To Shoot or Not to Shoot? Product Photography Tips

Wholesale Tools: Part One


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This season we’re developing a Vendor Tips series to help Makers navigate the crazy world of wholesale. In the first part of our series, we’re going to look at product photography – a sometimes stressful topic for new entrepreneurs who are doing everything themselves. In this post Hollin, our Creative Content Manager + Photographer is going to look at some examples of product photography, get some advice from makers and business owners, and offer up some tutorials and resources.

Hello all, Hollin here. First of all, let me say this: product photography doesn’t have to necessarily be a daunting task. Since most of us shoot with our phones almost daily, we’re getting good amounts of practice in. Basically, what I am trying to say is, you don’t have to be a professional photographer to make your goods look professional in your catalog or web-shop.

This year I had the opportunity to speak with Bert and Mimi Kim, a husband and wife duo whose separate businesses have both distinct and beautiful product photography. When I found out that they both shoot their own product photos, I wanted to learn more. Bert recently opened up The Good Liver, a brick and mortar shop in LA specializing in Japanese and European imported home goods. Mimi Kim is a long time RCF Maker who runs the colorful paper goods company, Clap Clap Design.

Why did you decide to shoot your own photos?

MIMI: I studied graphic design and used to take photos during my college years and also when I was a graphic designer. So shooting my own photos, especially when I started my own business seemed to be natural. The biggest benefit of doing them myself would be that the photos can be completely under my control. I can go any way when I do it.

BERT: Our budget was the main reason. I had basic knowledge for taking still life photos so took advantage of that. The result was satisfying and we got to save money, which is always good.




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Explain the style behind your product photos. What are the benefits of using a colored backdrop, vs. white?

MIMI: I think that our image shots tell what Clap Clap’s style is. It is whimsical and colorful, so naturally the image shots for our catalog are vibrant and playful. A colored background allows the photo make a strong vibe depending on the color contrast. I spend a good amount of time choosing a right background color considering what colors were used for each product to evoke whimsical imagery. For my product listings, I use a white background to make it simple and clear so that customers can easily know what they see.

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BERT: Our website’s background color is white. I wanted to frame/differentiate our objects from the white background we had. That’s why I decided to use a colored but not too dominant background. I wanted to take the simplest approach. Capturing the object in whole with detailed shots along with it was the goal. Emphasizing the silhouette of the objects was also something I thought was important. I tried to create a flow with shapes and colors that could harmonize well together on our main shopping page.

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Any advice/resources for those thinking about shooting their own product photos?

MIMI: There are so many talented people who take amazing photos out there! Follow them and try to imitate how they approach their products (I do it with my iPhone!). I think that can be a good way to learn. Also, the more you know about lighting, the better the result will be.

BERT: I am not a professional photographer. I approached this task from a designer’s point of view. Keeping things simple and clear is always a good way to communicate with customers.

I absolutely love the different perspectives both Bert and Mimi have on their own approaches to photography and their products. If you’re ready to take a shot (pun intended) shooting your own product photos, here are some basic tips I think will get you on the right track:

Don’t stress about equipment

I’ve definitely been one of those people who wished she had the finest equipment at her disposal. But in all seriousness, an iPhone and natural light can be a couple of your best tools. Don’t let the obstacles of investing in top of the line tech be your reason for procrastination.

Keep it simple

While styled images are always lovely to look at, your product photos should be about highlighting what you make. Keep it simple and practice shooting minimal “laydowns.” Or, if your product requires a different approach, take a look at the next tip

Practice the right angles

Right now, the product photography trend is straightforward or overhead shots. Practice getting the angles just right to focus on your product. Investing in a tripod with a transitioning head will do wonders, I swear. Most importantly, choose the angle that showcases your product best. If that means propping your product up and shooting slightly at an angle, go for it.

Consistency is key!

Try to shoot all your product photos at once, and make sure they look uniform. If you’re using natural light only, be aware of the sunlight and how that will affect the consistency of the brightness of your photos. If that freaks you out, invest in some affordable lighting.

Experiment with Styling

Frequently, shop-owners and consumers will most likely purchase an item if they can visualize it in their own space. If you’ve noticed, lots of brands will provide both a product photo with a clean background as well as a stylized image showcasing the product within a lifestyle setting. One of my personal favorite sites, Food52 does this flawlessly. Just take a look at this one example below:

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Photography by Rocky Luten and James Ransom

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Photography by Rocky Luten and James Ransom

Want more styling inspiration? Take a look at some of Food52’s favorite photos from their in-house studio.

Find your look and stand out!

There are lots of trends in product photography right now. It’s always smart to know what is catching the public’s eye, but don’t be afraid to find your own look! Read this interview featuring Jeni’s photographer, Kelsey McClellan, and see how she turned ice cream into a modern, artful still life with her flash-style, high-contrasted photography.

Jeni's Ice Cream

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Keep your eyes out for product photography you like, pin images on Pinterest or collect photos from Magazines. But remember, it’s all about understanding your own personal style and how it can be portrayed through photography.

Don’t be afraid to hire out

If it’s just not working, the hours are too long, or you’re stressed out to the point of frustration, find a photographer to contract. If you don’t have a lot of money, look into hiring a friend or an acquaintance who is willing to barter. Chances are, someone knows a photographer who’s willing to boost their portfolio.

I hope these tips and examples are helpful to you all. In addition, here are some resourceful tools and tutorials I found that might help bring your product photography to the next level.

Bloglovin’s Lighting Tips + Tricks for Bloggers + Photographers

Shopify’s Guide to DIY Product Photography (Video Tutorial)

Linnea Mae’s 6 Tips for Product Photography

Thanks for tuning into this short list of photography tips for your small business. If you’ve got any questions or tips of your own, feel free to comment below.

Up next: Creating Catalogs!

2 thoughts on “To Shoot or Not to Shoot? Product Photography Tips

  1. RS says:

    I would like to point out, product images taken by a professional photographer garner much higher sales and interest than images taken by an untrained individual using a cell phone. I am a professional candle maker and professional photographer and after being a pro photographer for years doing portraits of children and animals, I can say with 1000% certainty that product photography is an entirely different beast altogether that I had to take a good deal of time to learn. There are considerations regarding lighting, appropriate shadowing effects, background options, proper product positioning, etc. We want people to value our hand-made items as precious and recognize the effort and time we have spent making them, photographers are the exact same thing. You get what you pay for. and if you want to display a professional look/feel/vibe, then you need to invest in a professional who too has taken the time to hone their craft and value the time/education/equipment you bring to the job.

  2. Natto says:

    🙂

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