Five Tips For Better Product Photography

Object photography
Studio lighting works for product photography - by Thor

Quality product shots can make a big difference on how attractive a product is to potential customers and can greatly improve chances of a sale. Whether you’re taking pictures for a customer or photographing your own stuff, it’s worth the time to get it right.


Dirt, smudges and fingerprints will not do. I get clean chamois for getting every smudge and fleck of dust off anything small and wear exam gloves to keep from adding my own fingerprints.

When it comes to hair and fiber, your static lens brush works best. Take the same care you’d use cleaning your lens glass.


Instead of opting for professional background paper, I head for the craft store. There you can find fabric by the roll and folding cardboard presentation blanks that come in a variety of colors. It’s also no problem to cut them into different shapes to accommodate odd size objects. Because they have fold out panels, you can layer diffusion material over the top.

I use white backgrounds as much as possible and over-expose them slightly to make them pop and hide any imperfections in the material.


Your studio flashes in a softbox or umbrellas will be fine. Space them off to each side at a high angle. The goal is to reduce shadows as much as possible. If it’s a glass object and you’re worried about catch lights, use some fabric cover over the top of the background panels.

Float the object to eliminate shadows – If you can float the object on a piece of glass raised three or four inches, you can eliminate most of the shadows. Pick the angle of shot to eliminate reflections or use a polarizer.

Use a Longer Lens

I use an 85mm in front of an APS-C sensor, slightly longer than you’d use for a portrait.

Take Lots of Photos

Take pictures from different angles, top and bottom views and with any accessories or options attached. Most people will just want the straight in look, but those who are really interested will look at all the pictures you have. My experience with successful eBay sellers indicates those who use the maximum number of pictures sell more items.

The work is in the setup. Once you have the staging, you might as well shoot all the angles.

Little Known Digital Camera Tricks

Canon 7D
The Canon 7D has menu tricks many people don't know about - by Canon

There’s a good reason for spending time with your camera’s instruction manual, because that’s where all the interesting tidbits of camera operation hide. A good 90% of people new to digital photography never take their cameras off the auto mode. Those people are missing out on a lot of interesting features.

Professional photographers are sometimes similarly unaware of features in their own cameras. Manufacturers get requests for features from users all over the world and accommodate those requests as often as they can.

Canon 7D

Many 7D users don’t realize their 7D has some interesting tricks buried in menu options and behind buttons.

If you push the Info button on the back three times, you’ll find a digital level with both pitch and yaw readings. You never need a spirit level with a 7D, it’s already built in.

While most people know the digital zoom button on the back zooms the LCD screen when focusing video, many don’t know the same button allows you to digitally zoom still pictures in playback mode and then use the menu control button to pan around still images in the camera.

Canon 5D

The 5D has a Camera Settings menu option that will record all your camera’s current settings and link those to the “C” mode on the menu dial. So, if you have a detailed camera setup for a specific type of shot, you can record all those options and call them back in an instant.

Nikon D7000

The D7000 has several interesting menu options. There’s the “Q” for quiet release mode that flips to the mirror up to get the shot, but leaves the mirror up until you release the shutter button to minimize noise.

Under the remote control settings there’s an option to raise the mirror before taking the shot for use with ultra-long zoom lenses where shutter mirror vibration might be an issue. In this setting the first step allows the mirror to flip up first, gives the camera time to stabilize, then fires the shutter.

The D7000 also has a 2nd IR receiver on the back when operating with the IR remote control.

Sony Alpha Nex 5

Several models of the Nex have a featured called Smile Shutter, which triggers the shutter when the face detection feature sees everyone smiling. While it sounds hokey, more often than not people have more fun aping for the camera, trying to get the smile shutter to work.

Those gems and more await in your camera’s user manual. Find it, read it, enjoy, and share the tricks that you find with us.

5 Awesome Lighting Hacks

If you’ve ever been in a professional studio you were likely blown away by the sheer volume of lighting equipment and were maybe a bit depressed when you thought about what it all must have cost. And my friends in the video business are even more annoying with their envy-inducing rigs like Skylight Balloon Lights.  I fell like The Joker in the Batman movie asking where they get all those marvelous toys. Still, even with the collection of lighting equipment available, I’ll still turn to low-cost lighting hacks in a pinch and there are one or two I use regularly because I don’t need the expensive rigs enough to justify the cost.

A quick and inexpressive way defuse your flash - photo by Duncanc

Milk Jug Diffuser

One that’s been around a while that doesn’t miss is the Milk Jug Diffuser, also called the Milk Jug Ring Light.All you need is a gallon plastic milk jug and a pair of scissors or razor knife.  Cut out one side of a milk jug, and at the narrower end cut a hole the just slightly smaller than your lens filter.Fit it on the end of your lens and the milk jug should stick up high enough to act as a diffuser for your on camera flash.  It looks funky, but works.  I’ve also taken a shorter piece of milk jug material and taped it over the end of my hand-held flash with gaffer tape.

Complete DIY instructions here.

Chinese Lanterns

I’ve used Chinese lanterns in both video and still photography shoots and they make a really interesting diffuser.  They’re big enough inside to work if you need to put foil on one side, and you can point your flash up, down or away from the subject and get a different effect.  They’re very light, easy to move around, you can even hang them from the ceiling and hang the flash unit from the metal frame inside.

chinese lantern
Expensive softbox or $2 Chinese lantern? You decide.

They come in a variety of shapes, colors and rib designs.  Even the big ones are fairly inexpensive.  If it gets wrecked on set, no one is going to lose sleep over it.

Do keep in mind they are not fire proof, so don’t go putting halogens or hot lights inside.

Another great feature of Chinese lanterns are they come with an internal wire support you can gaffer tape to the light stand.

So, you can spend $600 on an Octobank or $2 on a paper lantern, get a very similar effect and be able to run it up as high as your light stands will go.  I don’t have my soft banks anymore, but still carry my paper lanterns around.

The $35 Beauty Dish

A Fong diffuser
A Fong Diffuser

With a Fong diffuser, an aluminum foil turkey pan and some gaffer tape you can make a beauty dish.

Cut a hole in the middle of the turkey pan and fit the diffuser through it, tape if necessary to hold it in place.  Foil or gaffer tape over the end of the diffuser and blaze away.  Results are surprisingly good.

Complete DIY instructions here.  For as often as I really need a beauty dish, I’ll risk looking a little low rent.

Shop Lights

Craig Brewer made his first full-length movie called Hustle & Flow with nothing but shop lights and a handful of photo bulbs.  Anytime we get separated at the hardware store, my wife knows right where to find me.  I’ll be in the section with the shop lights.

I’ve used halogen shop lights on photo shoots and video sets as both primary lighting and for lighting background elements.  I carry a set in the truck anytime I’m headed out for a shoot.

Shop lights
Shops lights my favorite cheap lighting hack - photo by Joe Kras

Sometimes the temperature is off, but nothing I haven’t been able to correct with $20 worth of gel filters from Adorama and a handful of clothespins.

The new LED shop lights are the right temperature and don’t out nearly as much heat.  Perfect for when you need a shadow fill or colored gel for a background effect.

The Foamcore Strip Light

I think everyone has seen this one before, but it’s worth repeating.  A little harder to put together because you need a glue gun and a space to work, but it really makes a nice strip light.  Almost as good as any of the commercial units I’ve used.  If you take your time and put them together neatly, a lot of people won’t even notice you made them yourself!

Great instructions here.

Got a favorite lighting hack you use?  Share it with us in the comments.

Weekend Project – Light Painting

light painting example
Light painting is a great weekend project with the kids - photo by Arcade

Light painting is one of those things you save for a Saturday night with the kids.  It’s fun, easy, you’ll get results you never expected, and the kids will have a blast.  All you need is a dark area, a stout tripod, remote release, and an assortment of lights, glow sticks, and flashlights.

One safety rule: Leave the laser pointers at home.  Laser light and your camera sensor do not mix and permanent damage can result.  Some people do use lasers to “write” on a solid surface and that’s fine, just understand a beam of coherent light coming directly in the lens and your camera is a very expensive paperweight.

This is where you’ll get familiar with your camera’s “B” or Bulb setting.  Bulb means you open the shutter and it will stay open as long as you’ve got your finger on the trigger.

There are two basic styles to light painting: You can attempt to draw things in the air with your lights, or you can attempt a design or abstract shape.  When you’re done with the design part, then you can decide whether you want to fire a flash unit and illuminate the rest of the area, sometimes including the artist, or not.

For abstract shapes, one of my favorite tricks is to tie a glow stick on a piece of string and swing it around with the shutter open.  This is your chance to go crazy.  Try different colors, different patterns, use your lights to make outline of solid objects.  You’re only limited by time and your imagination.

Just remember, in the summer, be sure and take some bug spray with you.  You’ll need it.

Photo Hacks: The String Tripod

This is one of my favorite DIY camera hacks, it is quick and simple and will cost you less than a dollar.

The String Tripod:

  • Get yourself some good string that will not stretch
  • Tie one end of the string to a 1/4″ bolt
  • Cut the string so that it is slightly taller than your eye level
  • Attach a washer to the other end of the string
  • Attach the bolt to the camera
  • Step on the washer and pull the string tight
You can also add greater stabilization by looping the string back up to the camera and standing on the string in 2 places, to create a triangle.
In less then a minute you can have a travel tripod that you can take anywhere. This will not replace your regular tripod but it will help eliminate unwanted camera shake.

What is your favorite camera hack?

(Pic from PCWorld)