Whether you are looking to start a side hustle or a full-time career as a product photographer, you’re going to want to know how to get started in the product photography business.
Not everyone is going to make it, but if you do your homework and learn about the ins and outs of starting a product photography business, we can help you from making costly mistakes and prepare you for success in the field.
To start a product photography business, you’ll need to:
- Get your skillset up to par and never stop learning
- Purchase essential equipment within your budget
- Create a portfolio to showcase your talent
- Choose a niche
- Learn where to find clients
- Get familiar with business finances
This is a basic overview of how to start your own product photography business and can apply to all areas of the creative field as well.
Let’s go into more detail about each of the steps and learn all you need to know to start earning money in product photography.
Table of Contents
Why Should You Start a Product Photography Business?
More and more people are starting to ditch their 9 to 5 jobs and unappreciative bosses to go into business for themselves.
If you’ve got a knack for product photography, there is high demand in the field so it’s a viable option for a talented photographer interested in self-employment.
Starting a product photography business can offer the following benefits:
- Making some extra cash on the side
- A chance to try out self-employment before taking the leap to make it your full-time career
- An opportunity to leave an unfulfilling job to work for yourself
- The freedom and flexibility of owning your own business
- Following your passion and making a living creating amazing product images
The online marketplace is seeing more demand than ever due to more people staying home and shopping online.
All of those online products need a competent product photographer to take professional-looking shots. This can provide you with a never-ending amount of work as new products are being manufactured all the time.
If you love product photography, you can make money in a field that won’t be obsolete.
You can start as a side hustle for extra cash or to dip your toes in the water and see how you like it. If you enjoy the business and you are seeing signs of success, you could choose to make it a full-time thing. You can be your own boss and make a living doing something you truly enjoy.
When To Quit Your Job To Pursue Product Photography
However, success isn’t easy and it will take lots of hard work until you build up a recurring client base.
Many people think that learning how to use a camera and posting their images to Instagram is all you need to do for people to beat a path to your door, and that simply isn’t the case.
It takes time to build a reputation and to learn how to market yourself effectively, deal with clients, etc. And the good news is that in most cases you can do product photography on your own schedule.
If I were to start over again, the advice I would give my younger self is this:
Let it remain a side hustle for a while. Because until people actually are beating a path to your door, you may be forced to sell off your equipment to pay the bills before ever getting known.
And it will be quite embarrassing to go back to a 9 to 5 job.
Purchase the Essential Product Photography Equipment
When you’re new to the product photography world, you may not have the funds to purchase each and every piece of photography equipment out there.
Luckily, you don’t need every bit of photography gear in order to get started with a product photography business.
When it comes time to purchase gear, focus on getting the essentials.
You can start a successful product photography business with just a handful of equipment. And it’s possible to do it on a budget too.
The essential pieces of product photography equipment that you’ll need are:
- A camera with high resolution
- Several good quality lenses
- A sturdy tripod
- The right lighting
- A white background
An 18-24 Megapixel Camera Is All You Need For Product Photography
This one is rather obvious but there are a few things to consider you may not already be aware of when choosing the right camera for product photography.
Some things to look for in a camera for product photography:
- Interchangeable lenses: for the sake of versatility and cost-effectiveness, you’re going to want to use a camera that allows you to change lenses. It’s much less expensive to change lenses as needed than to have to purchase an additional camera to achieve the effect you could get just by swapping out the lens.
- High resolution: a minimum of 18-24 megapixels is recommended for product photography. When you’re producing a product image for an online marketplace, it must be crisp and clear. That image holds a lot of weight in a customer’s decision to make a purchase, so it needs to look professional. A camera with a higher resolution will allow you to get those impeccable shots.
- Tethering capability: tethering your camera to your computer is a huge time saver since each shot is uploaded directly to your screen, enabling you to view the product image and waste less time with trial and error. You can quickly and easily adjust whatever is needed to achieve the perfect shot. Time is of the essence when you start a business, so time-saving techniques are critical to success.
- Includes hot shoe mount or sync port: A hot shoe mount is another option to give you more flexibility with your camera. It will allow you to connect other devices to your camera, such as an external flash, GPS units, or electronic viewfinder. A sync port can also help to connect other devices, like a fill flash, to your camera.
Here are a few budget camera kits you can use to get started:
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You Need a Few Good Lenses
Since you will have chosen a camera with interchangeable lenses, you will need to pick out which lenses are best to go with it.
When you’re starting out, don’t worry about acquiring a whole slew of camera lenses. You may not ever end up using some of them and it would be a waste of money.
The most important lenses to have for product photography are:
- Minimum 100 mm macro lens: the majority of product photography uses a 100 mm macro lens so your priority should be at least 100 mm in order to get those super close up detail shots.
- Versatile zoom lens: in addition, it’s smart to have a versatile zoom lens between 24 to 105 mm. This gives you a whole lot of versatility when shooting in the studio and small spaces.
Here are a few budget 100mm macro lenses for the common camera types:
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A Sturdy Tripod Will Improve Photo Quality
There’s nothing that will show a lack of professional quality in product photography more than a blurry product image. This is a sure way not to get repeat business from a client. Clarity is essential.
Key things to look for in a tripod:
- Stability: if you purchase a cheaply made tripod, you could run the risk of imperfections resulting in a wobbly tripod. This will make it more difficult to get the clear shots you’re after and if the tripod tips over, your equipment could become damaged. Aim to get the best quality tripod you can afford with solid, sturdy construction.
- Rubber footings: if you plan to work in a space with hard flooring, rubber footings will help prevent slippage. They can also prevent any damage or scratching from the tripod legs on the floor and will absorb vibrations.
- The right material for your needs: your budget may decide this for you since aluminum tripods are more affordable. However, they are heavier so they’re best if you’re keeping them in one location or you don’t mind lugging them around. If you do plan on traveling with your product photography equipment, get the carbon fiber tripod if you can afford it.
- Adjustable height: this comes in handy if you’ll be photographing products with varying heights. All you would need to do is adjust the height of your tripod rather than try to elevate your product setup. Another time saver!
- Adjustable orientation: if you would like the option to take product shots from multiple angles including overhead, a tripod with an adjustable orientation is a must. This will also save time during your photo shoots.
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It’s All About The Lighting for a Product Image
Bad lighting can ruin an otherwise spectacular photo. But you don’t have to have an elaborate (and expensive) lighting set up to take professional quality product photos.
Some things to take into account when choosing your product lighting:
- A strobe with a modeling light Yet another time-saving strategy is to use a strobe with a modeling light. This will show you exactly where the light is so you’ll know what to expect in your product image. There will be much less trial and error when you know what you’re getting before you take the shot.
- A 250- to 600-watt mono-light This is an often-used light by product photographers. If a 600-watt is too steep for your budget, you could always go for two of the 250-watt.
- Flash or continuous lighting If you’re opting for flash lighting, speedlights are the more affordable option, while studio strobes ensure you never run out of juice by using AC power. For those using continuous lighting, incandescent bulbs are the budget choice, but LEDs are longer lasting. However, there is a big difference between the two and may change how you change your camera settings.
A White Background is Crucial for Product Only Images
If you’re going to be working on a lot of product only images, you’ll need a white background. This is the most common background color for product photography because every store needs a clean listing image.
A few options for white product backgrounds are:
- White paper Whether you choose a sheet of paper or a large roll, the process is quite similar for setting it up. You can use tape or clamps to hold your white paper in place. This is a budget-friendly option. Just be sure your paper is pure white otherwise the color difference will be noticeable when appearing beside other product images in the online marketplace.
- A white sheet This can also be a great budget option, but it requires more upkeep than paper. Any stains or tears could render it useless. Also, wrinkles would need to be ironed or steamed out.
- Lightbox These can be a convenient option since you basically have your seamless white background all in one box. Some are even collapsible for portability. The downside of these over paper is that they restrict your lighting options and working area.
- Savage Translum These are actually rolls of plastic diffusion material and are what we would actually recommend. Not only can you use them as a backdrop, they don’t need to be ironed and if you get them dirty you can clean them. Not only that, they are excellent for diffusing light for your reflective products.
Sharpen Your Product Photography Skills
When looking to start a product photography business, no matter the type of work, it’s always smart to work on your skillset.
You want to be able to provide quality work for your clients that they can’t get anywhere else.
Even seasoned product photographers still take part in professional development to keep their skills sharp. There’s always something to learn no matter how experienced a person is.
For example, even we are going through Prodigy’s Certification Program to keep our skills sharp.
It’s important to adopt a love of lifelong learning to keep up with the latest and greatest in your field, as well as to continue to hone your craft.
There are several different ways to get the professional development you need, and it’s more convenient than ever in the age of the Internet. You no longer must attend classes in person or go out and purchase product photography books to learn about news and techniques.
Some ways to brush up on your product photography skills are:
- Following product photography blogs (like ours)
- Find a mentor
- Look for professional development opportunities
- Practice makes perfect
Follow Product Photography Blogs
This can help you stay up-to-date with what’s happening in the field so you can be sure your skills are current.
Interact with people on the blog, ask questions, and share your own experiences. This is a great way to build a sense of community, as well as do some possible networking since you’ll primarily be working on your own.
We are continually posting to our blog and sharing our experience with the world, because our mission is to build an army of product photographers and lead a rebellion against fiverr clients.
Reach Out to Professional Product Photographers for Guidance
You may even be able to find one willing to mentor you or allow you to shadow them to get an idea of how the business works.
Learning from those with experience running a product photography business is one of the best ways to get a real feel for what it will be like. They can share all the pros and cons so you can get a big picture view.
Take Courses in Product Photography
Even if you’re not a beginner to photography in general, there’s always a way you can expand on your current skill set. There are courses available through community colleges, but professional development has been moving online.
Some of the best places to find online photography courses to enhance your professional development are:
- Universal Class
- Learn from industry professionals
There are now free photography courses offered through public library databases like Universal Class. All you need is your library card number to make a free account and access their entire catalog of courses.
There are also inexpensive photography courses through lifelong learning websites like Udemy. There are often special deals offered so make sure to take advantage of available discounts for the best prices.
Professional product photography courses are also offered by actual industry professionals like Alex Koloskov from Photigy, Karl Taylor, Don Giannatti and PRO EDU.
And last but certainly not least, you can follow along with our own behind the scenes videos on Youtube.
Practice, Practice, Practice Your Photography Skills
Try taking product photos using products with various finishes, different types of lighting, and using different methods. The more experience you have with different types of products and lighting, the better you’ll get at your craft.
Choose Your Product Photography Niche
When you’re starting out in the product photography business, you may be tempted to take on anything that comes your way. But in order to become really good at what you do, it’s important to find your niche (or 3).
In the beginning, try out different types of product photography to get a feel for each and see which you most enjoy.
Some of the different styles of product photography are:
- Still life photography
- White background photography (product-only images)
- Set photography
- Hero/advertising shots
- Comparative photography
- Lifestyle product photography (in-context images)
- Photo compositing
Your goal is to eventually narrow down your business to anywhere between one to three niches and master those. You want to become the go-to product photographer in your niche. When you select just a few areas of product photography, you can put your time and effort into perfecting those.
Plus, if you pick a specialty, you’ll be able to cut down on the variety of equipment needed since you can home in on only those that really make images pop in your niche.
Some very valuable niches that product photographers can specialize in include:
- Bottles & Reflective Products
Create a Product Photography Portfolio
People need to see samples of your work so they know what you can do. It’s not likely that a potential client is going to just take your word for it that you’re a high-quality product photographer.
This is where all that practice from before comes in handy. Pick out your best shots to curate an impressive portfolio to show potential clients you are the right person for the job.
To create a product photography portfolio, you’ll need to:
- Choose an online platform for your portfolio: there are plenty of options for creating your own website but a portfolio website is set up a bit differently. You’re showcasing your work rather than just listing former or current clients and projects you’ve worked on. One great option for creating an online product photography portfolio is Squarespace. They’ll walk you through the process of setting it up so it’s great for beginners.
- Select your best product images: to really grab the attention of a client, it’s important to show product images that are professional, yet unique in some way. Of course, you want to have the ever-popular queen product image on a crisp white background. But then it also important to include product images that show your uniqueness and creativity.
- You’ll want to capitalize on your talent in your niche(s) to help yourself stand out from other product photographers. Try to narrow your images down to a set of 20-30 of your best work that represents you and your budding business.
- Write an About Me page: this is where potential clients get to know who you are. You want to explain the services you offer, however, it’s important to also put some of your personality into it as well. Don’t let it be generic and forgettable. This is your chance to give people a look behind the photos so they can learn about your background and why you chose this field. Make it fun!
- Get testimonials: as soon as you do work for clients, even if they’re friends you did some freebies for, ask for a testimonial to include in your portfolio. When you’re a new business owner, you could offer some complimentary or low-cost services in exchange for a testimonial.
- Add your contact details: this is pretty straightforward. People need to know how to get in touch with you if they want to hire you. Include your phone number although most contact will probably come through email. It’s a good idea to create an email solely for work purposes.
Find Out How to Connect with Product Photography Clients
Online businesses have products to sell and those products need online photos to get the attention of potential customers.
Not all online businesses have the skills for the time to produce their own product photography. They need talented product photographers like yourself to provide them with professional quality product images for their website.
So now you need to figure out how to connect with them to sell your services.
In this business, people aren’t necessarily going to search for your website to find you and offer you work. You’ll need to reach out to potential clients and let them know what you can offer them.
Finding Clients and Making Connections
Some ways to find potential product photography clients are:
- Register with freelance websites: a lot of newly self-employed people start out getting work on freelance websites, like Upwork and Fiverr. Clients can post jobs on these sites so it’s easy to find work all in one place. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t pick up work quickly on a freelancing job site. This is the lowest paying route but it will help to get your feet wet with learning how to work with clients.
There can be a lot of competition and many clients are looking for product photographers that have great ratings and reviews already. It will take the faith of a few clients willing to hire someone new to the site who hasn’t received any ratings yet. This is where your product portfolio will really shine. You can send samples of your work along with your proposal so that the client gets an idea of what you can do.
- Set up a LinkedIn profile: this is another way to connect with potential clients. Include a link to your product photography portfolio, follow photography groups, add contacts from businesses that fit your niche, and share your work to get attention from the right people.
- Network locally: visiting your local businesses and offering to upgrade the product images on their website is a great way to build a good reputation in your community. Small businesses like to support one another so this is a great route to take when you’re trying to build your business. If you can walk into a small business with a completed shot of one of their products and offer it to them for free, there is a high chance of it leading to more work.
- Reach out to companies that match your niche: one way to separate yourself from the slew of other product photographers out there is to choose a niche or two and get really good at it. Clients like to know that they’re hiring a specialist rather than a photographer who dabbles in each type of photography. Do not mix, or even mention, weddings or portraits on your product photography site.
Once you’ve picked your niche, do some research, and find businesses to contact who will benefit from your services.
Learn Money Management for Your Product Photography Business
Finances are one of the less glamorous aspects of owning a business, but if you’re making money, you need to know how to manage it.
Some tips for managing your new business finances:
- Open a separate checking account: for the sake of accounting, and your sanity, it’s best to keep business and personal finances separate. This will make it easier come tax time, plus it will give you a much clearer picture of your business income, expenses, and profit.
- Get set up with accounting software: this will help keep your finances in order, as well as allow you to set up templates for quotes and invoices. Some of the most popular choices for small business accounting software are Wave, FreshBooks, and HoneyBook. Personally, we use HoneyBook because of the automatic workflow with contracts, proposals, and payments.
- Purchase insurance: you may want to consider purchasing insurance to cover your expensive equipment. In some cases, your property may be covered by renters or homeowner’s insurance but it’s best to contact your insurance company to be sure. If you work in a location outside of your home, you may want to find out what type of insurance is needed where you live since all states are different.
- Form an LLC: Although it is unlikely that you will get sued in this line of work, it’s possible that you unknowingly infringe on a trademark because you forgot to edit out a logo in the background. Or your client may try to take you to court over a dispute regarding licensing. To protect your personal assets, form an Limited Liability Company and do business through that.
Check out Accounting 101 for Photographers for more finance tips for your business as well as a sample timeline for weekly accounting tasks. You’ll also want to check out our post on product photography books everyone should read.
Product Photography: A Great Business Venture
If you’re passionate about product photography, you now know what it takes to start your own product photography business. Keeping your skills sharp and staying current with what’s going on in the field are two ways to ensure your business remains relevant.
Acquire the essential product photography equipment within your price range and get started on your portfolio so you have samples to show potential clients to impress them even when you’re new to the business and your resume is short.
Choosing a niche and using your creativity to stand out in that niche can help focus your efforts when seeking out clients.
Once you’ve got your finances set up, you’re ready to launch your product photography business!