If you’re just starting out selling your handmade products online or you’ve been in the game a while, there’s a good chance that you’ve learned having click-worthy product photos is essential to attracting customers to your business.
Oftentimes makers who are new to selling online think if they just point and shoot their camera, they’ll end up with a good product photo. Unfortunately, pointing and shooting your camera doesn’t always result in good photos.
In this post, I’m going to outline tips that will help you improve your photos. I know product photography may look easy, but it’s not necessarily! But I hope that these tips will guide you to the solutions you need that will help you create photos that sell your handmade products online.
There’s no one-size-fits-all for product photography
One thing that no one really mentions or talks about in the maker community when it comes to product photography is there’s no one-size-fits-all setup that everyone can use. Just like there isn’t one diet that works for every single person on the planet. Why? Because every person’s body has different needs and access to food. It’s the same thing with products.
For example, if you’re photographing a hand-blown glass vase, your product is transparent and reflective. It interacts with light differently than say if you were photographing a paper greeting card. Light doesn’t go through a greeting card like it does a glass vase. This means the direction your light is coming from and where you take your photo is going to be different with the vase than it is with a card.
This is also why many makers have a difficult time getting good photos with a lightbox or a light tent. Some makers may be able to get OK photos, but many others end up with bad reflections on their product, weirdly colored photos, or can’t fit all their products inside because the tent or box isn’t big enough.
A lot of figuring out what setup will work best with your unique handmade products will come with experimentation. This means you'll need to play around with moving what direction your light source is hitting your product, maybe switching your background, changing the angle you take your photos and so on. The only way to change the results you're getting is to change what you're doing to get them.
Product photography takes practice
There’s no way around it. I wish there was a shortcut to not having to practice, but there isn’t. Most people don’t wake up naturally know how to take good product photos without practicing. I know I didn’t, though it would have been nice!
While there are tools out there that have made editing and taking product photos easier, in reality, there’s no substitute for practicing and understanding how to photograph your own work.
The more time you invest in practicing photographing your products, the quicker you’ll get at taking photos (hey wanna save time??) and the better your photos will come out.
If you’re already not spending time practicing photographing your products, I’d recommend dedicating time each week (yes each week) to practice. Spend 30-minutes practicing 1-2x a week with the tips I share in this post and you’ll start seeing your photos improve. Practicing is how I've improve my photos and is also something I have my clients do too. While it may feel like a total pain in the butt, trust me it will be worth it and you'll have better photos in the end.
1. Get a tripod
If you’re taking product photos for your handmade business online, you need a tripod! Not only will it make framing and setting up your camera easier, but it will provide the stability you need to reduce the number of blurry, out-of-focus photos you end up with.
If you don’t have a tripod yet, select one that fits your budget or borrow one if you can. Make sure you don’t get a mini tripod like this (FYI links are not sponsored!) because it’s not going to give you the flexibility you need to photograph your products.
When I first started taking product photos, I already had this tripod and used it to take photos. It was a basic tripod that gave me the ability to take most product photos I wanted. But eventually, I decided to upgrade to this tripod. I didn’t like having to hold my camera with my hands to do flat lay type photos so this tripod makes the process so much easier!
Remember to use what you have or what fits into your budget. You can always upgrade later on if needed as I did.
2. Simplify your background
When you’re photographing your products, something you may overlook is your background. Your background is super important in your product photos because it can either complement your product or create a visual distraction. Great product photos have backgrounds that make the product stand out and keep the product the star of the photo.
The purpose of your product photos is to show your customers what you’re selling and to provide information to them. While you may think using a white or light gray background is super boring, it makes it easier for your customers to see your product which is the goal! Try out a few different backgrounds and see which one makes your product stand out but doesn’t take away from it.
And remember, you don’t have to commit to any one type of background for the entire journey of your business. You can always change it later on if you don’t like it or you’re rebranding your business.
3. Understand how light interacts with your product
Lighting is everything in photography, especially product photography. Yet it’s something a lot of makers have a really hard time with.
Why? Because light has so many different qualities that impact how a product will look when photographed. Depending on what kind of light you’re using, it can make your photos look dark and mysterious or it can make it look bright and inviting.
Lighting is an area I’d strongly recommend any maker to spend time learning about. It’s important to understand how light impacts the way your product looks when you take photos because as I’ve mentioned, not all products will have the same setup. The more you understand about lighting, the more you’ll be able to improve how your product looks in your photos. And don’t shy away from experimenting with it!
4. White balance your camera
When makers are taking product photos, they may have at one time or another end up with photos that look a bit red, blue, green and so on. Uploading product photos where the colors look off isn’t good when you’re selling products online.
If you find the colors are looking off in your photos, it’s time to check the white balance of your camera!
You see, if you’re pointing and shooting your camera when taking product photos, you’re allowing the camera to do all the work for you. This includes guessing what your light source is (click here to learn more about white balance) . Oftentimes, it gets the light source wrong and you end up with photos where the colors look off.
But don’t worry, it’s easy to correct! It’s best if you correct the white balance BEFORE you take your photos, but you can always adjust it when editing too. This way, you end up with accurate colors in your product photos.
5. Have control over your camera settings
Without getting too in the weeds and making this post even longer than it is, one of the ways to improve your product photos is to have control over your camera settings.
Many makers just point and shoot their camera when photographing their products which don’t always produce good product photos. I know because it’s what I used to do and what some of my clients do too. Shooting your camera on auto mode (that is, you have no input on what settings your camera selects when taking a photo) can result in photos that are too dark, too light, the colors looking off, and so on.
Why? Because with auto mode you’re letting the camera do all the leg work. Your camera guessing at what your light source is, how much light there is, and so on.
Learn a bit about ISO, shutter speed, and aperture and how they all work together. If you’re using a digital camera to take product photos, read the manual and see how you can change these settings. If you’re taking photos with your mobile phone, see if your built-in camera app allows you to adjust the different settings. If not, check online to see what camera apps give you the flexibility to adjust your ISO, shutter speed, and white balance. If you’re on Android, check out Camera FV-5 (free). This app allows you to adjust the white balance, shutter speed, ISO, and more as if you were using a digital camera.
The more control you have over your camera when taking photos, the better your photos will turn out which will make editing them so much easier!
6. Minimize your props
One of my mottos when it comes to product photography is “less is more!” And this couldn’t be more true than when it comes to props.
Using props in product photography can be tricky because sometimes they can really transform the look and feel of a product or they can totally ruin it.
Sometimes when I browse Etsy listings, makers will use props in their photos which unfortunately make their photos look busy and cluttered. Not only does this turn off customers, but it also makes it difficult for them to know what product you’re selling. The other thing I see too in product photos is props that look lifeless and out of place which doesn’t make for an appealing photo either.
If you’re looking to use props in your product photos, make sure the products you’re using make sense with your product and even your brand.
Props should be there to support the story you’re looking to paint for your customer about your product. Make sure they’re always supporting actors in your photos and are not in competition with your product for the spotlight.
7. Use a variety of different photos
One of the things that can be hard when photographing your products is knowing what type of photos to take. Something I see all too often is listings with 1-2 photos or if there are lots of photos, they’re all repetitive. Not only is this boring (who wants to see the same type of photo 8x??), but it’s not helpful to your customer.
Remember, your customers can’t see what you don’t show them. They’re not able to pick up your product and look at it in person. Instead, they’re relying on your photos to help them decide whether or not to buy from you which is a pretty big deal! This is why the more variety you have in your product photos, the better the shopping experience will be for them.
So if you’re feeling stuck trying to figure out what photos you should take of your product, think about how you would look at your product in person.
If you’re browsing a local in-person craft show and you spot a cute handwoven tote bag, you’d probably pick it up and start inspecting it. You’d turn it around to see what it looks like from all sides, maybe even look at the bottom. You’d open up the bag and look inside to see how big or small it was and if there were any pockets too. You’d then look to see if the bag had been made well by looking at the handles, the seams, and so on. And you’d probably try it on to see how the bag looked if you were carrying it in your hand, arm, or shoulder.
Can you see how many different ideas for photos you now have for photographing this bag? And that’s just for 1 product! Think about how you can take what someone’s in-person shopping experience is and how you can capture that through your product photos. It’s a good exercise if you’re ever photographing a new type of product or need some fresh ideas for photos.
8. Edit your photos
You know all those beautiful product photos you see from other Etsy listings that make you want to add-to-cart because the photos look so nice? Yep, all those photos in one way or another were likely edited. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your photos look the best they can because they greatly influence a customer’s decision to look at your listing or not.
A little editing can go a long way, especially if you’ve already taken the steps to figure out the right background, the right lighting, and so on. Why? Because when you start with a good product photo, editing is a total breeze!!! You’re not spending precious time trying to fix your photos, but instead, you’re making minor adjustments to enhance your photos.
Remember to always edit your product before you upload them to listings, social media, or for other business opportunities. The better your photos look, the more likely you’ll be perceived as a trustworthy, reputable business to customers and other businesses.
If editing is something that's totally new to you or is something you find confusing, click here to learn more about the different settings you'll see in editing software and also see how I editing my photos.
Product photography is often a frustrating and overwhelming process for makers. It’s easy to settle for “decent,” “okay-ish” or “good enough” product photos. But don’t do it. I know it’s tempting to do the minimum when you struggle to get the results you want, but the only way you’ll improve your photos is to experiment and practice these tips that I’ve shared with you.
You put so much time, money, energy, and love into creating your work. Respect your work, your business, and your customers, and take the time to learn how to photograph your handmade products in the best light possible. Believe me, it will be worth it in the long run for your business!
What's 1 tip you're going to start taking action on? Leave a comment below and let me know!