Getting great photos of your products is totally achievable by anyone, yes I do mean anyone!
With my top five essential tools to help, you’ll be photographing everything like a star and nope it’s not going to break the bank.
My top 5 tools for great photos
1. Light tent – £15+
If you only invest in one thing make it this one! They are widely available from around £15 in the UK. Get the right sized tent for whatever it is that you need to shoot.
These are popup tents (search for portable photo tent, light tent or light box) that have LED strips to light the subject inside the box. They run off USB cables so can be attached into a phone charging plug or a powerbank (big battery block!). They also fold flat for easy storage and work for most products up to the size of a small handbag or even shoes.
Look for one that has strips at the front and back rather than in a circle at the top. Make sure you go for one that has a circular hole cut out of the top so you can shoot straight down as well as from the front.
They work perfectly whether you shoot with a camera or phone.
Tip! Use a piece of tracing paper to stop the LEDs reflecting on shiny metal. Use pieces of tape to secure the ends of the paper and wrap loosely, away from the lights to diffuse them.
Very few people can keep their hands completely steady so it’s always a good idea to put your phone (or camera) on a tripod.
There are many available and it can be a bit of minefield trying to work out what to go for.
I regularly use two different ones, a gorilla pod and a goose neck mobile phone holder.
In fact, the mobile phone holder stays attached to my desk all the time, as it makes answering my phone hands free while I work at my computer much easier.
If I could only choose one, I would buy a gorilla pod.
Gorilla Pod – £10+
I have a branded Joby gorilla pod (bought second hand on Ebay) but there are many cheaper brands out there. Search online or just drop onto Amazon to see the range.
The one thing to be aware of if you want to use a gorilla pod with a camera is ensuring you have one that can take the weight of the camera. Any reputable seller should give you a maximum weight the tripod can take, and your camera manufacturer’s website should say what the weight of the camera is.
If you only shoot on a phone, then you can get a basic model.
You will need to add a phone holder unless your pod comes with one.
Gooseneck phone holder – £10+
The gooseneck phone holder is the one I use if I want to shoot from above with the tent. You can get ones with very long necks that can be manipulated into the shape you desire.
A tip for using the goose neck is to set your phone up with a few second delay on the photo to ensure the goose neck is stable as they can bob around a bit! And check if your phone has a voice activated function allowing you to say ‘shoot’ rather than touching the phone.
Tip! Goose necks are clamped to a surface so you can also use this to take a photo of your family with you in it! As long as you have a timer on your phone – most do these days.
I’ve found the most useful backgrounds are cheap and some are free! The ones I use the most are free samples from a vinyl flooring company. I ended up with them because I was re-flooring my kitchen. Turns out they are perfectly sized to shoot jewellery or anything small on.
The full sized tiles from the same company are £3 each so still a really cheap option and they can be cut to size. You can also get wood effect and stone effect vinyl tiles! These work well for small products and can also be used outside of a light tent, anywhere there is plenty of light! If you are right next to a window with direct sunlight, grab a thin sheet or large piece of tracing paper to diffuse the light slight to stop any hard shadows.
You can also purchase readymade backgrounds that are printed to look like whitewashed wood, stone etc. I use these for a lot of product photography, they are widely available from many suppliers (search for photo boards, small photo backgrounds) and great for food photography and small products like mugs but not for jewellery or very small items.
My smallest photo board is 40cm x 40cm so it doesn’t fit into my light tent and that in itself rules them out for jewellery but they are also not printed to be shot very close up and you can see the print even on the most expensive boards if getting too close. Photo boards can be used in natural daylight or with a studio light setup. The teddybear shot above was shot with a Canon 70D and a small studio setup.
Tip! With backgrounds keep it simple, you don’t want to overwhelm the product. Often a clean shot on a white background is perfect for showing off the item, especially if the aim is to sell.
I don’t mean props in the way you may think, personally I don’t like to see jewellery (or very small items) propped that much. Maybe the odd stone or branch to create the angle you need but more than that is often distracting!
If you are shooting small products like handbags, shoes, picture frames, mugs, pots, etc. then you really don’t need a lot of props for the clean product shots. You might want to consider doing a range of styled shots, mugs with drinks in or a handbag being held and also clean background product shots as well.
For very small products the kind of props I mean are used to actually prop the product up to give you the best angle for your shot.
Or sticky tack as it’s also known. Blue Tack is the one I have to hand at every photoshoot I do. I have the white version but that can be softer, so I’ve found the stiffer blue works better for me.
Tack is the perfect substance to use as an invisible prop for products that are flat when laid down. Take a small ball and place it on the back of the item to give the piece a slight angle. This one slight change gives your piece more three-dimensionality and lifts it off the background creating a subtle shadow.
Tip! I also use Blue Tack to hold chains or ties out of the way if they keep slipping around.
Decorative sand / stones
This is the stuff you can buy in containers to put in candle holders as surface decoration. I bought mine from Ikea about 10 years ago and I still use the same pot of sand or stones today. I have white sand and black stones which both work well.
In my photo examples you can see how I’ve poured the stones onto a piece of paper (makes it easy to get the sand back in the container!) and used it to prop the jewellery up. This gives a subtle texture to the background whilst not distracting your eye from the piece.
Tip! The Ikea one is called Kulort so if you fancy this then keep an eye on eBay!
Anyone who’s heard any of my photography talks will already know what I’m talking about! It’s a kitchen foil reflector. I make these in all shapes and sizes from cardboard boxes and kitchen foil.
They work better if you slightly crumple the foil first then cover the cardboard. If you need them to stand up you can use the corner of a box or as you can see in one of these photos I’ve used recycled electrical wire as a stand.
Also have a dark board to hand (cardboard covered in matt black paper). I often use one of my small vinyl backgrounds if I’m shooting a very shiny silver piece, adding shadow works in the same way as adding light (reflection) to a dark patinated piece.
Tip! Don’t underestimate what reflection can do for you! Try reflection even if you don’t think it’ll help.