If you don't have the budget to put resources into higher end camera gear, you might want to find the time to figure out how to take extraordinary product photos with your cell phone.
There’s no denying it; product visuals are a huge part of your online sales success. Great photos are the end-all / be-all ambassadors with your buyers. Showing off great product images helps persuade buyers to “Add to Cart” and close any sale online. High quality product photos increase sales and improve customer satisfaction, as well as show your brand’s story. And although investing in even semi-professional camera equipment is strongly recommend - that may not be an option for everyone.
The good news? Your mobile phone can serve as a great interim camera while you save up for the real thing. It may seem an unlikely choice for product visuals, but your Smartphone can be an incredible asset if you know how to use it. Smart phones have drastically evolved over the last few years to include cameras advanced enough to snap professional quality images, especially for viewing on the internet. Just because your smart phone can take high-quality pictures doesn’t mean it’s going to turn out perfectly the every time.
Here are some simple tips on how to improve the product photos you take on your phone:
The first step in shooting professional photos is knowing your device inside and out. Learn everything you can about the internal camera and how much you can control it out of the box. Many mobile phones come equipped with several manual settings, including exposure controls, white balance, and post-processing. Take the time to understand how to use each of these tools to enhance your images. Learning to use your cell phone camera on manual setting, and getting it out of auto-shot is a major step - but well worth it in the end.
A quick tip: If you use a smart phone that doesn’t include these features, consider adding a third party camera app. Some free camera tools provide helpful manual controls, include editing and sharing capabilities, and are used these days on higher end phones by many professional photographers.
Although shooting on automatic can save time and yield great visuals, it’s much better to control your shot as much as possible. Although a mobile phone won’t offer as much control as a professional-grade camera, understanding the basics will help improve your pictures. Here are the essential parts of manual mode:
Exposure is the amount of light that you capture with your camera. It’s controlled by three tools:
- Shutter speed
- ISO (light sensitivity)
Shutter speed is the length of time that your camera’s shutter opens to take in light. This controls the amount of light captured and any movement in the frame. Although it’s unlikely that your smart phone has an option to control shutter speed, you can expose to different areas of light in your picture. Aperture "opening size" and shutter speed is not as important on cell phone photography for product photos - but it's good to understand these basics if you move to semi-professional or pro DSLR cameras later on.
A quick tip: To do this on most smart phones, tap your screen on the area that you would like to feature. Your camera will then automatically adjust its settings based on the amount of light in that area.
Aperture is the opening of your camera’s lens that controls the amount of light you take in and your depth of field. The depth of field determines the sharpness between the foreground and background of your picture.
A low aperture takes in more light and provides a blurrier background, while a high aperture takes in less light and provides a sharper background. Depth of field can be controlled by manual settings on your camera, as well as your distance from the object that you’re shooting.
Shooting close to your product provides a larger difference between the foreground and background, creating a blurry background and crisp foreground. Shooting far from your product provides a smaller difference between foreground and background, which will contribute to a sharper image all around. You can control the aperture on your Smartphone camera with the focus tool and your distance from the object.
For example, if you want a blurry background (low aperture), get close to your product and tap the area you wish to focus on. Your background will automatically blur, while your foreground remains sharp. If you want a sharp background (high aperture), then stand further away from your product (a few meters at least) and tap the screen on the area you wish to be the focus. Your background and foreground will remain sharp.
IMPORTANT TIP: Get a cell phone photography tri-pod. There are lots of low cost ones on the market these days. Keeping your cell phone / camera perfectly still and stable is the key to GREAT LOOKING PRODUCT SHOTS!
A quick tip:
When shooting your products, do NOT use 'digital zoom'. It’s notorious for reducing photo quality. Instead, physically move yourself to be closer or farther away from the product.
ISO is your camera’s sensitivity to light. A low ISO (100-200) is low sensitivity, meaning you’ll capture less light. A high ISO (800-1600) is a high sensitivity, meaning you’ll capture more light. High ISO settings will increase the graininess of your photographs and result in poor quality. If you have manual control, don’t go higher than ISO 400.
White balance "WB" is a setting used to correct camera color effects, which helps keep the objects in your image as close to their natural colors as possible. If your mobile phone has this option, it’ll typically look like a button with the letters “WB” on it. Because your white balance is largely affected by the kind of light in your picture, make sure to adjust it whenever your light source changes. For example, you may switch from daylight to fluorescent light when heading inside to take some indoor pictures.
Look for soft light or consider building a light box
When it comes to shooting products, nothing beats soft or diffused light. It’s less intense, spreads evenly over the product (causing fewer shadows) and better brings out details, making it ideal for putting your products’ best foot forward. Fortunately, soft light is easy to find if you know what to look for. If you’re shooting products in your home or office, set up a shoot near a window on a bright but overcast day to avoid harsh rays. Then, use a piece of white paper or poster board to reflect the light coming in and eliminate any shadows on your product.
Alternatively, build your own light box. This way, you can shoot with any kind of light and at any time of the day without spending a pretty penny on a pre-made one. It helps evenly light your subject, and if you use the right KELVIN temperature value light bulb(s) - you won't have to fuss with white balance in most cases.
Bulb Color Temperature can make a huge difference. Most LEB bulbs come with warm (tends towards a "yellow" photo quality), warm-white (mid-yellow to white depending on the bulb) or daylight (white to skylight/blue white) Kelvin temperature quality. Some photographers shoot light boxes with 5500 Kelvin bulbs. This is often felt as a "brighter" more even light quality of diffused daylight.
But you will have to test a few different (white balance) temperature bulbs to determine your unique preference.
An effective background is essential to drawing attention to your products and reinforcing your brand. Many business owners choose a white background for a clean image that showcases their products. Others prefer a black background or even a staged scene. If you’re thinking about introducing colors to your product photo backgrounds, take some time to research color theory so you’ll choose options that’ll make your products pop.
Your shoot may be over, but your product visuals aren’t done yet. It’s time for editing to take the main stage, bring out your photos’ best qualities and help you convey the perfect brand message. Most of the camera programs offer intuitive editing tools. If you’re looking for more, Photoshop Touch and AfterLight are great choices as well. To get a head start on getting that perfect product photo, try playing around with these basic settings:
Sharpness: Increasing the sharpness of your image will help highlight the intricate details of your product and improve image quality.
Contrast: Increasing the contrast will help your image pop against the background.
Brightness: Increasing the brightness of your image will hide any imperfections and give it an attractive glow.
White balance: Sometimes your camera doesn’t get the white balance adjustment right. Playing with this scale to get the most natural colors in your image is a quick and easy fix.
RECOMMENDED ANDROID CELL PHONE APP FOR PRODUCT IMAGES: Snapseed by Google LCC - professional grade, has all the features and easier to use for beginners and advanced users alike. And it's FREE!
Product photography isn’t a skill that develops overnight, so don’t feel discouraged if your first few shoots seem like a struggle. Just like everything else - testing and practice makes perfect. If you keep these tips in mind and shoot regularly you’ll be on your way to professional product photography in no time.
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