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I am trying to take some product photos, and am hoping to get some tips to improve the result.

As an amateur I am currently using completely non-professional equipment, and I realize the limitations:

  • camera: a cellphone (google pixel 6a)
  • lighting: ceiling 2 bulbs + desk lamp 1 bulb, 4500 lumens total, all 5000K

I have already tried a few things:

  • Taking the photo at an angle instead of top down. This showed more shadows, and in my opinion didn't look as good.
  • Cropping the photo so that the edges of the items are cutoff. Not sure which looks better.
  • Adding/removing accessory items to support the main product.

Photo 1

Photo 2

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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you please edit the question (both the title and the body of the question) to explain more specifically what you what to improve about the photo? I have views on the matter but I'm certainly no marketing expert so my views may be unhelpful to the problem you are actually trying to solve. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Nov 6, 2022 at 7:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RobbieGoodwin I'm not sure what you mean, but it doesn't sound like something I can do. I can delete the question alternatively if it breaks some rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – user453441
    Nov 7, 2022 at 4:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are these sweets or is this soap? Either product could be prepared catering more to its specifics, but I cannot give concrete ideas before I know what it is. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2022 at 7:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Looking more closely, I see that those pictures did not come from the same root. Their compositions are so different, we here are not at all being Asked to "improve this product photo" but rather to choose between two different product photos and perhaps to suggest something better. How is that not comparable to Asking us here to do your homework for you? Further, how is that not Asking us here to do your paid work for you? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2022 at 23:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Pay attention to details! The dirty candles glass with the sticker on it, the holly which looks both fake and dead, the way the soap slices are stacked (it is irregular), the blanket, of course, which aside from being way too present (colors, saturation) is also not layed down straight, etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – MrUpsidown
    Nov 8, 2022 at 9:30

8 Answers 8

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Beyond the photographic subject, there are deep problems in terms of composition. My ten recommendations:

  1. Get rid of the blanket. The sensation of touch between the soap and the furry blanket produces a very negative effect, perceptually turning away any potential buyer
  2. Remove all the elements that produce dirt, such as the terribly dirty candle glass
  3. If the idea is to create a composition based on a repetition of the main product, highlight one by size. In this way the base product is well highlighted, otherwise, the customer will think the product belongs to a pack (eight according to the example image).
  4. Favors the perspective from bottom to top, in this way the products are seen hanging, otherwise, they appear fallen.
  5. Give meaning to the background color, study color theory, for example, the complementary to the product's main color (picture below) to stand it out, or the analogous one to emphasize it, or a color that shows a quality, such as green for freshness.
  6. Avoid background colors more saturated than the product's main color (just like the bright red of the blanket).
  7. If no color seems to be the right one: the black background is the one that will produce greater contrast, highlighting the product's colors, the white will isolate it, detaching it from the background and the gray will dull its intensity.
  8. Minimize the background texture to the smallest detail. The product already has a texture, any background pattern perceptually will eat it up.
  9. Choose details that contrast, mainly by shape
  10. A trick to highlight a product is to make it stand out from the background

enter image description here

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    \$\begingroup\$ Re 1. Make sure your photo clearly associates your product with its purpose. I thought it was food… also horrible on a blanket. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 6, 2022 at 16:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Tetsujin I too thought it was cake or fudge. \$\endgroup\$
    – Criggie
    Nov 6, 2022 at 23:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Criggie I was so hyped about the cheese with red and green pepper. \$\endgroup\$
    – Hermann
    Nov 7, 2022 at 9:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't understand what point 4 means: "Favors the perspective from bottom to top", what is "perspective from bottom to top"? \$\endgroup\$
    – minseong
    Nov 7, 2022 at 11:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Vanishing point at the bottom (or center) \$\endgroup\$
    – Danielillo
    Nov 7, 2022 at 12:21
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Everything is a matter of personal taste or local culture, but:

  • The background is much too present (the holly's berries are hardly visible). It can also throw off an automatic color balance, and the camera post-processing is obviously struggling with the texture. Find something will less saturated colors and less texture.
  • There are either no shadows (top) or too hard shadows (bottom). Use a diffuser (softbox, or perhaps a sheet of white paper taped in front of the desk lamp), and sufficiently close to be a wide light source
  • The glass with the candles is dirty (you should also remove the label)
  • The leaves of the holly look weird. Oh, looking at the other shot they are fake... so better remove them entirely
  • The direct overhead view doesn't really work with the stacking of the slices
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Other answers have mentioned the background, but haven't explicitly said that the pattern of the background is a significant issue. Backgrounds should generally be plain, or with a very muted (low contrast) pattern. For close-up work even the weave of fabric is an issue. An easy place to start here would be to get a large sheet of white or light grey card. That can conventionally be used with the front flat on a table, and the top vertical against a wall (clips or weights out of shot if your product isn't heavy enough).

Then you can look at light sources to give you soft shadows. A thin white bedsheet can be used to make a tent, and illuminated from the outside (but you'll need quite a lot of light); a plain white shower curtain can be better. This can produce a light that's too flat if you're not careful.

As a starting suggestion, you can light with 3 desklamps either through a tent or not. If you don't use a light tent, it can be better to reflect the lamps off white or rough silver surfaces (the less-shiny side of foil) if their shadows are too harsh. Two of the lamps could be off to the left and right, slightly behind the subject, out of shot. Use (improvise) a lens hood so they don't shine in your lens. The third lamp would provide front lighting, near the camera; a ring light can be good if you're buying stuff. Try to match the lights - either all cool white or all warm white - this will make both auto- and manual-white-balance easier.

If you want to use candles in shot, I'd ensure they're out of focus (they still need to be perfectly clean), keeping only the product in focus. That's harder with a phone camera. At most they'll replace one light source, and you'd need to dim the other lights quite a bit, and use a decent support for the camera (or a flimsy support and the self timer). If you want decorations in shot, like the holly (which has to look pretty much perfect), I'd also defocus that and try to lighten it. Candles are an exception to what I said above about matching the light sources - you want them to look warm compared to the white of the other lights.

You can do a lot in post-processing to adjust light levels and defocus, but it can look irritatingly fake if you're not careful, and take a lot of time. Anyway you need good enough lighting to show the details even if you're going to tweak the image later, so I'd aim for the images to be usable as shot, only cropping to the format you need.

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Consider putting something underneath the product to lift it from the background, and reducing depth-of-field so that the main focus plane is the product.

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  1. Practice.
  2. Look at professional product photographs.
  3. Study lighting.
  4. Study composition.
  5. Watch lots of YouTube.
  6. Read some books.
  7. Practice.

You need to teach yourself to see in terms of product photography. Better gear won’t substitute for hard work.

As a direct critique, there are a lot of ideas in your pictures and on their own most of them are good. Yet there are so many ideas that I have no clear idea of what the product is, what it does, or why I should care.

What I mean is there is strong light dark contrast between the boxes and the background…and strong hue contrast between the background and the green leaves, and strong saturation contrast between the boxes and the rest of the image.

All of these are competing for my attention.

Similarly, the many boxes provide a contrast of quantity, and their regular shapes contrast with the other objects on the table. Then the checkerboard subverts all of this by bringing in similar shapes of similar size and in large quantity.

The art of product photography is in selecting artistic principles only based on communication of what the product is, what it does, and why someone should care.

Any other good idea must be ruthlessly eliminated. But that’s true of good pure art as well.

So practice.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Practice" is not particularly constructive feedback when faced with the question of what's not working in a photo. What specifically should this person be practicing? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2022 at 4:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanCavanaugh Practice is a response to the id Life is not an iPhone app. ea that “tips and tricks” are all that’s needed to make good product photography. Practice is the only way to gain experience. And experience is the best teacher. Life is not an iPhone app. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2022 at 14:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ The OP can practice all the competing suggestions in the other answers…and what they see in actual advertising, view on YouTube, read in books, learn in class, etc. etc. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2022 at 14:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ The idea that practice makes perfect has been reinforced many times. austinkleon.com/2020/12/10/… \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2022 at 16:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisH I provided direct feedback on the form of critique because I too think feedback is useful. In addition I provided the advice to work hard and not seek instant gratification. Anyway, expertise requires formulating judgment oneself. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2022 at 15:56
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I have a friend who makes soap so I am guessing that is what this is - the combo is intriguing to say the least, I can't imagine what it would be so that's what you need to convey

"a soap product photo" how would you visually tell me what it is and what it smells like? I would start there...

if soap is correct and you want to communicate that, then arrange them in and out of a white terry basket, on a (not cheap) terry washcloth, on top of something bath related that's white -

no color background as the product is already too colorful - ask yourself, can I easily find the product in the picture?

No too loud, eyes go everywhere, you want eyes to go to your product, so ditch the tiny soaps/candy canes etc. Maybe blur the candle in the background or remove it

Unless the soap "smells" like candy canes?

the scent is a mystery - you might have a pinecone in the background (assuming the green color of the soap) and cherries? whatever the green, yellow, and red represents - looks like egg nog/pinecone/cherry soap in which case I'll pass but that would be my guess at a glance

and now you see the problem...

as the purchaser, I have to guess, I may not read your text, my phone screen size, my patience, my scrolling by it, so tell me the whole story visually

If I knew what it smelled like by just looking I might buy, I already know what soap does, although it can enhance the look, I personally don't frown/notice bad lighting, placement, etc. look at the stuff on AMZ we all order! I want to know, is it made of coco butter? shea? have almond oil?

Sold! Even with just a plain white sheet/poster board underneath :)

That said, excellent advice above on lighting and placement for a more professional look. I just note we are all learning to live without that with the online life, depletion of print/magazines, etc.

What's important for a SOAP customer? Scent and ingredients, that's it! So focus on satisfying that and you will do well to attract soap buyers for your soap product

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Besides the other wonderful answers, using so much direct light with the candle doesn't really work. Perhaps use less external lighting and try to photograph with a "long exposure mode" or something similar on the camera. That way the candle could contribute some light to the photo.

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There are several important points for photography in the advertising genre,

first: arranging and staging the scene before photography, which has its own composition.

Second: Choosing the right angle for photography, which is a variable matter, that is, it can be variable for each scene and type of product.

Third: Use of appropriate and perfect light, usually without shadows or with soft shadows, which of course, the issue of sharp or soft shadows can not be fixed depending on the type of photo message.

Fourth: Choosing the right lens and photographic equipment.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While this is generically true, which of these points do you think apply to this photo and what specific changes would you make? \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Nov 6, 2022 at 7:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ and The angle of the bottom photo is more preferred and it would have been better if the background of that arrangement was light or black so as not to interfere with the color tones of the image components. A lighted Volmer candle inside or on the side of the glass might have had a better effect, and also a lens could have been chosen to focus on the distant components with close-up capability. \$\endgroup\$
    – Merlin
    Nov 6, 2022 at 17:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please put your answer in your answer, not as a littering of comments after it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 6, 2022 at 18:18

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