Be mindful of where the shadows fall in your picture and whether or not they are complimentary to the picture. Some shadows are necessary for the picture to look natural, but shadows that are too harsh or misplaced will produce a photo that is unappealing.
How to Obtain Optimal Lighting for Indoor Product Photography
Now that we have talked about the importance of light source, strength, and direction, let’s talk about how to apply all of that info!
First, make sure you have the right source. Find a large room in your house that lets in a lot of light. Set up your flat lay background on the floor or a table near that window. You may have to experiment with several windows in your home to see which one works best! Don’t be afraid to move around and take several pictures in different areas to compare. Remember, it’s easier to notice flaws in a picture when you are looking at it after taking it versus looking at the screen while you’re taking it.
Second, analyze the strength of the light. Is it bright, clear, and sunny outside? Are there clouds in the sky? Is it late in the day when the sun is lower in the sky? If the source is coming in strong such as on a bright, clear, and sunny day, you will need to filter the light. Draw the curtains or close the blinds slightly to provide a filter. If you do not have curtains or blinds, you may consider hanging a sheet over the window or filtering the light some other way. You could also move further away from the window. Another option would be to wait until the sun is lower in the sky such as early morning or early evening. You may be wondering, “How can I tell if the light is too strong?” Look at the shadows in the picture. Are they harsh? Is the contrast between the light and dark areas of the photo strong or is it muted? The goal is to have muted, natural contrast and shadowing.
Thirdly, check the direction. If your main item is a beanie, for example, and next to it, you have placed a small potted succulent for staging purposes, you do not want the shadow from the plant casting over the beanie. In this instance, you would need to rotate the setup so that the shadow from the plant falls in a more obscure place. You could also move the plant to another area of the flat lay to move the shadow out of way. If your item has a natural area of shadow such as the inside of a shoe, try to prop the item in such way that some light hits that shadowy area.
How to Obtain Optimal Lighting for Outdoor Product Photography
Now that we have talked about how to obtain optimal lighting for indoor photos, let’s talk about outdoor photos.
Obviously, if you are outside, you’ve got the right source since the sun is the best lighting for photos as a general rule. It seems easy, right? If the sun’s out, the photo is going to look awesome, right? WRONG! Even though you have the right source, there are two other things to take into consideration.
One of the most common mistakes with taking outdoor photos is the strength of the source. There are many factors to take into consideration considering the strength of the light source when taking photos outside. First of all, the best outdoor conditions for photos are either early in the morning (about 1-2 hours after sunrise), late in the afternoon/early evening (about 1-2 hours before sunset), or on an overcast day. Taking photos on a bright sunny day with no clouds in the sky when the sun is high is a big no-no. Photos taken in these conditions result in high shadowing and washed out colors. Let’s look at some examples.
The following photo was taken in broad daylight with no clouds when the sun was high in the sky at about 1:00 in the afternoon. Notice how the color of the bonnet is extremely washed out and there is a heavy glare on the brim. Notice also the heavy shadowing on her face around her eyes. You can even see the shadow of her hair on certain parts of her face.
The next picture was taken a bit later in the day around 4:00 in the afternoon. The sky was still clear, but the sun was lower. Notice how much better the color of the bonnet looks. The stitch definition is clearer because there is no glare, and there is no shadowing on her face. Despite the improvement, this picture would probably have turned out even better if the sky were overcast or if it were taken even later in the day closer to sunset.
Just as direction is important with indoor photos, the same goes for outdoor photos and maybe even more so! If the sun is glaring directly behind the subject, the camera will take in too much light and the subject will be washed out. Take a look at the following two photos.
The following photo was taken at a pretty good time of day. The sun is not too high and there are some clouds acting as a filter. However, the subject is standing directly in front of the sun. Notice how dark the subject is. None of the features of her face are discernible. The photo in general just looks washed out.
The next photo was taken at the same time of day, but now, the sun is in front of the subject. Now, you can see the features of her face and dress clearly. You can even catch a glimmer of the sun reflecting off of the sequins on her dress!
How to Obtain Optimal Lighting for Product Photography with Artificial Light
I have saved the hardest one for last! You may be reading through all of these tips wondering to yourself, “But what if it’s 10:00 at night, and I need to take a picture of my item before I pack it up and ship it out the next morning?” I’m so glad you asked! OR…maybe you are a designer, and you need to photograph a progress photo, so you can keep crocheting until midnight. I think we have all been there! Let’s apply all of these same principles to using artificial lighting, and I’ll even talk about one of my favorite photography tools that I use!
If you don’t have natural light available to you, then you must use the next best thing! Let me start off by saying that not all indoor lighting is created equal! Some bulbs put off warm light, and some put off light on the cooler end of the spectrum. The boxes that light bulbs come in will tell you what type of light they put out. Most people use warm light bulbs in their homes because warm lighting makes it feel cozy inside, however, this is not ideal for product photography. Warm lighting will make the pictures look unnaturally warm, and the color of your product won’t be true. Here are a few options you can choose between.
You can purchase a lamp that you use specifically for product photography and use a cool daylight bulb. Just look at the box when purchasing your bulb and make sure it is on the cooler end of the spectrum. This is a quick, easy, inexpensive solution, but if you are looking to take your product photography to the next level, then take a look at the next option.
You can purchase a ring light stand. The ring light stand that I use is exactly what it sounds like. It is a ring-shaped light on a tripod. This tool has an arm below the ring to hold your phone. It also comes with a separate phone attachment that you can switch out with the ring light if you want to use it as a regular tripod and a remote that works for IOS and Android users. It has three separate light settings: warm, cool, and daylight!
Now that we have nailed down what the source should be when using artificial lighting, let’s move on to the next key factor!
The strength of the light source absolutely plays a role in artificial lighting as well as natural! The same basic principle applies. If the light is too strong, the photo will be washed out with lots of glare and shadows. If you are using a regular lamp, you may have to soften the light with a white sheer cloth such as cheese cloth or even a thin pillow case. You can also place the lamp on a higher surface to diffuse the light further. With my ring light stand, all I have to do is adjust the strength of the light! It comes in three strength settings so that I can adjust how bright I want it to be! It really is such a handy tool for a maker!
The direction your artificial light is coming from is probably the most tricky part! Shining the light directly down on top of your product or flat lay will give you the same results as you would get from taking an outdoor photo at noon! You will see harsh shadowing and glare in all the wrong places. This is something that you will need to experiment with. Consider how your other photos in your Instagram feed look. If you usually take your pictures by a certain window during the day, place the light on the same side of the flat lay to achieve the same shadowing. You will also need to familiarize yourself with the depth of the shadowing. Placing the light too low and close beside the flat lay will cause large, long, dark shadows. The further and higher the light is, the smaller and softer the shadows will be.
I took the following photo at 10:45 at night using my light stand. My normal set up during the day is to the left of a large window in my living room. In order to mimic that the best way that I could, I raised the stand up as high as it would go, turned the strength to medium and placed it above my flat lay and to the right. See how the shadows from the potted plant and the dish towel are soft and to the left of the items? This shadowing matches my other photos. You can’t even tell that this photo was taken in artificial light!
I hope that you found this post beneficial! Taking photos is tricky business. For some, it is the reason they give up on their Etsy shop. If you start incorporating this knowledge and these steps into your photography, you’ll be well on your way to having photos that customers can almost…
…reach into and feel!
“Much love, sunshine, and pineapples”Sarah
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