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DIY product photography: How to take good pictures of your products.

Do you want to learn how to create amazing, enticing images that spur customers online to say “Yes, I must own that!” Why, of course you do! Nothing attracts customers to your product better than a clear, professional-quality image.

Here are some helpful steps for creating these yourself.

# 1: Know what your camera is capable of

It’s not about what type of camera you have, it’s how you use it. Smartphone cameras are good enough nowadays that you can use them to create high-quality pictures, if you know what you’re doing. Regardless you should understand what kind of images you’ll be able to capture with the equipment you have, so you can use it to the greatest effect possible.

For instance, if you have a DSLR camera, you can easily control the aperture of your camera, your shutter speed and your camera’s sensitivity to light. If you fiddle with these settings to find the best possible configuration for a particular product, you can take a truly amazing picture (though there’s no foolproof way to know what the best settings will be for a product; you just have to take many pictures, adjusting as you go).

If, on the other hand, you’re using a smartphone, there isn’t nearly as much to it. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Avoid filters and don’t use the digital zoom - these can decrease the quality of your photo.
  • Use the auto-focus on your phone to get the best quality image possible, making sure that the focus is set for the item you want to be as crisp as it can be
  • Don’t use the built-in flash! This applies no matter what kind of camera you’re using. If you have to use the flash, then it’s a sign that your lighting isn’t good enough.

#2 Use a tripod

This step is rather simple, but oh-so-crucial when it comes to DIY product photography. You might have the hands of a surgeon, but a tripod will produce even steadier images.

Also, setting a timer helps to get perfectly stable images. Just pressing a button on your camera can jostle it slightly. Best to avoid that if you really want top-notch photos.

#3 Use a white backdrop

As far as backgrounds go, plain white is the best for taking flattering images of your products. The best way to get a white background is to use a “sweep,” which transitions seamlessly from vertical to horizontal. To get a neat home-made sweep, try using a roll of butcher paper and a chair or easel.

The white bit, held up by a pole and rolled out to the floor, is the “sweep.” Note the lights coming in diagonally from the sides, and one on top. This is basic photographic lighting, and a good place to start. It will result in a more even lighting, all around. You can create a miniature version of this setup for table-top photography; there are even small plastic “sweeps” you can buy for taking pictures of items without fussing with paper. Google “small photography sweep.”

There are a few easier options that may be available as well, depending on what kind of space you have available to you. Shooting against a white wall may work, as would shooting in a bathtub if yours is clean enough (but it’s tricky doing that without getting shadows at the bottom of the item).

A perfectly white backdrop can be a pain to set up, but following this step will ensure that your images look crisp and (more importantly) that your colors are accurate. Customers might be hesitant to buy clothing or furniture if they aren’t confident that the colors in your image are correct. If you can, set it up where you can keep it set up permanently and dust-free.

#4 Use natural light

Unless you’re an expert, artificial light sources are difficult to work with. This is especially true if you don’t feel like buying tons of specialized equipment. However, if you do want to invest in some lighting, look for small “soft boxes” - which place the light inside a cloth “box,” with black sides and a white front that faces the item. You can see three of those in the photo above.

If you want to avoid all this fuss, shoot near a window. Natural light is much friendlier to your camera. Make sure the window is to the left or right of your product (diagonally to the left or right is best, to avoid harsh shadows), never behind or in front of it.

The biggest tip regarding lighting? As you look at the item through the camera, learn to look at how the light is affecting the item. Is everything lit evenly, or are there patches of light and shadows? Is the most important aspect well- lit? Are there any “hot spots” that are “burning out” and bringing too much attention to themselves?

And, if you are taking a picture of a reflective surface, what is it reflecting? There are plenty of humorous but embarrassing pictures on the web of people taking pictures of reflective surfaces, not realizing that it’s probably not a good idea to take pictures in some state of undress.

#5 Use a mirror

The only difficulty with natural light is that it will illuminate your product unevenly. To solve this problem, place a mirror on the opposite side of the product from the light source. If you are careful with your mirror placement, the result will be a nice, gently lit product. If you need to, have someone else move the mirrors (and the lights around while you look at it through the camera. If you are not standing where the camera is, and you look at it from there, you will not be seeing the item the way the camera is seeing the item. Proper lighting is a lot like playing pool; it’s all about the lines and the angles.

You can also use a mirror or less “soft” light to highlight a particular part of an item, but that’s getting pretty fancy.

Naturally, the size of the mirror you use will depend on the size of the product.

DIY Product Photography: What else do you need to know?

There’s more to creating a really good product image. For instance, you could retouch your photos when you’re done with them. However, this isn’t always necessary - or even advisable - when selling used goods that customers will expect to have some blemishes and bruises. They’ll be much more likely to buy from you again if what they saw was what they got.

Furthermore, you might not have great photo-editing software on your computer already, or you might not be willing to spend the time it takes to masterfully retouch your photos.

DIY product photography as a discipline is a perfect match for secondhand selling. If you become skilled in taking good pictures of your products, you’ll be more likely to sell more.

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