Essential product photography tips for your small businesses

Discover how award-winning small business owner and woodcrafter Sophie Sellu has used product photography to her advantage.
A woman using a EOS 850D to photograph a wooden vase on a table, lit by an LED light.

It's never been easier to start a business from home. The rise and ever-increasing popularity of online shopping means that customers can be reached without the need for a physical store. And while this is very good news for people looking to turn their hobbies into careers, it's becoming harder to get noticed.

In a crowded marketplace, your product photography needs to excel. "It's one of the key things," says Sophie Sellu, who makes hand carved objects from sustainable and reclaimed timber for her business Grain and Knot. "Instagram is one of the main ways I show my work, and if the pictures aren't good, people won't respond to them."

A woman standing in her workshop, holding a wooden vase.

Sophie Sellu has been making hand crafted products since 2014 and advertises through her website and Instagram.

After investing time and effort into creating something special, you want to do your products justice when photographing them.

Follow these essential product photography tips and learn how to give your business the best chance of success.

1. Use a tripod for consistent images

A woman arranging a hand carved vase to shoot with her EOS 850D on a tripod.

Sophie uses a tripod with a Canon EOS 850D as it allows her to set up her shot and get the arrangement just the way she wants while keeping the framing consistent from shot to shot.

A woman adjusting her EOS 850D on a tripod.

A tripod is ideal for getting sleek shots of your products with consistent framing, which can give your website or social feeds a professional feel.

Using a tripod will help maintain a consistent background for your images. "When I'm doing single product shots, I have everything lined up ready to go," says Sophie. "By using a tripod I can get shots framed the same way with the same background."

This means you can concentrate on arranging your products and getting the lighting just right. It also allows you to easily check the camera's LCD screen and refine as needed. Tripods help eliminate the risk of camera shake ruining your shots – especially if you use the Canon Camera Connect app to trigger the shutter remotely.

2. Think about your props and backgrounds

Two wooden vases filled with white flowers, with wooden shavings next to them.

If you're shooting a lifestyle product shot, pay attention to props and backgrounds. The key is to not overcomplicate things. Taken on a Canon EOS 850D with a Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens at 29mm, 1/125 sec, f/11 and ISO640.

A white tent on a table top, with an LED light on either side.

Photographing your product in a light tent will deliver a shadowless image that's perfect to use for showcasing products on your website.

When staging your products for your website or social platforms, you need to think about the props you use.

"I try to keep everything quite simple. I think there is often the risk of over-complicating things," says Sophie. "I often start with just one item and then I'll add to it or take away rather than just overloading it." Keeping your set-up basic helps not to distract from the product.

If you're looking for a clean background then consider getting a light tent or create one yourself by cutting holes in a cardboard box and covering the inside with muslin cloth. Once you have your tent then all you have to do is place the product inside and the white canvas/cloth stretched around the frame will deliver shadow-free photos. Start with a white background to make your product stand out, but consider changing the colour of your background with a simple piece of coloured card to complement your designs.

3. Work with light to flatter your products

A wooden vase filled with dried flowers, on a white background in natural light.

You don't need dedicated lights for product photography – natural light can produce lovely effects. "To make life easier, I put everything by a window," says Sophie. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with an RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens at 1/640 sec, f/2 and ISO100.

A carved wooden vase with some dried grass in it, illuminated by sunlight from a window.

It's normally best to shoot on an overcast day so the shadows are nice and soft, but use the sun to your advantage when it's out. The light here shows off the layers of texture in the product. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with an RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens at 1/800 sec, f/2 and ISO100.

To really showcase the detail and quality of your products, good lighting is essential. You don't have to invest in expensive lighting – natural light from a large window can produce great effects as it is often soft and diffused.

To get started, simply position your product near the window and frame up. If one side of your product is too dark, think about bringing in a reflector or large sheet of white card to bounce some light back from the window onto the item you're photographing.

A Canon EOS 850D on a tabletop, next to a wooden vase, with a vertical LED strip light set up in the background.

If you can't set up near a large window or weather conditions are poor, then a compact LED light is a handy accessory to have.

A dark wooden vase on a wooden tabletop, filled with three fronds of dried grass.

Using two LED lights positioned either side of the wood carving has delivered enough light to gently illuminate the edges and make it stand out from the background. Taken on a Canon EOS 850D with a Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens at 35mm, 1/200 sec, f/6.3 and ISO1250.

In some cases, you may want to bring in artificial light. While it can be tempting to use something like a desk lamp to help light your product, it's best to avoid doing this. This is because the colour temperatures of the two light sources will be different – the light from the desk lamp will be more yellow than natural light, making it harder to get the white balance correct in the final image.

It's far better to use either a Speedlite flashgun, such as the Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT, which delivers a light output with a colour temperature similar to daylight and won't impact the white balance. Mounting a large softbox diffuser on a remotely positioned Speedlite can deliver excellent results.

If you're short on space or want something a little more straightforward, desktop LED lights are a great alternative. When choosing an LED light, make sure that you can set the colour temperature to around 5,600K (Kelvin), meaning that the warmth of the light will match the ambience of natural day light. You should also consider choosing an LED light with a high Colour Rendering Index (CRI) value – 95 is the golden number here, with anything lower negatively affecting how the colours appear in your images.

4. Isolate your subject

A wooden vase filled with small white flowers on a table next to a wooden chisel.

Shooting with the aperture set to f/8 has meant that the background is too prominent and it detracts from the product. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with an RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens at 1/320 sec, f/8 and ISO5000.

A wooden vase filled with some small white flowers on a table against a blurred background.

Changing the aperture to f/1.8 has thrown the background out of focus and allowed the product to stand out. At the same time, though, we still get a sense of the environment. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with an RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens at 1/320 sec, f/1.8 and ISO250.

You don't want the background to overpower your subject, so try using a fast aperture to reduce the depth of field and throw more of the scene out of focus.

You can do this by shooting in Aperture Priority – select Av and use the widest aperture available. If you're using an 18-55mm lens on the EOS 850D, this will likely be f/5.6 at 55mm.

Shooting at this aperture will allow you to blur the background, but to really make your products stand out you might want to consider using a 'fast' prime lens such as the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM – or the RF 50mm f/1.8 STM if you're using an EOS R System camera. Though some of your product might fall out of focus when shooting wide open, the ability to shoot up to f/1.8 means it's possible to get some beautiful background bokeh and make your products pop.

A woman hand carving a wooden vase in her workshop.

Take your time with product photography. Have fun with it and you'll do your products justice.

The thing to remember with product photography is not to rush it. At the beginning Sophie saw it as a daunting task because of its importance. "But then I realised that I have to show people what I make and started to see that a day spent taking product photos is just as important as a day spent making the products themselves."

You can follow Sophie's journey on her Instagram @grainandknot.

Written by Phil Hall

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