(Without hiring a photographer)
Good product photography can be the difference between indifferent and engaged customers; between being ignored on the Internet, and becoming the centre of attention of the blogosphere.
In this short article, you'll find some general tips to improve the quality of your photos and correct some common mistakes that you may not be aware of.
1. Prepare your shooting setup
The camera isn't so important when you have set the right atmosphere to make your products pop. There are two simple elements to keep in mind: background and light source.
Your background can be as simple and inexpensive as a white wall. But adding some colour or texture is always a good idea. Although white backgrounds work fine for most products and they are the safest option, they can be a bit dull. They will likely give your photo the appearance of a standard and creative-less stock picture.
An easy and elegant way to solve this problem is to use wooden boards, tea towels, or backgrounds with a little of texture on them. You can buy them at photography stores or make your own.
Natural light and a reflector is the easiest setup, and possibly all you will need for many products. There are some everyday objects that you can use to reflect the light, in case you don't have a proper reflector. Tin foil, your car's sun reflector, foam core, or just white paper, if placed close enough to the object. Similarly, something black near the object will absorb unwanted light and make reflections more subtle.
2. Use a tripod
A tripod will help you get sharper and more detailed images than you would get if you rely just on your steady hands. This becomes even more evident when you need to take a closeup picture of a detail, or when you don't have a lot of light.
3. Shoot in RAW format
This is not a must, but I would highly recommend it. RAW files will allow you to edit and make adjustments in ways which are impossible in JPEG format (just look at those dreadful pixels in the edited JPEG above).
Once you start shooting in RAW, you wonder why you didn't start doing it before. It saves a lot of time and tears.
4. Give your buyers context
What's the size of this object? How does it work? When would you normally use it?
Stock pictures usually miss this point. Even if you add the specific measurements in the description, remember to include a picture of the item next to a person (or anything with a standard size).
Another setup-related tip: The rest of the items in the picture shouldn't be too distracting. Buyers should be able to look at the photo and have no doubt over what's the product being sold in it.
5. When shooting fashion, hire a model
This is related to the previous point. It's the best way to show these products in context, and even suggest your buyer how a specific garment can be combined with others.
Although the no-distraction rule still applies. If you are selling a skirt, the model probably shouldn't be wearing so many accessories or such a nice top that you can't focus on the skirt.
Context tip: A common technique is to combine typical stock photos with "context-photos". To use the skirt example again:
The first pictures may show a model wearing the skirt and a plain t-shirt, over a white background, from different angles.
Then, another photo shows the model wearing the skirt in a different setting, combined with other products of your brand.
It is already clear that it is the skirt you're selling, so the extra picture serves to inspire and promote other products avoiding any confusion over what's being sold.
Ideally, you want to have the right pictures for each product in just one session, so don't rush it.
You'd be surprised how the right perspective can enhance your product. Move around it, look at it from higher and lower angles, and don't forget to move the product itself so the light can impact on the surface in different ways. Try different backgrounds too to see what colours work best.
7. Add some closeups
Is your logo embroidered on the fabric of your product? Does the surface have any metallic reflections? Is it smooth to the touch, or rough?
Those tiny details can be hard to appreciate in a general photo, but they give a sense of higher quality and provide important information to the buyer.
8. Make the products' most relevant features clear
For example, if you are selling a backpack that has a lot of capacity and hidden pockets, that is something that your client sure wants to know. Don't just take a photo of the outside (it is surprising how many retailers do that). Open the backpack and let the buyer have a better idea of what they can store in it.
Every product is unique. Think about what makes yours different, why it is useful or why anyone should buy it. And if it's something that you can show in a picture, don't miss the opportunity.
9. Look for inspiration in your niche
Of course, these are all very general tips. Product photography is a very specialised world, and your needs will depend on the materials, features and size of your products. So chances are that a home studio with a window and some white background isn't enough.
Let's say you sell ceramics, jewellery, glassware, or silverware. These are all materials with reflective surfaces that require very specific lighting settings and they aren't easy to photograph.
Whenever you find yourself stuck, look for tips and photos from the professionals in that specific field.
For example, here's a video on how to avoid reflections on pieces of jewellery.
10. Make sure colours are accurate
Keep this in mind both when shooting and editing. It's an easy way to make sure customers won't feel disappointed when receiving your product.
One common complaint seen in reviews of fashion items, for example, is that the colour in the stock photo doesn't match the real one. And when you're buying something like clothes, that's a real problem.
Needless to say, avoid filters that will modify the colour of your product. Also, make sure the white balance that you are using is correct. Not too cold, not too warm.
More information: How to get accurate colours using a gray card.