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Sell More Inventory With Great Photos: A Professional's Top 15 Tips

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

Strategies for taking professional photos in your store, by guest blogger Jaime Prohaska, Marketing Manager, Gare, Inc.

Thinking of upping your product photography, but you’re not sure how?

Trying to get those “Instagram worthy” pics but coming up short? Well, I’m here to help by sharing some of Gare’s (International wholesaler of ceramic bisque and glaze) in-house secrets and ways to get your customers swooning over your product.

Before we begin…

Why listen to me? Well, truth is you don’t have to – there’s a ton of online resources and information out there. Find what works best for you and leap into the void. But, if you do stick around, my name is Jaime Prohaska and I am the Marketing Manager at Gare Inc. I’m an artist with a bachelors degree in fine arts graphic design with over 20 years of experience. In addition, I am a freelance photographer with experience in weddings, product shoots and lifestyle photography and I’m here to tell you that You don’t need expensive equipment to take amazing pictures. Wuh? – yep, it’s true.

Now let me be clear, I own more than a few high-end cameras and lenses; however, they have a time and a place. 90% of the time the shots I take are spontaneous and taken with my phone and as the saying goes, “your best camera is the one you have in your hand when the moment strikes.” Your phone is mobile and always with you - therefore can go almost anywhere. Also, phones today are way better than they have ever been – 100% better than the first digital camera I’ve ever owned. But, with that being said, I never had nor ever will take my phone to shoot a wedding – again, a time and a place. If you have a standalone camera and the high-end equipment, great…if not, your phone is versatile, high res and has photo editing software built right into it. This blog will help you take the best pictures with whatever equipment you have.

Let’s begin…

Tip #1: Think about your shot

Be very clear about what you want to do with your images. Do you want an authentic product shot or, are you looking to create a vibe with a styled product shot? The pineapple product shot on the left is very different than the one on the right. Same product – different result. The photo on the left tells a story. When I think about a pineapple, words that come to mind are, sweet, juicy, tropical, colorful and bright. My next though is, how do I achieve that in a photo that you can’t smell, taste or feel? Keeping the product as the focal point, I included elements that illustrated those descriptive words. Warm lighting, bright colors, tropical vegetation and I selected samples that were painted with saturated /bright colors. Combining all of these elements creates an ambiance and tells a product story.

For details on the clean product shot on the right, skip to tip #9.

Tip #2: Before you shoot anything - gather your items

To be successful at anything, you need to do some prep work. “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” If you’re shooting bisque on white, you’ll need your bisque item, your phone or DSLR and a white background – this can be a white table and wall, some matte poster board (non-reflective to avoid glare) or a photo cube. If you’re planning out a styled/ merchandised shot, you’ll need much more. In the styled pineapple photo below, I used the product pieces, fairy lights, clear risers (clear plastic cups from the dollar store – photography hack), a wooden table and a crate. It’s best practice to think about your shot and gather your items before you start shooting.

Setting up your shot…

Tip #3: Lighting, lighting and I’ll say it one more time…lighting

Besides having your camera and your product, lighting is responsible for about 80% (or, I may dare to say 90%) of your shot. Lighting can make or break your product shots as it determines so much – glare, shadows, color, brightness, darkness, and also tone, mood and atmosphere. If you have terrible lighting, unless you are a Photoshop wizard, there is very little you can do to recover a poorly lit image.

Best lighting practices:

Use natural light: Hands down, if you have it, use it. Natural lighting is easy and creates rich flavorful photos. If you’re inside, position your photo table/ shot next to a window or another natural light source. The photos in these graphics were taken with natural window light:

If you don't have access to natural lighting ...

Studio lighting is an alternative to natural light. You can get some good inexpensive lighting for under $50 bucks. Studio lighting can give you more control on how you want to light your product. For example, if you are photographing ceramics, angle the light straight down. Then, position the light so it is directly above the subject. This will create a nice shadow under the bottom edge and will help ground the object as seen in the adventure mug image below.

Harsh Light: Don’t over expose – unless you are doing it intentionally to then draw it back and manipulate it in post-production. Try to avoid harsh light as it can overexpose and completely blow out portions of your photo leaving it completely white and void of detail. Harsh light can also create heavy unwanted shadows in your photos – this typically happens when something is side lit casting a large shadow on the opposite side of your object. Photographers will sometimes do this intentionally to create drama or add artistic value, but if you are looking for a clean product shot, try to avoid it.

Diffusers: If you are using studio lighting that has an adjustable knob, you can dial down the light to your desired level. If your lighting simply has an on/off switch, you can buy a light diffuser to cut back on any harsh lighting. If you are shooting outside, look for some shade. Shoot under a tree (be sure it’s full coverage – leaves can cast weird shadows) or use the shadow of a building or a covered porch. As a photographer when clients say, “it’s so sunny – we got a great day for pictures!” I cringe and secretly pray for clouds to roll in. Lol.

Fluorescent lights: Avoid them if you can – they turn everything yellow. If you are in a room with fluorescents, turn them off and use another light source.

Flash Photography: If you are a beginner and have access to natural light or studio lighting–100% use it. Flash photography (if not done properly) can wash out your photo and cause huge reflections and glare on ceramics or items with reflective surfaces.

Fairy lights or Christmas lights for Bokeh: Bokeh pronounced BOH-kay is the quality of the out-of-focus areas of an image. In photography, the shape of the camera lens creates soft colorful orbs of light that create a warm atmosphere. Here are some examples of fairy lights and Christmas lights used to create Bokeh:

Tip #4: Composition – make it interesting

Get up close! Maximize your frame. Don’t be afraid to get up in there. This works for both authentic product shots and also styled product shots. In the styled version you can also use asymmetry and cropping to make it a little more compelling.

Adding a sheet of plexiglass on top of a white surface under your product is a great way to create a reflection and save you time in post production (Photoshop or other editing software) creating one.

Tip #6: Get the garbage out of the shot – literally

A lot of times I see people post pictures and video of their product on Instagram or social media and there is clutter or even garbage, yes - literally garbage in the shot. You want to showcase your product and it should be the focal point of your photograph. Take the time to remove and unwanted items from your shot. Again, this goes back to tips 1 and 2. Think about your shot and gather the items you want in your shot – remove the rest.

Tip #7: ALWAYS Check your results before dismantling your set up

Nothing is more upsetting than when you tear down your set, put all your product back and then check your pictures and find out that they are blurry or unusable. Always check your photos before breaking down the set. Zoom in on your images on your device to check them. Viewing them as a small thumbnail you can miss existing camera shake/ blurriness as well as large amounts of noise or grain. Be sure to enlarge your images to check for this. If you check as you shoot you will be able to adjust as you go.

Shooting… Ok – now it’s time to shoot! Finally…

Tip #8: Use a tri-pod or something to stabilize your camera

No matter if you’re using a DSLR of your phone, be sure to stabilize your camera to avoid camera shake/ blurriness. There are many inexpensive options for tripods that have phone adapters and clips. If you are in a bind and don’t have a tripod, hold your phone against something stationary like a table or a chair to avoid camera shake. If you don’t have anything, pull your elbows into your torso tightly, take a deep breath, hold it and shoot. Basically, you are the tripod - Haha.

A popular shot in product photography is a flat lay/ overhead shot. Setting up out product on the ground or a table and getting up over the product to shoot it. To achieve this shot, you can use a tripod or invest in a step ladder.

Tip #9: Buy a light box/ Photo Cube

For around $60 bucks you can get a table top lightbox. These are great for shooting small product. These come with light bars that are adjustable so that you can control the light source. Most of the lighting is also removable. So that you can use it for overhead lighting or side light your product. This is a great little studio set up that also comes with different color backgrounds. You can use the colorful background as is, or you can also use it to create contrast against your product to easily select the background in post and delete it – great for bisque. It’s also perfect for adding a plain white background or leaving it as a transparent background/ PNG file.

Tip #10: Instinct: Listen to your gut

If you’ve done all your prep work and you’ve set up your shot and something still looks and feels off – listen to your gut. A photographer’s best tool, above all else (even your equipment) is your instinct. Really look at your setup and even fire off a couple of shots to review it in your camera. Dissect what it is that’s not working and making you feel anxious about the shot - then make some adjustments. A large part of success is being able to make changes and adapt on the go. Trust your gut and your instinct, if you look at your shot something doesn’t feel right, 99.9% of the time it’s not going to look right in your final photo – tweak and adjust as needed.

Tip #11: HDR – High-Dynamic-Range

Make sure this is turned ON in your phone settings. The higher dynamic range your camera has, the closer the photo will compare to what an eye can see. This means that you’ll be able to capture more details in the shadows that might otherwise appear pure black, and you’ll be able to see details in the highlights that might otherwise be washed out with white.

Post/ editing…

Tip #12: Don’t over process your pictures

It is very rare that I use a picture straight out of my phone or camera – there are always a few things that can be adjusted. With that being said, (or written) just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it. There are so many amazing photo filters, editing programs and editing aps out there. Just because you can add 22 filters to your photo doesn’t mean you should. So many pictures nowadays are way over processed. You want to edit your pictures in post-production to enhance them, but make sure to maintain their integrity.

Tip #13: Editing Aps and Programs

Out of all the editing software and aps that exist and we are talking hundreds, here are my top 4:

Photoshop: 100% the best photo editing software out there.

Lightroom: I use in tandem with photoshop to manipulate the isolated details of my photos.

Instagram: when I am on the go this is my go-to for photo editing. Here is a tip, just use it to edit – you don’t always have to post. So many times, I use Instagram to edit my photos, but I don’t post them. I edit them, take a screen shot, crop the picture and save it to my gallery for future use. Instagram has a good selection of filters as well as the ability to individually edit isolated areas of you photo the same way you can in Lightroom.

Photoshop Express: I use this app the least because I have the free version as I don’t have a need to pay for the upgrade, but it does have a larger selection of filters and overlays than Instagram. With that, remember – try not to over process.

Isolated editing features: No matter if I’m in Photoshop or Instagram – rather than using filters and overlays I use the isolated editing features. And with using these, out of all the features and options, I only use these 7 for optimal editing: Brightness, Contrast, Structure, Saturation, Highlights, Shadows & sharpen.

Tip #14: Gaussian Blur

If you’re familiar with photoshop and you’re are unable to achieve that soft faded/ blurred background behind your product that makes it pop with your camera alone, you can always add it in post-production. To do this, simply create a copy of your picture on another layer. Unlock your original layer and hide the copy. On the original layer go to FILTER – BLUR - GAUSSIAN BLUR. Set the radius to about 9.0. Next, unhide the new layer that you created and lastly, delete the background behind your product on the new layer. BAM – now your product pops!

Example of a gaussian blur created in photoshop:

Tip #15: In photography, everything looks better wet

Sounds crazy, but it’s true. When brides panic on a rainy wedding day, I am secretly thrilled because I know the pictures will look AMAZING. In car commercials and in movies, they always wet down the set because water makes everything magical. The same applies for product photography. With this being said, I wouldn’t do it for every shot, but if it makes sense i.e., a cold can of beer next to a frosty mug, or a ceramic planter with some succulents – use a spray bottle and wet it down, take your shot and thank me later.

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