How do I do my own product photography?
November 22, 2012 11:12 AM   Subscribe

I would like to start doing my own product photography. What do I need to (a) buy and (b) learn?

I have a small online shop and up until now I have been hiring a professional photographer friend of a friend to take the product shots (mostly clothing, a few smaller accessory-type things). I have been very happy with the results, but I need more flexibility and quicker turnaround—the problem I've been having is that I spend a bunch of money on merchandise and then I have to wait weeks or months to list it in the store and start making my money back because I am waiting on the photographer to have time in her schedule to do the shoot, and then I'm waiting for the post-processing to be done, and sometimes I am waiting for additional merchandise to arrive so that I can schedule one big shoot instead of a bunch of small ones.

I try to buy merchandise in chunks but it's unavoidable that sometimes I'll get one or two new items that need to go up on the website quickly, with no additional new merchandise due to arrive for a month or more, and it seems crazy and not cost-effective to ask a professional photographer to come out for just two items.

So, I'd like to start doing the photography myself. But I have no training or experience, and there are so many options for cameras and lenses and lights, and I have no idea where to start.

Reading the previous AskMe questions, everyone stresses the importance of lighting. But my photographer has only used natural light for all of her photos for me and I have been very happy with the results. I have been placing the products in "realistic" settings, i.e., against normal domestic backgrounds (walls, wood tabletops), not in a lightbox or against a white background. Do I still need a fancy lighting setup or can I get away with natural lighting?

I'm leaning toward a mirrorless camera rather than a DSLR. Am I on the right track here?

I have no idea what kind of lenses I need.

Although these shots are for the web I'd still like to get the colors as accurate as possible. I guess that means a color-corrected workflow. Do I need Lightroom? Photoshop? Both? Something else?

Obviously I have a lot to learn. Are there books I can buy? Should I take a class? Hire a professional to show me the ropes and provide tips on my setup? How realistic is it to think that I could get up to speed pretty quickly? I don't need to be a good photographer in general, I don't need to know how to take action shots or portraits or anything else, I just need to be competent at taking these specific kinds of product shots.

I'd like to spend under/around $1000 for the camera and lenses initially, but I could go higher if it's necessary to get good results, and I don't mind spending more money over time on additional lenses or lights or whatever else I'll need. I've been looking at the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the Sony NEX-5R based mostly on The Wirecutter's recommendations, but, again, I'm pretty overwhelmed by all of the available options.
posted by enn to Technology (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Can you link to some examples of pictures you are happy with? I think it will help us give more specific tips for what you want to achieve.
But yes, i think in any case, photoshop is a good start ( even perhaps photoshop elements, depending on your needs).
posted by PardonMyFrench at 11:20 AM on November 22, 2012

50mm fixed zoom lens + natural light can go a long way towards making products look good. Choosing a background with solid color(s) and interesting texture helps.
posted by pyro979 at 11:28 AM on November 22, 2012

Here is a typical image—the product styling (my end) could stand some improvement but the "photography" aspects, the color and lighting, are just what I'm looking for.
posted by enn at 11:32 AM on November 22, 2012

If these aren't going into a print catalog (or even if they are, really), you can get by with a lesser camera and lens. Instead invest in lighting and create a light box big enough to hold everything you think you'll need to handle. You should be able to make a large and perfectly fine light box in your budget.

Google search for homemade light box.
posted by jsturgill at 11:55 AM on November 22, 2012

Get a good point and shoot camera, some lights from home depot, pillowcases (diffusion), and a table top tripod. You don't need to shell out for a DSLR.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:05 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

ablazingsaddle has it. Unless you're shooting for print, product photography's technical requirements can easily be met by even an iPhone. Good lighting and product styling are the critical aspects.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:17 PM on November 22, 2012

The most important aspect of product photography is getting pin sharp images, i.e. in focus with no motion blur. To that end I would recommend getting a tripod - it makes a big difference.

As for the camera you don't need anything expensive, but if you need to photograph small items check what the closest focussing distance is. Natural light is hard to beat.
posted by Lanark at 2:51 PM on November 22, 2012

A friend of mine is teaching a product photography class on Craftsy right now that might be helpful for you.
posted by at 7:54 PM on November 22, 2012

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