We’ve been told this old chestnut time and time again—if you are selling online, you need great photos of your product. As eyeroll inducing as it is, that old chestnut is correct. Images are the direct way to show your customer that you pay attention to quality, that you know what your creation is, what it’s uses are, and who it’s for… and that you mean serious business.
Luckily, taking a great photo isn’t a tough nut to crack. I’ve been taking my own fantasy-inspired product shots since I started my online portrait business, Aurora Lady, a few years ago, and I come to you baring tips to make your product shoot just a little bit easier. You can DIY your next product photoshoot!
A shoot I did to promote my “Fang Gang” buttons. I found a dress and attached tons of broaches to it, along with about 50 of my buttons! It was a heavy dress, but my model, Augusta Wise, handled it like a champ!
Choose a concept that makes sense for your product- aka, the most important part of your shoot. Don’t be afraid to go big with your concept, but err away from a complicated storyline. Conceptual does not equal confusing, or even necessarily multi-layered. A concept can be as simple as “pastel clothing in the bushes”. Be playful. Be unexpected. If it feels silly or weird, keep going! Look through magazines (my favorites are Teen Vogue, old issues of any fashion magazine, Tumblr, and Pinterest). Oh, and generally, outside shoots are easier to manage, so consider that while you’re dreaming about your product’s dream environment.
Use a decent camera. If you’re groaning right now, well, listen up instead. You want something that has at least 5 megapixels (basically, know that the lower in quality your camera is, the more you’ll have to make acommedations to compensate for quality during the shoot—and the less options you’ll have for sharing photos in various capacities online). This doesn’t mean you have to buy a brand new expensive camera! I found my Canon G11 used on Craigslist for under $200, and it’s fantastic. I don’t recommend shooing on film for your first shoot, unless you are already at expert status with the stuff. Digital is far more easy to take multiple shots and easier to manipulate later in Photoshop. If you can’t stand it, then shoot with both digital AND your beloved film.
For this shoot, I hired a photographer, the phenomenal Jennifer Emerling. It was important to show that my art series “The Fang Gang” be seen as more than a few paintings–The Fang Gang is a way of life. We had three different shoots for this series– and three different models!– so it involved loads of coordination and organization. Each shoot had a different concept, but unifying themes.
Know your budget, and work around it. Remember that amazing concept you came up with? Pull out some paper and stew on it. Start making a detailed list of everything you need for your dream shoot. A ukelele? Bright yellow lipstick? Two 6 foot long stuffed feet? Write down how much everything is gonna cost, and know exactly what you are willing to spend on your shoot. Work within that allocation. Now is the time to really think about how you can make things. Does your mom have a sewing machine kicking around that you can use? Is there a ton of SOMETHING at work that can make a dramatic statement if teamed up in the right environment? Keep in mind that horrible dating adage, “Collect and select”. It’s like that, but way more fun. This is where you can really get creative! Janie of Janie XY creates environments for her toys that are completely hand drawn and cut out, and then she takes a photo.
Allow yourself enough time to make things happen. I give myself AT LEAST a month and a half to pull a shoot together, even if the concept is easy, because something will inevitably come up! You’ll need time to dream, to make things, to find a model if you are going that route (and, if you are, look for a makeup artist and create/source clothing), and to grab permits or permission to shoot. There’s a lot to do, but if you stay on course, you’ll get it all done.
When you are out in that golden hour, take lots of shots. Take shots you don’t need. I always take a few environmental shots, because sometimes they team up well with the more overt product shots. In this shoot (it was to showcase vintage and lightly used clothing), I felt like this portrait needed a little something extra. The random flowers provide a lovely balance.
Plan your shoot with natural light in mind. Lighting makes a photo. Let me repeat that. LIGHTING MAKES A PHOTO! Got it? Ok, great. Now here’s the good news—you don’t need a set of fancy lights to make a good photo happen. What you need is to shoot outside, during the golden hour—that revered time just about an hour before sunset. It’s what makes faces look glowy, poreless, and traditionally beautiful. It doesn’t just work for faces though—put your product in that light and it’ll look fantastic! Do a test run during the magic hour—take your product out and shoot lots of pictures of it from different angles, turned in different directions. See what works. Make notes! And then go out again and set things up for your “real” shoot—when you have a real handle on how the natural light works.
Aurora Lady is a portrait artist and girl pop visionary. She’s been styling and photographing her own products since she started her business. Now she consults with other small businesses on their product shoots.
And if you can’t make it, a similar workshop will be held at Craftcation 2014 in April. Register here!