Product Photography Tips

Why Photographing Your Product Packaging Can Make You Stand Out As An Online Seller

When shopping in person for items, for the most part, products are packaged up and ready to go. Products have labels with instructions, ingredients, and so on. Plus, chances are you’re responsible for transporting the product home. 

But that doesn’t happen when you buy online. As you know, unless you’re selling in person at a pop-up event or craft show, customers can’t pick up and handle your products or always see how you package your product when they buy from you online.

Hair Care Bars by Soap Cauldron

It’s hard to know how a product will be packaged up and put in the mail and shipped off to you. And we all know that when buying online, you never know what state something will be in when it arrives at your home. Something could be broken, squished, ripped or even wet! 

The thing with purchasing handmade products is when something is made from scratch, you may not know things like how to properly take care of your newly purchased item, how to wash it, how to store it, and what it’s made out of. And you might not know how it will be packaged before it shipped too.

So why not show this to your customer before they buy? 

Napkins by Eko Kreations

But you might be saying, “I don’t need to photograph the packaging or ingredients. They know I’ll package their item carefully and send the info they need to use my product.”

And I’ll respond and say, “Think again!”

Look, you never know if your customer is a regular shopper of handmade products online or if your customer is buying a handmade product for the first time ever online. Customers might be wary of how their product may show up because while you make amazing things, they don’t know how you package and ship your items unless you show them.

And you might say, “I put in the description how the item is packaged and shipped!”

And I’ll say, “People don’t read.” It’s true. So help your customers out and photograph it!

I’m sure we’ve either experienced personally or heard of a shipping disaster where the first thought is, “Who the heck packaged THIS?? How did they think it was okay to package this up like this??” 

Assume all your customers are newbies to the online handmade world and show them you’ve thought about their needs and questions about how your item will arrive on their end.

Candle by Fiamma Candle

Here are some things to consider when photographing your product

Directions

Do you print instructions or directions for your product? Photographing it will communicate to your customer that you won’t leave them confused about how to care or use your product when they receive it. Whether it’s not to leave your product out in the sun or to wash it on the hot cycle, never assume your customer will know how to care or use your product. 

Soap Bar by Soap Cauldron 

Ingredients and materials

I don’t know about you, but I like to read through the ingredients of products before I buy especially if they’re products I haven’t purchased before. Recently, I bought a handmade product and it wasn’t until a while later did I realize it contained an ingredient my body has a reaction to. If the seller hadn’t printed out the list of ingredients, I would have assumed the product was ok for me when in reality it wasn’t. Making sure you list ingredients or materials is really important, especially because today so many people have multiple allergies and sensitivities. 

Soap Bar by Novo Bath & Body

Special details of your packaging

Do you do something special or fun with your packaging? Show it off! 

Packaging by Soap Cauldron

Product ready to ship

When you’re shipping out products to a customer, feel free to take a few shots of how it looks in the shipping box. If you put your items in an envelope, show the items before they go in the envelope. You can add these photos to the shipping FAQ area if you sell directly from your website or add them to your listings if you sell on Etsy or a similar website. This way, they are aware of how your products are wrapped and shipped and feel more comfortable buying from you. I strongly suggest this for those of you who ship items that can break in shipping like pottery or glass products. 

Remember, photographing the packaging of your product not only reflects your brand and story of your business but also provides the full customer experience. It’s important to share as much information as you can with your customer through not only your descriptions but your photographs. It helps build your reputation and trust as a seller because customers will know what to expect when they buy from you and hopefully turn them into happy customers who keep coming back.

Do you photograph the packaging of your products? 

Want to learn how I took these product photos? Subscribe to my email list and you’ll receive a free PDF download on how to get perfectly lit product photos where I show you my setup!

In Conversation with Marja of MGG Studio

When I became involved with the local SF Etsy community and going to craft shows, I’d often see Marja selling her jewelry. I’d consider one of the OG’s of the local Etsy community! She was always so kind to me anytime I’d swing by to say hi and ask if I could take her photo. 

As her business evolved over the years, so has her product photography. Jewelry isn’t one of the easiest things to photograph (ask any online jewelry seller!), especially when dealing with shiny, reflective metals, but Marja has it down!

Keep reading to learn about how she photographs her work and how it has impacted her business brand.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you make and sell?

I’m Marja (rhymes with aria), the designer and maker behind MGG Studio. Once upon a time I was convinced I was going to become an academic, but after I finished my Ph.D. the siren song of the jewelry studio was just too strong. I create bold, sculptural jewelry that is designed to feel as good as it looks. Because I believe that good design and sustainability go hand in hand, I prioritize recycled metals when crafting my jewelry.

Photo by Nicole Morrison Photography

What made you open up your online business?

I launched MGG Studio in 2014. Before that, I had started another jewelry business, lemonade handmade jewelry, which still exists on Etsy. (although MGG Studio is the focus of my attention).

 Bizarre Bazaar in San Francisco in 2012

I started MGG Studio because I wanted to push myself creatively. I enjoyed making the designs from lemonade handmade jewelry, but I wanted to explore bolder, geometric, and more sculptural shapes. Initially, I tried folding those new designs into the lemonade handmade brand, but it was confusing for my customer; I realized that I was actually looking at a different customer for these new pieces, so I split the line and MGG Studio was born. I kept lemonade handmade jewelry because I still have a great audience for those designs!

How did you learn how to take photos for your business? Do you have any resources you’d like to share?

So, so, so much trial and error. I also asked just about everyone I knew for advice. I quickly learned that photographing jewelry is very challenging. 

What’s 1 thing you wish you had learned in the beginning about photographing your products?

There’s actually two things: 

1) Never underestimate the importance of lighting. Lighting is everything. 

2) Every photo will need some editing, no matter how good it is. I killed myself trying to shoot the perfect photo straight from the camera until I realized that EVERY good photo that I saw had been edited to some degree. Learning just a little bit of Photoshop has made the biggest difference in the quality of my photos.

What’s your process for photographing your products? Do you have a setup or system in place?

For product photos with a white background: 

I use a (relatively) ancient camera (it’s a 11-year-old Canon DSLR).  What makes the biggest difference is I shoot in a photo box with quality lighting and I shoot raw images so that I have the largest file size to work with when I’m editing. I edit all my photos in Photoshop – I know relatively little about the software, but I know enough to crop, clean up the background and alter the white balance and clarity of the photos to my liking.

For lifestyle/ behind the scenes shots:

I’m lucky in that my studio has amazing light, so I’m able to capture behind the scenes/ process photos with just my iPhone. I don’t bother editing these photos in Photoshop, but I have some apps that I like to use to tinker with the white balance and contrast. My favorite is VSCO – it has a free version but it recently started tagging the photos edited in the free version with a VSCO watermark so I sprung for the paid version. I think it was about $20 for the year, and it was totally worth it. VSCO also has lots of filters presets, although I don’t really use those that much.  I also occasionally use the app Snapseed, since it allows you to select and lighten just certain areas of your photos if you just need a little extra brightness in one spot.

For my model shoots: 

I work with other photographers for my model shoots since that is way outside of my comfort zone.

In what ways has photography been important for your business? 

I think having good photos has been a game-changer for my business. In addition to providing my online customers with a better feel for my product and how it looks in real life, strong photos have leveled up my brand. Learning more about how to photograph my pieces has also given me a better ability to style my photos to position my brand and pitch it to the audience that I think it’s best suited to.

What are 2 pieces of advice you’d share with someone who is learning how to photograph their products for their online business?

 

  1. Ask for advice. There are wonderful makers out there who have lots to share about how to get the best images of your specific kind of product. Cultivate a relationship and see if they’d be willing to share any tips!
  2. Keep your eyes open! While it’s always good to have photos of your pieces on a clean white background for website and PR use and applications to shows (some shows require it), they’re not all that interesting. So I’m constantly challenging myself to find other ways to display and photograph my work – whether it’s behind the scenes at the studio or on models.

Do you have any brands, social media accounts, or websites that inspire you in your business?

So many! I really love a clean, clear photo, so brands that embrace that aesthetic are really appealing to me. Yield Design Co is a great example.  

What’s your favorite thing about having your business?

I’m one of those people that always wants to be learning, and having this business pushes me to learn and grow continually. I love that I get to use all parts of my brain from the creative to the strategic to the number-crunching – it’s very satisfying.


You can find Marja’s jewelry at her website, and follow MGG on social media on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

 

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In Conversation with Avery of Beanstalk & Company

Beautiful photos of plants almost always stop me in my tracks. So when I came across Beanstalk & Company on Instagram with its beautiful photos of air plants, I just had to send a DM asking, “Do you take your own photos? They look great!”

I got a message back saying, “I do!”

Once I got that response, I knew I wanted to talk with Avery, the owner, and hear more about her business and learn the secrets to her gorgeous product photos.

Hello!! I’m so excited to talk to you. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your business?

Avery here, owner of Beanstalk & Company! While this is my favorite side hustle, I am primarily a Brooklyn-based designer, photographer, occasional comedian, and dog enthusiast.

I’ve been creating handmade air plant vessels since early 2018, and these tiny homes contain greens that have been selected with oh so much love. Each air plant vessel is designed with tubing or wire helixes that come with an air plant inside, all hanging seamlessly with fishing line. Terrariums and hand-potted goods are a fan favorite, too!

You may have seen Beanstalk originals at FAD Market, Artists & Fleas, Hester Street Fair, a friend’s gala, or on a coworker’s desk! 

What inspired you to open up your Etsy business?

I had always wanted to open an Etsy shop! I’ll admit I had several accounts as a kid trying to sell handmade buttons, collages, jewelry, and little things your mom encourages you to craft. 

As a graphic designer, I spend most days looking at a screen. Trying to balance creative energies, I try to physically make or work on something each day. With a love of plants and making things with my hands, I found a way to marry the two. Sharing these little creations with people brings such joy to my life (and apartment) and I’ve kept the business running all this time.

I think opening an Etsy shop or personalized website helps you to solidify your status as a maker while reaching the larger plant-loving market. The question I get asked most at markets is, “Do you have an Etsy or whatever?” Yes, always yes!

How did you learn how to take photos for your business? Do you have any go-to resources when it comes to learning how to take photos?

As a one-woman show, you have to become the whole production team, finance queen, poor intern, and a marketing expert. With a background in theater marketing, photography, and design, what could go wrong? (Lots of things, of course!) Even so, I’ve finally figured out how I want my business to be perceived online and on social media. 

All of this works through photography and how you develop your voice on social media. I have my own camera and set aside time each week to photograph new pieces for review. Through trial and error, I’ve found the right formula for lighting, detail, and presentation. 

My go-to’s: photograph with indirect lighting from a window, take multiple photos to show off the entirety of the product’s scale and features, and always use the same wooden surface as it’s become part of my brand. 

What’s 1 thing you wish you learned in the beginning about photographing your products?

Girl, don’t take ANY photos with your phone!

I know it’s tempting and Apple touts a mean camera but put that away…Invest in something a little nicer that you can manipulate in a program like Photoshop or Lightroom. It makes all the difference to get that depth of field and lighting adjustment control. 

Don’t have a DSLR camera? Find some friends who would be willing to help take pictures of your pieces or teach a mini photograph lesson! 

What’s your process for photographing your products? Do you have a setup or system in place?

You bet! Natural lighting from the window, a wooden IKEA bar cart, off-white wall, and the hexagonal flooring in my kitchen. These two textures work beautifully with plants because they’re opposites. 

When photographing your work, think about what medium you’re showcasing. Metals work well with wood textures, just like greenery goes well with varying colors of wood or deep gray stone. It helps to have the juxtaposition there so your product pops. 

In what ways has photography been important for your business? 

Photography is important for people to understand what your product is. The photos I use on Etsy are also used on social media, and I pride myself in curating a crisp grid on Instagram for audiences. 

What’s 1 piece of advice you’d share with someone who is learning how to photograph their products for their online business?

Play around! Give each product the time and attention you would give to a human subject you’ve scheduled a photoshoot with. Feel free to experiment until you find that sweet setup or boss lighting situation! 

Do you have any brands, social media accounts or websites that inspire you in your business?

I actually pull inspiration from fellow makers and industries outside of the maker’s market. It’s helpful to be informed on what other brands are doing. It just might help you with your page! 

What’s your favorite thing about having your business?

The people! When I go to a market and set up my table, I love meeting new folks and explaining what these weird air plants have to offer. There’s always someone tugging their boyfriend over to the table, a little kid carefully poking a cactus, or a little old lady looking for a gift for her “grandson who just loves plants.” Watching an enthusiastic customer engage with your product and appreciate what you made is priceless. 

You can find Avery and her air plant vessels on Etsy and follow her on social media on Instagram and Facebook.

How the Details in Your Photography Can Add Value to Your Handmade Product

When shopping in person, customers inspect products with all 5 of their senses. They’re able to look closely at your product and figure out the quality of the craftsmanship, the color, texture and so on.

But you can’t do that when shopping online. A customer can’t pick up and inspect your product like they can in person. 

That’s why it’s important to think about showing as many detailed shots as possible of your product in your photographs.

Here are some reasons why you should be getting a little closer to your products next time you need to photograph them.

 

Show off the quality of your work

If you make wooden bath mats, photograph the interesting patterns, grains or natural flaws of the wood. Take a few shots of how the wooden slats are all connected together to create a sturdy mat. 

Did you just finish making a gorgeous vase? Get some close up shots of the unique indentations you added to give the piece some added personality.

If you create one-of-the-kind oil paintings, photograph the layered textures details of your work. You can even photograph different parts of the painting to show the quality of the paint used in the piece.

Labels ARE important

Whether it’s a label indicating what designer made a handbag you thrifted or a product label you worked hard to create, be sure to photograph it. Labels give the impression that you’re not just a hobbyist, but that you take your business and products seriously. It helps build your brand and remind customers of you in the future.

Labels can also indicate sizing information and care instructions for your product which is important. While you may add this information in the listing description, showing your customer the information can also be found on the product is a great detail to capture.

Flaws and imperfections are important

If you’re selling something second-hand or maybe one of your pottery mugs didn’t come out perfectly but totally usable, be sure to photograph any imperfections or flaws. 

Customers need to know if something you’re selling has a hole, a stain or maybe the color is off before making a purchase. No one wants bad surprises when they buy. 

Always remember when selling online, your customer can’t touch, feel, smell or taste your product. So it’s your responsibility as the seller to provide your customers all of the visual information they need to feel comfortable purchasing from you whether your product is $5 or $500.

By being detail-oriented when it comes to photographing your product shows that you care about your business, product and customers. It’s a way for you to educate and show the quality of your work to your customer so they can appreciate what you make even before they buy. It also helps build your reputation as being a trusted seller that will keep customers coming back for business. 

What details do you capture when photographing your products?

In Conversation with Heidi Shenk of Row House 14

I’ve known Heidi Shenk for a long time since we were both part of the Etsy Greeting Cards group. I even ordered a custom greeting card for my dad for his birthday back in 2011 from her which he loved! 

I wanted to chat with her to get a little more background in how she started Row House 14 and get insight in how photography has played a vital role for her online business over the years.

Heidi Shenk of Row House 14

Welcome Heidi! I’m super excited to chat with you about your business. Can you give us a background of your business and what you make?

I’m the owner and designer of Row House 14, an independent greeting card and stationery goods brand based in Baltimore, Maryland. While greeting cards make up the bulk of my product line, I also design pencil sets, notepads, vinyl stickers, gift wrap, and other such stationery and gifting products.

Greeting card and other stationery gifts

What inspired you to open up your own online business?

My business originally started as a necessary creative outlet — something I could do that was not related in any way to my teaching job in Baltimore City. After showing a friend some of the cards that I had made, she suggested I open an Etsy shop. Ten years later, my business is now my full-time job and Etsy is no longer my main focus. The bulk of my business is as a wholesale supplier for boutiques and gift shops both larger and small across the country.

How do you take photos for your business? Do you have any go-to resources when it comes to photographing your products?

I have been practicing photography for years as a total amateur, probably since I was in high school. I’d shoot film photos on my parents’ Pentax k1000 and then process them in our high school darkroom, sometimes getting permission to stay after school to do so. I feel as though the bulk of my understanding of the basics started then — aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc. 

However, after acquiring my first DSLR camera, about 12 years ago, I felt I had to relearn some of that. The basics are similar, but there are so many more options and capabilities! While I don’t really use any resources now, I did turn to the Digital Photography School website a lot when I first started using my Nikon. And for photo-editing, I used PicMonkey (picmonkey.com) and Pixlr before I was able to get Adobe Photoshop.

What’s 1 thing you wish you had learned in the beginning about photographing your products?

When I first started trying product photography, I just thought I needed light of any kind, so I would use any source of it in my house — overhead lights, lamps, and such. It led to a lot of yellowed, off-color photographs and lots of editing in Photoshop. Since then, I rely completely on natural light with very little editing.

Early product photos

What’s your process for photographing your products? Do you have a set up or system in place?

My set up is super simple. I have massive north facing windows in my studio, which provide nice even lighting. I use white foam board as my background and use sheets of solid colored scrapbook paper as backgrounds sometimes as well if I want a pop of color. I use a silver reflector to even out light and reduce shadows. I have two small, self-standing, adjustable photography lamps with fluorescent bulbs that I use on the rare occasion that I don’t have enough natural light. Sometimes I use a tripod, but most of the time I don’t.

Current set up for product photos

For my Instagram product shots, I usually use my iPhone and don’t even mess with using one of my Nikons. 

In general, my typical setup probably cost me $60, so it’s not cost-prohibitive for anyone who thinks they need something fancy to get great photos. My general attitude is to keep it as simple as possible. And if you don’t have windows with good light, take it outside! I used to sometimes shoot on the deck of my house when I didn’t have adequate natural light. The neighbors may have thought I was crazy, but who cares?

In what ways has photography been important for your business? 

Great photos are super important! When selling online, the only thing people can use to base the quality of your product is through photographs. I definitely noticed over the years that as my product photography got better, my sales increased. If I can’t tell what I’m looking at, I’m not going to buy it online, and I think most people have the same mentality. 

Ride Those Good Vibes Card

 

What advice would give a new online seller who is learning how to photograph their products for their online business?

Have patience and be willing to troubleshoot and try new things. Unless you have a major photography background, it’s not something that will happen overnight. 

My product photography was definitely a process. If I look at product shots from ten years ago, I cringe. But the good news is that I kept at it, and that has changed. If something didn’t get the results that I had hoped for, I learned from the process, made adjustments, and tried again. 

And keep it simple. You don’t need expensive equipment to create great shots. If all you have is your iPhone, then great! Start there! There are so many free editing options out there that you can always brighten up shots or make minor adjustments if necessary.

Do you have any brands, social media accounts or websites that inspire you in your business?

I follow a lot of other accounts that are in the same industry as me. It’s generally inspiring to be able to build a community around that and see others thriving in the same way that you are, but everyone doing their own thing at the same time. 

I also love following people that inspire me in general — favorite athletes, musicians, artists — that sort of thing. 

There’s a paper shop in Paris called Papier Tigre that I stumbled upon during some travels there that I really love (@papiertigram). I love the colors they use in their line and their IG marketing is so good! I’m a huge art fan and find a lot of inspiration in the colors in paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe (@okeeffemuseum) and I always pick one of her wall calendars for my studio every new year. 

What’s your favorite thing about having your business?

I really enjoy autonomy. No one tells me how to run my business or sets the rules. Only I do! My general motto as being my own boss is ‘I do whatever the hell I want.’ Even if it isn’t always popular, I love the freedom to do exactly what I need to do to thrive creatively. If people love it, then that’s just an added bonus. But ultimately, it’s about doing what I love and fulfilling my own happiness.

Stickers

Thanks Heidi for sharing your journey with photography in your online business! You can follow Heidi online at Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and at her website.