Today we’re talking about how to get the most out of the equipment you already have. Including those smartphones!
A lot of people think that in order to learn from me they have to have a big fancy camera and lighting equipment but that is super not true. My students have everything from smartphones to DSLR cameras. I even have an entire module in my Snap, Sell, Succeed course dedicated to smartphone photography.
Why? Because I know for some of you, that’s what you have. And dropping $500 or more on a DSLR camera just isn’t something you can swing right now.
The great news is that you can do A LOT with just a smartphone camera and regular ole daylight.
Regardless of what you’re using for a camera, there are a few tips to help you maximize the abilities of the equipment you already have.
1. Read your camera manual and practice using your camera.
I know what you’re thinking. "Cool tip bro". But it’s a legit thing. Have you read your camera manual? I bet not. If you have a DSLR or point-and-shoot camera, it would have come with camera manual (they’re also really easy to find online) and your smartphone manual should include a section on the camera (or find it online).
Knowing the modes, features, and options that your camera possesses is a big first step in getting the most out of your camera and how to use them will save you loads of time and frustration. Trust.
2. Know how light works.
This is probably the #1 most important thing you need order to get the most of out your equipment:
Wanna learn a bit more about types of lighting? Click here.
3. Make sure the image size (aka "quality") on your camera is large enough for high resolution photos.
Photos for your product listings need to be large, in order to still look good when the zoom tool is applied. You should have your image sizes set to highest jpeg option available (and if you’re advanced, you should shoot raw). I recommend you have your image setting on your camera setting to a minimum of 3000 px wide and 2400 pixels tall. (Note: if you use an iPhone you can’t change this setting, but the native file size for iPhones is plenty large enough at 4032 x 3024 px).
4. Make a DIY lightbox.
Don’t have a bunch of lighting equipment or the funds to invest? Make your own lightbox! I have personally made multiple DIY lightboxes during my in-person product photography workshops and they totally work. There are loads of YouTube videos that will guide you on to do this, but I like this one.
Once you make the lightbox (that’ll easily cost you less than $5), you can use regular desk/architect lamps that you may have sitting around your home with daylight light bulbs. If you find that light to not be sufficient enough, you may have to upgrade to tabletop studio lights (studio lights have stronger wattage), or you could try going outside during broad daylight in direct light.
5. Capture your images in raw file format.
If you’re using a smartphone, download the Lightroom app (free) and use the camera within the app. Change the file format of your images to DNG (at the top of your screen in the middle). This is raw file format and it’s like capturing a digital negative. There is so much more data captured with this kind of file and allows you so much more flexibility when editing your photos without losing quality.
If you’re using a DSLR, you can change the file format in the the shooting settings and select raw. These images will need to editing with a program like Lightroom or Photoshop (using Camera Raw). It sounds a bit scary at first, but experiment with raw files a bit and see the huge difference they can make in your editing!
This post an important one, because I know how many of you struggle with DIY product photography lighting. Lighting is the trickiest element of photography, but something that needs to understood and mastered to be successful with your product photos.
Let’s get started!
Fun fact: All light is not created equal. First, there are different kinds of light. Diffused, artificial, direct, indirect, natural, etc. Artificial and natural refer to the light sources. Diffused, direct, and indirect refer to how the light hits your products and the effect they cause. We'll discussed these in a moment. But first, light sources. When it comes to light sources, there are pros and cons of each.
Artificial (flashes, studio lights, lamps)
Pros: Easily controllable, always available
Cons: Can create issues with white balance, costs $$, and involves a learning curve
Natural (from the sun)
Pros: Tends to create accurately colour balanced images, is usually softer than artificial light, you don't have to work as hard to make it look natural because well, it is.
Cons: You're at the mercy of time and weather, it needs to be properly diffused, can create unbalance lighting across the image (ie, darker on one side than the other), and it takes work to perfect.
What’s Right For You
So what's best? That depends on your situation. If you find yourself only having time to photograph your products after dark, artificial is probably for you. If not, natural light might be for you.
Spoiler alert: You can grab my free lighting questionnaire that will help you figure out what light source is best for you at the bottom of this post.
Direct Light vs. Indirect Light vs. Diffused Light
Direct light comes directly from the source to hit your product at full strength. It creates strong highlights and harsh shadows on your images. It's not recommend in almost all situations when it comes to product photography.
Indirect light is light that is bounced of other things and then hits your product. Photographing inside or in the shade is indirect light.
Diffused light is light that is filtered through something translucent and breaks up the light rays. Using a lightbox is an example of diffused light.
The kind of light you're going for is indirect or diffused.
Direct light = bad
Indirect or diffused light = good
Indirect light can be strengthened in an area by adding white foam boards, pictured below. White foam boards can also bounce light back towards your product, reducing shadowing and evening out the overall lighting in the image.
Above is an example of indirect light.
The light is coming from the sun (natural light), and is being bounced off of the surroundings and more intentionally with the white foam board.
Above is an example of diffused light.
The light (both natural and artificial) is being filtered through the translucent material of the lightbox, breaking down the lightrays and causing them to cascade over the scene with soft, even light.
Now that you know what kinds of light are you can use for your product photos, what lighting is right for you?
Last week I answered question of “do you really neeeed a white background for handmade product photos?” and the big answer was NOPE. You do not. But, you do need a simple, neutral background.
Those kinds of background don’t have to break the bank either. Here are 5 ideas for cheap or free backgrounds for handmade product photos.
When I bought my desks (I have two), I bought them both with product photography mind. One is a natural wood, and the other is slightly glossy white. Now you don’t have to go out and buy a new desk (that would hardly be cheap or free, amiright?), but take a look around your house. You may very well already have a cool desk or table with a suitable surface for your product photos.
Hardwood floors may also work. Just make sure that the wood you’re using (regardless of its source) isn’t tinted or stained to create colour-affecting undertones. If the wood is reddish, yellowing, greenish, etc that can seriously impact your photo in a negative way.
One of my favourite DIY background hacks! You can buy contact paper (intended to line shelves or drawers) or even wallpaper and stick it to rigid foam board for a great DIY product photography background.
Don’t forget - you’re going for neutral and no busy patterns. Keep it simple! Avoid glossy finishes (they will make glare-free photos virtually impossible), and opt for patterns that could be table tops, like marble, woods, slates, etc.
3. Posterboard for a seamless background
Ever see one of those product photos where it looks like the product is floating in nothingness? Those are seamless backgrounds. You can buy paper roll seamless background for a chunk of change at a camera store, or if your products are smaller, you can grab a piece of posterboard from the dollar store and make your own seamless background.
To do this, take your posterboard and stick one side of it (the short side if it’s rectangular) to a wall and allow it fall straight down the wall, curve toward the floor (or tabletop) to lay flat on the surface. Place your product on it and start shooting!
If you have small products like jewelry, scrapbook paper can be a great option. They’re smaller, easy to store, and inexpensive. They come in a wide variety of patterns and are pretty easily replaceable as well.
Same rules apply as with contact paper and wallpaper. Keep it simple, neutral, and avoiding patterns. Seek out marble, woods, slates, and maybe even a linen texture. Experiment! With scrapbook paper you can afford to.
While not suitable for every brand, this may be one of my very favourite free or cheap backgrounds. I love incorporating nature into product photos. It creates character, interest, and deepens a connection between the product and the shopper.
Seek out things like slabs of slate, bark, logs, stone, and moss for your product backgrounds. This approach is really only suitable for brand that embrace things like eco-friendly lifestyles, rustic vibes, adventure, and wilderness. But for those brands, this can be a super option.
Now that we’ve outlined some great free or cheap backgrounds for handmade product photography, let’s talk about some backgrounds you want to steer clear of.
- Anything cloth. Cloth is extremely wrinkly and nearly impossible to make look smooth, polished, and professional.
- Bright colours. Unless this is a stand-out characteristics of your brand, you’ll want to avoid bright colours. Colourful backgrounds take away from your product, and can distract and overwhelm shoppers.
- Patterns. As I’ve mentioned a few times in this article thus far, patterns should be avoided. Patterns clutter up your photo, make it look chaotic, and will make shoppers just keep on scrolling. Your product should never have to compete with the background.
And there you have it! Some awesome free or cheap background ideas for your handmade product photos. Have a question or comment about backgrounds? Drop it in the comments!
Got a question or comment? Drop it below!
Growing and running a business can be expensive, so finding free or cheap ways to enhance your DIY product photos can be a HUGE savings.
We all need to invest in our business if we want to succeed, it’s inevitable. But it’s also important to invest wisely and save where you can. Product photography can get really expensive, really fast, even if you’re DIYing it. Equipment can come with huge price tags, and often can be complicated to learn.
I’ve put together a shortlist of my favourite free or cheap tools for DIY product photos for handmade sellers. Check ‘em out!
Despite having quite a bit of lighting equipment myself, I always prefer to use natural light whenever possible. Because, if you can get it right, it looks the best.
Natural light tends to render colours quite accurately, and is soft and even (if your setup is right). Set up your shooting space next to a bright window without any direct sunbeams filtering through for that dreamy natural light.
To make the most of that bright window + natural light setup, use white foam boards to contain the light to your shooting area. You can add one or two white foam boards to surround your product (behind it and on the side opposite the window) to majorly brighten up the space and avoid those strong shadows that can occur on the side of your product opposite the window.
You can also use white foam board to block off surroundings to reduce reflections on shiny products, as a background for a flat lay, and to hold a piece of poster board for a seamless background. Hot tip: tape some L brackets (for shelving) to the back of your foam boards so they stand upright and can easily be moved around.
Yes, that stuff that goes inside of drawers.
Contact paper comes in loads of different colours and patterns, with marble being my favourite. You can affix the contact to a piece of foam board for an attractive background for your products. Make sure you select a pattern that’s neutral and not too busy. It should show off your product, not steal the show. Also be sure to get a matte finish and not glossy. Glossy finishes will create an unsightly glare in your photos.
Great news! You don’t have to buy a whole bunch of cute props for your product photos. First of all, you should only be using one or two props for your product listing photos. Any more and you start to draw attention away from your product. Second, I bet your house and/or yard is packed FULL of props you could use for your photos.
Some of my very favourite props are simply plants. I love to grab plant life from outside and bring it inside to add a little colour and life to my photos. A well placed sprig of lavender can go a long way! You may even have some house plants that would be a good fit. Succulents are perfect for product photos!
If plants aren’t your thing or aren’t a good fit for your brand, I’m will to bet there are any number of other things around your home that would be perfect, depending on your products. A cute coffee mug or pen, a piece of ribbon, a nice jewelry dish, and so on can all make great props for your product photos. For more info on where to find props for your product photos, click here.
Quite possibly my favourite free tool - a lux meter app for your smartphone. You can download them for free on your iPhone or Android device and, using the camera sensor, they detect the amount of light in an area (aka lux). For product photography, a reading of 1000 lux or higher is ideal.
My picks for free lux meters are Galactica Lux Meter for iPhone and Lux Meter (Light Meter) for Android. Simply download the free app, open it up, and place the camera of your phone near where your product would be when you’re photographing it. The reading should indicate 1000 lux or higher. If not, add some white foam boards to strengthen the light, take readings in other areas of your home at different times of day, or try moving your lights closer if you’re using studio lighting. Keep experimenting until you get a decent reading.
And that’s it, friends! My top 5 free or cheap tools for DIY product photography. Do you have any to add to the list? If so, drop them in the comments!
Hey there handmade sellers!
Today’s topic is definitely one of my most FAQ. As we discussed in our previous blog post, it’s not enough to simply snap a photo and upload it to your shop. Editing must be done! But, the idea of editing product photos is super overwhelming to a lot of you, and knowing what program to use is just the first step in figuring it all out. So let’s get started, shall we?
The types of programs we’ll be discussing today are strictly for computers. For photo editing apps for smartphones, check out next week’s blog post.
The Best - Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom
I’m going to just start right off with the bee’s knees. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom (they are two different programs, but you get both when you subscribe to the monthly photography package) are the industry standard when it comes to photo editing. Why? Because they are simply the best.
Photoshop and Lightroom do everything you will need (and more), they are effective, reliable, and there have been a vast amount of tutorials created around them, leaving it pretty easy to find answers to any of your question online. Even better, Photoshop and Lightroom allow you embed a colour profile with your product photo which is a necessity as it ensure your colours are rendered a true to form as possible (to read more about that, check out this post).
Photoshop and Lightroom used to cost a small fortune, leaving them really only accessible to professionals. But these days, Adobe has wised up and found a way to make their programs more accessible for the masses - through a subscription-based service. For $9.99 USD a month, you get both Photoshop and Lightroom, including all updates. For less than it would cost for two grande Starbucks vanilla lattes, that is a downright steal for this high-end, professional program.
Oh, and don’t let the fact that pros use it intimidate you. While these programs have loads of features, as handmade sellers you really only need to know a few. It’s just a matter of knowing what tools those are, and how to use them (just so happens I have a course that covers exactly that - check it out here).
Decent - Affinity
If subscriptions aren’t your thing but you still want a decent program, check out Affinity. Affinity also has a wide array of tools for photo editing, including the ones you need as handmade sellers. And it still allows you embed a colour profile.
Affinity’s design is aesthetically pleasing and looks very similar to Photoshop. The Affinity website has tutorials to get you started, and after that a lot of the Photoshop tutorials will likely translate.
Free - Gimp
I’m going to be straight with you - I don’t love Gimp. But, it’s free and it allows you to embed a colour profile with some complicated trickery.
The reasons I don’t love this program is because of the challenges with embedded a colour profile (you have to find, download, and install the colour profile before it’ll embed it with your images) and because it’s just not user friendly or intuitive. It’s clunky. But again - it’s free. And it does contain the tools you need as a handmade seller to edit your product photos.
There are fewer tutorials available for Gimp, but a lot of the tools do mimic Photoshop’s tools so you might be able to generalize some of the Photoshop tutorials out there.
It’s also imperative to note - there are other programs available out there. Some popular ones are Pixlr and PicMonkey. I don’t recommend these programs. Why? Because they don’t allow you to embed a colour profile. In fact, it strips images of their colour profile.
This is a big deal because, as I discussed in this post, if you don’t have a colour profile embedded in your photo you may find that the colours of your products are wayyy off once you’ve uploaded them to your online shop. Off colours = unhappy customers. Not good.
So, stick to the programs mentioned above and you will be well on your way to beautiful, professional-looking edited photos before you know it!
Awesome news! While DSLR cameras are awesome (as per this article here), you can TOTALLY create great DIY product photos with your smartphone. There's an important key to successfully taking awesome product photos with your smartphone, and I'm going to share it with you right now.
While there are numerous methods with which you can achieve better DIY product photos with your smartphone (I’ll leave the others for future posts), there is none more valuable than this.
The key to better DIY product photos with your smartphone is light.
Really, light is the key to all photos. Quite literally, light is our number tool when capturing images. The reason it’s even more important with smartphones is because with them, we lack the tools to manipulate the light to our advantage.
With DSLR cameras we have the option of changing the cameras setting to allow more light in and those beasts are designed to retain high quality detail in lower light situations; we have three options for allowing in more light (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO) but when it comes to smartphone cameras, they adjust their internal settings automatically, mostly by cranking up the ISO to brighten the image.
Unfortunately, smartphones really don't handle higher ISOs very well. The problem with higher ISO is that it reduces image quality and creates image noise, which is a graininess that is undesirable in just about any situation, except for perhaps in Film Noir.
Bonus tip: While bright light is key, we need to seek out bright diffused light, as opposed to direct light. Direct light creates strong highlights (bright spots) and harsh shadows, both of which will take away from the quality of the product and usually makes it look cheap.
So what can be done?
Get yourself in a brightly lit area, but not direct sunlight. We can’t change the way the cameras in our smartphones function, but we can change our environment.
Below is a photo I took for the purpose of demonstrating my point. Side note, my prop for this lesson today is a pair of earrings I bought at a market in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. They’re made of wood from local trees and Lucite. I highly recommend checking out their Etsy shop.
This first photo is an example of undesirable low lighting. Is it the worst ever? Not quite. But is it the quality that you want to share with your clients or customers? Heck no. The colour is kind of funky, the detail and quality is poor, the image isn’t sharp or crisp. I even threw some greenery to solidify the point that styling it won’t help.
Below is an example of swinging the pendulum far to the opposite side and going for direct light. The direct light from the midday sun creates unwelcome highlights and harsh shadows that detract from the quality of the product. Not cool. Direct light is almost always best to be avoided.
What did I do next? I moved out of the sunlight and into a different room. A room with large windows and bright, indirect light. By the way, the room I used is my office and the wood background in the photo is the surface of my new desk. Love it!
See the difference? It’s huge! This photo is crisp, it shows off the detail in the earrings, and it’s not hard on the eyes. This photo speaks to not only a higher quality image, but a higher quality product.
Add in some greenery for styling and hello there, you’ve got an Instagram ready image to share with your following.
An additional note: While you can definitely take great DIY product photos with your smartphone, there are limits that ultimately will make it tough to do so consistently. I recommend that all serious handmade sellers make it a goal to eventually invest in a DSLR camera for their product photos. Check out my post on choosing the best camera for your DIY product photography for more info.
If you have any questions regarding today’s tip, drop it in the comments!
One of my most-asked questions from Etsy sellers when it comes to product photos is what camera should be used for DIY product photography. There is a both a short and a long answer to this. The short answer is, whatever camera you want. The long answer we’ll get to in just a moment.
While it’s true you can use any camera to take photos for your products (it’s all about knowing how to use it!), there are certainly limitations within two of the three most common categories and some options are more ideal than others. Let me explain.
There are generally three types of cameras that handmade sellers will use for their Etsy product photos. There are more categories, but I won’t bog you down with unnecessary details. The three categories are:
Both smartphone cameras and point-and-shoot cameras have limitations. Smartphones have very limited settings options and the quality is heavily dependent on having adequate lighting and using that lighting appropriately. And lighting is one of the most important aspects when it comes to DIY product photography (or photography in general for that matter). Point-and-shoot cameras are the digital cameras you would most commonly buy, like the Nikon CoolPix or the Canon PowerShot. They have a bit more flexibility than the smartphone (a variety of different modes, optical zoom), but ultimately will still limit your ability to take awesome product photos for your Etsy shop. That leaves us with the DSLR. You guessed it, folks. The DSLR is my recommendation for just about all things product photography.
A DSLR camera gives you all the freedom to be creative, turn out great product photos, change the look and feel of your images, and won’t even break the bank anymore. Entry level DSLR cameras (the least expensive, most newbie friendly version) start at around $500 - $600, which considering how much you’ll use and benefit from it, is actually a pretty sweet deal. DSLRs have the option to shoot manual, which allows for a lot more flexibility and creativity than the auto function on smartphone cameras and point-and-shoot cameras. DSLRs also allow for the use of different lenses which will open up a whole range of versatility for what these cameras can do, and allows you to create the best images for your products (eg, macro lenses for jewelry photography). I’ll discuss the lenses in more detail in an upcoming blog post, so stay tuned. Until then, here are my picks for the best entry level DSLR cameras for your handmade product photography (this post contains affiliate links):
Full disclosure: I am a Nikon girl. I have always shot with Nikon cameras and will always recommend them first and foremost because A) I am completely biased, and B) they are fantastic in terms of quality.
The Nikon D3300 is sold for about $550 USD and $600 CAD on Amazon. With a 24.2MP sensor and very little image noise (that graininess that shows up in low light/high ISO situations), the D3300 packs a punch. Oh, and it’s incredibly user-friendly with it’s own built-in guide that helps beginners learn about the camera’s features. That’s basically a camera and an instructor in one. Pretty sweet deal.
If you love the sound of this camera, but really wish it had Wifi capabilities, there’s a solution out there for you. You can purchase a wireless adapter for about $80, pair the camera with your compatible smartphone or tablet, and BAM… The photos from your camera pop up on your device. Just keep in mind that you’ll probably want to touch those photos up a bit before sharing them with your tribe. I’ll discuss both computer editing programs and my favourite editing apps for smartphones in upcoming posts.
The Nikon D3300 comes with an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. Those numbers may not make a whole lot of sense to you, but essentially they mean that it has a little bit of zoom and is suitable for normal lighting situations (but not so great for low light areas, like darker rooms, without the use of flash). This is the standard kit lens for entry level DSLRs and is fairly versatile and great for getting to know your camera. There are better options out there for product photography, which we will cover at a later time, but the 18 – 55mm kit a great starter lens.
To get the Nikon D3300, click here.
Canon EOS Rebel T6i (750D)
Even as a loyal Nikon photographer, I can’t be that biased to completely ignore Nikon’s top competitor. In the DSLR race, there really are only two: Nikon and Canon. There are other decent DSLR cameras, but these two really have the market by the… you know. Balls. Gonads. Ovaries.
The Canon Rebel T6i is a bit more expensive at $750 - $900 USD, but has some very cool features like built-in Wifi and an articulating (movable) touch screen. Like the Nikon D3300, the Canon Rebel T6i has fantastic image quality, low image noise at high ISOs (great for low light), and comes with an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. As with the other DSLR options discussed in this post, it is important to note that when you look through the viewfinder to take a photo, the viewfinder only shows 95% of the image that will be captured, making it possible to have unwanted things show up in the edges of the photo.
To get the Canon Rebel T6i, click here.
If you love the idea of an articulating touchscreen and built-in Wifi, this is the Nikon for you. Also with exceptional quality, 24.2MP sensor and low noise at high ISO sensitivities, the Nikon D5500 definitely delivers.The Nikon D5500 sells for around $850, including the camera body and the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. However, like the Canon T6i, you will also only see 95% of the shot through the viewfinder. Keep that in mind when taking snaps and you should be a-okay.
To get the Nikon D5500, click here.
There you have it ladies and gents! My top three picks for entry level DSLRs for your DIY product photography. There are, of course, better cameras out there that cost a great deal more. But for handmade sellers who just need decent photos for your Etsy shop, there’s no need to invest thousands in photography equipment when these little gems will do just fine.
If you have any questions regarding my picks for entry level DSLRs, drop it in the comments.
Until next time,