Taking high quality product photos doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. All you really need is three things:

  1. A light
  2. A box
  3. A camera (phone cameras work too, and is what I used in the examples below)

With these powers combined, you have a light box! And a camera.

I have worked with professional light boxes, made of high quality mesh, that pop up like a clothes hamper. I’ve used a couple white sheets or pieces of paper to drape as a blank background and surface to lay the item on. I’ve used painted boxes. The main takeaway with all of these things is that you want a solid, neutral color that doesn’t distract the eye from the item you’re photographing. You can also opt to stage the item in an environment that the item may go well in (like a handmade bowl on display on a kitchen table). But for the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on a solid background.

For this project, I started with the humble cardboard box.

Armed with the box and some white paint, I painted a few layers on the inside to get an even coat and let it dry. After it dries, you may end up with some imperfections in the corners. In this instance, you can paint over them more, or simply take pieces of white paper to make a clear edge.

Lights are next.

The two photos above show some differences you can get with light. In both, I had a simple gooseneck light from the hardware store with a warmer colored bulb. The first photo has just that bulb on, and the camera flash off. On the second photo, the bulb was on as well as the flash. The ambient lighting of the room itself wasn’t very bright, so neither photo has a super bright quality, and the flash caused some streaking, horizontal shadows. If you were to take your light box outside in natural light during the day, you’d end up with brighter, more even lighting in the finished product.

I decided to do a couple test runs with actual items I wanted to photograph.

On the first photo, I used the gooseneck light with the warmer bulb and no flash. The paper appears warmer/tan as opposed to white, and the badges have more contrast on the shadows, as well as less glare. The background color appears flatter. On the second photo, I used the gooseneck as well as the camera flash. While the color of the badges was more true to reality, the glare is a little distracting, as well as the gradient background not being even.

You can experiment with where you place the lights and see how they change the overall lighting and shadows of the photo. Try moving it closer or further away, up inside the box, or to the side.

If you want to go one step further and don’t mind potentially adding a new skill to your repertoire, you can do editing in an image editing program. Photoshop or Paintshop Pro are some paid programs to use, or you can use free programs such as Gimp.

I’m most used to Paintshop Pro for editing out backgrounds and adjusting contrast, so I opted to go that route with the above photos of this dice box. By having a neutral background that isn’t a similar color to the item you’re photographing, it’s fairly easy to select the background in the image and clearing it and making it transparent. However, you’ll want to make sure you grab everything in the background. In the second photo, if you look at it closely you’ll be able to see some artifacts of the background below the box and lid. You can spot these artifacts a lot easier if you place a different color background (such as black) as a separate layer below the item layer. You can then clean up the rest of those artifacts as needed, delete the background color, and save as normal.

Whenever saving or editing image files, keep in mind the size of the image and the file types. You’ll want to ensure that the size is reasonable and won’t take a long time to download. PNG file types are higher quality. JPG files are smaller, but are more prone to artifacting and becoming distorted over time, particularly with reds.

The bottom line:

Upping your photography game doesn’t have to be expensive or that difficult. The most expensive part of my setup was the gooseneck light, which I actually just had lying around. Cardboard, paint, and paper can create a lightbox base within a couple hours. But by making sure my backgrounds are clean and lighting is okay, I can make my the items I photograph more visually appealing, and in turn, more likely to be clicked on and viewed.

Do you have any questions about your product photos? Feel free to ask in a comment below!


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