If you’re running a small ecommerce store and you’re in need of unique product photos then you’ve got two options for getting the pictures. Either hire in a professional to come in and take the responsibility off your hands or do it yourself. As much as you’d like to outsource the task to a proper photographer the cost of this can often be to high for small ecommerce outfits which leaves the second option – DIY.

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In this week’s blog were going to take a look at the essential bits of kits you’ll need to set up and start snapping.

1.    Camera

Smart phones are the simple option and whilst with the use of a good lighting set up and a tiny tripod will give you reasonable quality images this way, if you’re at all serious then you’re best going for a Digital SLR. Not only will you get far superior photos than with the one you’ve got in your pocket but long term it’s a much better investment with heaps of potential as you gain experience.

The camera is split into two sections – the camera body and the lens. Entry level Digital SLRs start at the £150 – 200 mark and for the DIY inhouse photography studio this will see to your needs. £300 will get you a Nikon 3300 – a high quality camera but at an affordable price and the one that you’ll find popping up over and over again in what to buy lists.

You can either opt search for the camera body or buy one with a lens included. More about lenses in a moment but for the time being this is the camera section concluded. It’ll be your biggest outlay unless you start to splash out on a selection of lenses beyond the standard package.

2.    Lighting

Getting the lighting right is crucial to all types of photography and definitely with product photography. You’ve got to have at least three lights to get the desired effect and again these don’t have to be expensive. LED or halogen continuous lights on floor or table mounted stands and set up correctly will light up your subject and make all the difference. Strobe is the term for lighting that works in the opposite way to continuous by providing a sudden burst of light.

Positioning the lights so that you have the main light source, one from behind and a fill light to the side will bring enhance the shape of the subject. Some DIY product studios rely on natural light coming through a window but the advantage of using artificial lights is that you can position them exactly where you want them and can achieve the same effect time after time. Sunlight levels change throughout the day and the year and with our famously changeable climate here in the UK you’re safest bet is investing in lights.

For under £100 you can get hold of a good set of lights that will free stand on the floor or under £50 a set that are table top lights for smaller product shoots.

3.    Lenses

Along with lighting, the lens is crucial to capturing a quality image. They come in two forms: ‘prime’ and ‘zoom’ – fixed in position and movable. Professional product photographers are more likely to use a prime lens as with the ability to move further away or closer to your subject sitting on the table in front of you there isn’t really a need for a zoom.

35mm and 50mm are the favoured size prime lenses for product photography. 35mm is generally best suited to a small studio and large products whilst a 50mm is a good all rounder for product photography. If you’re capturing very small objects such as jewelry then you’ll need to go for a specialist macro lens.

When you’re buying an entry level camera most entry level DSLR will come with a 18-35mm zoom lens as part of the package. You can bypass the zoom and go straight for the 50mm prime lens if you know you’re only going to be using the camera and lens for your ecommerce product photography. They start at around the £80 – 100 mark second hand and £150 brand new.

4.    Tripod

With a floor standing tripod you’ll be able to get perfectly wobble free images and can make those tiny adjustments to get the image just right. One of the best things about using a tripod is that if you’re working solo then you don’t have to put the camera down in between shots to make adjustments to the lighting or the subject. You simply leave it where it is ready for the next shoot.

Miniature tripods are a good option if you’re both restricted by space and can’t fit in a full scale tripod and you’re only going to be shooting table top photos. You can get hold of small adjustable ones which will allow you set fixed heights.

The entry level price for a decent tripod is around the £20 mark and if you search for a second hand one you may well find a bargain. I bought an old but perfectly serviceable Japanese made steel one for £2 from a car boot sale a few years back! If you can bag yourself a real second hand bargain then it leaves more money in the budget for everything else.

5.    Backdrops & Product Tents

Designed to provide a neutral background to sit against the item your photographing these can either be constructed yourself out of sheets of card either plain white or coloured or you can buy racks for adding background panels. You can pull off all sorts of tricks to help reduce shadows and reflect light onto the subject with careful placing of the light sources to make your subject look fantastic. Racks and screens are easy to find online for less than £50.

If the products you’re photographing are small such as a watch or bracelet then a product tent is probably the answer – essentially a portable studio. They’re approximately 40cm squared and once set up you can place your item in the centre and snap away and start at under £15. The great advantage of product tents is that you’ll need less lights and none of the background set up kit and they’ll sit easily on a table top and can be packed away without hassle.

6.    Other Accessories

A couple of other items that you’ll find useful and will help you to get the images you want and that won’t set you back much are a lens filter to counteract relections in glass and shiny plastic surfaces. You’ll need a memory card and of course some form of editing suite on your computer or laptop.

Keeping a notebook or clipboard, tape measure and a biro to hand is a good idea too. Not exactly technical equipment but very useful for measuring the position of your lights, tripod and other kit and then recording them for use next time. You’ll be able to draw little sketches of layouts of lights and write notes. If you can’t leave your equipment set up permanently then this means that you can quickly reassemble everything in exactly the right place.

Practice Practice Practice

Once you’ve gathered together all the necessary kit then it’s time to start practicing and gradually building your skills and ability to shoot the photos you need. Look for an online guide to product photography to give you a head start and never be afraid to ask for advice from more experienced photographers as they’ll almost certainly be happy to help.

DIY product photography doesn’t have to be super complicated or super low tech just using a point and shoot camera or your smartphone. There is a middle way as this blog will have hopefully demonstrated. Start researching. Put together your list. Choose your items then for as little as £500 – 700 later and you can be independently producing and displaying your own images on your ecommerce site. You might even get the photography bug.

Image Optimisation

If you use a lot of images on your own website then you may be interested in our upcoming series on photo optimisation. We’re going to be explaining how you can optimise your images and help make your website load more quickly and generally work better with step by step guides for the most popular tools and packages.

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