The Bare Essentials: Product Photography on the Cheap

So you need product photos for your small online business. While you’d love to hire a pro photographer to take care of that, your current financial or logistical situation won’t allow for it right now — meaning you’ll have to somehow do it by yourself. Lucky for you, although photography, in general, is a famously expensive pursuit, you can creatively get away with product photography on the cheap.

Here’s a quick guide on all the basics for product photography which you can get without setting you back too much.

The Camera

Truth be told, most mid-range to high-end phones, as well as point-and-shoot digital cameras can take good product photos. Since you’ll be shooting still subjects, factors like shutter lag and shutter speed (where many phones struggle) really won’t be an issue.

However, if you wish to invest in a DSLR, it can still be done at a reasonable price as long as you don’t get too distracted by the bells and whistles. If you only need the photos for posting online, you don’t need many megapixels. And even if you did need to print something, even an 18-MP camera will let you print a 30″x40″ poster at a decent resolution, so things like brochures and leaflets are no problem.

One feature that you might want to look for is the ability to shoot tethered — meaning shooting while your camera is connected to your computer. Since the photos will be transferred to your computer as you shoot them, you won’t have to spend the additional time offloading photos.

An additional benefit is having a large monitor (and not just the tiny screen in the back of your camera) to preview your photos as you’re shooting, which comes in a clutch for making sure your photos are properly in focus.

With those fairly modest requirements, you’ll find that most entry-level DSLRs, and even many older ones, will fit the bill.

The Lens

By and large, you can get a lot done using the kit lens that your camera comes with. That said, if you’re using either a Canon or Nikon DSLR, you could do a lot worse than spending $100 on a “nifty fifty.” Both brands carry a cheap 50mm 1.8 prime lens that is famous for great value-for-money. These cheap lenses are sharp, work great in low-light situations, and versatile.

The Lighting

If you have access to a window that lets in plenty of sunlight, then that’s your best bet; hang a lightweight white curtain if the sunlight is so strong that it creates harsh shadows. If not, you can even use cheap desk lamps, as long as you soften the light (smaller light sources can cast ugly shadows). Diffuse the lamp’s light with a piece of trace or lightweight, white cloth.

The Tripod

A tripod is a pretty essential investment for product photography: being able to keep your camera fixed in the same position will save you a lot of time, especially when you have many products to shoot. It also helps you make sure the subject appears level in the photo. It will also let you shoot at slower shutter speeds, which can help mitigate low-light situations instead of needing to shoot at higher ISOs, which can cause grain.

The good news is since you’ll probably just be shooting indoors (that is, you won’t need it to be ultra-lightweight for carrying on hikes or able to withstand windy conditions), there’s no need to splurge on high-end brands.

The Background

For straightforward e-commerce product shots, you’ll likely need a clean, white background. The most budget-friendly options for this are foam boards propped up with clamps or cloth suspended behind the subject.

If you’re generally only shooting small products, small photography light boxes are easy to find online and are fairly inexpensive. And there you have it, the bare essentials for getting started with product photography on the cheap.

We hope this product photography guide has helped steer you in a direction to let you get started on the right foot. Next, you might be interested in checking out our short guide for setting up an inexpensive 3 point lighting setup.

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