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.
From Canon that will be the Canon EOS 1100D w/lens kit and from Nikon – the D3100 w/lens.
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.
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Nice article. Thank you for sharing. I loved how you point out that it’s not really about the camera, but
about the light. For people like gastronomer and I, it’s hard to control light when you’re at a restaurant
or eatery. Thanks for posting this. I admire those two bloggers you’ve mentioned above. They are
brilliant photographers even with a point and shoot.
Thanks Annie! 🙂
Thanks for this blog series. Your posts are always been very helpful. I have been using a high end point
& shoot camera for product photography, but it doesn’t seem to be able to capture a clear white color.
Would a DSLR camera capture more light in the same setup, or is it my lighting setup that is wrong?
Eagerly waiting for your response.
A DSLR camera should outperform a point & shoot camera, yes, but it depends on many factors, including your light set-up and white balance.
Have you tested out various white balance settings?
I have a Nikon D300s, you mention that the best lense for product photography is a macro lense.
Does this include objects that measure approx 20cm x 20cm? If so AE e you able to give a link to one such Macro lense for Nikon
A lense like this would be perfect:
[…] like with product photography, equipment is very important here, as you just won’t be able to get good results without the […]
would the Canon EOS 60D or Nikon D7100 (like you mentioned in your post) be sharp enough for taking jewellery pics?
They have huge sensors and with a macro lens & good lighting will be perfect.
First of all, Thank you for this Web site! I’m learning so much. Keep up the good work.
One question if I may. I have between 500-1000 pounds for camera and all other things related to taking photograthe., pod, lighting ect. I’m selling jewellery and need to take sharp photos off them. Will that amount do and if so which camera would do the job, specifically for jewellery? Any thoughts & ideas are most welcome from you.
Thanks in advance Andrew
All the best
Look for a mid-priced DSLR, good lighting kit and most importantly – a good MACRO lens! Camera is even not that important as lighting and lens is.
A good kit in my opinion would be Nikon D7200 Digital SLR Camera Body ONLY + Sigma 105mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens for Nikon.
And then a powerful lighting kit from eBay.
This may be a bit more than £1k but for jewellery, you really need a good set to get great photos.
Thanks so much for your help.
Sorry posted below before i could see your reply.
Will look into it asap.
No worries, you’re welcome Joseph!
I’m selling toys online and I need something to make my own pictures. I have a £500 budget. Can you advise me on what to buy?
Any Canon/Nikon DSLR camera that fits your budget will be fine for toy photography. Just look for latest models on Nikon/Canon website and find best prices online.
Make sure you leave some money for the background set-up and some kind of lights – strobes or at least camera mounted flash.
Hope this thread is still active. Your article very good. I am hoping you could advise me a bit more. Looking at taking photos of jewellery and diamonds. Done some research into macro lens. Apparently these 2 are the best:
1. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8Macro IS USM
2. Tamron 90mm 2.8
My 3-fold question really is:
-Which is the better?
Which DSLR EOS Canon camera is the best to buy for either or…as I see there are over 40 models, and it is slightly overwhelming.
Is it better to buy just a canon body and invest in a macrolens….or a a full camera and invest in a macrol3ns later on?
Please help! Thanks so much.
Thanks for your comment.
I’m sure that Canon lens is better compared to Tamron. By how much? Don’t know, you should search for some side by side reviews for these. Both are excellent lenses and will do the job perfectly!
As for which camera to go with – I would recommend going with latest model – one that suits your budget really. All Canon, Nikon DSLRs nowadays are superb in terms of image quality, so you can’t really make any mistakes here.
IF you only plan on using the camera for macro shoots, get body only + macro lens. But if you plan on using it for personal stuff or something, go with the full kit and get macro lens separately.
Hope this helps!
Thanks so much Andrew. REALLY appcreciated.
My sole purpose is jewellery photography, so narrowing it down I am thinking of:
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro IS USM macrolens ( approx £480)
Canon EOS 1200D Rebel T5 DSLR (2014) Body only ( approx. £180)
Happy days? Good choice, or you may suggest a different camera body?
Am I right in assuming all canon macrolenses are compatible to all canon dslr cameras and visa versa?
Thanks so much! 🙂
Yes, all canon EF lenses will fit Canon cameras.
As for your camera choice – for that price, I’m sure its a very good camera!
THANK YOU kindly Andrew.
You’re welcome Agnes! 🙂
Here is stephen again.
I read your post, then I found someone who can borrow me CANON EOS 7D.
Is this camera enough for product shooting?
yes, it will be enough.
Sure, it will work! Any DSLR is good for basic product pictures. Lighting and shooting technique is actually more important than camera itself.
Is Canon D600 enough for product shooting?
I work in watches store and I want to make a website for this
i took picture with my mobile camera(galaxy s5) it’s good but I want better quality
I’m thinking to buy samsung galaxy s6 to try it’s camera or buying canon 650d , so what’s your opinion about that???
Canon 650D will definitely be a BETTER choice compared to ANY phone camera, especially if you need high quality pictures of watches.
Thanks for this blog series, I have been using a high end point & shoot camera for product photography, but it doesn’t seem to be able to capture a clear white colour. Would a DSLR camera capture more light in the same setup, or is it my lighting setup that is wrong?
Yes, a DSLR camera will def. get more light in, due to size of lens.
[…] Product Photography, Part 1: Cameras […]
Hi Andrew! I have been looking for a tutorial site like this for ages, it covers pretty much every thing I needed to know! I’m going for a new job as a product photographer, and looking on the net to find any tips or hints to get things down has been a real ball ache! I stumbled across this when I was looking for a photoshop tutorial (google took me to part 4 of your guide) and i have to say its been very informative!
Thanks for doing this! much appreciated!
Great to hear that Reidy! 🙂
Good Luck with your new business venture!
Thanks for a great article, what type of lense did you use to achieve the image of the Dymo printer above?
That pic was taken using Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 17-55mm 1:2.8 G ED
Hi, I am making some beautiful jewelry to sell on Etsy. I am just about ready to throw in the towel. It doesn’t matter how good the jewelry is, if you can’t capture a great picture – forget about it!
What camera and lens do you recommend. I bought a three sided “white” tent but the silver still has so much reflection. Can you help?
Taking great jewellery images is not an easy task. You’ll need special equipment, skills and even then it’s not guaranteed that your images will have that magazine look.
So if at all possible, I would recommend outsourcing this process completely.
If that’s not an option, check out this website and guides on jewellery product photography:
I want to be a photographer specially in product photography. My camera is canon 70d. Will you please suggest me to purchase perfect lenses for perfect product photography.
You’ll probably need a a general type lens for normal sized goods and a macro lens for smaller, more detailed items.
In this post I already give some advice no what lenses to purchase, so follow those tips.
Once again, great info.
The products we have are in see through plastic bags so photos don’t come out that well even with a DSLR and I don’t want to take it out as then it cannot be considered new. Any suggestions?
hmm, not sure – products like these are tricky indeed.
If you REALLY can’t take it out, try shooting it against dark/black background maybe? That should somehow reduce the effect of plastic bag and bring product in front.
Brilliant information on product photography – thank you. I am looking forward to reading part 2 already. I’m glad I stumbled upon this write up before I spent money on a new camera. I have an old Canon EOS 400D and was looking for an expensive replacement, however, I have already started looking into a macro lens instead. On ebay I have come across a refurbished Macro lens. Could you possibly tell me if this would be suitable for a new adventure into product photography?
Thank you again.
With a good lens, Canon EOS 400D should be all you need for basic product photography.
That lens looks very good to me, if you need to shoot small objects, it should be perfect.
And as seller has 14 days money back guarantee, you really can’t loose out with this one! If you don’t like the results this lens provides, simply send it back for a refund. But all in all it looks like a great bargain!
OMG!! I can’t believe how quick you answered!! LOL!! I was trying to find your blog on the lighting set up. Do I need that? And if so, what would you recommend? Thank you so much!!
PS Do you sell that Camera???
Hilarious! I thought you were talking to me “Ruth” and you were talking to another “Ruth”. I’ll wait for your reply. Thanks. Ruth Willis
70-300 macro will def. be a better choice than 100-200 zoom.
You really need that MACRO feature to take good close ups.
This may seem a really silly question, but I am genuine when asking. I am left handed and find using many cameras difficult as all the buttons / menus, etc are on the wrong side for a left handed person………… so my question is do you know if any of the major manufacturers make a camera with left handed people in mind?
Thanks for your comment.
It’s actually a very good question, I have never thought about this but can imagine how difficult for you it is to use these camera properly.
Unfortunately I don’t think there are left-handed DSLRs out there, at least I haven’t noticed them.
What I would recommend you to do is get a remote control – wired or wireless to make the whole product photography job more enjoyable. Like this one:
Or cheaper, wired version like:
Apart from that, connect your DSLR camera to your laptop/PC while taking pictures, so that you don’t have to use your camera’s built in settings/menu to view pictures and do adjustments. With an attached laptop/PC it’s so much easier, so you don’t even have to touch the camera, if it sits nicely on a tripod.
Hope this helps Maria!
Thank so so much for your time and advice.
I am going to look into the options you have suggested and I’ll let you know how I get on.
You’re welcome Maria! 🙂
hey loved your tips! would like to you u something,
im doing a photo-shoot for cosmetic products ,tubes 50mg jars and 10ml bottles, what camera and lens would u suggest? would a 100mm macro lens be ideal? with a canon camera?
i need it too be bight and loud on my website!
could you please help me out thanks
Thanks for your comment.
Yes, a 100mm macro lens will be perfect for products like these. You’ll be able to take great overall pictures as well as high detail close up pictures, with blurred backgrounds.
Experiment with backgrounds – if products are light/white/clear, consider using a dark/mirror type (tile) background to create added touch and reflective effect.
heyyyy thanks soooo much! this would really help.
could u also tell me what bulbs i can buy/use 85w or100w day lights bulbs?
im using the light in a lamp stand. to diffuse the light im getting tracing paper/butter paper, could u please tell me what size it be and how far away from the light should it be? thank so much sir, thanks a lot
You want as powerful bulbs your fittings can handle (check label inside your lamp). Ideally at least 100W +.
As for distances and your set-up, you just want to practice with it – you’ll see in camera results instantly, whatever there’s enough light or not, how shadows are playing etc.
thanks so much for your time! really appreciate
haha one last quick question? if thats fine?
is a 100-200mm zoom lens fine? or a 70 -300mm macro lens fine?
i have only these 2 lens choices with me!
Thanks very much for the tutorials – the best I’ve found on the web and very interesting!
One thing though – when you suggest a macro lens, how small does the object need to be for it to become useful? I have an old Canon DSLR EOS 400D with the lens that came with it – 18-55mm. I shoot a range of product sizes from 20mm diameter buttons to clothes on a manikin.
Any advice would be great!!
Thanks for your comment.
And it’s great to hear you find my guides valuable & interesting to read!
With a kit lens (18-55mm) you can shoot clothes on a manikin but for small items (20mm buttons), you def. want to get a macro lens. With the kit len you simply won’t be able to focus in close enough to make beautiful images that feature item in detail.
[…] 1) Product Photography – Part 1: Cameras […]
[…] 1. Cameras […]
[…] the fun part – taking pictures! We’ve covered cameras + background & lighting in the previous two blog posts so it’s now time to put it all […]
[…] up on last week’s post (Product Photography, Part 1 – Cameras), today we’re taking a closer look at the lighting and background set-up needed to get those […]
Great topic. Many thanks for sharing. Looking forward to the next one.
Thanks for stopping by.