5 Quick Tips for Professional-Looking Product Photography


We’re all familiar with the popular adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” The majority of human beings are visual learners, often preferring images to text. Perhaps we’re too impatient to spend our time reading, or maybe photos are just more appealing and capable of expressing what words can’t.

Scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed every day, I’m much more likely to stop on a post if I see a photo involved. (You’ll find a lot in this post. Keep reading!)

The same goes for product photography. Sure, you could attempt to eloquently describe the watercolor cat painting you have for sale on Etsy, but chances are that each of your viewers would have a slightly different mental image of the product at hand. Why not just take a quality photograph and save yourself a thousand words?

The keyword here is quality. A monkey can take a blurry photo with an iPhone, but it takes a bit of effort to actually produce a quality image. Luckily, doing so doesn’t have to be expensive!

Here are five tips for creating a professional-looking photograph:

  1. Setting the stage

Finding a suitable environment for your product is crucial. For print and online catalogs, plain white backgrounds provide a classic, clean, and professional appearance. Neutral colors, such as light brown and gray, are also optimal choices for solid-colored backdrops. For advertisements and editorial work, it may be appropriate to find a natural environment with more texture.

Take advantage of various surfaces around your house, go outdoors, find an abandoned building, be creative!  Just make sure that the environment you’re shooting in is relevant to the product you’re trying to sell and doesn’t distract from that item.

  1. Lighting is your friend

You mean you don’t have a bunch of fancy lighting equipment? That’s okay; work with what you have.  Grab a basic lamp from around your house or pick up one of these portable work lights from the Home Depot for less than $10.

If that’s too much trouble, just go outside on an overcast day. With the sun hidden behind the clouds, you’ll have an ample supply of even light.  You can go a step further by using a white bed sheet or a white poster board to reflect the light onto your product.

  1. Focus on presentation

If you’re selling a product in a print or online catalog, be aware that this is the closest your audience will get to the actual product before making a purchase decision. First impressions are everything, so make your image as flattering as possible. Be sure that there are no wrinkles in clothing, no smudges on silverware, etc.  Likewise, ensure that your shooting environment is clean and tidy.

There are methods of making food photography look better (e.g. putting olive oil on blueberries or propping up food with toothpicks). Just make certain that the image you’re producing is as accurate as possible.

  1. Don’t be afraid to experiment

Most photographers will tell you that it’s better to have too many images to choose from than too few.  Don’t hesitate to experiment with angles and depth. Adjusting the focus can also improve an image. You can use a soft focus on items like fine jewelry to give the photo a romantic feel. Using a wider aperture limits the focus of a shot, which tells your audience where you want them to look.

  1. Editing is a standard practice

It’s okay to digitally retouch your photos, but tread lightly. Don’t go so far as to deviate from the true nature of the product.  Adjusting the brightness, contrast, exposure, and other factors in Photoshop is done with most every professional image you’ll see.  You may also want to remove simple blemishes that you missed when setting up the shot.  If the item is reflective, you may find yourself being reflected in the product itself. Feel free to fix this issue with retouching.

Taking time to present your product in the best way possible shows that you genuinely care about the buyer and the item you’re selling.

The poster above was created by Innovations Branding House for the 2013 Carson Center Distiller’s Dinner held in Paducah, Kentucky. The Elijah Craig image displays typical characteristics of quality product photography.