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The Key Elements of Good Product Photography

 

In the era online shopping, high quality product photography has never been more important. There are many obvious reasons for this; product photography is one the main factors in making an online purchase, and pictures faithful to the product experience drastically reduced return rates.

As visual creatures, people tend to create associations in their mind between the quality of a product shot, and the quality of the brand or product itself - its desirability, value, and credibility. As such, savvy online retailers use the best product photos available to give their brand that sought-after patina of legitimacy.

Problem is, most business owners don’t moonlight as professional photographers. Which means:

A) They probably shouldn’t take the photos themselves, and

B) They might not have the best idea of what goes into a great product photo.

Not only does this make it difficult for them to allocate the correct budget to photography work, but it can also result in bad photos on their website, poor visitor impressions, and a negative impact on their business as a whole.

That’s where we come in.

The aim of this article is to help business owners make decisions about how they want their products represented online, offering a few important considerations about what to look for in product photography.

So, without further ado, the key elements that make up great product photography.

This article focuses on photos for selling and representing products. Photos used for branding tend to be a little more stylized, and this requires a bit of a different approach.

1. The Condition of the Product Itself

The first thing to look out for is the condition of the product itself. It should go without saying, but blemishes, dentsscratches, and other imperfections should be avoided. This is something we always make sure to communicate with our clients: products they want us to shoot should be as close to as can be.

That’s not to say that problems can’t be fixed in post. Every photo that makes its way to the client goes throught processing, but it takes time to make corrections look natural, and you know thow that saying goes.

At the end of the day, using pristine products for the shoot saves you time, money, and results in better looking photos.

In short: Make sure the item being shot is clean, clear, and blemish free.

2. Lighting and Exposure

Product photos should be taken with even, diffused lighting to avoid hotspots, glare, and reflections. It shouldn’t be too obvious where the light is coming from – the product should look as though it’s lit from within.

Shadows can be a bit tricky, but in general, less is more. Shadows pull attention away from the product, hide detail, and are an eminent reminder that you’re looking at a picture, which interferes with the illusion of the idealized product.

That said, shadows can be used to great effect to set atmosphere, or give a more realistic and and natural feel to products. The same can be said for lighting. What’s important is that these elements look intentional, and suit the atmosphere of the shot.

Exposure is a little simpler, but runs along similar lines. Colours should be rich and full, rather than washed out, while highlights and shadows should retain detail without clipping.

In short: Look for even, diffused lighting, minimal, intentional use of shadows, and an exposure that brings life and richness to the product without sacrificing detail.

3. Depth of Field and Distortion

Depth of field can be thought of as the range at which objects in the frame are in focus. It's what’s responsible for that pleasing ‘blurry background’ effect you sometimes see in pictures (in that case, a shallow depth of field). It determines what’s sharp and focused, and what isn’t.

Typically, you want to see crisp detail throughout the product, (i.e., the entire thing is within the depth of field), which offers greater information and a more accurate representation of the real-life product to customers. In lifestyle or still-life type shots, depth of field can be used intentionally to blur whatever is behind and in front of the subject.

There should be no distortion of the product, which can happen as a result of certain lenses (like a fisheye lens) and the angle of the shot. As much as possible, the image taken should resemble the actual product.

Moral of the story: Look for sharp focus that shows the product in all its glorious detail, keeping unimportant or distracting elements blurred. The product should never be optically distorted, but true to life.

4. Framing and Composition

With the product often centered against a white background, framing and composition are less of a concern for simply studio shots; but matter a lot for lifestyle or still-life photography, which incorporate many disparate elements into a single shot.

Framing refers to how and where the product sits within the image, while composition refers to how multiple elements within the frame are laid out in relation to one another.

In terms of product photography, not only should the picture be pleasingly laid out, causing your eyes to naturally roam over detail, but attention should gravitate toward the focal point of the image; the product itself, the product in use, or the product being associated with the mood and feeling that the picture evokes.

In short: For simple studio shots, look for products centered on a white background, good for highlighting detail and keeping attention on the product. For more creative and contextual lifestyle or still-life shots, the eye should naturally roam until it settles on a focal point which highlights the product.

5. Colors & Post-processing

Last, but not least, colors and post-processing. These are pretty straightforward – the colors should be true to life,  mostly a function of lighting and white balance, while post-processing should be minimal and natural.

Your products should look good, but be careful not to mislead. Touch-ups that are too obvious might arouse suspicion in customers, and introduce hesitation to the buying process. Naturally; products that don't look as good in real life result in more returns.

In short: Colors should be rich, vibrant and accurate to life. Post-processing, while necessary, shouldn’t make products look unrealistic and artificial.

*Bonus*

A last thing to look out for is optimized image formats. For web, this usually means jpeg files smaller than 1mb, but different usages will requires different formats. The best photos for online retail are the ones that don’t slow down the page, but are still sharp, crisp and accurate.

Wrapping up

Good product photography is about putting your product in a great light while staying faithful to the real thing - equal parts technical knowledge and creativity.

 

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch for a shoot, feel free to shoot us a message here, or click the contact button below. We’re always happy to help.