Everything About Starting Your Product Photography Business

What Is Product Photography?

Product photography is a type of commercial photography that aims to present products in the best way possible, which requires photographers to be creative in making products look memorable.

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Photography can shape their first impression. For products, this is especially important because the image is used to entice consumers to purchase their products. A great product photography portfolio can attract people to browse longer and attract the right audience as well. For example, if you’re an environmentally friendly product, you may opt for colors and backgrounds that contain nature, wood, or plants. Now, if you want to convey a minimalistic lifestyle, you may consider using a simple white background to avoid distraction in the image. 

Product photography is more than snapshots of images laid out on display. There are different ways to ensure the images are engaging, the products stand out, and convert customers to buy the products. In this guide, we’re going to help kickstart your online portfolio.

What is Product Photography?

In the simplest terms, product photography is a type of commercial photography that aims to present products in the best way possible. This might fool you into thinking product photography is a boring or uncreative field, but this couldn't be farther from the truth. With online shopping becoming more popular than ever, creative and memorable product photography is increasingly important to businesses of all kinds. This means that if you're looking for a type of photography that can be highly lucrative, creative, and fun, shooting products might just be the thing for you.

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What are the Different Types of Product Photography?

Product-only E-commerce Photos

While the first thing you imagine may be standard e-commerce shots of products against a white background, that's only a tiny sliver of the wide range of images that you'll be able to capture as a product photographer. These types of shots are often called e-commerce photos since they're typically used on the product archive page of an e-commerce store so that the page looks cohesive and easy to navigate.

However, even when it comes to e-commerce, plenty of brands are now deviating away from the standard product on white background photos in favor of images that catch the eye more with creative backgrounds and lighting.

As simple as those product-only photos on an all-white background may seem, it's still a good idea to showcase some of these in your product photography portfolio. That's because, as is so often the case with photography, small details can make a huge difference in how the final image looks. These basic e-commerce shots look best when they've been polished in post-production, to clean up any small imperfections like dust or wrinkles in garments. Supporting props can also be removed to make the product look as though it is elevated or suspended in the air.

In-context and Lifestyle E-commerce Photos

Another common type of product photography is the in-context and lifestyle photo. These can include pictures of a product in the context that the end consumer may use it in. For example, a tableware company would have, in addition to product-only shots, photos of their products set out on a table as they would be for a dinner party. A road bike company might have some shots of their bikes leaning against a brick wall to show that they are appropriate for urban cycling.

A lifestyle product photo might have people in the shot, but the primary goal when it comes to product photography is to focus on the product. For example, a product photographer hired by a hat company may be asked to capture some shots of their hats being worn, rather than only the product itself.

The lifestyle product photo is all about showcasing the product while giving a sense of the type of lifestyle the product would fit seamlessly into. A product photo of a pair of running shoes can emphasize the design of the product, while a product photo zoomed in on the feet of a runner positioned as if they're about to spring on a running track tells a story about the lifestyle of the person who would buy this product. The context tells us that the owner of the running shoes might be athletic, competitive, and disciplined.

Styled Product Photography

While in-context product shots also require some styling, there's a particular type of styled product image that is widely used because of how pleasing to the eye it is, and how much it pops both in print and on the screen. These styled product photos are not necessarily shot in the exact setting in which a product would actually be used, but rather in a highly stylized still life set.

These product photos require that you create a setting in which the product can be shot. You can use seamless paper or something like a piece of painted particle board for the background, create props from wood or other materials and paint them, and bring in any other props that are appropriate for the product you're shooting.

The nice thing about these styled product shots is that they give you a chance to create shots that bring your clients' brand vision to life by filling the frame with their brand colors, complementary colors, and any other elements they want to include. Since the background and props for this type of photography can usually be repainted and repurposed many times, you can invest in a few pieces of your photo set that you can use again and again for different clients. You can create an immersive visual world for your client, from the comfort of a mini studio setup that can fit in your living room.

Content for Social Media

Nowadays, just about every brand out there connects with its customers on Instagram. This means that product photographers are often tasked with creating professional product photos specifically for these platforms. While they can, of course, repurpose other product photos for use on Instagram, it's helpful to think of this as a separate type of product photography.

Shooting with Instagram in mind can make for a much better final product. That's because it uses unique aspect ratios, and even portrait and landscape shots need to look good cropped to a square since that's how they appear on your clients' grid. With the growing popularity of time-limited content, like Stories, product photography must also cater to the fullscreen ratios of mobile devices. Your client may also have a particular look that they want to maintain on their Instagram feed, so it's useful to think of this as its own type of product photography.

Product Photos for Marketing and Advertising

While product photography is often used in e-commerce or digital setting, as a product photographer you'll sometimes be tasked with shooting a product specifically for an ad or for a marketing campaign. This type of product photography might be less about showcasing a single product, and more about telling a story about the brand through one photo using multiple products.

While each client's needs are unique, this type of product photography can often be more polished and commercial looking compared to, say, an Instagram product photograph that aims to look more natural.

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Texture Photos

Depending on the types of products you are shooting, texture shots may be an important segment of your product photography portfolio. For example, if your target audience is cosmetics companies, you'll notice texture shots everywhere from their websites to their Instagram feeds. For things like creams, lotions, and shampoos, showcasing the appealing texture of the product can be a great way to appeal to the consumer.

Texture photos can be quite tricky to DIY, so it's a good idea to show your clients that you're capable of capturing high quality and appealing photos of their product's texture.

Scale Photos

For some products, showcasing the scale is a major selling point. Consider something like a new mobile phone model. The company may want to emphasize its thinness, large screen, or in some cases how small it is. That's why scale photos can be an important segment of product photography.

With scale photos, it's important to discuss the needs of the client so that you can find out if they want the scale to be communicated subtly, through other objects in the frame, or explicitly, making the scale the focus of the photo. There are ways to make both of these work well, but it's always a good idea to understand the client's vision first.

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What are the Best Cameras for Product Photography?

The good news when it comes to choosing a camera for product photography is that you don't necessarily have to have the fanciest, most expensive model on the market. Sure, a high-end DSLR camera may produce a slightly better product image compared to a good quality mirrorless camera if you look at them side by side. But the fact is, this type of photography typically takes place in an environment where you have a great deal of control over the setting and lighting conditions, so there's no real need for the biggest, most sensitive sensor.

Having said that, if you have the budget for it, a higher-end DSLR camera can make creating the best product photos out there a little bit easier. Some of the best product photography cameras at a range of budgets include:

1) Nikon D7200, $1099.95

The Nikon D7200 is proof you don't have to spend top dollar for a camera body that performs like its professional counterparts. While it's part of Nikon's DX cropped sensor range (you can go for full sensor Nikon D750, $1499.95, if you prefer the larger sensor), it's noted for its excellent low light performance and can even shoot HD video. This means you can also offer short product clips as part of your product photography portfolio.

The best part about this Nikon camera that makes it an incredibly handy tool is its range of wifi and NFC connectivity options. This means you can quickly transfer photos from your camera to a laptop or other device to make selections on the go, and it also allows you to control the camera remotely from a phone or tablet which can come in handy on a product photography shoot when you want the camera to be as still as possible for a crisp final image

2) Canon EOS Rebel T7i, $749.99

The Rebel T7i has a rotary screen that we promise you'll find handy on set when shooting product photos. It's easy to use even if you're not accustomed to Canon, has a highly praised autofocus, and produces sharp, high quality images in a range of lighting conditions.

3) Sony A6000, $399.99

While this mirrorless camera body from Sony has been on the market since 2014, it remains a favorite among pros and amateurs alike. The best part is that since newer mirrorless models have been released by Sony, the price has come down on this fantastic body making it a great choice for someone looking to get into taking product photos without spending a fortune.

It has a great ISO range meaning you'll be able to capture high quality images in a range of conditions before they get too noisy, can capture video, and has a well-reviewed 24.3 MP sensor that will bring those detailed texture shots to life.

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Which Lens is Best for Product Photography?

While there are a lot of product photography tips out there about which lens to choose, lens choices are personal to every photographer, so it's never a bad idea to rent a few different options to test them out before making a purchase decision, particularly if opting for an expensive lens.

When it comes to choosing lenses for e-commerce product photography, you may need a few different types in your camera pack. You'll probably reach for lenses with minimal distortion or compression since products look best when rendered in their real proportions. You might also want to have a macro lens on hand for detailed shots and texture shots. While prime lenses will be sharper, a good zoom lens can come in very handy when you're alternating between detailed shots and regular shots.

1) Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM, $1299.00

By no means a budget option, this lens makes it onto many best-lens lists for good reason. The money is worth the photos you can get out of the EF 100mm f/2.8, which is one of Canon's sharpest lenses. It handles beautifully, and manual focus is a breeze, which you'll appreciate when focusing on minute details. As a macro lens, it will also capture the texture and small objects very well. This will come in especially handy if you shoot jewelry or other small products.

2) Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Lens, $216.95

This affordable option from Nikon is light, easy to use, and has a 50mm focal length that corresponds with the natural field of view making it appropriate for a wide range of subjects. This makes it a versatile choice for your lens kit that you'll reach for again and again.

3) Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8, $1998.00

This versatile wide angle to short telephoto lens covers just about all the bases you'll need as a product photographer, and while the price tag is high, you can think of it as multiple lenses in one given its range. It's notable for its sharpness and high resolution, and performs well in just about any lighting setup.

What Other Equipment Do I Need for Product Photography?

Once you have a camera body you love and some lenses for the job, there are a few other pieces of equipment you'll likely use again and again. Product photography often takes place in the studio (even if it's a home studio), so some studio equipment can make all the difference between a mediocre photo and one that's truly memorable.

Add these pieces of equipment to your set up for perfect product images every time:

  • A tether. If your camera has fast wifi or NFC connectivity like some of the bodies we looked at, a tether isn't necessary, but for most camera bodies on the market, it's best to have a cable for shooting tethered. It's super handy to be able to see your images on your computer screen as you take them or to use live view if your camera allows it. This way, you can adjust things like your background, fill light, and products until everything looks perfect before taking the shot.

  • An excellent light source. If you're blessed with a place to shoot with a window that has lots of natural light, you'll probably shoot in natural light often. Still, it's nice to have some lighting options in case your shoot is scheduled on a cloudy day or you run out of daylight hours. This also gives you more control over the final look than shooting in natural light. A good light source for product photos could be a studio strobe, which will help you achieve hard shadows that full natural light creates. Some fill light options such as softboxes can also come in handy if you want to soften those shadows, depending on the style your customers want. A reflector card can also come in handy for brightening dark parts of your shot without an extra lighting source.

  • A tripod. You'll find you use a tripod often when taking product photographs since it allows you to keep your image framed the way you like as you adjust different aspects of the scene. It will also allow you to shoot in challenging product photography lighting since you'll be able to get away with a longer shutter speed.

  • Backgrounds. A standard white background is a must, but having a variety of background colors and textures that your customers can choose from will set your photography business apart. The background can be seamless paper, tile, painted plywood, textured wallpaper, fabric — the options are really vast, and you can get creative with what you use.

  • Plinths and risers. These can be wooden or acrylic, and come in very handy when it comes to adding some dimension and varied heights within your product photographs. Having these on hand is one of the best product photography tips because these small props can take your photos from amateur to pro.

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How Can I Get into Product Photography?

So you've made a trip to the camera store and picked up the right camera gear, you've collected a range of background options, you have a great lighting setup, now you just have to start your photography businessLanding that first client can be intimidating, but keep in mind that product photographers are in demand by a wide range of companies. Anyone selling products will require product photographs, and a strong photo adds a lot of value to a business.

One of the most important steps you can take when starting out is to build an online portfolio showcasing different types of product photography. This way people can check out to see your product photo work and get a sense of your style. A great portfolio is like a digital studio that can help you draw in new clients.

Unlike other types of photography, it's easy enough to create a product photo portfolio on your own. You can start by shooting products you already have around the house, or if you want to shoot something you don't already have you can ask about borrowing it from a business in exchange for some free photos. By building some content, future clients will have something to go off of before hiring you.

You don't have to be a web design whiz to create a portfolio: by using a website builder, you'll be able to get one up and running in no time. Just upload your images, customize your favorite template, and fill out any pages you want to include.

Once your portfolio is up, you can start reaching out to potential clients by email. When you introduce yourself, it may be useful to offer a few words about pricing. You don't have to go into great detail, and you can let them know that you are flexible based on their requirements, but giving them a range or the price of your basic photography package is information that clients appreciate and is often overlooked.

How Much Should I Charge for Product Photography?

While there isn't a single one-size-fits-all pricing structure that will work for everyone, there are a few things you should take into account when pricing your services. These include:

  • Time. Consider how long it will take to shoot a product line, including prep, shooting, and photo editing. Make sure you're getting a fair wage for this time. You can choose to charge hourly, or on a per-photo basis.

  • Equipment rental. Even if you own the equipment, your clients are essentially renting it from you. This can be a separate line item on your quote or invoice.

  • Licensing. If your clients are using your photos of their products for commercial purposes, you can charge a fee or the license to use them commercially.

It should be clear by now that product photography is about much more than products on a white background — it's a creative, in demand, and often well-compensated field, and there is a huge range of potential clients you can work with. With a great portfolio, you'll be booking those dream clients in no time!

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