5 tips for taking a great styled product shot
Why is product photography so important? A good product shot can sell your product, make it desirable, build your brand and reputation, give you content to post on social media, get people sharing your work and talking about you (which in turn will help your ranking on Google and other search engines), enable you to build a dedicated fanbase, and catch the attention of press and bloggers.
Brilliant product shots have almost magical powers, so it’s really worth investing some time (and possibly money) in getting them right. But what makes a good product shot? There are lots of different types of product shots – lifestyle, cut-out, flat-lay, packshot – but in this post we’re going to look specifically at styled product shots and share some tips for getting those right.
Here are our top 5 tips for taking great styled product shots…
1. Get the essentials right
All your photographs NEED to be sharp and in focus, clearly show what you’re selling, represent the colours as accurately as possible, not have distracting borders or filters, and although they don’t need to be cropped to a square they do need to look good when viewed as a square because that’s how they’ll be seen in your shop and in searches.
Make sure your photo clearly shows what you’re selling and crops well to a square – and avoid distracting borders and filters. Crochet artwork by Joanna Clark
2. Choose your backdrop
The idea with styled product shots is to help shoppers imagine how your products would look in their home or being worn. So you’ll need to find a fitting backdrop – or if you can’t find one, make one.
The easiest setting is probably your own home but don’t worry if your house isn’t photo shoot standard – all you really need is a corner where you can mock up a scene. Of course, if you happen to have a friend with a stunning old cottage with walls embedded with character, that’s always useful. But if you don’t have the perfect space and can’t find one, create one.
You’ll need a space that has good natural light (north-facing windows are ideal) as artificial light can give photos a nasty yellow tinge. Domestic white walls can be trickier to work with than you might think, and quite often end up looking dull and grey in photos. So think about introducing some interest and texture to your background, but bear in mind that the backdrop should set off your products not overwhelm them. It’s usually better to keep backgrounds light, neutral and stylistically similar to your products – whether that’s a real setting or mocked-up.
Some ideas for interesting backgrounds are whitewashed floorboards, old scaffolding planks that have been stripped or stained, vintage linen or coloured art paper – professional photographer Yeshen Venema recommends Quartz Grey Colorama paper. If you’re feeling adventurous you could try wallpapering a sheet of MDF – marble, stone or wood-look paper can be quite effective – or painting a piece of plasterboard and (at the risk of sounding all Changing Rooms circa 1992) distressing it to add texture. Then when you’ve finished your photo shoot, you can pack it away, ready for next time.
Experiment with different settings and backgrounds to see what works for you and once you’ve found a style you’re happy with, try to use a similar backdrop in all your product photos. That will help you develop a signature style and build a brand identity.
Think about your setting and choose one that complements your products – this traditional cottage is the perfect backdrop for Bear Print Design’s hand-printed hare lampshade.
The sharp lines of this silhouette card by Snapdragon Designs show up beautifully against the modern concrete wall and simple wooden bench.
For this styled shot, Rosie O’Neill has displayed her Maker print on a shelf mounted on white-painted Oriented Strand Board (OSB). Her use of dusky pink art paper over the board brings another dimension and colour to the photograph.
3. Think like a set designer
Once you’ve decided on your backdrop, start thinking like a set designer and gather a selection of props that complement your products. You don’t need to use them all at once, but if you have them at hand you can try different combinations and see what works best.
If you need furniture, scour charity shops for old stools, benches, drawers and shelves but bear in mind that dark-stained wood can soak up light and dominate a photograph, so if your products need something lighter consider stripping back any imposing pieces or painting to a shade that’s easier to work with. Laminate furniture, frames and shelves can give off a glare in photos, so use with caution.
When choosing props, remember your product is the star and props are the supporting characters, there to give your product context and scale and to make it shine. So use props sparingly and make sure they complement your product. If you’re worried about getting things wrong, just remember the mantra: less is more.
This hand-printed tea towel by Gloria Dean has been hung on a washing line, allowing the whole print to be seen, and styled with a washing basket to give it context.
Sometimes the only prop you need is something simple like this little yellow posy sitting by Victoria Collins’ stained glass owl. If the bouquet had been a mix of flowers and colours, or the vase more ‘showy’, it might have distracted from the piece.
Don’t be afraid of trying interesting or unusual props. Rather than using the traditional props associated with jewellery photography like pebbles and slate, stylist Hilary Lowe has gone for something more unconventional and displayed these Allium Seed Pod Earrings by Caroline Frodsham from Pods & Plunder on a dried seed head.
4. Dwell on the details
Sometimes it’s the small things that make all the difference. Think carefully about the details and how you can emphasise the ethos of your brand and make your product even more desirable. For example, the natural wood of the old picture frame accompanying this lino print by Cally Conway brings texture to the product shot, complements the natural subject matter of the print, and reinforces the idea that this print is special – it’s one of a kind, not something you can just pick off the shelf at Ikea. Cally’s succulent linocut has also been paired with a planted succulent to give the viewer a clear reference point, and even a small detail like using pebbles on the surface of the planter rather than bare soil has been considered.
The colour of your props can make a difference too, as shown by the photos of Sarah Westwood’s illustrated cards below. The images are pretty similar, but the pink and red pencils draw out the colours in Sarah’s botanical card while the yellow flowers draw your eye to the yellow pasta-eating dog.
Kara Leigh Ford is a potter who has great product shots and styles her photos really well. She often uses white-washed wood and hessian cloth to give texture and an identity to her images. She gives a lot of thought to her props too, using seasonal fruit and flowers. One extra detail that photographer Yeshen Venema suggests here is to use worn or dark cutlery rather than highly polished silverware to minimise reflections.
— Yeshen Venema (@yeshen) April 19, 2016
5. Style for the seasons
One simple trick to give your products a more seasonal feel and keep your shop looking fresh throughout the year without introducing new products is to style them differently. You can give shoppers clear visual clues about how to use your products and what events they could be suitable for by using more obvious seasonal props – chicks for Easter or snowflakes for Christmas, for example. But if you don’t want to limit the lifespan of your photos too much, hint at seasons through the hues of your backdrop, seasonal flowers or foliage, or styling with food associated with a time of year.
The dark wood of the antique chair and cabinet work well with the tweed and rust brown shades of this fox cushion by Seaforth Designs, and give it an autumnal feel.
This shot for another beautiful cushion by Seaforth Designs has been styled with cream tea and pale accessories and placed against a light backdrop for a much more summery feel.