Take Product Photos on a Small Budget

Take better photos of your products even when you have a small budget.

Taking product photos can seem like a mystery when your an Etsy shop owner.

Looking on Amazon for the right tools can take a lot of time and lead to a lot of confusion. You can find anything from entire studios to product photography boxes. From there, you also have to try to decide what lighting to buy.

You aim for a budget-friendly product photography box (because that’s what you’re supposed to get for shooting product photos, right?) and the small lights that come with it.

After arm-wrestling with it for a while, you aren’t quite getting the photos you want and you can’t figure out why.

When you’re not achieving good product photos.

If you are looking for light, airy product shots, but are not achieving them, then you’ve probably made the same mistake I have by purchasing a product photography box or kit. While this kit can be great for intense lighting, it doesn’t really give you enough room to work to take your photo, and it also doesn’t allow for those extremely subtle gradients of light that enhance your product.

How to improve your product photos

First thing is that you need space to work, and space to layout your product. Do yourself a favor and purchase a tagboard to use to lay out your scene. That will set you back $3.

Here’s another thing you don’t often hear in photography tutorials … it’s the need for distance and space between your product and the light. When your light is too close, it creates these harsh shallows that makes everything look heavy and flat.

I know what you’re thinking … when you move the light further away, your product photo gets dark, and you’re starting to not believe a word I say.

Yes, the light gets darker when it moves further away.

You’re light is getting smaller in relation to your product, so you need to find a away to make the light bigger. You can do this in a few ways:

  1. Buy a bigger, more expensive light.
  2. A well-lit room from natural, but in-direct sunlight
  3. A reflective photography umbrella

Buying a bigger light

You may need a bigger light, but you don’t need an expensive one to start off with. You just have to know what you need the light to do:

  • be able to raise and lower the bulb as well as move it around the room
  • be able to strengthen or dim the light coming from the bulb

Well-lit room from natural, but in-direct sunlight

This can give you some of the best light you can get in photography, but it’s not always possible or reliable. Make use of it if you can, but if you can’t, let’s look at the last option.

A reflective photography umbrella

Using a reflective photography umbrella as your tool can instantly make your light bigger and allow you to shoot great photos even in a dark room. It gives you great control of the light, and it’s easy on the wallet at around $20 for a 40 inch umbrella. You’ll also want to consider and umbrella diffuser for $17 to soften the light which will soften your shadows.

You’ll need a way to prop it up with your light, so you can either get scrappy and rig something together at home, or get a photography light that includes umbrella mount in its fixture.

Why not use a softbox

You can use a softbox if you’d like. But they can create a different effect to the lighting that is a bit more dramatic, whereas umbrellas create a softer lighting because they are big, open and bounce light everywhere.

Also, some softboxes are difficult to set up, and can take quite a bit of time, whereas an umbrella pops upon in no time.

You have a bigger light. Now what’s next?

Experiment with moving your product away from your lighting source (unless it’s natural, indirect sunlight, because you are already away from your light). Take a shot and see how it looks. Your photo might look at little grey, but this can usually be cleaned up in Lightroom or any other photo editing software.

Note the shadows and how prominent they are. If they are too intense, move your product further away from your light. Remember to take lots of photos and experiment with different distances between your light and your product. Have fun and see what you can discover!

Use a reflector to soften any shadows that are still annoying the heck out of you.

Reflectors can add a surprising amount of light back in to your photo. You can spend $10 and buy a reflector, but I think you’re better off paying $5 for two pieces of foam core and taping them together to create a large self-stand standing reflector (which is known as a “flat” in the photography world.)

A flat can go a long way in creating great product photography next to a window. It could possibly be all you need, so try it out before you shell out a ton for a light!

Light is all you need.

Again, this is my challenge to you to work with what you got to create beautiful product photos. It’s so tempting to run out and buy a bunch of expensive equipment (believe me, I’ve been there).

All you truly need for great photos is the right light, and that can be solved with experimenting and inexpensive equipment.

The equipment I used to create product photos

The following are the exact tools I used in the video.

Here is an alternative option with 33 inch umbrellas and diffusers

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.

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