In sharp focus
Your digital strategy relies on you knowing your market, your audience and your product, deciding what your brand needs to say and presenting yourself in the best way you can. This Brandmade is going to get down to business with the dos and don’ts of product photography – an essential component of your online presence. In product photography, your product is the star and the way it is shown has the potential to lead to sales.
We put together an issue of Handmade Magazine for each market, which is packed with great photography. Handmade curates the images by scheduling a themed photo shoot for each market and we also selected some of the best of our designers’ images.
The images we choose fall into one of three categories. Either they are styled beautifully, with complementary products, they were beautifully lit with lots of natural light and no glare or shadows or they were focused correctly, so that the product itself was the hero. We’ll look at why they are good in a minute, but first, here are some tips on how to create wonderful images:
It needn’t cost the earth, but you’re going to need a good digital (DSLR) camera. I have had a lot of success with my old Canon Powershot, especially when I get the right setting and light, so you really don’t need to invest too much, but a bit of research and a small investment will set you up nicely.
You’ll also need a tripod. Again, this really doesn’t have to cost much, but it’s vital to keep the camera still so you can get the crispest image possible.
A white background is incredibly useful and very easy to set up. Get hold of a large piece of paper or card from an art supply shop and tape it to the wall and floor/table so you have a gentle curve with no lines. Something to shade direct light is also handy to stop the shadows – white card or foamcore is easy to get hold of and easy to set up.
For close shots of very small items, you might want to build a light box. Here’s a link to a great DIY one.
Without a light box, natural light is your best friend for great product photography. Near a window with diffused sunlight will guarantee that your product looks its best, or in the garage with the door open.
Without getting too technical, the best product shots play with what’s known as depth of field, which is the distance between the near and far objects in a photograph. When the background is out of focus, it draws the eye to in-focus items in the foreground. Experiment with the settings on your camera to get the best out of this. Here are two examples of product photographs that play with focus. The one on the left is entirely focused on the product, but the background has been styled as if someone has just been sitting with a magazine while taking in the scent of the candle. This may not be immediately obvious as it is out of focus, but it creates an atmosphere. The one on the right shows a detail of the chocolate in focus, but the background hints that there are lots of other options.
Even on a plain white background, the angle of your product, the level of detail and the way it is staged still makes a big difference to the outcome. However, it’s often a good idea to add props. These will add a story your photo. For example, rather than shooting an empty glass, fill it with lemonade and ice cubes and put a piece of lemon on its side to catch more attention. Adding props can suggest the usability of your product or the lifestyle that it can offer to your customers.
The following photographs were picked for the Handmade Magazine because of their styling. The one on the left is moody, accentuated by the grey linen background with diffused light. The way the vases and cups are set up, both upside down to show the matte outer and the right way up to draw attention to the glossy inner, is imaginative, but also showcases all of the product. The flowers add softness and contrast. On the right, the product for sale is the set of decorative pears. On a shelf, with vintage accessories in muted colours, the customer can really see how these would look at home.
Different settings can also add to the composition, whether it’s through a choice of textured or coloured background or out on location. The following jewellery images from the Handmade Magazine are all styled slightly differently. A close-up view of textured silver bangles on the right are beautifully set out and beautifully lit to show off the detail of what’s on sale. The necklace on the top left is definitely the focus of the image, but the background is clear enough to show the ocean setting, highlighting the natural origins of the bead. The contrast of copper and pebbles in the bottom left image draws attention to the earrings, especially as the light shines off them, but not the background.
In the right hands, Photoshop can turn an amateur shot into an almost professional one. However, it’s not a cheap piece of software and can at times be quite complex. A viable alternative is called Adobe Photoshop Elements, which is a cheaper and simpler to use. However, the editing software you already have on your computer may well be enough if you can get to grips with what it can do. If you are earning your living from online sales that depend on great photography, it may be worth investing in the software and a workshop to help you. Otherwise, make sure you know how to use what you’ve got and you’re almost there.
Finally, if you’re really interested in getting to grips with the best product photography (and therefore better branding and greater sales), I use a great book for reference called “The crafter’s guide to taking great photos” by Heidi Adnum. It contains case studies, tips on lighting and composition and tricks to get the best out of your camera, along with tutorials in Photoshop Elements.