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Product Photography for Beginners - A Thrifty Entrepreneur’s Guide

As an entrepreneur, you have to wear a number of hats. My general rule of thumb is, be as thrifty as possible in the initial years of business. If you have the time and the passion, learn a new skill that might help you with your business. The fastest way to acquire a new skill is to learn from the experts — be it from one-on-one classes, online video tutorials or reading a well-researched book.

As we were launching our ecommerce store, one of the things that we found out very quickly is we needed lots of product photos. So I knew one of us will have to become the official photographer.

I have been always interested in photography. It is really interesting for an engineer, as the skill is quite technical. It’s all about understanding exposure and lighting and how to frame things. I am by no means an expert photographer but I have learned enough to be able to get decent pictures for our website and social media channels.

For anyone who would like to learn how to take your own product photographs, I am listing some tips. Listed are the things you need.

1. Learn the basics of photography

You will need to learn “photography speak”- aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and exposure. This is pretty intuitive but it will go a long way in helping you make decisions around settings you need to use to get a certain effect. The best book on the topic that I have used is “Understanding exposure by Bryan Peterson”. Reading this will familiarize you with the basics of lighting, framing and processing.

2. Camera

Invest in a good DSLR camera and lens. Prime lenses are my favorite for short distance and low light photography. If you don’t own a prime lens, a normal zoom lens will suffice too. A good place to buy used gear is Craigslist as you can get a really good deal on lenses and cameras. I use two cameras — a Fujifilm X-T10 (mirrorless, lightweight for portability) and a Nikon D5100.

3. The lightbox

For product photography, a lightbox is a space where you can get the perfect lighting for the perfect picture. You can go online on amazon and buy a nice foldable lightbox for anywhere upwards of $50. Being thrifty, I decided to make my own lightbox. Most of the cheaper lightboxes were too small for our shoes. So I found a tutorial to make a box. Here is the link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6fnHEvLyAE

Essentially, my lightbox (pictured above) is a cardboard box with cutout portions to let diffused light get through it. You will need to get 100 W light sources from all 3 sides. In my box, I used a sheer cloth rather than paper to help diffuse the light. Place the object to be photographed in the box, switch on the light. You can change color backgrounds by just switching out the card paper in the back.

Get your camera settings right — I use manual mode, that give me full control over the settings. As a starting point, aperture — f/4 to f/8 depending on the depth needed, and exposure time based on the brightness needed. I find it easier to rest the camera on a higher surface. For my lightbox, I use stack of books as my stand.

Click pictures at a few different settings and angles. Once done, move to processing.

4. Image processing

This is the most important step for getting a professionally looking picture. I use Windows OS, so this might look different for Mac users. There are of course a lot of really nice photo editing software out there. Lightroom is a good one and lot of photographers love it, but it’s not free. GIMP is a free software which is very powerful for photo editing. I go through these steps to get the perfect picture

a. Open the picture in GIMP. Crop the image to the right size in GIMP. Here is what my cropped image looks like.

Unprocessed image

b. The first step is to turn the background white. In GIMP, click on Colors >> Levels. A window opens up. Select the white dropper and click on the background. You might have to repeat this at a few points to get the desired effect.

c. Once you get the white background, go ahead and save this new image.

Picture ready for our storefront (www.mochiis.com)

d. Now it’s time for the final touch up. Open the picture in Windows Photo Editor. The enhance feature on the windows editor has gotten really good. Use that and see if it makes the picture better. If this does not give the desired effect go ahead and play with brightness/contrast or clarity of the picture.

Play with the other settings to get the best effect you want.

Voila you have your final picture ready to be uploaded.

Trust me, it looks like a long process, but once you have the process nailed down, it will not take you more than 15 minutes to get a final set of pictures for your website.

Feel free to comment with other tricks you have learnt about product photography and other useful resources you have used.


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