What we first see of a brand makes the first (and often the most important) statement. We’re deep into a digital age, so it’s not surprising that this first impression usually happens online. Whether it’s on a company’s website or on social media (or even featured on another social media account or website) the images that you put forth act as visual brand ambassadors, communicating a message to anyone and everyone who sees them.
That’s what makes photography a quintessential part of establishing and marketing your brand. Not just for a small business or entrepreneurial endeavors, but for your personal brand, too!
We’ve worked to compile our favorite tips, tricks and strategies for capturing and sharing photos of your products and mastering your brand’s aesthetic.
1. Mastering the Light
Light makes or breaks a photo. If you’re taking photos of your products in their natural setting (such as a mug with coffee in it in a coffee shop, or an apron being used in the kitchen) and not in an organized studio setting, it’s important to determine what sort of light you’re dealing with and to know how to control your environment as much as possible.
In most cases, you’ll want soft shadows, not hard shadows. Soft shadows are created when the light source is larger than the object being photographed, while hard shadows are created when the light source is small than the object being photographed. Shoot for being near a big, natural light source, i.e., either outdoors or by a large window. If you have more resources at hand and are using a DSLR camera rather than an iPhone, you can avoid a hard shadow by using a DIY flash diffuser. Do so by attaching a white tape or a white plastic bag to the flash of the camera — this distributes light in a more even way across the object.
If you’re photographing outside or in a naturally lit area, it’s often best to capture your products either in the earlier morning or the evening hours before the sun has set. Some photographers call this the “golden hour”: The first hour of light after sunrise, and the last hour of light before sunset. It may seem that the bright sunlight is a perfect time for photography, but the harsh light creates those hard shadows we discussed above, and it’s harder to get a photo with well-distributed light.
If you’re looking to set up your own makeshift photo studio, it’s easier than you think. Here are some objects to keep on hand for impromptu photoshoot set-up:
- White foam core
- Thin (thinnest you can find) white mat board or pasteboard
- Clip-on or stand-up lights & two cool-colored 5000k bulbs (or whichever you prefer)
- Large clear plastic storage container
Using these fairly common household items, you can create the perfect environment for a clean product photo, especially in situations where you don’t have good natural light. Push an appropriately sized table against the wall, and tape your poster board or mat board to the wall, so that the hanging portion is resting on the table in a curve. If needed, use your clip-on or stand-up lights and bulbs to control your shadows. Now you’ve got a clean, white background that appears to have an “infinite curve” and no horizon. The focus will be entirely on your product.
Alternatively, put the mat board or poster board in the storage container, which should be laid on it’s side. Use the clip-on or stand-up lights on the sides of the container to control your light. If you want to photograph from up above, lay your white foam core on the ground and lay your products on top, arranged in your desired composition. Again, use your lights to control shadows if needed.
Want more tips on this? Check out these awesome studio set-up ideas:
2. Hold Steady & Use Angles
A mistake that’s often made with product photography, and photography in general, is a lack of focus within an image. Details should be clear and sharp, especially in this case, because we’re assuming that this image is the first thing a potential customer will see of your product.
Whether you’re using a DSLR camera or just a smart phone, your hands won’t always get the job done when it comes to holding steady and making sure your object is in focus. A tripod is your friend in this situation. And yes, there are tripods for smart phones. It’s a good investment to buy one if you find that your photos are never quite as detailed and clear as you want them to be. Don’t want to buy one? Borrow one from a friend first, and see the difference it makes. A tripod is going to be especially important if you’re photographing a single object or a small object that has a lot to show to your customers.
Photography can be intimidating for a lot of reasons. There are infinite angles to be utilized, some better than others, and it’s important to figure out which angles fit your products and your aesthetic, and how to accomplish them.
Taking photos from above (bird’seye view) is effective when you’re trying to capture multiple objects in a scene, whether naturally occurring or configured by you. Make sure, though, that you truly are taking it from directly above. This is a popular angle, but it’s easy to unintentionally tilt your camera and lose the pleasing, scenic effect of a perfectly straight, flat overview shot. Make sure your camera lens is parallel to the scene that you’re capturing. Use a tripod for this if that’s easier for you!
Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to leave negative space in your photos. You don’t need to zoom in to create a composition of just your products for every photo. Leaving a view of the empty space around your products is extremely effective and helps create that minimalist aesthetic.
Taking photos from the level of the object works well when you have fewer objects to capture or want a singular object to be the forefront of the photo. This angle may seem like an obvious choice, but again, it’s easy to tilt your camera in a way that compromises that straight-on approach. Set your camera on the surface that your product is on, or use a tripod in order to make sure you’re really on the same level as what you’re photographing.
Pro tip: Your object doesn’t have to be in the center of every photo. In fact, it’s better in many cases if it’s not. You can stay on the same level as your product still, but let it be in the left or right quadrant of the frame, bleeding only slightly into the middle quadrant. Photographers call this the rule of thirds!
You're on your way to superb product photos for your Instagram, Facebook, Website, and more. Soon, you'll have your aesthetic mastered. Come back next week for part two of this "How to." We'll have tips on incorporating everyday objects to enhance your images, showing your products in action, and how to edit.