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How to Get the Perfect Product Photo

6 simple steps to take your product photos to 'wow' level.

As trite as it might sound, a good picture is still worth a thousand words—or even $1,000. The better your product photos, the better your chance to convince a buyer to make a purchase today.

You needn’t be a professional shutter-bug to get shudder-free results. Taking great product photos is easier than ever if you approach the task with simplicity.

Here are six straightforward, cost-effective ways that show you how to get the perfect product photo for better online sales results.

Step 1. Get a clean start

Presentation is everything. No matter what you’re selling, make sure it’s clean and generally looks cared for.

Get rid of specs of dirt and lint, then wipe away sticky fingerprints and smudges. All of that is usually accentuated by digital photography

Just as garage sale goers might be reluctant to riffle through a greasy cardboard box of castoffs, online shoppers will avoid items pictured in a dingy, dirty or otherwise disheveled state. Dust off items, carefully polish them up and help them to look as clean as possible.

The caveat here, of course, is to take care with antiques.

Original “patina” that’s been vigorously scrubbed away can destroy an item’s value. Otherwise, get rid of specs of dirt and lint, then wipe away sticky fingerprints and smudges. All of that is usually accentuated by digital photography, possibly costing you a customer’s attention.

Step 2. Go for the natural look

Most beauty photographers know the natural look is often the best. The same goes for the products you’ll photograph for sale. Whenever possible, go outside to use the sun’s natural light to illuminate your photos.

Look for what is called “open shade,” places with plenty of open sky above that won’t have direct sunlight beaming down on your item. Open shade provides full and diffused illumination without casting the deep shadows caused by direct sunlight.

As you might guess, the best opportunities for open shade are in the morning or early evening, times when the sun isn’t directly overhead. If you can’t be outside, try to find an indoor setting next to a window that allows plenty of incoming light, though, again, not in direct path of the sun’s rays.

Step 3. Get ready, get steady

You have a clean product and a well-lighted place to photograph it in. Now, help the item look its best by giving it a clean and complementary setting.

You needn’t invest in expensive backdrops and such. Sometimes just a few sheets of printer paper are all you need.

If your item is generally dark or is quite colorful, a white backdrop will help the details pop in the final photo. Set the paper beneath the item and curve it upward against a wall or other item behind it. This provides a seamless background beneath and behind the product.

If your item is generally dark or is quite colorful, a white backdrop will help the details pop in the final photo

Be sure the paper is thick enough to prevent being able to see through it. You can use a small stack of a few sheets, if needed.

For items that don’t show well on a plain white backdrop, consider buying a few inexpensive sheets of colored pastel paper at your local art store.

These come in a variety of colors and are usually cut in sizes of 11-by-14-inches or larger. They make excellent seamless backdrops and give you the freedom to use different colors to best complement your item.

Now, with the item set on the backdrop, be sure to use a tripod when photographing your products. Even if you plan to use a high shutter speed (which introduces unwanted graininess) or believe you can hold yourself as still as a statue, you’ll always do best with the unrivaled stability of a tripod.

You can get them for cheap, and they give you better results every time. You can also use the height and angle adjustments to get the angle that best shows off what you’re selling. Most important, a tripod lets you use slower shutter speeds to get the best detail and best illumination without the inescapable blurriness of attempting such a photo in a hand-held shoot.

Step 4. Know your camera

Expanding on the previous point, it’s important you understand the key settings of your camera for best results.

Avoid using your camera’s flash. You’ll likely get the same result of shooting in direct sunlight. Instead, understand how to use the camera’s ISO (speed) setting for noise reduction, the aperture priority setting for better depth-of-field clarity, and white balance to control the photo’s overall hue or “temperature.”

Understanding how to use these controls on your digital camera and experimenting with them will help you capture better in-camera results, leaving you with less post-process work. Oh, and you’ll need a tripod to get the best results these settings offer. (In case you wanted more justification for using the tripod).

Step 5. Go hands-free

Another of the photographer’s best friends is the auto-timer. Even if you’re using a tripod for your shoot, you can still get unwanted jitter in your photos caused by the movement of the camera as you depress the shutter release button.

Use the self-timer to allow the camera to steady after you’ve pressed the shutter release. You’ll get a better result if you keep your hands off the camera while it’s capturing the exposure.

Don’t lean heavily on the sharpen function. It introduces some awful artifacts and makes photos look amateurish

Step 6. Crop and correct

Now, if you’ve followed the previous five steps, you’ll likely have less work to do in this final part of your photograph.

Don’t get hung on having to capture perfection in-camera; the best photographers have come to rely on a bit of post processing.

If your photo has some extraneous elements outside of your backdrop, crop the photo to remove the distracting elements. Also, look for any specs or spots that might be revealed upon capturing the photo. Use a simple photo-editing application (some cameras include software for basic fixes) to remove any artifacts or to adjust the overall look of the photo.

A word of caution: Don’t lean heavily on the sharpen function. It introduces some awful artifacts and makes photos look amateurish. Watch out for color correction, too. It can misrepresent the true appearance of the actual item.

With that, you’ve got the six simple steps for great product photos without need for a professional photo studio. As a final litmus test, ask yourself these two questions of your product photos: Does the photo truly represent the item and would the photo help convince you to make a purchase?

If you answer “yes” to both questions, you’ve just taken an excellent photo. Congratulations!

About the author

Dennis L. Prince
Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay...and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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