#TheGreatBuild – DIY Product Photography

#TheGreatBuild - Documentary of an Ecommerce Business

NOTE: The following post is part of #TheGreatBuild series detailing the creation process of an ecommerce business. To learn more about this series please visit: #TheGreatBuild.

As you might remember, when I attempted to order inventory for #TheGreatBuild project (Finch Goods Co.) in the middle of December, I found out I was basically right in between seasons for a few of the brands I intended to start with. I didn’t want to start my new business with last year’s styles and colours for obvious reasons, so I was forced to wait. After what felt like an uncertain eternity, some of my inventory has arrived. This has allowed me to start moving forward by getting photography done and building out my product listings on my website.

#TheGreatBuild Inventory - How To Shoot Great Product Photography

Inventory for #TheGreatBuild (Finch Goods Co.)

High quality product photography is one of the most important design aspects of any ecommerce website. Your images need to give your visitors an experience as close to “real life” as possible. Depending on your budget, there are a few photography options available for ecommerce entrepreneurs.

High Budget If you have a high budget (few thousand dollars), obviously hiring a qualified photographer with a studio, lighting and high-end lenses is ideal. They will not only take the photographs, but also do the editing to ensure they come out looking their best with the most accurate colours. Photographers can be found with a simple search on Craigslist or Google. Another great option is to check out the partner’s program with Shopify.

Medium Budget If you have a budget of just a few hundred dollars, you might be able to find a friend (semi-professional photographer) or a photography student that can help you. There are also a few online services that can help. If you send your products to ProductPhoto.com, they will take isolated, high quality photographs of your items for around $12 per item.

Low Budget If your budget is very limited, or if you are like me and trying to be as lean as possible, not to worry. You still have the option of taking great DIY product photography yourself. With a decent DSLR camera, some lighting, a DIY product photography light tent, and some basic image editing skills in Photoshop or similar programs, you can have high quality product photography that is almost indistinguishable from what a professional studio would shoot. I wanted to note that although a DSLR camera is definitely the ideal, cameras on high end smartphones like the iPhone 5 can still take phenomenal photos if you have enough lighting.

DIY Product Photography

I opted to save myself a boatload of cash and I am doing my own photography. I decided this for several reasons:

  1. To be lean
  2. To easily be able to add additional products and not be at the mercy of a photographer or photography service
  3. I had the equipment/knowledge to do my own photography
  4. DIY product photography is a lot more fun

DIY Product Photography Equipment

Product Photography Equipment DIY Light Tent - How To Shoot Great Product Photography Here is the list of equipment I used for #TheGreatBuild product photography:

  • $10 – 4 pack of 100 watt bulbs
  • $20 – HEMMA Lightbulb Cord x 4 from Ikea
  • $1 – White tissue paper from any dollar store
  • $1 – Poster board from any dollar store

I already owned my DSLR digital camera so my total cost was only $32. If you don’t already own a DSLR, you can borrow a friends, buy one or rent one. Even if you have to buy one for $600, depending on how many products you have to photograph, it will likely still be way cheaper than any 3rd party photographer or photography service, and you have an asset you can use for other projects, hobbies etc.

My DIY Light Tent Setup

I mentioned a light tent above, the technical definition of a light tent (or sometimes called a light box) is:

A studio accessory comprising of an enclosed square with translucent sides to allow light to pass through and diffuse through the material. It’s main use is in product photography to eliminate hard shadows and ensure even exposures of the entire product.

Basically it’s just a box that allows light in to light up the subject (product) evenly, without harsh brights and shadows.

Professional Light Tent - How To Shoot Great Product Photography

Professional Light Tent

You can easily create your own DIY product photography light tent using a large box (big enough to comfortably fit your object), some tissue paper to defuse the lights, and some lighting. For more information on how to create you own simple light tent, check out this post.

I could have used a large box to create my light tent, but my desk caught my eye. I thought it might give me a bit more room to work and I wouldn’t have to store a big light box in my home (for future photography). As you can see from the image below, I just draped the four light bulbs over the edge of the desk stands and then covered the area with white tissue paper to diffuse the harsh light from the bulbs and create a softer lighting.

The light laying across the top of the clear glass tabletop was actually my upright light that normally sits beside my desk. It has four 100 watt bulbs in it and already is wrapped in a light defuser. Score! It was perfect for getting even lighting directly over my product. In total, I used 8 bulbs (800 watts) to light my products for the shoot. In general, the more lighting, the better.
Once I laid the poster board out on the ground, I was ready to start shooting.
P.S. If you do a similar DIY product photography light tent setup, keep in mind you are working with hot bulbs and flammable tissue paper.
DIY Product Photography Light Tent Setup - How To Shoot Great Product Photography

Below is my  first test shot. I opened it in Adobe Photoshop (Free Trial) and found it was too dark because of my camera settings. This could easily be corrected at the camera level but I decided to go with it since I was confident I could correct this in Photoshop. Besides the brightness of the image, the tone was also off.

DIY Ecommerce Product Photography Light Tent - How To Shoot Great Product Photography
First I decided to fix the tone of the image. It was too orange. Before doing anything complicated to fix the tone, I tried Photoshop’s Auto Tone (Photoshop Menu – Image – Auto Tone). It worked wonders. It brought all the colors to a much more accurate range.
DIY Ecommerce Product Photography Light Tent - How To Shoot Great Product Photography
As I mentioned before, the image was a little dark so I increased the brightness (Photoshop Menu – Image – Adjustments – Brightness/Contrast). I nudged the brightness up a bit until I was comfortable with the results.
DIY Ecommerce Product Photography Techniques - How To Shoot Great Product Photography

Now it was time to isolate the socks and remove them from the background (off-white). Because there was such a stark contrast between the colours of the sock and the off-white background, the Magic Wand tool on Photoshop had no problem selecting the sock. I copied the sock selection and pasted it into a new document with a pure white background. Below is the final result:

DIY Ecommerce Product Photoshop Techniques - How To Shoot Great Product Photography

Other DIY Product Photography

I also decided to take a few more stylistic shot of my inventory. These shots will be used for banner ads/announcements etc.

Stylistic-Product-Shots - How To Shoot Great Product Photography

Stylisitc Photo 3 - How To Shoot Great Product Photography

Next Steps

I have most of the Photography done for my current inventory. I am still waiting more inventory from a few other brands though before I launch.

In the meantime, I am working to get my current products listed on my site and finishing the design of my Shopify store. I am also going to spend a bit of time thinking about my launch. I haven’t decided yet if I want to do a big push right away or spend some time in beta (so to speak) to make sure things like packaging, presentation, and shipping are the best they can be before doing a push.

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  • http://donnielaw.com/ Donnie Law

    Wow I’m impressed by the picture quality! Great job.

    • RLazazzera

      Thanks for reading Donnie! I’m very happy with the results.

  • Vaismania

    You can always buy a DSLR and return it at the end of the shoot, we’re fortunate to have lenient return policies in North America! :)

    • RLazazzera

      Indeed. I didn’t want to mention that though.

  • http://blairdejong.me/ Blair de Jong

    Nice work Richard! Thanks for sharing this article!

    • RLazazzera

      Thanks Blair!

  • Maliha

    very impressive !

    • RLazazzera

      Thanks Maliha!

  • Ian Pickering

    Very cool, can you give any details about the final stylistic shots? Very nice post.

    • RLazazzera

      What details exactly are you referring to?

      • Ian Pickering

        I guess a better question would be, “hey, where could i find info on taking product pictures like the stylistic shots in your post?” I think I need a primer…

        • RLazazzera

          This post (http://www.abetterlemonadestand.com/new-year-new-skills-to-learn/) would have helped you a week ago. The courses are over now though I think.

          Much of it just comes down to finding cool textures and finding or creating interesting lighting. I took these photos in a common area of our condo building. It had a really cool rock texture wall with spotlights shining down. It was perfect and I feel matches my brand pillars well, especially Bold and Authentic.

          Try checking out Skillshare (bit.ly/1dIMaWw – Affiliate Link) and see if there are any courses on stylistic photography.

  • Aaron

    Very good tutorial! Written well and the pictures helped a lot. I myself just recently set up a light tent very similar to the one you posted. Just a bit more “professional” for lack of a better word

  • Phunky Pets

    Great blog and I’ve checked your site out, looks awesome! Did you do the graphics on the site that accompany your photos too?

    • http://www.abetterlemonadestand.com RLazazzera

      thanks for reading and checking out the blog.

      Yes, all graphics were done by me. Knowing the basics of digital photography and Adobe Photoshop can save you a lot of time and money.