How To Photograph Your Product For Dummies, by A Dummy

I will preface this post with the admission that I really am a dummy when it comes to photography. I don’t know many technical terms, I’ve never taken a class… I’ve learned it all through trial and error.

There are a few key components that you’ll need, but aside from the camera, they’re not too expensive (and in some cases, free), so don’t fret, my pet.


What you need:

a camera – Your phone doesn’t count.

light – Natural daylight is the best!

a tripod – I guess if your phone can go on a tripod and takes decent pictures, I’ll let you slide…


Natural light + tripod = kickass photos


Optional items:

a backdrop – I use a cheapo bed sheet. It’s not the prettiest or most professional, but it works.

a remote for your camera – If you’re the model and photographer, this will make your life a million times easier. I got mine from Amazon.

additional lighting – The more “daylight-like”, the better. See the bottom of this post for a link to a great tutorial for lighting on the cheap.



You don’t need a super expensive camera to take great pictures. Good digital cameras are so affordable at this point, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding a decent camera to fit any budget. So no blaming your camera!



In this dummy’s opinion, lighting is absolutely the most important component for achieving good photographs. If your lighting sucks, your photos will suck, if they even come out at all.

The goal with lighting is to get a good amount of light to reflect off of your item. The best-looking and FREE solution? A window!

When I tell people to photograph next to a window to get maximum daylight, a lot of them make the mistake of photographing right IN FRONT of the window.

The result of having all of the light of your shot in the background of your photograph is “backlighting”. It can be very effective in arty-farty photographs, but it stinks when it comes to product photos because your product is blocking all of the light.

(Which brings me to a small off-subject piece of advice… arty-farty photographs are great. If you want to include such a photo of your product, that’s fine, just make sure you also have several well-lit, well-focused shots of your product that show all that sweet detail.)

Light source at the side of the subject.
Light source behind the subject, aka backlighting.


See the difference?

The simplest way to use all that awesome light is to set up your product and your camera perpendicular to the light source aka window.


My photo set-up. The tripod, dressform, and backdrop sit in a row, all perpendicular to the window.
A “bird’s eye view” of my photo set-up


It doesn’t even have to be a sunny day to get good daylight. Depending on the window, you might get better photographs on overcast days. In fact, if it’s so sunny that beams of light are shining in from the window, it’s probably going to be too much light for your photos, so find a window that has “indirect” sunlight coming in.


The Flash

So now you’re probably wondering… if I can just use sunlight to light my photos, why does every camera I’ve ever seen have a flash on it?

I’m sure this is a way oversimplified explanation, but I don’t want to delve into too much technical stuff (like I could if I wanted to, har har), so here’s my dummified explanation:

You know that “CLICK!” noise your camera makes when you take a picture? That’s the shutter, opening to let light in and expose the shot (in 35mm cameras, it would be exposing the actual film), and then closing back up. When you use the flash, the shutter speed is super quick.

That super bright flash and super quick shutter speed make it so that even if you’re waving your camera around like a madwoman while you’re snapping shots, they’ll usually still come out crisp and in focus. Well, a flash is great for snap shots and candids, but it’s so bright it will leech a lot of detail out of your product photos.

If you’ve ever tried taking indoor photos in natural light and gotten a blurry mess, it’s because the lower light levels make the shutter speed slower. The shutter has to remain open longer to get enough light to expose the photo.  The longer that shutter stays open, the more blurring you’ll get if you don’t keep the camera absolutely still. Since natural light isn’t as bright as a flash, you need to allow for a longer shutter speed. Enter the tripod…



No matter how still you think you can hold your camera on your own, a tripod will do a better job times a million. I’ve tried balancing the camera on a flat surface, I’ve tried the Gorillapod (which is a decent cheap/space-saving solution), but a real full size tripod has made taking photos so much easier, it’s definitely worth it.  It’s adjustable and there’s room to stand behind it so you can actually see what you’re photographing, unlike a bookshelf.


What happens when you try to skip the tripod…



Other Tips:

If you don’t have a backdrop for your photos, use a blank wall in your house. Or a cool wall in your house. Or the outside of your house. Or a fence, the woods, an empty field. (Get the drift?) Try to choose something that doesn’t totally take the attention away from your product, but don’t assume that you absolutely must use a blank white background either. Whatever you choose, make sure it looks clean. If you take photos on your dirty ass carpet, no one is going to wanna buy, no matter how awesome your stuff is.


Look at all the crap you can hide with a sheet! That’s my entire inventory behind my backdrop, plus a giant cheeseburger head.


Now for the proof:

Here are some shots, taken at the same angle at the same time of day, but with different lighting:


This photo was taken with the camera on a tripod and only natural light. No flash and no room lights.
This photo was taken with the blinds down to limit the amount of natural light. There is a room light on, but no flash. With some editing, it might be okay, but it’s much too off color and dark to use as is.
This is the same set-up as the previous shot (shades down, room light on), but this time WITH a flash. There’s some improvement in brightness, but the colors are still off, and it’s got a funny shadow behind it.
This one has the full natural light coming through the window and the flash. Not bad, but when you look at some close-ups (below) you can see that the shot with only natural light shows more detail.
(click to enlarge) No Flash versus Flash. The colors in the photo using only natural light are much more accurate. It also has a nicer shadow balance. Especially note the difference in the amount of detail you can see on the layer of black lace in each photo. If this garment had been mostly black or mostly white, the flash would have washed out the detail even more.


Quickie photo editing tutorial:

Photos don’t always turn out perfect. Under and overexposure (photos that turn out too dark or too light) can be corrected with a photo editor, as can color problems. Because the sun is a fickle beast, even photos taken with natural light sometimes need a little adjustment.

The two tools I use most in Photoshop (and I’m sure any photo editing program can do them as well) are Levels and Auto-Color.

Let’s take that underexposed, off-color photo from before and make it useable.


A little editing can go a long way.


How to do it:

1. Open your photo in Photoshop.

2. Click Image > Adjustments > Levels from the top menu.


Image > Adjustments > Levels


3. A box will open with a little black mountain-looking thing called a histogram. There are 3 sliders at the bottom of the histogram. When I’m editing, I’m usually correcting underexposure (images that are too dark), so I usually play with the GRAY and WHITE sliders. The BLACK slider will make things darker, which you’ll only need if your image is overexposed.
In any case, move the sliders slowly, as even a small movement will make a lot of difference. Generally, I move the WHITE slider a tiny amount and do most of the correction with the GRAY slider.


In this case, because the photo I started with was so dark I had to move the GRAY slider quite a bit to get a good exposure. Most of the time I’m only making minor adjustments.


4. To correct color problems, you can often use the Auto-Color feature. In this case, it works really well. In some cases, it doesn’t work well at all, and I have to do the adjustments manually (and that will have to wait for another tutorial).


Image > Adjustment> Auto-Color



Some other great photo tutorials:

How to take effective jewelry and small goods photos

Cheap lighting set-up

19 thoughts on “How To Photograph Your Product For Dummies, by A Dummy

  1. A great tip that my friend (a professional photographer) told me about tripods: if you don’t have the cash to shell out for a real tripod, grab a small bag of dried beans or rice. Set the bag where you want to place your camera. Your camera will settle nicely onto the bag and the rice/beans will provide a stable but adjustable surface to take the pictures.


    1. Thanks for the tip! I wish I’d thought of that when I was still wrestling with trying to balance my camera on various objects….

  2. I didn’t even know half of this stuff, I suck so much at photography :S

    Unfortunately, I have Paint Shop Pro, not Photoshop, so I’m going to have to do a lot of digging to find the same adjustments you used. They have to be in there somewhere, right?

  3. In 10+ years of using photoshop… I have never used the auto-levels or auto-color..

    What an idiot!

    I’ve just gone through about 30 photos taken in bad light that I’d left to the side as useless, and made them all useable.

    Lex you fantastical genius!

  4. Thank you so much for your pearls of wisdom. I am just beginning to shoot my own crafts, and this has helped remove some of my apprehension.

    Happy New Year!

  5. Thank you so much for all of these tips! It’s weird how much knowing other people’s motivation spreads to completely inspiring others, like myself. You are wonderful! <3

  6. If you put a big piece of white posterboard (or another sheet – anything white really) to the right of your subject, opposite the window, it will bounce the natural light back on the subject and even out your lighting…

    1. Great tip! I did eventually use a second sheet opposite the window. It’s impressive how much of a difference a reflector like that can make.
      I have since moved and don’t have anywhere with good natural lighting AND enough room for photos, so I have lights set up in my basement. For a while I used the white sheet on the “shadowed” side of my set up, but now I’ve got a big sheet of silver reflective fabric that I use to get even more light bounced.

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