Ultimate Product Photography Styling Guide for Better Photos

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Have you ever seen an amazing product photo and wondered how it was taken? Product photography styling is more of a science than you might think. Any great product photo needs to be more than just a good angle and a pretty picture.

Product photography styling goes beyond simply clicking the shutter button too. Styling takes time, effort, and you’ll need to get creative with your own unique style in order to get the results you want.

Product photography styling refers to the way an item is laid out for a photo. Product styling is done by product photographers as well as product stylists. Styling can make or break the way an image looks, and certain products simply need styling to look good in a picture.

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There’s a world of specific strategies and techniques for styling product photos. I’ll break down the basics of product photography styling and present a few strategies for taking the best looking, and effective product photos so you can have the best chance at selling your products online.

What Makes a Product Photo Effective?

Before we can go into detail of product photography styling, you need to know the basics of creating an effective image.

The best way to make a product photo effective is to elicit an emotional response. As mass shopping moves away from brick-and-mortar retailers, the sales influence that used to be commanded by reps on sales floors is now mainly in the hands of product photographers. 

There are many ways to use photos to bring emotions out of an audience, so the method will vary depending on the product and the target audience. 

For example, practical everyday items such as household appliances need to inspire a feeling of modern innovation while still maintaining a sense of reliable simplicity.

On the other hand, a perfume ad is likely to use more abstract, mysterious, sensual imagery to create a vague emotion that coincides with the scent. 

Strategies for Effective Product Photography

Becoming a successful product photographer requires more than an expensive camera and an eye for visuals. Effective product photographers must plan their methods carefully and hold themselves to a professional discipline in order to consistently produce high-quality content.

Here are some tactics product photographers use to create a sense of appeal in their images:

Identify the Target Audience 

With any kind of marketing, it’s crucial to understand who your audience is and what kind of action you’re attempting to elicit from them. 

Most of the time, product photography encourages the purchase of the featured item. Due to the increasing shift away from single purchases towards a more stream/subscription-based market, however,  product photography can be used to encourage a subscription or even simply to increase a company’s click traffic. 

Different demographics are moved by different motivations. Knowing the audience gives product photographers insight into how to elicit reactions effectively. 

For example, a product marketed towards children would be photographed differently from a product intended for students, senior citizens, soccer players, or amateur horticulturists. 

Do Your Homework

“Research before you shoot” should be as common an axiom to product photographers as “measure twice, cut once” is to carpenters. 

Outside of knowing what audience you’re appealing to, it’s helpful for photographers to look up other product photos in the same industry. 

If you’re new to product photography–or photographing a new category of the subject–a quick Google search of the product can provide you with inspiration and guidance. Here are some tips:

  • Keep track of what works and what doesn’t. Make note of the visual components that name-brands use in their product photographs, as large companies will often invest in market research and tailor their marketing campaigns to be as effective as possible. 
  • Be careful not to look like a copycat. It’s okay to be inspired by the work of others in the field, but make sure that your inspiration doesn’t get too close to copyright infringement. Many companies are highly protective of their ad campaigns, and too close of a duplicate could leave you or your client vulnerable to legal action. 

Choose Your Lighting Based on the Product

Proper lighting is crucial to an effective product photograph. Choose your lighting based on the mood you’re trying to create and the physical attributes of the product. 

When photographing glassware or jewelry, for example, plan your lighting carefully so that you won’t get too harsh of a light reflection. 

With jewelry products, it’s often helpful to use lifestyle product photography, as the presence of a model wearing the product allows for the jewelry to be seen in context and reduces the intensity of the light reflection. 

Sometimes trial and error is the best way to get the perfect lighting. One of the advantages of photographing products rather than live subjects is they can be positioned and will remain still while you micro-adjust the lighting to perfection. Don’t be afraid to take a lot of shots with different lighting, then sort through the outcome in the editing stage. 

Just as a professional-quality camera is an important tool in creating an effective product photograph, professional-quality lighting is also extremely helpful. 

Here are the three types of lighting that are mainly used in product photography: 

  • LED panel lighting 
  • Incandescent tungsten bulb lighting 
  • Fluorescent tube lighting 

Different types of lighting can be used to create intentional moods or aesthetics. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your lighting equipment before you undertake your first product photoshoot. 

Use Colors To Evoke a Desired Emotional Reaction

Colors have an incredibly strong power to draw out emotions in living organisms. In nature, colors exist for a purpose, either to warn off predators or entice mates. Color theory is deeply ingrained in our psychology and therefore is an essential element of an effective product photo. 

A photographer’s use of color can be implemented either in the actual shot, by placing the subject product in a surrounding of a specific color theme, or in the editing stage that takes place after the photoshoot. Chromatic editing is a useful tool available for users of most mainstream photo editing programs.

Here’s a starting point for learning about color theory in product photography from Expert Photography.  

How To Style Your Product Photography

First, let’s get to know the different kinds of product photography styling. Styling can happen before a single photograph is even taken. Product photographers do their own styling by the way they place the product in a scene or studio for a picture.

Product photography styling can be broken down into three main types: lifestyle, studio, and conceptual.

The best way to decide which type of styling you want to use is by thinking about what the purpose of your photo is – if it’s an advertisement or if you’re trying to show off your product as much as possible then go with studio style lighting; if you just want something simple and pretty then think about using natural light; if you’re going for a conceptually interesting look then go with conceptual-style lighting.

However, there are some considerations that you need to pay attention to for each type of project:

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a camera composition technique that divides an image into nine equal parts: the four quadrants and the four points where those quadrants meet. The goal of this technique is to create more visually interesting images, emphasizing symmetry and balance.

The easiest way to compose your shot following the rule of thirds is by positioning the horizon along one of the horizontal lines. Doing so creates a more aesthetically pleasing image, because you’ll be placing the product in one of the points where all three lines intersect.

Rule of thirds is a great strategy to implement when styling product photography. Off-center items in the photo will help draw attention throughout the image since photos generally look more interesting with an asymmetrical feel.

Try to place your item on one of the three intersection points, or right along one of the four imaginary lines that divide your viewfinder into nine equal parts.

Props For Product Photography

Image taken in our studio using candles as background props.

Props can be used to increase the visual interest of an image. An item doesn’t have to be something that is directly related to your product or industry either. A prop can draw inspiration from the types of themes related to your target audience.

For example, if you have a product that is mainly purchased by gardeners, you can style your photo with props that would be relevant to that audience, for example some gardening equipment.

Start by thinking about the environment where you want your product placed; this will help you choose the props that will be the most helpful in making that scene come to life.

Prop styling can be as simple as using a few items or as complex as using many different items and household objects. However, it’s important to note overdo it as too many objects might end up distracting from your product.

For a deeper dive, check out our article on props for product photography.

Product Placement

Image taken in our studio.

Proper placement of a product in a photo is vital for creating a good image. Product placement should make sense with the lifestyle and other images you’ve taken of your product.

Product placement can also complement your brand message, such as providing an ‘at home’ or personalized feel to your product shots.

And while it’s important to think about where you’re placing your product, don’t forget that there are other things in a shoot that are important to pay attention too, for example composition.

Don’t forget to also think about creating some sort of story behind your product… Product photographers have tons of options when it comes to styling their scenes, so use props and placement to create the best visuals possible!

For the best placements, make sure that your product is prominently displayed, either within the scene or with lighting.

Studio Product Photography 

Hero image taken in our studio using props as background.

Many product photographers choose to work in a studio because it allows them to control the environment entirely. Complete control over the light, color, position and background is helpful when trying to highlight the features of a product.

Working in a studio equips product photographers with any tool they may need to perfectly shoot a specific product. It also helps the process of flow more smoothly and efficiently, as photographers don’t have to worry about changing sunlight or background elements. 

Product photos taken in a studio may fall under one of the other categories as well, depending on the specific attributes of the shot. 

There are many styles of studio product photos, such as: Tabletop, Catalog, Designer, Hero and Advertising.

  • Tabletop product photography is usually achieved by setting up a visually interesting scene within a studio that gives your product the appearance that it is within a certain kind of environment, such as flat lay.
  • Catalog product photography shows only the product within a clean background, usually pure white, and very little post production work is done.
  • Designer product photography is similar to Catalog product photography on a white background, however the visual appeal is more in line with a hero image and they are typically used as part of website design.
  • Hero images show the product in context within a scene that makes the product appear heroic or majestic.
  • Advertising product photography is designed to highlight features and create an impact on viewers to get them interested in buying the product.

Product Isolation Photographs

Product isolation image taken in our studio.

Photos featuring only the subject against a stark backdrop are the most common type of product photograph. A solid white background is frequently favored for its easy set up and lack of distractions away from the product. 

Because the backdrop and lighting must be uniform, this kind of product photography often occurs in a studio, but it is still considered to be its own category.

White backdrop isolation shots work for most products, from food items to handmade jewelry, which is why this style is used so often in ad marketing campaigns. 

These are usually stark, utilitarian shots of the product alone against a solid background. The purpose is to highlight the product, not to entice the consumers with frills. A good example of product-only photographs is Coca-Cola beverage advertisements. 

Using colored backdrops or other photo backdrops can create a unique effect, as well.

Coke brand advertisements will often feature only an image of the beverage. Even with a simple photograph, the photographer manages to create a sensation of cold refreshment, thereby encouraging the emotional reaction of purchase and effectively transforming the viewer into a consumer. 

Product Collections

Product collection image taken in our studio.

Product collection photos, or “product grouping”, occurs when multiple products are photographed together. This is usually done when products come in a set, such as shampoo and conditioner, or when the advertisement is for a store rather than a single product. 

The advantage of a product collection photograph is that it allows customers a brief, aesthetically pleasing look into the catalogue of products a business has to offer. 

Product Lifestyle Photographs

Lifestyle image taken in our studio.

Lifestyle product photography aims to show the product as it would really be used on a day-to-day basis. Outside of informing a prospective customer of the product’s uses, lifestyle photography is a powerful marketing tool. By creating an association between the product and a desirable setting, person, or lifestyle.

This can be accomplished by various means, from celebrity endorsements (such as Jennifer Aniston posing with a Smart Water bottle) to social media influencers posting live updates from the road to promote their sponsor’s products. 

When creating these types of images, it’s important to style your scenes in a way that reflects what your brand is about.

For some this means building scenes that are bright and clean, such as product lifestyle shots of organic food products. Others prefer a more rugged and earthy product lifestyle shot, such as those used by outdoor product companies.

Detail Close-Ups

Close up image taken in our studio.

Close up shots provide photographers with the opportunity to showcase the details of their product. Close up shots are not usually used as the main advertisement photo, however, because it does not show the whole item. 

Close-ups can be successful additions to a marketing campaign because they allow the customers a closer inspection, which builds a sense of trust in the seller of confidence in the product. 

Final Thoughts 

Having artistic knowledge is helpful, as elements of aesthetic, tone, and color are extraordinarily effective marketing tools. Understanding color theory and artistic composition is essential to any successful product photographer. 

Because visual imagery is such an essential element of sales and marketing, talented product photographers are in high demand. With discipline, strategy, perseverance, a photographer can transform a product from a novelty into a necessity a well-planned photograph. 

Benjamin

Benjamin

Hi, I'm Benjamin, Digital Media Strategist and product photographer for Skyline FBA. I have been involved in content creation for over 10 years and love helping people develop strategies to grow their business. My wife and I are Product Photographers that are experienced in Amazon FBA, eCommerce, Lifestyle, and Advertising photography.

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