As a photography hobbyist, I crave pristine pictures and have great respect for quality cameras, lenses, and editing software, however the costs to invest in a decent DSLR camera are too high for me to justify. When my DSLR broke five years ago, replacing it right away was not an option. Luckily, I purchased an iPhone not long after and I once again was the owner of a camera.
Rest assured, if you want to take pictures of products for your Etsy or Teachers Pay Teachers shop, you can without the big investment.
Ye Olde Phone
If you own a smartphone, you already own a great camera. The cameras on phones today have amazing quality and many professional photographers admit that they are a staple part of their equipment. I am still using an iPhone 4s. Can you all give me a quick standing ovation? Not only is it a dinosaur of a phone now, but I have never used a phone case and I have not once dropped it and shattered the screen! Anyway, my little old phone takes decent pictures and some look like they were taken with a DSLR. If you are using a smartphone made in the last two years, your camera’s technology is even better than mine. So! If I can take awesome pictures with my old phone, you most definitely can with a newer one!
Not only am I not using a fancy camera, I am also not using fancy lighting equipment. I use my phone, a window, and a cake board. The cake board is my light reflector and I am using a cake board because I happened to have one. You can use white poster board or white paper. The purpose of a reflector is to boost the light on your subject as well as reduce harsh shadows around your subject.
Natural light is the ideal lighting, but you need to be careful to avoid direct sunlight. I prefer to use my north-facing windows as the natural light is diffused. My south-facing windows get direct sunlight which creates those harsh shadows and a much warmer tone.
You can see how simple my setup is, however I should probably replace my kids’ art table for a better (non-painted) surface!
When setting up your subject for pictures it is important to consider your camera’s strengths and weaknesses. In my case, my iPhone 4s takes great close-ups but it does not capture subjects in front of busy backgrounds well (such as branches from a bush). For product photography, my camera’s weaknesses are not as much of an issue. You will need to experiment with different angles and distances to see which ones give you consistently good results.
Knowing that my camera is good at close-ups, I try to keep my phone closer to eye-level with my subject. I like using a white surface and if needed, I will use my “reflector” aka, my cake board, to create a white backdrop. Depending on your product, a close up shot might not show enough of the entire product to give buyers a good understanding of what the product is. Overhead shots are a good solution for this. I like to include a lot of close ups of my products and offer at least one image that shows everything. Sometimes, the stars don’t align and I fail to capture the product well, but because I sell digital products, I can use digital previews and still make a big impact with just one great photo.
Before I started doing graphic design, I was in Photoshop learning how to edit photos. For a long time, I fell into the trap of over editing. Looking back at those photos makes me cringe, but I gained so much experience from my willingness to get into the software and experiment.
With all that know-how, however, I now make just a few tweaks to my pictures and I almost exclusively use my phone to edit them. A stand-out photo can be made with just a couple of simple adjustments and I am going to walk you through what those are.
I make the first adjustment (and sometimes the most important one) before I even take the picture. On my iPhone, I tap on the screen to focus my shot. If I tap and hold, I can lock the focus. While the focus is locked, I swipe up or down to adjust the brightness. This. Is. Gold! A slight boost in brightness can make a huge difference. You need to be careful to not blow out (add too much brightness) to the picture, but for the most part, this will enhance the photo a great deal. And truthfully, sometimes I like the blown out white depending on the subject or purpose of the photo.
The photos below were taken with my iPhone. I increased their brightness before taking the pictures and no other edits were made to them.
After the picture is taken I use the camera’s editing tools or an app to continue to edit if needed. If I plan to post on Instagram I use Instagram’s built in tools, or I use Snapseed, a free photo editing app by Google. Regardless of what app you use, they each have the ability to tweak brightness, contrast, saturation, sharpness. I encourage you to experiment with all the settings to learn how they work, but the ones I just mentioned are usually enough. Often times, my pictures need just a slight increase with each of these settings. It is very easy to over edit, though, especially when increasing sharpness, so play it cool! If you find you are having to make drastic adjustments, you may need to go back and take new photos with better lighting or composition. The key is to experiment!
I hope you have been encouraged to use your phone for product photography. A good camera and equipment will definitely take superior pictures, but if you are like me (small budget, small time seller), you can easily make do with your smartphone and no one will know the difference!
Laurie is a graphic artist and owner of Mallow World. She is a homeschool educator driven to make engaging resources for children and promotes teaching code to kids. You can find Mallow World products on Etsy and Teachers Pay Teachers or stop by her blog at mallowworld.wordpress.com