The Poor Man’s Guide to a Low-Budget Product Photo Shoot

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So, you’ve decided to open up a online shop and try to sell some of your products. Maybe you chose Etsy as your venue, or Shopify, Amazon Handmade, Ebay, or the rapidly growing Artyah. Wherever you decide to dip your toes in the waters of e-commerce, you are going to need to know how to do one thing really, really well: Take good pictures! Without an eye-catching, professional-looking, truly awesome picture, the likelihood of any potential customers clicking on your listing is about as high as Danny DeVito. In other words, not very.

Being brand new, you have a micro budget consisting of what you found in the couch this morning. No worries, I was in the same boat not too long ago when I decided to sell my handmade teddy bears and loveys online. After reading a lot, watching a ton of YouTube videos, and some trial and error, I figured out a pretty good Poor Man’s Setup for a professional photoshoot. I am in no way an expert, far from it, but I did figure out some things that work. I borrowed some items I had around the house, identified the best room in the house to shoot in, used the camera I already had, the photo editing software that came with the computer, and spent all of $8.  Today I am going to show you how I did it, and how, without knowing anything about photography or all the weird different words used to describe it mean (I still don’t know what a good shutter speed or ISO number is. I don’t even know what ISO stands for). After reading this blog and a little trial and error of your own, you should be able to produce photos of your product on par with these:

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Christmas Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Baby Lovey / Security Blanket

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Cockatoo Baby Lovey / Security Blanket

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Teddy Bear

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Owl Baby Lovey / Security Blanket

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Beaver / Groundhog Stuffed Animal

So, how do you do it? The first thing you need to figure out is where you will have the photo shoot. If your products are small you will need a table to put them on, and you will need several light sources. Natural light is best, but unless you have a solarium or conveniently placed skylight, it’s going to be hard to get natural light overhead. Also, you will be restricted in when you can photograph your items by time of day and weather conditions. I chose my dining room table. It’s large enough for what I need and the dining room already has a ceiling light. Hubby replaced all the house’s bulbs with LEDs a while back, so that is the type of light I will be working with. I scoot the dining room table over until the light is directly over it, and move on to the next step.Photoshootblog (14)

Next I find a tall box, roll out my white background and attach it to the box using clothes pins, binder clips, and/or tape. I spent about $8 at Wal-Mart for this roll of white paper. This was my only expense. It’s 30” (76cm) wide and I just roll it back up for next time when I’m done. White is a classic background and makes everything look more professional. It’s important to get something flexible and long that will curve up from the floor, rather than two separate pieces that you set up at a 90 degree angle for the floor and background. Unless it’s curved, you will get shadows in the corner and it won’t look as good.

Next you will want at least two more light sources, and it’s best if they are easily move-able. I borrowed a table lamp from the living room and a desk lamp from the bedroom. I removed the glass surround on the table lamp so it was just a bare bulb and used a single layer of (gift wrapping) white tissue paper taped over the lamps to soften the light. This reduces glare, harsh bright spots and gives your photos a more professional look. IMPORTANT: Do not leave flammable materials this close to a light bulb without constant supervision! My bulbs are LED and don’t get very hot, but it’s still not worth the risk to leave them unattended!

Now your set is all ready, time to start shooting! I do not know much about my camera. It is a Sony DSC-W830 and according to the online stat sheet, it has 20.1 MP pixels and an ISO of 80-3200. Some of you will know what that means, I do not. I bought it on sale and with a registry coupon a few weeks before my twins were born, and I think I paid $70-80 for it.

Camera

The next part is pretty much trial and error. Put your product on the set, move the lighting around until you’re happy and take a bunch of photos. I try and use the ceiling light as my general lighting source, one lamp is used as a spotlight on the part of the product I want to highlight (like the teddy bear or lovey face), and the third is dedicated to removing the worst of the shadows caused by the other two. It’s important to take a lot of photos. I generally shoot for a “usable five” photos for each product, One of the full product facing you, one showing the back, one ‘cuddly’ picture, and two close ups of the face at different angles. To get these five you will need to take 20-50 photos, and possibly more if you’re still experimenting with your lighting and camera angles. You are going to end up with photos that are blurry because you moved when you snapped the pictures, pictures that have too many shadows or with lighting that is too harsh, or just photos that don’t “do it” for you. If you take a lot of pictures, there are bound to be a few usable ones in there.

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Also be sure to play around with your camera’s menu settings. If you’re lucky like me, your camera will tell you what each setting is for: “this exposure is for shooting with florescent lights,” “this exposure is for shooting on bright, sunny days,” “this exposure is for shooting close ups with soft backgrounds” and so on. These make a big difference and it’s important to play around with them until you get the hang of it.

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Now that I have my routine down, photographing 3-4 new products, from beginning to set up to finish cleaning up, takes me about 1 – 1 ½ hours. On this day I was shooting three new teddy bears, including a white polar bear. White items are hard to photograph because they tend to blend into the white background. I like to use a wood shelf I borrow from the living room to add some classy contrast. Sometimes I have found that by moving the white item far away from the vertical white background I can also get a good result. It’s all trial and error.

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Next, after all the photos are taken and the set is cleaned up, comes the photo editing part. You will need to upload your photos into your computer (or download an app onto your phone if you’re using your camera phone) and get acquainted with the basic editing software. Once or twice I have gone as far as using the “touch up” feature when I noticed a bit of fluff on a close up I hadn’t seen during shooting, but 99% of the time all I use is the Crop function, the Brightness function to increase the brightness, and the Shadows function to reduce the shadows. I rarely use anything else. It’s not necessary to become an expert in Photoshop, and it’s best to keep your photographs as honest and true to the original as possible. Cropping and brightening only enhances the truth of your product—don’t do any weird photo-shopping like they do on models where they end up looking nothing like they do in real life. The photo may look fantastic—but they are selling a lie.

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Here are some of the end results of this photo shoot:

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To sum up, here are my tips for your low-budget photo shoot setup:

  • Your background (preferably a clean white one) should curve up from the floor to the background to avoid shadows.
  • Use at least 3 different light sources. One as the main lighting, one to highlight the focal point of the product, and one to correct the shadows from the first two.
  • Use tissue paper to soften your light sources when needed.
  • Play around with your camera’s different features and functions. Figure out what looks best for your specific shoot.
  • Move your lights around. Don’t leave them static. As your product changes positions to get different angles, so should your lights.
  • Take more pictures than you think you need.
  • Figure out how to use the Crop, Brightness and Shadow Removal functions on your photo editing software.
  • Show pictures of your product from all angles.

I hope you found some usable tips in this blog. If you want to see more examples of my product photography, or if you just want to see more adorable teddy bears and loveys, check out my store at www.artyah.com/seller/SimpleChildhoods.

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2 Responses to The Poor Man’s Guide to a Low-Budget Product Photo Shoot

  1. Dixie says:

    All great tips. Thank you for sharing.

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