Are you interested in product photography as a business you can start at home? Do you need to promote your own products, such as jewelry, on a website like Etsy? Maybe you are looking for photography ideas just for fun? If you answered “yes” to any of the above, then you need to keep reading! We’re going to explain the simplest product photography setups that are also budget friendly using items you probably already have around the house. So let’s get started!
First of all, once you have your products gathered, you will need backgrounds. The size and type of background you choose will depend on the size of the items. Smaller items can be places on colored wrapping paper, scrapbook papers, tissue paper, even brown paper bags work with some products. Contact paper and wallpaper can be used for medium sized objects. Some papers have patterns that look like marble and wood; however, solid colors may be a better choice for a few reasons. First, patterned papers may be copyrighted and if you plan to sell an image or promote another company’s products you would need to secure copyright permission to use it. Secondly, some patterned papers may compete for attention with the product. Tin foil, slightly crumpled and then flattened, makes a nice bokeh (background blur) and in larger pieces can be used for large objects and even for portraits.
Larger objects may require a large poster board, a roll of backdrop paper, or you can use fabric. Fabrics come in many different textures, colors and patterns including reflective and wood-looks! If you don’t have fabric or you don’t want to make a purchase, you can also use fabrics from blankets, sheets, and items of clothing. Fabric can also be draped around objects and under objects.
My favorite “hack” for product photography backgrounds is to use a computer laptop screen or tablet screen with images on them. I download an image that is free to use for commercial and business purposes from a website like Pixabay or Pexels and use it full-size on the screen behind the object. Websites like these have thousands of images you can choose from and there is no worry about copyright! You can quickly switch out images until you find a background that you really like.
The only drawback to using the computer screen is that you have to be careful about glare and bright reflections. We’re going to explain how to take care of those issues in the section on lighting, but first we need to finish with the setup.
Depending on the item and how you choose to set up the background, your background might also be under your item. For example, if you are using fabric you might drape it under and behind the object, or shoot at an angle where you don’t capture the foreground or the background. When using paper or a backdrop roll, many photographers set the paper up in a “sweep.” This means that the paper is vertical behind the object, but then at the base it is curved out and under the object horizontally so there are no seams.
In addition to paper and fabric, there are other items you can place under products such as old pieces of tile or waste sections of countertops. For example, when installers cut out the section of the countertop for a sink hole, that piece is often waste. Tile, such as crisp white subway tiles make nice backgrounds for food photography. Natural stone tiles complement products like perfumes and essential oils or soaps and make nice contrasts with cut gems and pearls for jewelry photography.
An old photo frame can be repurposed as a platform to put object on. Placing colored paper or fabric under the glass or Plexiglas allows the color to show but you also get a nice reflective property. This is especially effective with white and a white background.
My favorite item to use as a platform is an old tablet. The glossy black makes a nice reflection, especially for tech type items or jewelry. As an example, we took a simple charging block and used the laptop screen as a background. With practice you will start to get a feel for what types of backgrounds and platforms will complement the products you are taking photos of.
Many product photography setups also make use of additional props. While having the object by itself might look very nice, sometimes other items are needed to balance the image or improve the overall feel of the composition. The props can be simple and many items can be found around the house. Rocks and tree bark can make nice textures. Wildflowers, leaves, grasses are all good too. Small and medium size boxes can be used as props or for height so you can stagger the height of items.
In the ring images previously seen above, we used a piece of tree bark from the woods near our house. We set the wood on a small black box to give it height and a computer screen was used as the background.
Leaves, acorns, seed pods, pine cones, and other natural items like shells are also good choices. Once you start to gather items, you can keep them in a little shoe box and have them available to reuse. For food photography, some props might include powered spices, wooden spoons, nice china cups or plates, herbs, and sugar cubes. There is definitely an art to the arrangement of items and you will learn what looks good and what doesn’t through trial and error, as well as practice. Looking at examples of similar items online can also spark your creativity and provide ideas for arrangements and props.
Now let’s talk about lighting and light reflections.
If you have a window area where you can set up a table, like a card table, then you can use free natural light! If you are using a computer screen or tablet as part of your set up you will need to adjust the direction of your setup as well as the angle of the computer screen so that you are not getting reflections from the camera’s point of view.
If you don’t’ have a window area, or even with a window, you might still need additional lighting. It is always surprising to me how much light is actually needed for most photos! The exception would be if you want to try “low key” lighting. For low key lighting you actually need a room that is dark! (Visit our website at https://focusedcamera.weebly.com/free-mini-tutorials-videos--extras.html and sign up for our email list and you can get an instant free download for low key lighting at home).
Additional lighting does not have to be expensive. It can be very inexpensive lights from hardware stores, such as the clamp style lights used as work lights out in the garage. A two pack of clamp lights is under $20 and they even have built in reflectors on them! You can also get bright LED lighting – a pack of two – for under $30.
Professional photographers might be aghast at the suggestion and tell you that you need professional lighting. Professional lights can cost hundreds of dollars and while they do have benefits, such as allowing you to adjust the color temperature or intensity of the lights, there are workarounds to save you the expense. When you take photos make sure that you shoot in RAW, that way you can adjust the color temperature in Lightroom or other editing software. If the lights are too intense, move them farther away! You don’t need flashes or lights that are timed with your shutter release (unless you are doing water splash photography). For the majority of product photography you can use continuous lighting, like that light you might already have out in your garage.
Now that you have all your lighting taken care of, let’s go back to glare and reflections for a moment. If you are getting overhead glare turn off overhead lights. Rotate your table and your entire set up so you are getting as much light as you can, but keeping the direct reflections off your product (and/or computer screen) from the camera’s point of view. Make sure if you use the computer laptop screen that you test different angles to get the least glare. Using some creative movement you usually can find a sweet spot where you don’t have hot spots and reflections.
However, that still might not be enough. Sometimes you will need a way to diffuse light. There are several “hack” solutions for this. If you have a large area, like a whole window area, a white fabric shower curtain (I got one at the $1 store) can diffuse light. This also works well for portraits.
You can diffuse the light on your flash or your extra LED lights by making a softbox or using tissue paper. There are plenty of DIY instructions online for making flash and light diffusers and softboxes. Be careful that you never put paper or fabric over the hot style lights like incandescent and halogen – that would be a fire hazard!
You can also make your own “light box” using a big plastic bin like the one I use in my setup. It’s not perfectly clear, so it diffuses the light. Bins like these are available at the hardware store and you might even be able to get one at the $1 store. There are also lots of DIY tutorials online for making light boxes for product photography using a large cardboard box and white tissue paper and white poster board as the backdrop.
Now you are ready to take some photos! Obviously, you need a camera. The camera you use does not have to be expensive or even a DSLR. The charging block image above was taken with an older generation Android phone. Current smartphones are even better. Some of the other images shown as examples throughout were taken using a very old Rebel camera. You do not have to invest in an expensive camera to get started taking product photos. Whatever camera you have on hand is the best camera to use!
You can shoot handheld if you are steady. If you have enough light shutter speeds should be fast enough, but if you are going to invest, I would spend the money for a great tripod, and get one that can also allow you to do some flat lay work. I love my Manfrotto tripod and the 90 degree shooting tilt has come in handy for more than just product photos.
Now a few final tricks, or “hacks” for some cool effects! If you want to suspend something, then clear fishing line can be used to make items look like they are levitating. You will need Photoshop or a similar program to edit out the fishing line in post. It can also be a good idea to also secure the item at the base so that it is not swaying around.
When you have an object that just won’t stay put, some console tape or gaffer’s tape and help keep items in place and when removed they do not leave a residue. A loop of console tape held the ring in place in the images I included above. If any of the tape shows you might have to edit it out later.
If you want some cool colored lighting, try a colored gel or tissue paper over your camera’s built in flash or over top of your lighting (again do not put paper over hot bulbs). Some inexpensive LED puck lights can also create interesting effects when placed under or behind objects. Some smartphones and apps (Flashlight app on iOS and Color Flashlight on Android) also allow you to change the color of your phone screen and use it as a light. These colored lights can also be used for creative effects.
So there you have it, a complete set up for product photography using items you probably already have around the house! Even if you have to buy some garage lights, some colored papers or fabric, and make a diffuser for your window or a light box for your products, you can have an awesome setup for under $50.
It’s the most inexpensive, simplest set up for your product photography!
We’d love to see your images, so share them with us on Twitter @focusedcamera and use the hashtag #photofun.
Starting a business can be daunting. For many it means giving up the security and consistent income of their current job to attempt the unknown. In order to successfully begin your own company, a large amount of planning needs to occur, but don’t worry! I am going to break it down into 10 easy steps.
First off, you need to do a little research on yourself. Take a personality test or a career interest survey to see which business types suit you. Make sure you have the skill set and personality type to make the business successful.
Next, research the competition. Find out all you can about the product or service they offer and learn from their strengths and weaknesses. Look at their pricing closely, this will be important later when you create your business plan. Also consider supply and demand. Are there already a large number of businesses filling the demand? Is the product or service in short supply? Make sure there will be demand for your product or service and that the area is not already saturated.
As you research your competition, take note of their typical customer base. This “target market” is the type of person you will want to focus your product, location (place), pricing, and promotion on. If you notice many of the customers are in one area, try to set up your location close to them. You will want to send out advertising and promotions that target this customer base. Consider their overall ages, gender, income level, ethnicity, religions, cultural norms, family size, and more. For example, if your product would have an added value to a particular age or religious group, you would want to set up shop in an area or district where they are the majority.
Finish up your research by checking into any ethical and legal considerations. See if there are any local regulations which would affect your business operation. Complete a risk assessment. What could go wrong? What are all the possible ways someone could get hurt or demand payment for loss or injury? Investigate insurance options and costs to cover all those risks.
2. Make A Business Plan
This step sounds complicated, but it’s not! While this part may be time consuming, a business plan can be a short as one page, or it could take up many pages. For someone just starting out, 1-2 pages will most likely be all it takes.
A business plan should include your company name. Don’t panic about this! A name can always be changed, so don’t wait to start until you have the perfect name. It should also include a short description of the business and the benefits you will provide.
Analyze your competition. Explain how you will provide a benefit or have a strength that gives your company an advantage. Pay attention to their weaknesses and have a plan for how you will avoid the same fate.
List all of your costs. What will it cost to get started? And what will it cost to continue to operate? Start-up costs are usually much higher than the usual month-to-month costs. Include everything from permit fees to rent to salaries and taxes.
Include your products or services and your pricing plan. Make sure your prices (income) will be greater than your costs (expenses). Know how much you have to sell or produce to break even on those costs. Err on the side of caution, in other words, if you think you will be able to sell 100 of your product, calculate what will happen if you only sell 50 or 30. When establishing your pricing, keep your prices in line with your competition while still remaining profitable.
Know your target market and include information about your typical customer and what s/he will gain from your business (your mission). Have a list of places you can start promotions that will be seen by those customers. Do NOT be misled into thinking “If you build it, they will come.” You will have to advertise… a lot!
Choose a location (or service area) that includes your target market and if it is a brick and mortar location, make sure it is visible and easily accessible. We have all seen sub-par locations where business after business tries to open and eventually fails in the same spot. Consider what is good about the locations that have a good flow of customers and think about what is detrimental in those locations where customers are “no shows.”
Think long term. What will this business need for future expansion and growth? Will you need investors or bank funding? Start to plan for how you will get your capital investment. Many investors and banks will ask for your business plan. If you will need large amounts of funding, you will need a more in-depth business plan than if you need a small loan. Set goals for 3 weeks, 3 months and 3 years.
Consider whether you will need distribution. If you have a product that needs to be delivered or using shipping or warehouses, you will need to add those costs to your overall projections and make sure you are still profitable.
Last, think about your workforce. If you are a one person show, make sure your profit calculation is enough to pay you for your time. Time is something that many beginning entrepreneurs forget to include in their “costs.” If you offer a service and your profit on the job is $100, that may sound great, but if it took you 15 hours you made less than minimum wage. Carefully make all the calculations, including taxes, Medicare, Social Security, insurances, workman’s comp costs, that will come out of your (or your employee’s) paycheck and include those costs when figuring out your profitability.
3. Figure Out Financing
There are two main ways to finance a new business. You can save until you have your start-up costs, or you can go to a lender. Before you approach a lender, you will need a thorough business plan and all of your permits and tax ID numbers.
Some businesses may also get funding from investors, partners, or through the sale of stock. Depending on your business type you may have more than one option available.
Also have a plan for your income. When money starts to come in to the company you will need a way to accept payments and a bank account. If you will accept credit cards, you will need to have those services established.
Purchase accounting software to keep track of your expenses and income. For most businesses, hiring an accountant to help you get set up and assist with payroll and income taxes is recommended. You will still need to take care of the day-to-day accounting like paying your vendors and depositing your customer payments and entering that data into your record keeping software.
4. Location, Location, Location
This has already been covered, but bears repeating. Pick a good location or service area that fits your business and has plenty of customers in your target market!
If you will travel to customers, establish a service area and determine if you will travel outside that area and what will you charge. If customers come to your store, make sure you have signage and visibility. If you will be shipping products, set up your shipper services accounts and make sure you have accurately calculated the costs.
5. Determine Your Business Structure
There are generally three main options: sole proprietor, partnership, or corporation. Each one has specific advantages and disadvantages as outlines in the chart below.
A sole proprietorship is the easiest and least expensive to establish and gives you, the owner, the most control since there are no other owners or partners. It can be more difficult to get lending; you might have to use personal credit lines or credit cards. There is more personal liability in this structure.
A partnership is two or more people. There are two types. Limited Partnerships are where one person assumes most of the risk and has the most control and other partners have limited liability and control (established in a legal agreement). Limited Liability Partnerships are where all partners share control and have limited liability as they are not responsible for what other partners do. Sharing control in a partnership can be a drawback as over time disagreements can occur.
A corporation is legal entity all by itself. This protects the owners from personal liability. There are more costs to establishing corporations, as well as more recording keeping and reporting requirements. An attorney can help you decide whether a corporation, and which type of corporation (C, S, B, Close, or Nonprofit), is the right structure for you. Additionally, a corporate accountant can discuss the different tax implications (there is double taxation in some structures).
A Limited Liability Corporation, or LLC, is a hybrid between a corporation and a partnership and offers some advantages. It can be easier and less costly to establish than a corporation, still protects you from personal liability, and requires less paperwork; however, there are self-employment taxes and no stock options.
Branding is not the same thing as picking a name. Personal branding comes after you have a name. Brainstorm key words that are related to benefits provided by your service or product, such as: efficiency, time-saving, money-saving, effective, personal touch, improvement, health and more. Now with those words in mind, what is the mission or goal of your company or brand? Once you have that mission, everything you say, do, or write whether in person, on your storefront, or in your advertising, should all speak to that mission and have consistency. Use consistent colors and invest in a professional logo design (about $100). Use the same mission keywords (or slogan if you have one) everywhere!
7. Register Your Name
Now that you have a name, a brand, a logo, and possibly a slogan you should register or trademark them if possible. This step will also make sure you are not taking a name already in use. Register with the US Patent and Trademark Office: https://www.uspto.gov/
If you have an S corporation or non-profit you will need to register with the IRS. If you are using your name, you may not need to register with your state either. If you are using a company name you will most likely need to register with the state (Secretary of State) and country (Business Bureau or Business Agency). Most companies do not need to register federally, other than tax ID numbers which is next…
8. Taxes & ID Numbers
Register with the federal government to get your Federal ID number (EIN) using their online portal.
Depending on your state, you may or may not need a State ID number. Check your state requirements. Make sure you also understand your state’s requirements for income tax, employment insurance, workman’s compensation, and their respective costs.
Some of these forms and applications will ask for your industry NAICS code. This is the link to their handy search tool to help you find the appropriate code for your business (https://www.naics.com/search/).
If you are offering products for sale, you will most likely also need a State ID number for sales tax. There are some exceptions, so check locally.
9. Permits & Licenses
Some businesses must be licensed federally, such as firearm sales, but most do not. Be sure to check!
States vary, but many commonly regulated industries include food, salons, electricians, basically any industry or business where there are safety issues and guidelines. States will need to know your certifications and education in some cases. You will need to get insurance (as mentioned before) that covers your industry.
10. Get Your Bank Account
Take all of your permits, licenses, and ID numbers with you, along with any company registrations such as incorporation or LLC papers to the bank (you might want to call ahead and set up an appointment – this process could take over an hour).
…NOW OPEN UP FOR BUSINESS!
If you'd like to know more about opening a business, consider enrolling in our Marketing Course!
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