1. First, prepare your product. Make sure your product is in shipshape condition well ahead of time. When you clean it, be sure to use the correct type of cleaner for its material, and use a lint-free cloth. Sham-wows, microfiber cloths, and car cleaning towels work great. Wipe it down so if there are sparkles, they sparkle, and if it has a matte surface, that surface has time to dry and not appear streaked. Most importantly, make sure there is no dust or residue marks on your product.
2. Choose and prepare a background for your product.
For smaller items, a white background looks professional. You can use a few pieces of regular printer paper all stacked together so it comes out really white and not gray and opaque. White poster board works great too since it is large and thick. Put your product on half the paper on a flat surface and bend the other half up behind it and prop it up. Don’t make a crease or fold.
If you care to invest a little money, buy a white project tri-fold. The advantage to this is it is large, stands up on its own, and the two side flaps gently reflect light.
Fabric with flat texture can also work, as can a plain wall painted in a light or neutral color. Just prop up your object so not to include the baseboard or any scuffs on the wall. A wooden table makes a nice “floor”.
If your product is large or must stay outside, choose a natural location. Trees, hedges, a clean fence can make a nice background. You won’t want to photograph near anything distracting such as garbage, fallen sticks, passing cars, or utility poles. If you do choose to photograph outside, be sure to read tip 4. about lighting in order to plan when to take your shots.
3. Prepare your equipment. Make sure phone is fully charged. Photos, especially with flash can take up a significant amount of battery, and some phones may not die but they won’t let you take pictures if you battery is too low.
Be sure there is enough memory to take at least five to seven photos per product.
Carefully clean the lens with dry microfiber cloth that is specifically for cleaning lenses or sensitive glass equipment. If your lens is really grimy, use a product such as Invisible Glass or another appropriate lens cleaner.
Hopefully you have a working knowledge of how your phone or camera works. If not, the internet is your friend! Google the make and model of your phone along with photography tips or how to use the camera on [your phone].
4. Next, you will need to consider lighting.
Outdoors on overcast day is ideal, as is early in the morning or somewhere close to dusk but not right when the sun is on the horizon. For a small product, using a patio table, truck bed, or spa cover to set up your background and product on is great. Just make sure it’s level and not slanted. For example, a car hood or rock would not be ideal.
Typically you will want the sun behind you. Make sure your shadow doesn’t come near your product. This is another reason a slightly cloudy day works nicely.
If you shoot indoors, find a spot with substantial but not direct light. Perhaps use a table or piece of furniture that is not right under a light fixture. You may not want a light behind your product either.
The exception to this is if your product has a reflective surface such as glass, shiny plastic, or anything else with mirror-like surface. If so, consider back-lighting it. You can position a table against a window covered by a white sheer curtain, or in a location with a light source shining behind the product. Just don’t photograph the lamp too, unless you will be able to crop it out.
5. Now, it’s time to actually take the photos!
Shoot from different angles with the camera level with the horizontal middle of your product. This is why it is best to use a table if your product is small. If it is large, squat down.
Be sure to hold your camera steady! Tripods are great, but most people won’t have them for a smart phone or simple camera. If you can, lean your arm on a chair or table to help steady the camera.
Many items are best shot at right angles to the corner of the product, so you can see the front and one side.
Take some from “far” away, such as three to four feet for a small product (like a My Little Pony), or nine to twelve feet for a larger product (like a motorcycle). Also take some close-ups, both with zoom and without. Try using your macro setting (the tulip setting on your camera) for very up-close detail shots.
If your product is reflective, try shooting head on. A tiny sparkle or shine might look nice, but you don’t want a glare to ruin your photo.
6. Finally, if you’re not sending photos directly from your phone, transfer your photo files to your computer.
You can easily use your Photo Gallery software to crop the photo. Don’t crop it too closely. Negative space (extra space in the photo that is not your actual product) is good, but make sure your product is centered.
Photoshop is only helpful if you have it and know how to use it, and probably isn’t necessary for this scale project. The only other editing you may want to do is to make the background blend in and not be distracting. You can use Paint, or download the free, open-source photo editing software GIMP to make your background all uniformly white, or to blur the background.
Don’t manipulate or change your actual product. Buyers will not be happy if you edit out a scratch that is really there, or make the product brilliant purple when it is actually brick red. Try to show your product as true to real life as possible, and help your product put its best foot forward.
Be sure to save the original and to save any edits as a separate copy. If you are uploading it to a site online, take into consideration the maximum file size or recommended optimum dimensions (perfectly square? option to zoom?). Paint is great for editing your photo to meet these requirements.
Save your edited copy in the correct file format for your needs. JPEG is usually the default and is fine if you need to balance a pretty decent quality with a smaller file size, although it is not good if text is included in your photo. A better option is saving it as a PNG file. It is still a workable, small file with no loss of quality. Use TIFF if you are printing out your product photo.
Best of luck with your product photos!