There is a big difference between product photography and weddings, portraits, or landscapes. And what works for one will not necessarily work for the other.
In product photography, you generally want the whole product in focus, your backgrounds pure, accurate colors and your lights synced up.
So in this article, we’re going to cover the best camera settings for product photography in various situations so you can get professional images that will impress your clients.
For the best camera settings for product photography, you will want to be in Manual Mode and control your ISO, Shutter Speed, Aperture and Color Balance. In most cases you will use ISO 100, 1/200 Shutter, F/8 Aperture, and 5600k Color based on Strobe lighting.
However, there are many other situations that will change how you set your camera settings, so read on to learn about how to tackle each situation for your next photoshoot!
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What Camera Settings Should I Use for Product Photography?
When it comes to photographing products, there’s a lot at stake. With online sales especially, shoppers may choose to buy your product or move on solely based on the quality of the photographs. With this in mind, you want the photos to look professional and to show your product in the best possible light.
But how do you take photos that do that?
The success of your product photos depends largely on the camera settings you use. You’ll want to make sure you use a high-quality digital camera with a professional-grade lens and plenty of megapixels, both of which we’ll discuss further a little later in this article.
For now, let’s take a look at some of the best camera settings you can use for your product photos.
Always Shoot in Raw Format
Shooting in raw gives you uncompressed photos that contain incredible amounts of information compared to JPEG and are much easier to edit and retouch later.
Essentially, raw photos are like an unpainted canvas. They give you the greatest amount of flexibility when it comes to your post-production processing.
Raw format has no automatic settings, so it’s similar to shooting in manual. Everything that your camera sensor sees will be captured and you will be able to adjust exposure, white balance, color grading, etc.
Always Shoot in Manual Mode
In the studio, you’re in control of your environment so you don’t have to worry about getting a once in a lifetime shot.
Product photography is about controlling every aspect to how your product looks, from where the light hits your subject to how the shadows fall on the background, and you can take your time.
Regardless of the type of camera you have, it’s always best to use it in manual shooting mode when you take product photos. Manual shooting gives you complete control over all other settings, allowing you to customize the camera for each product you photograph.
Why is this important?
Every scenario in photography will be different. The lighting will be different, the colors of the products you photograph, the background colors, etc.
If your camera is set in auto mode, your photos will be slightly different between each shot and you won’t get consistent results that may be very important later.
So set your camera for manual shooting if you want to be able to control such factors as how dark or light your image will be, your shutter speed, and other manual settings discussed below.
White Balance Is Crucial for Color
Most cameras these days have an automatic white balance that actually works pretty well, but there are certain scenarios when it’s better to set the white balance manually.
Product photography in general is one of these scenarios, especially if you use various light sources with different color hues.
White balance is what ensures the whites and colors in your photos are rendered accurately so that they aren’t too orange (warm) or too blue (cold). It produces photos with the same color quality as what you see with your natural eyes.
|Color Temp.||Typical Scenario|
|2500k-4500k||Warm lighting (Incandescent bulbs, candles, etc.)|
|4500k-5600k||Natural Daylight/Cool LED lights|
|5400k-5800k||Strobes & Flashes|
|6000k-9900k||“Cooler” lighting (cloudy day, blue gels, etc.)|
The color balance on your camera will range from 2500k to 9900k, and your settings will depend on the type of lighting conditions.
For natural or continuous lighting, the hue of the light source plays a major role to how you will set the color balance and can change with every passing cloud or shadow, and if you have different color light bulbs then you will have to adjust things even further.
For example, if you’re using natural lighting and it is a really warm, sunny day, you may want to set your color balance for somewhere in the middle or “cool” down the color a bit with a lower setting.
If it’s cloudy and gloomy outside, you’ll want to warm up the image by setting a higher temperature.
This is why professional product photographers like to use artificial lighting via flashes and studio strobes, because they produce a stable color balance of 5600k.
The best way to set your color balance, especially for mixed lighting conditions, is with a white card like the X-Rite Color Checker Passport. Simply put it in your scene with the lighting you’re going to use, aim your camera, and use the custom white balance setting to snap a photo and it will set the correct color balance automatically.
For a more in-depth resource, check out our post on strobe vs continuous lighting.
Auto Focus: Don’t Trust Your Camera
Though it’s useful to use the autofocus on your camera, it’s best to turn it off once you get the product in focus.
This is particularly important if you’re taking multiple images and creating a composite, because if you use auto focus then areas of your image will change between shots.
The only exception to using auto focus is if you’re hand holding your camera, which we don’t recommend in most cases unless you’re looking for other compositions. In that case, it’s useful for quickly grabbing focus so you can get the shots you need.
In most other cases, use your cameras auto focus to establish focus, then switch to manual.
Always opt for Optical Zoom
Using the optical zoom option produces higher-quality images than digital zoom. Most cameras have both optical and digital options available, but for producing clear and professional photos, you’ll want to use optical zoom.
This is because optical zoom actually moves the lens closer or farther away from the subject, whereas digital zoom simply makes it look like you’re zooming in by essentially cropping the image.
This false cropping effect can make your photos blurry.
Set Aperture To Your Products Size
A camera’s aperture works in much the same way your pupils do: it dilates or constricts to allow in more or less light. The larger the aperture, the greater the amount of light coming through the lens.
The amount of light coming through can produce different effects for your photos, particularly the depth of field.
Larger apertures will allow more light in but will produce a shallower field depth, meaning the background will be more blurry. A smaller aperture will allow less light but will allow more of the photo to be in focus.
For most product photos, you want your aperture to be small enough to get the entire product in focus. The exception, however, is that it is okay to have a blurry background as long as the product itself is in focus.
It’s also okay to use a larger aperture for close-up detailed shots when you want to draw attention to a specific area.
|Aperture||Depth of Field (Blurriness)|
In the above photo, notice how much of the product is in focus. There is much more detail at f/16 than there is at f/5.6!
The typical aperture in product photography is between f/8 – f/16, and will depend on the size of your product.
Of course, when you close the aperture and let in less light, your image will become darker. In order to combat this, you need to increase the power of your lights.
This is easy to do when using flashes/strobes, but not so much if you are using continuous light. In order to get more light at smaller apertures, you will need to increase your ISO.
Set ISO As Close To 100 As You Can
ISO has to do with how sensitive your camera is to light, and you’ll also want to adjust this manually.
When doing product photography, it’s important to have the cleanest images possible. Photos that are grainy, dark and unclear do not look professional and will cause issues should your client ever want to use the product images for print.
When using flash/strobes, it’s really easy to set your ISO to 100-500 and achieve very clean images. However, with continuous lighting you may not be able to get enough light for your subject.
At that point you will have two options:
- Increase your ISO
- Lower your shutter speed (more on that below)
Most cameras have an ISO ranging from 100-100,000, and the higher up you go the more noisy your image becomes depending on the quality of your camera.
Start with the lowest ISO setting and increase it with each photo until you’ve found the ideal setting for the lighting you have available.
Be careful not to increase it too much though, as this can produce grainy-looking photos. If that’s the case, you can lower your shutter speed.
Master Your Shutter Speed
Another way to control how bright your images are is with the shutter speed, but it works differently then your ISO and Aperture.
The side effect that this setting controls is the blurriness of your photos depending on how much action is happening in the scene.
For product photography, in most cases this isn’t an issue and you can use a longer shutter speed if you don’t have enough light.
However, it’s extremely important that you use a tripod, because with a lower shutter speed your images won’t be as sharp if you hand hold your camera.
As you can see, having a higher ISO at F/16 still resulted in an image that needed 1/4 second for the shutter speed. Hand holding the camera at 1/4 second shutter speed produces a blurry image as well.
However, on the tripod your shutter speed can be much longer since the camera won’t move.
But what if your shooting a moving subject?
In many situations, you’ll need to increase your shutter speed up to 1/200th of a second in order to freeze that motion.
If this is outside during the day, it may be bright enough to set your ISO lower. But in the studio, flashes/strobes become more important because they allow you to set a very fast shutter speed.
Which is particularly important if you want to capture splashes, more on that later.
Tips for Taking Different Kinds of Product Photos
Of course, no two products are alike.
They may fall into categories such as shoes, handbags, and tools, but each one is unique. Because of this, each product photo will be unique.
Some products, such as coffee machines, might look ideal photographed in front of a standard white background and others, such as tents, might do best in a low-light, nighttime environment with a mix of ambient light.
Still others, like sports equipment, may need an action shot to give shoppers an idea of how the product works.
Though the white background is most common for product photography, there are plenty of other options as well. So how do you get the most out of your product photos, no matter what look you’re going for?
In this section, we’ll discuss some different kinds of product photos and tips for making them look great.
Camera Settings for Product Photography: White Background
Most product photos will need to have a listing image with a white background.
Your camera should have a spot meter setting that will give you a reading on the exposure for your subject. To ensure a pure white background, there should be significantly more light focused on the background than on the subject of the photo.
So much so that you will want to increase the distance between your background and the subject. Here’s a video we made for the lighting setup:
How to Use a Spot Meter for Product Photography
Your camera’s aperture is measured in stops. To get an idea how much light should be on the background, Expert Photography recommends making your background at least three stops brighter than the product you’re photographing.
Using your spot meter, check the exposure on your subject and compare it with that of the background. What is the difference between the two readings? If it is more than three stops, the lighting should be just right, and the background should be completely white. If it’s less than three stops, you may need to add more light to your background.
How to Get Good Close Up Product Photos
Many product photos are zoomed in close so shoppers can get a good idea what the product looks like.
Up close photos are great because they showcase a lot of detail
In fact, highly detailed close up shots trigger an emotion in the brain that causes shoppers to feel like they already own the product, which increases conversions.
One easy way to get high-quality up close photos is to set up your camera and tripod at your minimum focal distance, then simply zoom in if you have a zoom lens. That way, you can get both up close and distant photos without having to move the camera.
However, for proper close up shots you will need a Macro lens in order to achieve focus within 13″ and we recommend 100mm focal lengths.
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Product Photos in Motion
If you want an action shot of your product being used, you will need enough light to set a fast shutter speed with a low ISO, as discussed above.
These in motion shots can be difficult to capture, otherwise.
To make things even more complicated, in order to capture splashes with any sort of clarity you will need to also have a light source with a very short flash duration. Because with a long flash duration, light will continue throughout the motion and cause a blurry image.
Here’s what that looks like:
As you can see, you need to have a light source that is very fast, because your camera’s native sync speed is only so fast (usually up to 1/200 shutter speed).
Strobes intended for the outdoors that allow you to use High-Speed Sync (HSS) can be very expensive, since they allow your camera to utilize flash above 1/200 shutter speed. It does this by discharging the flash at intervals that fill your camera’s sensor with light as the shutter screen moves quickly.
A budget option would be to use these 600-watt strobes with a flash duration as short as 1/20000 on the lowest setting.
Another option for a very short flash duration is to use simple speedlights at 1/8th power and lower.
Shooting Products in Bright Conditions
In bright conditions, like the scene above, you might have the opportunity to mix ambient light with strobes or brighter continuous light.
Typically when you’re shooting a scene in doors, like with real estate, your windows will be overexposed as you tune your camera settings for the inside of the house.
So the solution is to set your aperture to the depth of field that you want, keep your ISO low, and expose for the outside while you tune the power of your lights to be bright enough to light the scene on the inside.
Taking Product Photos in Dark Environments
What if you need a low light environment to create the desired effect with your photos? Maybe you’re photographing pathway lights and you want to show how bright they are in a typical nighttime setting.
Of course, having some light in the shot is absolutely essential, but what you do with the light is even more important. Experiment with different exposures to see what works best with your available light.
Taking good low-light photos requires a bit of practice and skill in using different manual settings.
In the photo above, this was actually two photos merged together in Photoshop. One was taken with ambient light and a shorter shutter speed to get the candles glowing, and the other was taken with strobes for the wine bottle and glass.
Tips For Taking Proper Product Photos with Good Settings
So now that we’ve talked about the different settings and other camera specs for product photos, how do you actually take the best photos? What other equipment will you need, and how do you get the lighting right? Are there any tips you should keep in mind for taking, editing, and uploading the photos?
In this section, we’ll look at each of these aspects of taking product photos and discuss them in more detail.
Gather the Proper Gear
When taking your product photos, you’ll need more than just your camera. You may be able to use your smartphone camera if it has all the necessary settings, but whether you use a smartphone or other type of camera, you will also need some other basic gear to help you get the best photos possible.
Some of the equipment you’ll need includes:
- Tripod. Using a tripod will ensure the clearest photographs. While you don’t have to use a tripod, it will make your job a lot easier because you won’t have to worry about holding the camera steady.
- White backdrop. For portrait-style product photos, using a white backdrop will give your photos a sleek, professional appearance. Of course, choosing whether to use a backdrop will depend on your personal preferences and on the type of product you’re photographing.
- Artificial lighting. If you’re taking your photos outside on a sunny afternoon, you may not need any artificial lighting, but for shooting indoors or you want complete control over your lighting, go with studio strobes and speedlights.
Make Sure the Lighting is Right
Getting the lighting right is one of the most important parts of photography, and this is especially true when taking product photos. Whether you have an artificial lighting setup already or would prefer to make your own, it’s important to have sufficient light to fully illuminate the product you’re photographing.
Make sure every light fixture you use has the same lighting temperature. If you have one fixture with bright white light and another that produces a softer yellow glow, your photos may appear oddly shadowed and the colors may not be true.
Shoot the Product Photos
Once you have your camera, your lighting, your backdrop, and your product all set up, you’re ready to begin shooting.
Take lots of photos.
Not only will this allow you to choose the best photos for your product pages, it will also let you try out different settings, experiment with different lighting setups, and compare different photos against each other to see which ones you like best.
It will also give you more to work with when it comes time to edit your photos.
Always Post-Process your Product Photos
No matter how good your photography skills, you will most likely have to edit your photos before using them on ads or product pages. You may need to remove shadows, soften the background, or enhance the contrast of colors.
As mentioned earlier, shooting photos in the raw will make them easier to edit later. Photoshop is one of the best editing tools you can use, but it also has a steep learning curve.
Other options include Irfanview, Pixlr, Gimp and Adobe Lightroom.
As you can see, there’s much more to taking product photos than just a handful of settings on your camera. Knowing how to use those settings to your advantage every time is a skill you gain through trial and error.
No matter what types of products you’re photographing, you should have a pretty good idea of how to get started.
Now, it’s up to you. Practice, experiment, and see which settings and techniques work best for you.
For more product photography tips and tricks, check out our post on how to do product photography on a budget and the best product photography books you should read.