3 Tips for Elevating Your Product Photography

I have had a few REALLY fun product shoots lately which have reminded me how inspiring and creative these types of projects can be. Way too often, people resort to photographing their products on boring, white backdrops– which is fine for Amazon but, personally, I want to see something a bit more aspirational when I am shopping online....amiright??

Here are my 3 top tips for taking your product photography from bland to brilliant:

1. Create a story around your product.

A friend recently told me about another Vermont business called Red House Bags because she thought I would like their products (she was right.) When I went to the website, I was immediately captivated by the gorgeous photos, the warm light, the beautiful landscape– I wanted to be IN those photos, holding one of those bags.

That website is the PERFECT example of storytelling with products.

Obviously, for a variety of reasons, we often can’t hire models and orchestrate elaborate photo shoots for our products. Instead, we are working in our home or studio, and need to convey a story through a tabletop photograph. We do that through our lighting, the use of props, and the colors we choose.

As an example of what I mean, check out these shots I did for Forest & Field Collective, a Vermont based company that creates gift boxes filled with the most beautiful products.
Jessamyn, the owner, already had images on her website that showed the items included in each box so, instead, she wanted me to create photos that showed the items in a lifestyle setting.

For each shot, I staged a little “scene” and incorporated the products within it: the gardening scissors with beautiful flowers, the lit candle in a calming environment, the baking items on a kitchen counter with some ingredients. The point of telling a story is to elicit emotion from your audience- to get them to picture themselves in that moment and really feel it. The product is almost secondary to the story and yet it’s the STORY that sells the product.

2. Use light like a prop.

I have the great honor of doing regular photoshoots with the amazing Laura Zindel, (another incredible Vermont artisan….we have a lot of them here!) Before each shoot, Laura chooses a color palette and creates a mood board of what she wants to accomplish. For this recent Spring 2023 shoot, Laura wanted to veer away from the traditional light, Spring colors and go with a darker palette paired with dramatic lighting. All three of us working on the shoot (myself, Laura and Gretchen– the amazing food stylist who regularly works with me) are former art school nerds so we decided to emulate a chiaroscuro effect, with deep, dark shadows and defined highlights.

To create this look, we used a dark surface on the table top (Bruno) a dark backdrop on the wall, (Coal) and a single light source coming from the side. I used a strobe for these shots but you could just as easily use natural light. The key is guiding the light to fall onto your subject (the product), which involves blocking light on the areas you want to be darker. I use black foam core for this purpose. Additionally, I didn’t use a bounce card to fill in any shadows– instead I let the shadows fall where they may. The effect is almost ethereal – the photos practically glow– and, because the product is the lightest thing in the image, the viewer’s eyes go right to it.

Below are another few examples from shoots with Chemex and Real Pickles. Again, in both scenarios, one light source was used, coupled with darker props and blocking of light in strategic areas so that the product stood out. You can see an example of how to do this HERE.

Create layers and texture.

In those images of Laura Zindel's products above, did we NEED the wooden boxes in those shots? After all, we already had a backdrop on the wall and fun props around the product. The boxes weren’t necessary. However, the addition of them adds a ton of warmth, texture and visual interest and really takes the photos to the next level.

This is the magic of layering.

The key to adding layers to your photos is to do so in a way that doesn't compete with the impact of your product. If, for example, the boxes in the photos had been the same color and/or same level of brightness as the ceramics, they would have been a fail. The viewer’s eyes wouldn’t know what to focus on in the images. Instead, you want to add layers that fade into the background a bit so that the focus is still on the product. You can use fabric, paper, (I love old music sheets or faded book pages), wooden boards, boxes, items from nature, (driftwood, moss, rocks and tree bark can all work beautifully) and basically anything else that adds depth and texture to your photo without detracting from your subject. 

For example, in the image below for Farmers Body, we wanted to keep the image simple but include some natural elements with the sugar scrub. By adding the wooden board and the greenery, we created a frame around the product, which is much more impactful than if we had placed the product directly on the surface. Additionally, we left some space on the side of the image for text, (which is always a good idea when shooting for a website!)

In the below photo for Satya and Sage, the addition of the wooden board under the candle has a dual purpose; it elevates the product, making it more important in the photo, and it adds warmth. Also, the shadows on the backdrop provide yet another layer to the photo by creating a sense of place. To learn how to create  shadows in your shoot, read THIS.

I hope this was helpful and you are inspired for your next photo shoot. Let's all just say NO to boring product shots, shall we?

Until next time...


1 comment

Leigh Bedford

Gosh darn it! I was going to do chores today but I read your blog entry and now, I am going to skip chores and make images! Love, love, LOVE your blog!!

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