How To Photograph Your Product to Enhance Your Online Sales in 4 Easy Steps

How To Photograph Your Product to Enhance Your Online Sales in 4 Easy Steps


Product: Umba Lumba

I have to start by informing you that ultimately I’m a huge fan of brick and mortar.  I like to go into a shop, talk to real, living, breathing humans, face to face.  I like to touch and feel my purchases.  I enjoy smiling at clerks, asking them where they’re from, and finding out if they have kids and such.

The reality is that we live in a whole new world. I’m finally starting embrace the fact that just maybe, my brick and mortar passion is going to have to become a thing of the past.  I’m being forced to inch my way into the freakishly powerful world of online shopping.

I’ve recently spent a lot of time perusing sites like Etsy and other “small market” online vendors.  The other night I spent a considerable amount of time on Etsy searching for something very specific.  As I was sifting through the gazillions of similar products-alas, none of which ended up being exactly what I was looking for- I noticed a trend: If a product had a bad photograph, we’re talking the little thumbnail preview image here, I would not even click through to see the product details.

I am convinced that a good image can be a make or break situation for an online vendor.  I can say emphatically and with absolute conviction that I would be more likely to purchase a poorly crafted product that had been well photographed than I would a wonderfully made product that had been photographed poorly.  I think online shoppers, admittedly on a subconscious level, are making similar judgments, though perhaps not as extremely, of our online products every day.

Here are some tips anyone with ANY camera can begin using today to improve the quality of their shots for online sales.

**Given the fact that few online vendors are also skilled photographers with fancy lighting set ups, we’re keeping things super simple by using natural light. **

1. Turn Off the Flash

Start by turning off your flash.  9 times out of 10 glare (caused by the flash) on your product is going to make the image look amateur and as a result lower the buyer’s confidence in the quality of the product as a whole.  Wait until daytime, turn out any lights in the room, and pull a table up close to a window or doorway. Photograph your product there in the soft difused light.  Diffused light isn’t only flattering light for skin tones and face shapes, it’s just as powerful a photographic tool on your pretty product.

2.  Remove Distracting Elements

I can’t even believe that I’m forced to point this out.  Sheesh people. 🙂  Remove anything from the photograph that doesn’t add directly to the feel/concept of the image as a whole.  Obviously this includes any kind of mess or clutter that is in no way related to the product, but also, this applies to elements you’re tempted to add to the image just for the sake of creativity.  I know it’s our tendency to attempt to grab the buyer’s attention by utelizing our creativity to create a “catchy” image.  Remember: 99.9% of the time what we think is going to be “catchy” ends up being a turn off to buyers as it simply looks cluttered and distracting.  Not to say that there’s no good in staging. . .

3.  Utilize Simple Staging.

Simply placing your product on a piece of glare free fabric (or paper) can be sufficient.  A a simple complimentary pattern may add a little punch without feeling too busy.  Having a model wear the product (if applicable) rather than just photographing it lying lifeless on a table can add dynamic.  The trick is to attempt to be creative without getting out of control.  Your product should be the focus of the image.

The rule of thumb should be, if your staging is distracting from your product, or if your eye isn’t immediately drawn to your product, but first drifts to another part of the image, then you need to back off of the staging.  Be sure to get an outsider’s opinion.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the concept we’re going for as photographers that our judgment can become clouded.

4.  Employ Creative Use of Depth of Field to Highlight Product Detail

Use a low aperture to create a shallow depth of field to highlight the elements that make your product special.  Since people can’t physically handle your product, you’ve got to make sure you show them everything there is to show. . . including the details.  If you’re not familiar with controling depth of field check out this article from the DPS archives or simply switch your camera over to Aperture Priority and make sure your aperture (fstop) is dialed down to the lowest possible number your lens allows.

Have more tips?  Be sure to add them in the comment section below!

Happy Shooting!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Natalie Norton is a writer and a lifestyle wedding and portrait photographer who shoots across the globe. She is based off of the North Shore of Oahu and out of Gilbert, Arizona. Enjoy more of her photography and writing at You can also connect with Natalie via Twitter or on Facebook.

Some Older Comments

  • viktor March 23, 2012 05:53 am

    Good tips, definitely. The part about depth of field was particularly interesting and not something that most articles cover. Thanks for that!

  • Kim November 22, 2011 10:41 pm

    Thanks for these tips, can't wait to start shooting for my t-shirts and hoodies.

    I'm curious about lighting though, I understand natural daylight is best but with the winter months here its difficult to keep the light consistent when I come to doing shots in the future. Will light from white shop lights be ok do you think?

  • Jan October 12, 2011 11:06 pm

    My wife makes dog clothes and sells them on etsy. I have just got started shooting and would be grateful for any suggestions on improving my shots.

  • Mario Monk July 26, 2010 06:06 am

    I was using natural sunlight lately for shooting products for my online store. Those were best pics I ever made. Shame we have sunny days so rare... :(

  • Riyazi July 17, 2009 09:18 pm

    Excellent article but not sure I agree with the first point though. Even though daylight is great, using flash "effectively" gives some great product shots. Sometimes even better than daylight shots. So instead of turning off flash it should be to use light (whether flash or natural) effectively

  • Scott Hampton July 9, 2009 09:31 am

    Just remembered another tip: use contrasting colors for the background. The background, contrasting with the subject, makes the subject really pop. Although it should contrast, I suggest making it toned down. Don't go overboard, of course.

  • Dave7d June 28, 2009 04:07 pm

    Watch out for shadows cast by the product, this can be very distracting.

  • Jodi June 27, 2009 01:21 pm

    This is such a fantastic site!!! I have a Nikon D70 that is completely going to waste on me. I've got 4 gorgeous kids that are growing up way too fast, and I'm saving these priceless moments in blurred, badly lit photos that do nothing to evoke the feelings of the moment that are what I'm REALLY trying to capture. I've just discovered your site today, but am looking forward to dipping into this well of knowledge again and again. Thank you so much for the time you devote to this!

  • badors June 27, 2009 02:38 am

    very great articel... that natural light i agree.. but we must think about white balance too..
    so that the images of products that we make looks like the original.

  • B P Maiti June 26, 2009 11:32 pm

    I wish I should have an access to this well integrated article earlier.But it is not too late.I am enriched with confidence.Thanks.

  • Tom June 26, 2009 05:49 pm

    Taking the pics in natural daylight can also make a significant difference. If that's not possible, playing around with a couple of ordinary angle-poise desk lamps can also help.

  • Sundi June 26, 2009 01:34 pm

    Just was setting up to do some shots and checked my email 1st and here was this article passed on by a friend...I guess I'll take it down and wiat until tomorrow for the better lighting! Now if I could just find a good article about cutting the backgroud out using GIMP...
    Thanks for the advice!

  • Juan June 26, 2009 12:42 pm

    it's such great article Natalie...u make it so simple to understand the idea....cant wait to practice it..thx so much Natalie....success to you

  • Mandi June 26, 2009 12:00 pm

    Great article- I was just thinking this exact same thing as I've done a lot of online shopping and seen a lot of friends begin a little online business- crappy pictures, no matter how cool the product, just won't sell well.

  • Scott Hampton June 26, 2009 08:15 am

    Good article! I agree that natural lighting is flattering and very appealing with photography.

    My blog has a lot of food photography on it (which is similar to product photography), but I'm usually forced to shooting at night, once I've prepared dinner for everyone, so I can't use natural light :(

    One thing that might help the readers is a brief intro to ISO. If there's not enough light in the scene, they can increase the ISO a little to increase the sensor's sensitivity to light. That would allow them to have a fast enough shutter speed to get a clean, sharp image, especially if they're not using a tripod.

    I don't want to overload the article with tips, so I'll just leave that one.

    Thanks for the article!

  • Peter June 26, 2009 06:20 am

    Too true about photos selling the product.
    I've been looking at apartments for purchase recently and I noticed that some places with nicer photos stand out and create illusion of a better value.

  • WendiG June 26, 2009 02:51 am

    Great little reminders-I keep forgetting to turn off my the comments section, the tip re foamcore to reflect back the light is a great one too!
    Thanks for this really helpful site-my pics would be worse without you!

  • Francis June 24, 2009 09:56 pm

    Greate article.... a piece of white foamcore or white paper on the opposite of the window to relfect the light back will help to fill in the darker side of the product

  • Tom June 24, 2009 05:11 pm

    A tripod AND self-timer shooting helps ensure it's 100% in focus.

  • potato June 24, 2009 05:05 pm

    Nice article with good timing. I'm gonna start my own online store within few weeks. thank you

  • MeiTeng June 23, 2009 12:41 pm

    I enjoyed reading this article. Great tips and thanks for sharing!

  • Martin June 23, 2009 10:20 am

    Good summary - I definitely have to agree that good photos will definitely help a product sell.

  • Jon Michael Chua June 23, 2009 09:33 am

    Hi Alex,

    I think what Natalie mentioned would be very subjective on what you would want your end result would be.

    If you want your product to stand out in front of a background then you should have lower f stops; on the other hand, if your product is in a plain background you can adjust your f stop to a higher f value to show the most detail as possible.

  • Alex Bischoff June 23, 2009 07:39 am

    When you mention the tip about using a "low aperture", I can infer that your suggestion is to use a lower-numbered f-stop, but I suppose that would actually be a larger aperture, no?

  • Gaurav Prabhu June 23, 2009 03:43 am

    Manual focussing too is important in product photography. Not only it keeps away all the distractions but also highlights the product.

  • samsstuff June 23, 2009 03:40 am

    Great article. Very basic & simple. I know I've been guilty of many of these 'faux pas' & I've been recently working to fix them in my shop. Thanks for the info!

  • Author: natalie norton June 23, 2009 03:17 am

    A tripod! Good on ya Kathy A.

    A tripod is particularly useful if you're going to be photographing a number of products over and over using the same set up. I never use tripods, however this is the one circumstance where I definitely would (if I were shooting multiple products using the same set up OR if I were trying to get my staging just so within a frame and didn't want to jostle the camera between each staging "fix").

    Natalie Norton

  • Ryan McLean - Landscape Photography School June 23, 2009 01:55 am

    I like the thought of highlighting the product by using the depth of field. A really smart idea.
    I am sure this is going to help me with all my ebay auctions

  • Kathy A. June 23, 2009 01:41 am

    I'm a brick-and-mortar retailer who has been photographing products for our store website (, so don't feel like you're doing us a disservice! :)

    When I had to work through a series of product shots, I put a pencil mark on my background where the item should go and set the camera up on a tripod. That saved a lot of time, as my settings and focus were able to stay the same, with just the items getting swapped out from shot to shot.

    I'm cutting out the backgrounds in Photoshop, so next time I will make sure I use a background that contrasts with the item. Cutting out a white item from a white background is not any fun at all. :)

  • Wayan Suadnyana June 23, 2009 01:30 am

    Great tips, i didn't knew it before...thanks

  • janna June 23, 2009 01:25 am

    Great article! I have one about taking good product shots on my blog too-