If you’re just getting into product photography, there is essential equipment you absolutely must have to get the job done.
As a beginner, you most likely won’t be looking to acquire all of the equipment available for this line of work at the same time, especially those on a budget. So it’s helpful to know which equipment you genuinely need to pursue product photography work.
To get started in the product photography business, the essential equipment you will need is:
- A high-resolution camera
- Two or three good quality lenses
- A very sturdy tripod
- Appropriate lighting
- Editing software
Just like with any profession, there are tools you’ll need to do your job.
Of course, it’s nice to have all the bells and whistles, time saving gadgets, and the latest technology. However, this is not how most photographers start out in their careers, ourselves included.
The way that we’ve acquired all of our gear was that we invested part each job we’ve gotten into equipment upgrades.
It takes time to build up your arsenal of equipment. When your budget is tight, the last thing you want to do is spend money on a piece of equipment that you never end up using.
So in this article we’ll go over the essential equipment you need for product photography. First we’ll go over the basics that every product photographer must have in order to take photos.
While this equipment is absolutely essential to do the job, you’ll have some flexibility in your options that can help to keep it more affordable.
If we’re talking about the absolute bare minimum for product photography, then you could get away with a camera, lenses, a tripod, and lighting.
Cameras: An Obvious Start
The most obvious piece of essential equipment for product photography is a camera.
While many product photographers have more than one camera in their stash, you can manage with a single camera for a long time. This can help keep your business expenses under control when you’re new to the product photography world.
Of course, there are many different types of cameras out there in a considerably wide range of prices.
On a budget, you don’t have to spring for a top-of-the line camera in order to turn out product images worthy of the online marketplace. The camera can be DSLR or mirrorless, however, you will want to choose one that has the ability to change lenses.
When deciding on a camera for product photography, it’s recommended to get one with at least 20 megapixels. Here are a few budget options:
|Canon EOS 4000D Kit||Amazon|
|Nikon D3400 Kit||Amazon|
|Sony a6000 Kit||Amazon|
This is the minimum you’ll need to get quality product images. Without adequate megapixels, you’re going to have a hard time capturing professional-looking product images that your clients will love.
Another factor when choosing a camera for your budding product photography business is whether or not the camera can be tethered to a computer. This feature is an extremely valuable time saver when working on a product shoot.
When your camera is tethered to your computer, you’ll be able to see what you’re shooting on a much larger screen. This can eliminate a lot of frustrating, time-wasting trial and error in your product shots.
A final consideration when picking a camera for product photography is ensuring that it has a hot shoe mount or a sync port.
If you use these criteria to select your camera, you will have the ability to handle most of your product photography needs.
Quick Tips for Choosing a Camera
In short, this is what you need in a camera for product photography:
- Interchangeable lenses
- A minimum of 20 megapixels
- Ability to be tethered to a computer
- A hot shoe mount or a sync port
Lenses: Quality Over Quantity
Like a camera, choosing the right lenses for product photography is incredibly important because they will affect the look of the final product image.
Out of all types of photography, product photography has the highest standards for sharp, clear images. This type of photography is primarily intended to sell products online or in print, and your clients will rely on the quality of your images for their ad budgets.
Generally, a consumer is only interacting with the product through a written description and the product images. If an image is not appealing, no matter how stunning the product looks in person, sales will be lost at a considerably high rate.
Consider the product image to be a first impression, as well as a lasting impression.
Lenses can be one of your most valuable pieces of equipment so you’ll want to buy the best you can afford. In fact, it would be better to purchase a cheaper camera if it meant you could afford a higher quality lens.
A high-quality lens can last for the lifetime of your career as long as you take proper care of it. Although they are an important and necessary tool for product photography, you don’t need every different type of lens when starting out in the field.
Most product photographers start out with just two or three good lenses in the beginning, and we still use only 2 lenses for the majority of our work.
Think quality over quantity when it comes to camera lenses.
What Size and Brand of Lens Should I Get?
As far as size goes, it’s best to get at least 100 mm macro. This is the most commonly used size of lens. Brazil-based commercial and editorial photographer Tomas Arthuzzi stated that he uses a 100 mm macro lens for 85% of his product photography work, and we do too.
According to London-based still life photographer Max Bridge at Square Mountain, the brand of the lens isn’t that important for product photography. His philosophy is that since you’ll be shooting mainly in f/8 and up, the lens brand wouldn’t make a huge difference in the final product.
Differences in the lens brand may only be noticed by people zooming in really far. Generally, this won’t be the case for product photography so don’t get stuck on a specific brand or feel the need to spend more just because of the name on the label.
Another good addition would be a versatile zoom lens. This is a great additional lens to have in a situation where the 100 mm doesn’t quite provide the effect you’re looking for. Aim for a 24 to 105 mm versatile zoom lens.
Here are a few 100mm macro lenses by Sigma for your camera brand:
|Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Bundle for Cannon EF||Amazon|
|Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Bundle for Nikon F||Amazon|
|Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Bundle for Sony E||Amazon|
Quick Tips for Choosing Lenses
In short, this is what you need in lenses for product photography:
- At least 100 mm macro
- Pick two or three quality lenses
- Have one 24-105 mm versatile zoom lens
Tripod: Make Sure Your Shots are Stable
A tripod is also an absolutely necessary part of your product photography gear.
Using a tripod makes it easier to get crisp, clear pictures and will allow you to have a stable platform for focus stacking with a macro rail as well as compositing multiple images together.
As mentioned above, clarity is of the utmost importance for product images. Not everyone has the steadiest hands when taking photos, so why not make it easier for yourself and just use a tripod?
This will save you time as well.
- One of the biggest causes of blurry images is camera shake. A tripod will ensure that your camera is completely still so your product images will be as crisp as possible.
- Reduce issues with cameras going out of focus by using a tripod. As with blurriness, camera shake can also cause an out-of-focus photo. Photos that are blurry or out-of-focus won’t look professional to potential customers.
- Tripods help you by keeping your hands free so you can focus on the composition of your set. Once you have styled your product, you can check your camera on the tripod to see if any adjustments are needed. Having two hands free to do this will make the work of adjustment much faster and easier.
- A tripod can improve image quality by allowing you to use a lower ISO. One of the main concerns of using a lower ISO is ending up with a blurry image from a reduced shutter speed. Since your camera is perfectly still when placed on a tripod, you can use a lower ISO without any worry of blurriness and get a higher quality image.
Make Sure You Get a Sturdy Tripod
Let’s take a look at some things to consider when purchasing a tripod for product photography.
A solid tripod with a central column is going to be your sturdiest option. You don’t want to go for the cheapest option for a tripod.
- If you purchase a low-quality, poorly-made tripod, you run a higher risk of it breaking, which could result in damage to your camera or lenses. Shelling out a little more money for a durable tripod can save you more money in the long run by preventing damage to your other pricy equipment.
- Another reason to go for a good, sturdy tripod is that the cheaper versions can be pretty flimsy. A poorly-made tripod may wobble which will certainly affect your product images as the camera won’t be mounted perfectly straight. Keep in mind that weight of the camera could cause an unsteady tripod to sit cockeyed or even tip over.
To add to the stability of the tripod, it’s recommended to select a tripod with rubber footings. If you’re working in a studio with slippery surfaces like hardwood or laminate floors, rubber footings can help prevent any slippage and absorb vibration.
What Material of Tripod Should I Use?
Most tripods are made of either aluminum or carbon fiber. To make the decision between the two, you need to take into account your budget and whether or not you travel for your work.
Aluminum tripods are the most budget-friendly option, but they are on the heavier side. For product photography, this is a good thing because they will be more stable.
These work well if you don’t plan on traveling with the tripod. If you’re just going to be keeping the tripod at your photography studio or in your home, then an aluminum tripod will work just fine and can help you save some money.
For those that travel for their product photography, carbon fiber tripods are lighter and more portable than aluminum tripods. These tripods cost more than aluminum, but if you have the budget and portability is a concern, you’ll do better with carbon fiber.
For the most versatility, you should look for a tripod with adjustable height. Having the flexibility to change the height of your camera is useful when your products tend to be of varied heights.
Without the option to adjust the height of your tripod, you could end up having more work to do with adjusting the height of your setup, which can be more time-consuming than simply adjusting the tripod height.
In addition to having flexibility for height, it’s also helpful to have a tripod with adjustable orientation. If you’ll be needing to shoot products from multiple angles, having a tripod with adjustable orientation is essential.
Some product photographers take overhead shots and being able to adjust the angle to one conducive to overhead shots is necessary. Here are a few options you may want to check out:
|Neewer 79 Inches Aluminum Camera Tripod Monopod||Amazon|
|Manfrotto Befree Advanced Camera Tripod||Amazon|
|GEEKOTO 79 inches Carbon Fiber Camera Tripod||Amazon|
Quick Tips for Choosing a Tripod
In short, this is what you need in a tripod for product photography:
- Stability, no wobble
- Rubber footings
- Aluminum tripod for budget/stability, carbon fiber for portability
- Adjustable height
- Adjustable orientation
Lighting Is Everything
You definitely want to get the proper lighting for your product photography.
If your images are poorly lit, they won’t look professional. Lighting kits can get fairly expensive, but there are a variety of options to try with a small budget.
Some professional photographers suggest that the bare minimum needed would be strobes with a modeling light so you can see where you’re shining the light, you need it to be color consistent plus or minus 200 Kelvin.
Modeling lights are incredibly useful because they can help you see exactly where the light is so you’ll have a better idea of how your final image will appear without having to do much trial and error.
One of the most important things to consider when choosing lighting is power. Generally, a 250 to 600 watt mono-lights will work for product photography. For tighter budgets, you could get two of the 400 watt mono-lights.
With all that power, you’re going to need some power cords or extra batteries. You can blow through batteries pretty quick with powerful lights, so we recommend rechargeable batteries or getting strobes with AC power.
Here are the lighting essentials we recommend:
|Neewer TT560 Flash Speedlite||Amazon|
|Neewer 500W Studio Strobe Flash Photography Lighting Kit||Amazon|
|S-type Bracket Bowens Mount Holder for Speedlite||Amazon|
|Universal Mount to Bowens Mounts Speedring Adapter||Amazon|
|Godox 9"x 35" 22x90cm Honeycomb Grid Strip Softbox||Amazon|
|Snoot with Honeycomb Grid 5pcs Color Filter Kit for Bowens Mount||Amazon|
|Neewer Heavy Duty Light Stand||Amazon|
When you’re starting out in product photography and your budget is tight, you can try using a speedlight. These are a more affordable option than studio strobes while offering more brightness than LEDs.
They are also very useful as accessory lights and you can set them as optical slaves.
Some perks of speedlights is you can find some that come with a remote trigger. There are also kits available that include multiple speedlights along with the trigger.
One drawback of using speedlight is that they don’t have a modeling light. They’re also not as powerful.
If you’re shooting smaller products, you could pair them with some light modifiers though. For low budgets, you could get away with using them in the beginning and upgrading as your budget allows.
These lights are similar to speedlights in that they are also flash bulbs. They are larger than speedlights and require AC power so you’ll never run out of power during a shoot.
When we first upgraded to studio strobes, our product photography workflow became much easier as they were more powerful and had modeling lamps.
You can get by with the 250-watt strobes linked above, but if you want to do things like freeze action/splashes then you will want these 600-watt strobes as they have a much shorter flash duration.
For a very tight budget, incandescent bulbs are an affordable lighting option. They are the brightest lighting options, however, with that power you’re also getting a lot of heat and power usage.
With continuous lighting, you won’t be able to freeze action like you can with speedlights and strobes, and you will need to contend with ambient lighting which can be a problem with reflective products.
Fluorescent lighting is one of the more eco-friendly options and also falls under continuous lighting. The bulbs are longer lasting with lower power consumption, however, they are also more expensive and not as bright.
LED bulbs have become a popular choice for product photography lighting since they don’t get hot, they’re long lasting, and consume less power. As would be expected, they are also more expensive and their brightness can actually decrease over time.
Quick Tips for Choosing Lighting
In short, this is what you need in lighting for product photography:
- Speedlights for budget flash bulb and accessory
- Incandescent for budget continuous lighting
- Studio strobes for use with AC power (preferred)
- LED for longest lasting continuous lighting
- Try to find strobes with a modeling light
- Aim for 250 to 600 watt mono-lights
Essential Software For Product Photography
Taking the photo is one thing, making it polished is another.
Ideally we would want to get everything perfect in camera, but things rarely go that way. For one, you will often find yourself needing to remove dust and scratches or taking multiple different images and compositing them together.
So for that, you will need editing software.
If you already have Adobe Photoshop, that will work perfectly for simple and advanced editing. If you don’t have photoshop or don’t want to purchase an editing tool, there are lots of free tools online that are available in the app store on your computer or phone.
Gimp is a photo editing program available for free. Because of its many features, it is the closest to Photoshop you can get without purchasing a subscription. It has several professional-grade tools made accessible for beginners. This is the perfect tool for quick, hassle-free editing.
Useful But Not Essential Product Photography Equipment
As you would expect, there is additional equipment that isn’t necessary but we’ll certainly make your job easier.
Some of this equipment can save you time or help you to create unique, attention-grabbing photos. They’re not a must-have, but they are nice to have, and once you work with these tools you may deem them essential.
Knowing the equipment you must have to begin product photography is helpful if you are new to the field and have a low budget. You may be looking to get started but don’t want to have to purchase anything that is not 100% necessary for the job. Over time, you can build your collection of equipment based on your needs.
Keep in mind, what is essential to one person isn’t necessarily essential to another.
Certain factors, like the size and finish on the product you are shooting must be taken into account when determining the essential equipment needed. A person photographing a bottle of wine will need different equipment than someone photographing a stuffed toy.
Here are some highly recommended product photography accessories that are not necessarily essential for the profession, but can make the job much easier.
Clamps: Grab a Bunch
These are highly recommended accessories for product photography from all experienced photographers. The general recommendation is to start with 10 to 12 clamps. Get big ones, little ones, plastic ones, metal ones. The more, the better.
Extension Grip Arms
Extension grip arms are really helpful for managing a variety of product photography equipment during your shoot. It’s a good idea to have several of these as they can be used to hold lights in a variety of positions or for holding a piece of diffusion material in place.
Geared Tripod Head
When you need optimal precision for your camera, geared heads are the way to go. They make life so much easier when you need to make small adjustments to your composition, and in product photography you will be using it a lot.
C-Stands are considered to be the best for product photography. And it doesn’t matter how many you have, you will always need more.
If your budget is smaller, you could just start out with regular stands. Then you could try a light boom so you could put a light source above a product.
We like to use a C-Stand with a knuckle and an extension arm, as it is the most versatile. The legs allow you to stack them very close to each other which is not really possible with the regular stands.
You can put a sheet of trace on the extension arm or it could be used to hold a trace frame. With clamps, you could attach a light, a mirror, or a large acrylic sheet to the end of the extension arm.
One of the most convenient options for product photography is a pop-up white lightbox. When you’ve got one of these, you’ve got your seamless white product background ready to go.
Emylee of Boss Project swears by a pop-up lightbox with a diffuser panel. Her go-to setup includes the lightbox with two tabletop studio light lamps, using daylight white light bulbs, on either side of the lightbox. When she’s looking for some reflection, she adds a clear acrylic sheet beneath the product.
One possible issue with the pop-up lightbox is that there’s a lip below the zippered door so your product may need some elevation. Emylee tackles that problem by placing a box beneath the product to give it some lift.
Magic arms are like extension arms except they are flexible and can move in any direction you want. They have a multitude of purposes, just like the extension arms, but the flexibility offers some additional features. In this video, photographer Daniel Norton shows a wide variety of uses for a magic arm.
Reflectors help to focus and control your light, keeping it from spilling out.
There are a few accessories you can use with reflectors to adjust the effect as desired. You can add a sheet of trace to the front of the reflector to soften the light. For a smaller point of focus, a grid can be popped onto the front of the reflector to enable it to focus in a very small, specific area.
Softboxes are helpful for softening and shaping light. Many professional product photographers recommend you purchase these in sets.
There are different types of softboxes, so the key is finding the right one for the type of products you’ll be working with. One type of softbox is a strip box which is useful for photographing bottles and controlling the shape of the reflections.
Strip boxes are also very versatile and work for many products.
Triggers can cut down on the amount of cables you have running through your product photography setup. It’s not the best idea to have a sync cable going from the camera to the flashes because someone could trip over it, and they will.
Another issue could occur if the cable gets pulled accidentally and moves things on your set, or knocking over your camera.
This can be really frustrating after you’ve spent the time getting every set up just right. A radio trigger is a great way to eliminate the cable.
The studio strobes linked above actually come with remote triggers and receivers, but if you just want to get a set for your speedlights then we recommend Pocket Wizards.
While you can create a DIY white product photography background, a nice piece of equipment to have on hand is a white seamless backdrop. If you work with small products, lightboxes are a fantastic, convenient option.
X-Rite Color Passport
When you’re doing product photography for clients, it’s extremely important that you have accurate colors.
The X-Rite Color Passport goes beyond helping you set the correct white balance and exposure by using the added color swatches to create color profiles based on each lighting condition you shoot in.
Can You Buy Product Photography Equipment Used?
What if your budget won’t even cover the essentials? Do you give up your dreams to become a successful product photographer? Of course not!
Unfortunately, not everyone has the funds to get started with even the most basic equipment. However, you have other options. You can purchase used photography equipment for a fraction of the price.
There are plenty of people who think running a successful photography business is as simple as buying a camera posting to Instagram, only to find out that it’s a lot harder than originally thought.
To find affordable, used product photography equipment:
- Check out your local pawn shops to see if they carry photography equipment.
- Reach out to your local camera shops to see if they sell used equipment.
- eBay is a great place to look online for used photography equipment.
- Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are also popular places to sell gear.
- There are plenty of websites that sell used photography gear as well:
Buying used product photography equipment when you’re starting out in the business is a great way to keep things affordable as you build your business.
Just the Essentials: Product Photography on a Budget
Now you know which equipment is absolutely essential when you’re starting a product photography business.
It doesn’t need to be incredibly expensive when you’re starting out, so just begin by purchasing the basics: a camera, two or three good quality lenses, a sturdy tripod, and your choice of lighting.
Once you’ve got these, you’ll be ready to get started making money with product photography.
Also, remember to keep your options open and check out used photography equipment as well. As your business grows, so too can your collection of photography equipment.
And when you’re ready, check out our guide on product photography props to help take your photos to another level!