biz ladies: tips for great product photography

a picture is worth a thousand words, but pictures can also be worth a thousand dollars if done right. this week’s biz ladies post comes from nicole hill gerulat, a freelance commercial photographer based in san francisco and founder of Nicole’s Classes®, a live and online art school that teaches photography, illustrator, photoshop and more. today nicole is sharing her secrets to capturing great product images for the web. thanks nicole for helping us understand how to create beautiful product images!-stephanie

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!

3 Tips for Better Product Photography

With easy ways to sell online, more and more sellers are turning to photography to learn how to take better photographs of their products. This is a great idea for any seller as commissioned photography can be expensive and time-consuming –especially when new products are constantly being introduced. Here are three great tips to help your product photos stand out from the rest.

1. Find the Right Light

Product photography depends on flattering light to represent the product’s shape, form and texture. Typically, the best solution for most products is soft, diffused light. My favorite type of light is window light because we can choose whether or not we have shadows based on our angle to the light.  When shooting with window light, it is important to shoot at the right time of day where the light is soft and full sun is not streaming in. For example, if you have an East-facing window, afternoons would be best since morning sun would be too strong. Don’t have time to wait until the right time of day? Don’t worry. You can still achieve the right light look by taping up a sheer piece of fabric to soften the harsh light. (Get creative! Even parchment paper works!)

Once you have the right soft light, you can play around with the following types of window light:

Side-Lighting, (window directly to the side of the product)

Front Lighting (window directly in front of the product)

Back Lighting (window is behind the product).

Changing positions in relation to the window will affect where shadows are formed and will then influence how the product’s shape appears. Try photographing your product in all three types of light to find the best approach for your product.

2. Style to Complement.

How you style your product can greatly enhance or (whoopsie) detract from your product.  Consider your subject’s shape, color and size and choose props, backgrounds and environments that complement. Easy pitfalls to avoid: intense patterns, clashing colors, nonsensical props.

3. Crop Clearly

I think it’s important to shoot how you want the viewer to see the photograph. With that said, I don’t crop with post-editing software. I “crop” through my composition in the camera. When doing that, remember that getting close to your subject –filling the frame- may be a great way to add more interest and focus to the overall image. However, consider your subject matter because cropping too closely may not give the viewer a good idea of the product (though the detail may look great!)

Of course, there is a lot that goes into making a great photograph –and good exposure should play a key role in the process. Don’t understand how to manually work the settings on your camera? Take my live or online classes! You can also buy my book: Photo 101: The Book. And if you’re a start-up seller interested in learning how to market, photograph and sell your products online, come join us at our Seller’s Retreat in San Francisco, May 21-22nd!

  1. amy marcella says:

    Thanks for the tips! Can you tell me where those rings are from? I am hoping they are all from someone who creates them so I can shop :)

  2. Carrie Anne says:

    Thank you so much for this! I’m going to look into those classes for sure.

  3. Thanks for the great advice! I’m curious what you would advise for a photo room that has no windows …

  4. visualingual says:

    Thanks for the amazing advice and tips! These will definitely come in handy.

  5. Meredith says:

    I’m soaking up all this great advice. Can’t wait ’til I take one of Nicole’s classes in a few months!

  6. My tips, since I’ve done a fair bit of product photography, even for girly businesses. But I want everyone to be able to do it themselves, so try to teach them.

    With digital, this is easy to experiment. Start shooting:
    1) Get a good camera. Almost no point and shoot will be worth it, but they are getting better. Go to a real photo site and read reviews.
    2) Get backdrops. If the textured look (above) isn’t you, get solids. Or get foam core. I use a sheet on the bottom, a sheet behind, and photoshop out the gap when its visible at all.
    3) What they said about light. I go actually outside when I can. Out of direct light, but with a clear view of the sky. Use spare foam core as reflectors and blocks to change the light even more.
    4) Get a good tripod and a remote release (or learn your timer). If light is iffy, let the time get long, and it won’t move. Also works for those who just /cannot/ get used to holding the camera still, and if you want to mess with optional views, since the shot is identically framed each time
    5) Step back, zoom. You can flatten the image (if that helps) with this trick. Sometimes helps take a thing that looks like a snapshot another way. Cropping, mentioned above, also helps.
    6) Depth of field. Just read up on it. But choosing different exposure options gives a different look even when the overall light into the camera is the same.
    7) Write it all down. Do it the same way all the time, so whatever your look is, you can reproduce it for all your photos.

  7. Valentina says:

    Thank you so much for the advice! Super :)

  8. Thank you for sharing these wonderful tips! Beyond helpful.

  9. Thank you Nicole (and Steven too) for all your great tips – they came just in time for me to photograph all of my invitation and wedding pieces this weekend! Especially good call Steven on writing everything down – I used to do that in my photography classes in college for the darkroom so that definitely makes sense on something you want to be consistent.

  10. yadan says:

    so helpful, i am going to get a good camera!

  11. Faith says:

    I love how Nicole’s style. I’ve taken a few live classes from her and learned a lot. They were great; I really recommend them.

  12. Faith says:

    Oops. I meant “I love Nicole’s style.”

  13. Alyssa says:

    If I’m not mistaken, the jewelry is all form Ariel Gordon Jewelry:

    Also, I’ve taken a couple of classes from Nicole and she is fabulous! Try them out!

  14. Thanks everyone! Yes, that jewelry was shot for Ariel Gordon!

  15. Loved this! Thanks for sharing Nicole. I live in the Bay Area as well and would love to take one of your classes.

    I also want to say that I love design sponge for it’s beauty and bringing all the amazing artists to light. Your doing great work.

  16. Kyleigh says:

    Brillian info thank you! I’ve got a photoshoot this monday (just starting out selling my papercuts) and this couldn’t have been more timely. I’ve bought a reflactor this morning and I’ll defninitely be heeding Nicole (and Stevens) advice. Thank you!

  17. tania says:

    The link to Nicole’s Classes is not working . I believe it’s

    1. grace says:

      thanks tania- just changed that :)


  18. sharon says:

    Thanks so much for this great little tut, and the links for classes!

  19. jess says:

    i took a couple of nicole’s classes last summer—SO good. she’s super talented.

  20. jaNae says:

    love Nicole’s style/ing. I took her photo 101 class & loved it. She’s super nice. I appreciate that she’s willing to share her talents with the rest of us.

  21. Ariel Gordon says:

    Yep… those are my rings :) Nicole really did an amazing job taking pictures of my jewelry! I always struggle to get the lighting right in my product pictures, especially because my jewelry is so small and shiny. Nicole sure knows her stuff (and teaches great classes too if you ever get a chance to take one).

    All you lovely Design*Sponge readers can check out more of my jewelry over here
    And just because D*S is pretty much my most favorite blog, enter GRACE during checkout to receive 25% off your order!

  22. Monica says:

    Great article! Was wondering if you could give some tips for rigging up some DIY product lighting for poor New Yorkers like me who don’t get any window light – ever?

  23. Wonderful advice. I know for sure that the things that sell the best in my shop always are the ones with the best pictures. It never fails! I would like to buy the book but the link is not working…help please!

  24. Stephanie says:

    Hey Anna,

    The book link should be working now. Sorry about that!


  25. becky says:

    great stuff! lighting is so important to photos, but is the trickiest thing to get right.

  26. Nice article. Thank you! I make a living selling my French vintage things online so I’ve taken thousands of product shots by now. I still picked up some nice tips from your post and Steven’s tips in his comment! Merci!

  27. Love the photos you used in this post. Excellent examples, that’s for sure!

    I’ve always enjoyed getting photo inspiration and staging ideas by browsing through food photography on sites like Flickr. Thanks for a great article!

  28. Great Article with good common sense tips. I’m often too impatient to wait so the tip of putting up parchment paper or some voile is a great one.

  29. Those are beautiful photos!

  30. matt smith says:

    I can not say enough that great images sell products

  31. Erin says:

    Thank you – great tips!

  32. I thought strong sunlight was a good thing, especially if you bounce some light into the shadow. It is sort of dramatic, though, so I can see your point about diffusing that type of light for a softer look.

  33. Great article! But could you recommended a good indoor light? I would like to set up an indoor photo area for my ceramics.

  34. great photography tips

  35. elizabeth fenton says:

    are you planning on doing any more retreats??? sounds like something i need on so many levels…

  36. Debbie Taylor says:

    I was wondering where the booties can be found?

  37. perihan says:

    Just the tips I needed for photography!
    Thanx a lot!

  38. Suman Rahman says:

    I always maintain one motto, make necessary arrangement before taking pictures. So use white background to take the shots and after completing the shoot I carefully crop the image to my desired dimension.


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