Product photography is a topic many eBay and eCommerce sellers struggle with and for good reason – it’s a highly technical task that requires you to have a good background knowledge to get it right.
In this series of blog posts I’ll take a closer look at product photography and share with you some tips on how to create great looking product images for your eBay listings or online shop.
We’ll start with the camera – as without one, there are no pictures, right? And even though lighting, which I’ll cover next week, plays an integral role in the quality of your pictures, the camera is still of course the most important element.
Luckily these days we have digital cameras which are quite affordable and even with some lower end models you can get very good results if you know how to make them work for you.
Digital cameras can be categorized into three large groups:
1) Point & Shoot Cameras – these will be your everyday cameras most people already have and use for travel or birthday party pictures. Small, lightweight and relatively cheap – such cameras can be bought for as little as £30-£40 with the higher end models running into hundreds of pounds.
With the cheaper digital cameras you’ll really struggle to get good quality pictures as they won’t have the necessary functionality, especially in low light conditions. Also, they usually don’t work that well for highly complex items, such as jewellery, glass products and super small products where a good macro mode feature is a must have.
2) Compact (bridge) cameras – prices for these start at around £200 but can go up to £1000 or more for the best models. Compact cameras will give you much better pictures in comparison to small digital cameras as they have better optics, a larger sensor and overall their functionality can be compared to more expensive DSLR cameras.
Many bridge cameras nowadays come with interchangeable lenses too which is great if for example all you need is macro shots. These will also be perfect for people who want to get functionality of a DSLR camera but can’t afford the higher price tag.
3) DSLR cameras – the best of the best! DSLR cameras offer the best image quality, interchangeable lenses, great pictures even in limited lighting conditions and the widest options of available settings, all of which can be manually adjusted. Prices for DSLRs start at just below the £300 mark and can go up as high as £5-£10k+ for professional models.
When it comes to product photography, DSLR is the way to go! Product pictures are crisp, highly detailed and look very professional EVEN if you’re not a photographer!
Just to make a quick comparison – here are two images taken by a Point & Shoot type of camera and my Nikon D300 DSLR:
Same product, same lighting conditions but the results are so much better with my Nikon D300, which is a DSLR camera!
So which camera is best for product photography?
Obviously, the high-end DSLR cameras will give you the best results but I don’t expect you to buy one for several thousand pounds, especially if you’re just starting out and need to carefully plan every penny you spend.
Start with what you already have – maybe that compact camera you use for family pics is good enough for taking product pics too! Take some test shots with a camera you already have and only start looking for a new one if you really can’t get any decent results.
IF you need to buy a new camera, here are a few important things to look for:
- Image sensor – this is the most important element / part in any digital camera. The bigger the sensor, the higher quality images you usually get. But it’s not all about the megapixel count, not anymore. Nowadays the technology that accompanies the image processing sensor is even more important. Canon / Nikon have the industry’s best sensors in their cameras so if you’re buying a lesser known brand, you’ll have to extensively research how good the actual image sensor is to find what kind of image results you can expect.
- Interchangeable lenses – many bridge type cameras and all DSLR cameras will have interchangeable lenses. If you sell small products that require a good macro mode, an interchangeable lens is a MUST HAVE feature for you!
- Movie mode – most cameras nowadays will have a movie mode which essentially can be used to shoot high quality product videos, reviews, how to guides etc. which you can then use in eBay listings, your online shop and publish directly to YouTube. Ideally, go for a camera which has FULL HD (1080p) movie mode AND check out some videos shot with that camera specifically on YouTube to get a good idea of the quality you can expect.
- Ergonomics – this isn’t so important if you’re only planning to use your camera for product pictures but as most people will also use it for personal pictures as well, you want to make sure the camera feels nice in your hands and is easy to operate. For the majority of people this won’t be an issue BUT if you have smaller or bigger than average hands go to a B&M shop and check how well the camera “sits” in your hands before making a purchase. You can still order online of course to get the best price.
There are tons of additional features I could cover but the thing is – if you pick anything from the likes of Sony / Nikon / Canon, you are almost guaranteed to get a camera that will do everything you need for product photography and more! These days digital cameras are so advanced and even the cheaper models from top brands create stunning pictures when used in proper light settings.
If you’re unsure about a camera, read REVIEWS! Even if you don’t purchase from Amazon, head over there to check out user reviews as they’re very helpful and have never let me down in helping with a buying decision before.
Does this all still sound too technical for you? Haha well okay… how about I give you some specific advice on what camera to buy based on your budget.
Less than £100.
Save up another £100 and then look into buying a new camera. Seriously, for 100 quid there are not many good options out there for you.
If you absolutely have no way of increasing your budget, look for a second hand bridge style camera on eBay, Gumtree or local classified ads. If you’re lucky, you could find a good second hand Panasonic Lumix which will give you decent quality images for that price tag.
Less than £200.
With £200 you’re still a bit short of getting anything brand new BUT you can definitely get a good second hand bridge camera (like the same Panasonic Lumix) OR if you’re lucky and patient, a second hand DSLR entry level model.
When buying a used DSLR, make sure you read the description properly as often people sell just the BODY of the camera, without the lens. Without a lens you cannot take pictures so make sure the body comes with a lens when purchasing a used kit.
Less than £300.
Happy times as you can now afford a brand new DSLR! Both Canon and Nikon offer entry level DSLR cameras at below the £300 mark.
Both are great entry level DSLR cameras that offer terrific value for money!
Those model numbers change very often so it’s possible that when you’re reading this they’ll already be different. That doesn’t make any difference though as Canon’s and Nikon’s DSLR cameras are all good and will fit most of your needs.
As for the Nikon VS Canon argument – I won’t even get into it, lol! In my opinion both make great cameras and it’s more of a personal choice. I like Nikon and have used it for years but that doesn’t mean Canon is not as good.
For this price you can also get a compact / bridge camera. They’re not bad. In fact, newer models produce superb pictures and if you plan on using this camera a lot outside of your business (travel, family pics etc.) it may actually be worth considering one of these vs a DSLR as they’re smaller, lighter and generally easier to operate.
Less than £500.
For £500 you can get a higher level DSLR camera OR invest that additional money into buying a better lens. Lenses play a huge role in the overall image quality of your pictures… I have lenses that cost more than a thousand pounds and they’re worth every penny!
So with a budget of £500, I would still recommend you getting an entry level DSLR camera but invest in a better lens. If you do this, you can actually buy your camera BODY ONLY to save some money and add that to your lens budget.
For product photography, the best lens you can get is a macro lens. Ok, if you’re only selling large items such as clothing, you don’t necessarily need a macro but it would still be useful for showcasing small details of your clothing, such as the stitching, with super high quality macro shots.
For less than 200 quid, you can get a really good quality, branded (Nikon or Canon) macro lens, such as Nikon AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 40mm f/2.8.
This will be a fixed lens with no zoom but for product photography it’s really not an issue as you can freely move your camera as needed to get that perfect image composition.
Also, remember that Nikon lenses won’t fit Canon cameras and vice versa. If you buy a 3rd party lens, such as Tamron or Sigma (which by the way offer great value for money), make sure you’re buying the model that fits your camera (Nikon or Canon).
Less than £1000.
£1000 is a very good budget and in fact, you don’t need much more than this to buy a very good camera and lens kit.
Camera wise, there are many models to choose from and they all are great! Nikon and Canon simply do not make bad DSLRs and you can verify this by checking out reviews on Amazon – most of their cameras will have a 4.5+ star overall rating!
Canon EOS 60D or Nikon D7100 – both are superb cameras and will be perfect for product photography. There are some minor differences like MP count, LCD screen size, Live Preview availability and other tech stuff but image quality wise, they all are excellent.
But again, don’t go overboard with the camera while ignoring the LENS! A great lens with a cheaper body could actually give you better results than a more expensive camera with a weaker lens.
When buying a lens, look @ the F number as that’s the most important technical indicator apart from the actual build quality. The smaller the F number is, the less light you need to create great images. With product photography it may not be such a huge issue but still, if you buy a macro lens, it really should be f/2.8 or ideally f/1.8
Another great type / group of lenses are Tele Zoom lenses with a macro function. These come in various settings and models like 70-300mm, 18-200mm, 55-200mm and so on. What’s great about these types of lenses is that you get a great range of zoom but at the same time they have a macro mode which can be used to take close-up shots. The macro won’t be as precise as with a dedicated macro lens but IF you can afford just one of the two, a good Tele Zoom lens with macro function would be the best choice.
So that’s my quick guide on camera buying for eBay / eCommerce sellers. There are many technical details I could cover but I just don’t want to overwhelm you with information that you really don’t need at this stage.
Remember, if you buy a DSLR made by Nikon or Canon, you’re almost guaranteed to have made the right choice. All of their cameras are great and will work perfectly for product photography.
When budgeting for a new camera purchase, always leave some additional money aside for other accessories which are essential for product photography:
- Tripod – a MUST HAVE! Any tripod will really do the trick here, yes, even a cheap 20 quid one from eBay. But you absolutely must have this to be able to take good product pictures (as you’ll find out in future posts covering photography techniques).
If you want the best of the best, checkout tripods made by Manfrotto. Especially if you plan on using it outside of business, a quality tripod is a good investment to make in your set-up.
- Background set-up – we’ll cover this in next week’s post.
- Lighting set-up – we’ll also cover this in next week’s post.
So whatever you do, don’t max out your budget on the camera purchase alone. There’s no point in getting a good camera if you have no lights or background set-up!
As for built-in mobile phone cameras – obviously, they’re not meant to be used for product photography and will give you mediocre results at best even when used in good lighting condition or outside. Still, some mobile phones nowadays have very good cameras (the latest Samsung models) and if you have no money to spend on this at all, it could be your last option.
Ideally, I would recommend you buy a DSLR camera, even if it’s a used one. In terms of image quality, DSLRs are simply the best! And don’t be afraid of how technical they look – there are just a few important settings you need to master, which we’ll cover in up-coming posts, plus all of these cameras have an AUTO mode which allows you to use them as normal, point & shoot type of cameras (for those personal/family pics).
Used is fine too. In fact, I would rather buy a good second hand DSLR than a brand new shiny compact camera. With used DSLRs though you have to be careful as to whether the image sensor is in good shape. When buying a used camera, you should take the lens off and ensure there is no dust / dirt on the sensor as cleaning it can be a really time consuming and difficult task.
Remember, this is an investment in your business!
My own photo equipment cost me more than £10k! I purchased it more than 5 years ago but it still works perfectly for me and I have no need to buy anything new. A good camera will last you for years + it’s a business tool that will earn you money so should be viewed as an investment and not a cost. After all, the better your product pictures are the higher conversion rate you’ll see – as simple as that!
Next week we’ll look at lighting and how important it is to get pro quality images. This is something most people totally miss out on and then blame their camera for poor pictures when in reality it’s the LIGHTING set-up that lets them down!
If you have any questions or need advice on picking a suitable camera for your budget, please feel free to leave your questions below in the comment box and I’ll personally reply to all of them.