The internet is the great equalizer for online businesses. Beyond retailers with instant name recognition, visitors to your e-commerce website judge it by its quality.
Over the course of our career in product photography, we have watched our clients literally double their sales by swapping out poor-quality product photos with ones that look great.
Of course, a product photo shoot requires a significant investment of time and money for a studio equipped with lights and backgrounds. If you don’t have the budget to invest in a professional shoot, you can get great results with your iPhone.
Like most things, iPhone product photography is not magic; you can make your product images better with the right equipment and know-how.
However, smartphones are also tools of convenience and will need special considerations in order to get the best results that will help your business.
Follow these suggestions to get the best product photography results with your iPhone:
- Use the best product sample.
- Use A Camera Lens Kit
- Pay attention to lighting.
- Keep the camera stable.
- Consider the impact of the backdrop.
- Select and lock your camera’s settings.
- Don’t use flash, digital zoom, selfie camera, or filters.
- Shoot product from multiple angles and in a 360° video.
- Shoot an image showing the product in a normal setting.
To learn more about getting the best product photography results with your iPhone and what you can do to improve the photo quality, read on.
1. Use The Best Product Sample
One of the most common mistakes made when shooting product photos is not getting clean shots.
Any dirt, dust, or debris on your product will appear in your photo and distract from the item’s beauty, as well as any imperfections when using production level samples that have scratches, crooked labels, or other flaws.
Use a soft brush to remove any detritus from your product before photographing it. You can also use canned air or an air compressor to ensure the product is free of debris.
Make your product as photogenic as possible. With the possible exception of coins or antiques, which most collectors say shouldn’t be cleaned, you’ll want to clean your product.
If you’re selling used products, your customers will accept scuffs, scratches, and dents, depending on how you rate the condition of your product. However, they’ll expect it to be clean. They’ll want to use the product the instant it arrives at their home without any extra work.
If your customers see photo after photo of products that haven’t been cleaned, they’ll buy from someone else.
If you deal in collectibles like collectible toys or dolls and some have never been out of their original box or packaging, don’t remove them from the box to clean them. Just dust the box or use a barely wet or towel to wipe it off.
2. Use A Camera Lens Kit
Did you know that you can purchase lens kits for your smartphone? The iPhone comes with a fairly high quality camera, but it’s not near the level of even an entry-level DSLR. If you want to take product photos that rival those shot in studios, you need to get closer to your product than most smartphones will allow.
A lens kit allows you to bring the product closer and deliver clear shots with better edges and brightness. Depending on your budget, you can purchase any number of kits to deliver top-quality product photos.
The Godefa Cell Phone Camera Lens Collection (from Amazon.com) includes a lens carrying bag, a lens cleaning cloth, a table-top tripod, a remote Bluetooth shutter release, two adjustable clips for attaching the lenses to your iPhone, and the following camera lenses:
- A 0.63 wide-angle lens
- A 15x macro lens
- An 18x telephoto lens
- A 198° fisheye lens
- A six-segment kaleidoscope lens
- A CPL polarizing filter to reduce glare
The lens collection is compatible with iPhones 8, 7, 6S, 6S Plus, 6, 6 Plus, 5S, and SE, as well as other cell phones. These lenses will give you much greater flexibility in your product photography shoots.
3. Pay Attention to Lighting
The secret to product photography is all about the lighting. You’ll have more control over your product photos when you shoot indoors, in a controlled environment with artificial lighting.
However, natural lighting can be used as well.
Incandescent lighting adds a yellow tint to your images, and fluorescent lighting adds a blue tint. You’ll need to correct this color shift. You can use either your camera’s white balance settings before you take your photos or with your editing software after you take your pictures.
As with outdoor photography, though, you’ll want to avoid harsh sunlight. Harsh lighting tricks any camera, including iPhone cameras, into creating too sharp of a contrast between the light and dark areas of the image.
To create the best lighting situation, you’ll want to set your product photoshoot up next to the window in your home that provides the most light. Let the light fall on your product from the side, and make corrections for lighting that is too strong.
If the lighting from the window is too strong, soften it by hanging a diffuser sheet or white shower curtain liner between your product and the window.
For example, this 3-in-1 Photography Reflector Cardboard from Amazon.com is an inexpensive way to reflect light and get better image quality.
Each 12″ x 8″ (A4) reflector has a white side. One has a black side, and one has a silver side, so you can also use them as backdrops. They fold for compact storage when not in use.
If you want a larger reflector or backdrop, this two-piece set also comes in a 17″ x 12″ ( A3) size.
For more information on using lighting, check out my article on essential light modifiers for product photography.
4. Keep the Camera Stable
When it comes to product photos, blurry images are the worst and it doesn’t take much to create a blurry image with a camera phone. A shaky hand or light breeze is all it takes to ruin an image.
Avoiding “camera shake” is essential no matter what type of photography you do. You want a clear, sharply focused picture.
With product photography, you have it easy: your subject isn’t going to move unless it falls over as you take the photo.
To avoid having your product fall over, sit it on a stable base — a table, a desk, or another solid piece of furniture.
Camera movement is the more common source of blurred images in photography. You have three ways to reduce blurring from camera movement:
- Use a tripod. Three-legged, table-top tripods for iPhones are easy to find. Put your iPhone in the holder with the back camera facing your product, and tighten the holder to fit. Then, set the tripod and camera at the distance you choose for your images.
- Use a remote shutter release. Remote shutter releases use Bluetooth to connect to your iPhone. Pair the shutter release and your iPhone, and you won’t have to risk jarring your phone by touching it to release the shutter.
- Use the camera’s timer. You can also use the timer built into your iPhone camera to release the shutter. Once you have your product and camera set up, use the timer to set the delay for the shutter release. The timer counts down the time you set and automatically releases the shutter.
5. Consider the Impact of the Backdrop
When you’re photographing products for display on your eCommerce site, a plain white background looks the most professional. It’s also what visitors to your site will expect, and it’s required for platforms like Amazon.
White poster board will do. Set your product on one end and prop the other end up behind it.
The one exception is “lifestyle” photos of the product. Lifestyle images are pictures of the product where it might be used. More on those later.
You can use lifestyle images for social media posts, but you can also go for branding images that convey the character or personality of your product.
Don’t let your backdrop or any prop distract from your product, but be creative with your choices. It may help to read our article on the best practices for product photography.
For backdrops, you can use fabrics or printed cardboard backdrops in solid colors or prints. Set your product on the material or on a cardboard backdrop that matches the upright backdrop in the background if you like, or put it on a contrasting solid cardboard backdrop piece.
The props you choose should reflect the character or personality of your brand, but your brand’s identity should be tied to your customers and how they see themselves. You want your customers to identify with your brand and feel it’s part of their world.
6. Select and Lock Your iPhone Camera’s Settings
To capture the best product photos, you want to make sure your camera is set correctly and this usually means you’re going to want to use manual settings so that you can have consistent results.
Your iPhone camera offers several features that will improve your product photos and make taking them easier. These include a grid, an exposure adjustment, white balance and a lock for the exposure and focus settings.
You’ll want to check out our article on the best camera settings for product photography to get a better idea as to why we’re using these settings.
For now, let’s take a look at how to access and use these settings in more detail:
Turning on and Using the Grid
The iPhone camera has a grid to help with the composition of your product photos. In the settings menu for your iPhone:
- Tap on the picture of the camera.
- Look for the grid in the drop-down menu.
- When it’s on, you’ll see faint gray lines over the image on your view screen.
The grid lines divide the image into thirds horizontally and vertically. According to the Rule of Thirds, the most interesting compositions place the subject or focal point of the photo off-center along one of the grid lines or at the intersection of two lines.
You’ll find the grid especially useful for setting up compositions for lifestyle photos that you want to post on social media sites where style matters.
When taking photos that you’ll use to sell your product, fill most of the shot with the product or the detail of the product you want to show.
Leave some space in case you need to crop in/out your photos to fit with the size requirements of the site that hosts your store or point-of-sale site.
Adjusting the Focus and Exposure
Like all smartphone and digital cameras set on autofocus, your iPhone camera automatically selects the object that’s at the center of the image and closest to the camera as the subject of the photograph. Then, it chooses the best lighting and other settings for that subject.
For product photography, we’re going to want to find the best settings here and then lock them so they don’t change between shots.
If you’ve placed your product off-center, you’ll need to tell the camera where to focus. You can do that by tapping on the view screen to indicate where you want the camera to focus. You’ll see a box appear around the area that the camera now accepts as the subject.
You’ll also see a vertical line with a sun-like dot. To lighten or darken the exposure, slide the dot up or down the line. Remember what I said earlier, though, about cameras mistaking light colors for white and dark colors for gray or black when deciding whether to slide up or down.
Conversely, suppose the camera is mistaking dark colors and grays for black. In that case, you’ll want to narrow what the camera interprets as black and expand the range of what it sees as gray and dark colors. So, you’ll want to slide the dot down instead of up.
It might seem that you should slide the dot in the opposite direction of what I just said, but experiment with sliding it both ways to see which way improves the image.
Knowing this tip also helps with bright snow and beach scenes and dark indoor and nighttime photography. Another tip to correct exposure:
- Select the brightest part of the scene as the subject.
- Lock your settings on that area.
- Re-compose the photo in your view screen as you want to take it.
Locking the Focus and Exposure
Again like all cameras set to autofocus, your iPhone camera will reset for the next photo unless you lock the changes to the settings you just made.
When you’re taking photos of your product, you’re going to be taking several pictures of the same subject while making small tweaks to the lighting conditions. So, you’ll definitely want to make things easy on yourself and lock the settings.
Telling the camera to lock your settings is easy. Just put your finger on the same spot on the screen that you want the camera to use as its focus and hold your finger on that spot for a few seconds.
Take Manual Control of Your iPhone Settings
If you want the level of control over your iPhone’s camera settings that you would have with a DSLR camera, you can come close to having it. You don’t have to keep using the automatic settings your camera chooses for you.
There are actually several camera apps for the iPhone that give you much more control over what your camera does. Check out our article on the best camera apps for more info.
The iPhone Photography School offers a tutorial entitled 6 Advanced iPhone Camera Controls for Jaw-Dropping Photography. It explains how to change the camera’s white balance, blur the background using portrait mode, and capture action shots.
Yes, you can use portrait mode to capture images, and knowing how to change the white balance lets you compensate for having to shoot under artificial light from incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs.
You’ll find knowing how to set the camera for lifestyle action shots helpful if you have products that are used in action.
The inexpensive Camera+ 2 app is available from Apple’s App Store. With it, you’ll have nearly complete manual control of your iPhone camera’s settings. The article above from the iPhone Photography School describes several uses for this app.
7. Don’t Use Flash, Digital Zoom, Selfie Camera, or Filters
The iPhone has a few settings you shouldn’t use for product photography.
These include the flash, the digital zoom, the front or selfie camera, and filters, borders, text, or graphics like arrows or other shapes you insert with the camera. File formats are also very important, because if you are not shooting in RAW then important details that you may want to edit will be lost.
Why You Shouldn’t Use HEIF or JPG
The HEIF and JPG file formats present the same problem. They compress image files so that they take up less storage room on your phone. That sounds great until you consider that every time you re-save the file, those formats compress the file again.
For example, two different shades of a color get compressed into one, meaning you wont be able to make edits to those areas later.
Every time the file is compressed, it loses detail. Your camera captures images more quickly when you shoot in these formats, so they work well for catching action shots. Speed isn’t a concern for product photography, though, so use RAW, TIFF, or PNG when you shoot.
RAW format captures and retains the most detail and information of any file format, but the files are larger as a result. TIFF and PNG are good compromises, and most sites where you’ll want to upload your photos accept PNG.
The Camera+ 2 app lets you work with photos in the RAW file format. I shoot and edit in RAW and then save my work in PNG/JPG files.
Why You Shouldn’t Use the Flash
In product photography, external flashes are extremely useful for getting great images. However, the flash on your iPhone gives harsh light that blows out detail.
In addition to creating unwanted shadows in your photos, using the flash makes your images look flat and dull because the light is coming from the same direction as the camera. In order to create pleasing light gradients and show the details of the different textures of your product, you need the light coming from different directions.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Digital Zoom
The digital zoom on any camera works the same way any photo editing software works when you crop an image. It takes the area of the image that you select and enlarges it after the fact.
The number of pixels per inch determines how far an image can be enlarged. The enlarged area will look grainy or pixelated if you enlarge the image by zooming in beyond that limit.
In product photography, your goal is to show detail and texture. You want the viewer of your photo to be able to see all those fine details you worked so hard to capture. Using the digital zoom enlarges portions of your image without actually adding more pixels.
You’re better off moving closer to your subject before taking a shot rather than zooming in later.
Why You Shouldn’t Use the Selfie Camera
The front-facing or selfie camera on your iPhone has a lower resolution or a lower number of pixels per inch than the rear-facing camera. If you want a picture that shows you holding your product, set the timer to delay the shutter on the rear camera until you are in position.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Filters, Borders, Text, or Graphics
When you make these in-camera additions to your photos, your camera does some editing of the image. It’s difficult to reverse or correct these changes if you don’t like them or change your mind about them later. It’s better to add and edit these with your computer software.
Avoiding filters, borders, text, and graphics also makes the post-production process much simpler, especially if you need to edit multiple copies of the photos for various purposes.
8. Shoot Product from Multiple Angles and in a 360° Video
If they’re in a brick-and-mortar store looking at your product, your customer would be able to view it from all angles. They would also be able to examine the details closely and read the labels. Give them that same experience by shooting multiple images of your product.
Offer your customers still images of your product from eye-level, above, below, the side, the front, and the back. In addition, use a motorized turntable to show the product rotating.
If your product has care instructions, a list of ingredients, or a short set of instructions for using it, take a clear photograph of those as well.
If you have the original box or packaging for a collectible, take a photograph of it and of any catalogs or anything else that came with that collectible, especially certificates of authenticity.
As I said before, if the toy or doll is in the original box or packaging and has never been opened, do not open that box or packaging!
9. Shoot an Image Showing the Product in a Normal Setting
Images of the product in settings where a buyer might use them are typically known as lifestyle images, as I’ve already mentioned. Real estate agents stage homes so that potential buyers can envision themselves living there. In the same way, a lifestyle image is a way to stage your product so that potential buyers envision it in their homes.
You won’t want the background to distract from your product, though, so focus your iPhone’s camera on your product. Move the product closer to your iPhone if necessary. The background should be recognizable, but it can be in a softer focus.
It’s also possible to edit the background in the post-production period. This can be done by blurring the background or by cropping out parts that are too distracting.
If you don’t have the Camera+ 2 app or the accessories mentioned, consider adding them to your equipment if you photograph and sell products regularly. They’ll make your photos stand out.
You can also purchase manual telephoto and other lenses for your iPhone camera. For large products, you might want a wide-angle lens, however that may cause unwanted visual distortion. For smaller products and close-ups, consider a macro lens. A polarized lens reduces glare.
With the right camera settings, accessories, and app, you’ll produce a site full of product photographs that provide all the visual information they need, and can make for stunning prints as well.