How To Tackle Common Lighting Problems When Photographing Your Handmade Products

If you thought taking product photos was going to be easy peasy when you started your online craft business, I’m pretty sure you’ve realized quickly that it isn’t as easy as it looks.

One area that many makers and craft business owners find challenging is lighting. Can you relate? I know I can because I struggled with it too when I sold on Etsy back in the day.

If your product colors look off, you’re getting lots of shadows, your product is reflective or your photos look flat, let’s talk about what’s going on and how you can fix some of these common lighting problems.

Why do my product photos look flat?

If you’re taking product photos and you hardly have any shadows around your subject, your photos can look flat and a bit lifeless. This can happen for a couple reasons …

  1. You’re using a light tent or light box 
  2. You’re photographing something very thin like a greeting card.
  3. You’re removing the background in your photo.

If you’re using a light tent/box

The problem with light boxes and light tents is they’re very restrictive. They also make it hard to photograph products because the tent is getting flooding with light from all directions which eliminates shadows making your product look flat and almost like it's floating in photos.

Instead, take photos next to a window during the day. You can create better photos because the lighting won't be flooding your product from all angles and instead will give your product some depth and dimension which is more visually appealing.

If you’re photographing thin or very flat products

For products that are very flat like greeting cards, it can be challenging to make them look attractive and not like you're photographing a piece of paper.

Rather than photographing them on a flat surface look down at it, try putting your product in a frame or in a wooden block like this. If you’re photographing cards, open and stand them up so customers can see how they look.

square beach photo print in wooden block holder

If you like flat lay type photos, you can always place a post-it pad or even acrylic blocks (like these) underneath your product to give space between your product and the surface.

If you’re removing the background on your photos

Removing the background often removes the shadows which can make a product look flat and like it’s floating. 

product photo orchid greeting card with drop shadow and without drop shadow

Whatever app you’re using to remove the original background, be sure you’re not completely removing the shadows to your product. If you have options for editing layers, you can work with the shadows separately which is helpful. This video is how I learned how to remove backgrounds and keep my shadows using Adobe Photoshop. 

Remember, shadows help bring your handmade product to life so don’t be afraid of them.

Experiment with the lighting placement to find what angle creates the best shadows for your product, but that look flattering, not distracting. If you’re using natural light to take product photos, photographing early or late in the day will generally create longer shadows because the sun is lower in the sky. If you photograph around noon or mid-day, you’ll produce shorter shadows due to the sun being higher in the sky.

Why do my product photos look blue/orange/red/yellow? 

If your product photos are coming out with a weird color cast to them or the colors of your products are looking off, it’s because you need to do 2 things …

  1. Make sure you’re using 1 type of source
  2. Tell your camera what kind of light you’re using

Stick to 1 type of light source for your photos

When it comes to selecting your lighting for your product photos, make sure you’re using 1 type of light source. This means, if you’re using natural light to take photos, make sure you’re not mixing any other light sources in. This can happen mostly when you’re take photos next to a window using natural light and you have an overhead indoor light on in the same room. Mixing light sources can create weird color casting on your photos so make sure you’re sticking with either natural light or artificial/studio light when photographing.

Tell your camera what light source you’re using

Once you know what light source you’re using, it’s time to tell your camera what that is. 

If you’re using auto mode on your camera or mobile phone camera app, your camera is guessing at what light source you’re using. And when it guesses, well it doesn’t always get it right which results in weird colored photos. 

The best thing to do is to select the correct light source (white balance) in your camera BEFORE you take a photo. This will ensure the colors in your photos are as close as possible to the real thing. If the colors still look slightly off after you take photos, you can correct it with editing after.

Why is my lighting uneven?

To get great product photos, it’s essential to learn a little about lighting. Lighting can make your products look unappealing or it can make them look attractive to customers. 

If you photograph your product outside on a bright, sunny day and the sunlight is hitting your product directly, you’re using direct light. Direct light results is more defined, hard shadows. Direct light in product photography can create beautiful, dramatic photos, but it can also make your product look unattractive. Plus, it can make it difficult to see areas of your product, especially the details.

small ceramic figurine in uneven lighting

And when you’re selling your handmade products online, you want to make sure your customers can see the details of your products. Make sure you diffuse the light and this will help your photos look much better.

How do I fix unwanted glare?

Photographing products with reflective or shiny surfaces can be challenging, even for professional product photographers.

When photographing reflective products, it’s important to make sure you’re not making your photos look matte when in reality, they have a glossy or reflective surface. 

So how do you do this? You have to experiment!

amber glass spray bottles, one bottle with lots of glare and other with less glare

I know it’s not the answer you were probably looking for, but it will vary depending on your light source, your product and the look you want. 

A few things to keep in mind and to try:

  • Place white foam core boards or black foam core boards next to your product to clean up reflections. White foam core boards will brighten and black foam core boards will darken areas.
  • Don’t shoot photos from the same angle your light source is. 
  • Change the angle of your camera until you don’t see or see less glare. This is where you can take a photo.
  • Make sure you diffuse your light as it can help cut down the harshness of the lighting.
  • Distance yourself (and camera) away from your product to reduce unwanted reflections.

Once you find your sweet spot, be sure to take a photo or sketch a drawing of the setup so you remember next time.

Final Thoughts

Lighting is one of the hardest things to figure out when you're learning product photography, especially if it's not the focus of your business. But it's so important to understand because it can help you not only fix some of the common lighting issues you may have, but also help you create great photos that attract customers to your online shop.

What tip are you going to try next time to photograph your crafts? Let me know below!

About the author

Imelda Jimenez-LaMar is a product photography coach and former Etsy seller, who said goodbye to her corporate job to create a business teaching photography. She is on a mission to demystify product photography for makers who want to create product photos that sell their handmade products online and grow their handmade business.

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