Step-by-step tips for taking better product photos on your phone
Getting in a professional to photograph your products can be great for press, sales and social media, but what if you can’t afford that just yet or if you want to post a quick picture on Instagram? Or what if you have a new idea or product that doesn’t quite warrant a full-on professional shoot?
In this post, photographer Lucy Ridges shares her step-by-step guide so you can learn how to take photos of your products using just your phone. Lucy’s simple smartphone photography tips and tricks will transform your product shots and give you Instagram-ready, shop-quality photos without loads of fuss or fancy equipment – just whip out your iPhone, grab some white paper and a few props, find a big window and you’re good to go!
How to take great product shots on your smartphone
What you’ll need:
- Your phone
- Your products
- A large sheet of white paper or card
- A smaller sheet of white card
- A few small props of your choice
Follow Lucy’s step-by-step instructions and you’ll be taking bright, crisp, perfect product shots with your iPhone or smartphone in no time. If you’ve got any questions, you can ask Lucy by leaving a comment at the end of this post.
Step 1: Prep your phone lens & products
Make sure your phone camera lens is clean: wipe it with either a lens cloth or glasses cloth (failing that use a clean sleeve). Secondly, make sure all your products are clean and free from dust, wrinkles, creases and marks. Any smudges or dust specks will be a pain to remove afterwards.
Step 2: Find a big window with soft, indirect light
Natural light is always best. It has a beautiful softness to it and will give an even spread of light over your products – plus it’s free! So find the biggest window in your house and turn off any artificial lighting in the room (this is important). Avoid windows that have direct sunlight pouring in, as you want soft and indirect light. You might not have a window as big as mine, but get by the largest one that you can find.
Step 3: Tape a large sheet of paper or card to the wall to create an ‘infinity curve’ background
Get a large sheet of white paper or card – about A3 size should do it. This will act as your background. Now tape it to the wall nearest the window, as shown in the image above. You want to be as close to the window as possible but don’t worry if you can’t get right up to it. Let the paper or card curve and you’ll get what’s known as an ‘infinity curve’ – this means you avoid horizons or distracting lines and edges in your photos.
Step 4: Position your product on the backdrop
Place your product on the paper and position yourself in front of it with the window at the side. Check how the image looks on your phone screen. Are there any distracting reflections or shadows?
Step 5: Use a piece of white card as a DIY reflector
If you find you’re getting a bit of shadow on the side farthest from the window, get a piece of white card or paper and prop it up on the other side of your product. A sheet of white card folded in half will stand up by itself nicely, or you can get a friend to hold it. This will bounce the window light back on to the product, removing any harsh shadows.
Step 6: Start shooting and reposition as needed
Hold your phone as vertical as possible (this will help ensure your vertical lines remain straight and parallel) and move it around until you’re happy with the image on your screen. To get as clear an image as possible use a phone tripod (if you don’t have one you can just prop your phone on the surface). Start shooting and reposition or rotate your product so you have a range of different angles and viewpoints to choose from that capture various details.
Step 7: Use the same set up to take a flat lay photograph from above
The photos we’ve taken so far are great for three-dimensional objects that can stand up, like candles, bowls, mugs, baby booties, toys and open greetings cards. But if you have items that usually lie flat (things like notebooks, pens, coasters, place mats, clothing, framed prints and jewellery), shooting from above can work better. These are also known as flat lays.
To shoot a flat lay on your phone, use the same lighting set up as before, with window light bounced back on a sheet of white card, but choose a larger background to shoot on. For your flat lay backdrop, you can stick with white paper or make it bit more exciting by using something different.
Look around your home, do you have a nice wooden sideboard next to a kitchen window or a rustic dining room table that you can push up to a window? If not, you can buy fairly cost-effective photo backgrounds. My favourite trick is to head to my local tile shop and buy a large individual rustic tile. They come in lots of different styles and are quite heavy and cumbersome, but absolutely beautiful and only cost between £7 and £10. For a more lightweight option, although a little more pricey, you can pick up replica backdrops online. I use www.photoboards.org which look exactly like the real deal but are easier to move about. A Photoboard costs from £18 to £30 but, if you look after it, it will be the only backdrop you’ll ever need to buy.
Step 8: Choose relevant props – consider scale, colour and style
Now is the fun part where you get think about props. Essentially, props are there to help to show the scale and function of a product but props are also a great way of showing an item in a more ‘homely’ setting.
Have a look around your house (and your friends’ houses) for anything you think might help tell a story about your product. The most important thing is that props must be relevant to the product you’re selling, otherwise the image won’t make sense. There’s no point in styling a pottery mug with an antique ruler or styling a vintage pencil case with a tea bag.
For notebooks and cards use stationery related objects: nice pens, rulers, washi tape, envelopes, paper clips or pencils. When selling prints of paintings or drawings, try using things like old tubes of paint, paint-stained brushes or pencils. Is the product made in a vintage style? Then use vintage props. Is the card or product modern, clean or minimalist? Then use clean and fresh modern props, and so on. Delicate flowers work well as a good all-rounder.
Step 9: Layer in your props & tweak the composition
Lay your product down, carefully placing the props around the edge, and experiment with moving things around. Make sure any edges are parallel to the image frame, that your horizontal and vertical lines are straight and that the product sits well in the composition.
It must be clear which item you’re actually selling and which are just props, so keep your product central and large in the frame while positioning any props at the outside edges. Try to keep a balanced composition. Props mustn’t be bigger or more vivid than the item you’re selling. Keep in mind that buyers may only glance at your image for a split second before making a decision on whether to click on it or not, so it must be immediately clear what the item is.
Step 10: Edit your photos on your phone
There are some great apps out there that you can use to edit your photos directly on your phone. Try VSCO, Snapseed or A Color Story to straighten those lines, crop to a square (if you haven’t already shot it as a square), or play with the saturation, curves and brightness. Remember that product shots should be as close to the original in colour as possible, so avoid adding strong filters or any frames, textures or strange effects to your images.
For inspiration, head to Pinterest or Instagram and type in ‘flat lay product photography’.
Good luck, and have fun!
Lucy Ridges is a professional photographer based in central Manchester. She works closely with small businesses, independent crafts people and makers across the UK to style and photograph their products, using largely natural light and the latest high-end digital equipment. See more of her work and get in touch with Lucy here www.lucyridges.com
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