Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Product Photography, Part 2: Camera & Setup

As I mentioned last week, you'll see nearly immediate benefits by improving your product photography for your eCommerce website. And yes, that means Etsy and eBay sellers, too, without a doubt!

I'd like to start with the basic equipment first. No, don't start covering your eyes and going into a panic attack - you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that your professional equipment setup is surprisingly affordable! Do try to invest in the best quality you can afford; these items should last you for several years.

You definitely want to go digital here - you'll need to take a LOT of shots, and don't want to be stingy with film. The good news is, there are tons of fabulous choices for a good quality digital camera in the $100 to $250 range that will easily meet your needs.

Look for a camera that has:
  • 5 mp resolution or better
  • White balance setting
  • Macro zoom feature (if you'll be photographing objects smaller than a coffee cup)
  • Easy plug-in to your computer (i.e., cable or port)

You don't need much here - but you'll find the following investments will pay off nearly immediately:
  • A few good sized memory cards (so you don't have to be dumping photos every few minutes)
  • Rechargeable batteries - you'll want these right away! Digital cameras eat up batteries quickly. Get 2 sets - one for the camera, and one to be charging while you work. Radio Shack has great rechargeable batteries (and the recharger station) specifically for home electronics.
  • A case or protective cover for your camera - especially important if you will be traveling or going outdoors for your photo work, but also good for protecting your camera from dust, scratches, or falls while it's being stored at home.
  • A tripod - this can be a small table-top device, if your products are smaller, or a full-size, to-the-floor device. Look for one with multiple height and angle adjustments. Pick up a used one for a great price on eBay or Etsy.

I will talk more about product staging next week, because it's absolutely critical to taking a good product photo for online sales. For now, take a few minutes to look into the following:
  • For ALL items: Proper lighting. This means natural, full-spectrum light bulbs (you can get them at any Home Depot), and lots of them. Inexpensive clip-on desk lamps work great - you can pick them up for $10 apiece and affix them easily to surround your product photo area. Get several.
  • For small items: A desktop light box. We absolutely love GemEBox, made by MK Digital Direct. EZCube is another good brand to look at.
  • For clothing: A good-quality mannequin. Yes, you need one - please don't keep photographing your items laid out on the dirty floor! Yes, you can buy one from a store that's going out of business, but PLEASE make sure it's in good repair. That means no major scratches, and it should have hair. Yes, even if you sell used clothing.
  • For large items: Most large professional lightboxes are pretty expensive purchases, so if you're photographing large items we generally recommend that you start with some drop cloths to "white out" your backgrounds. You can get white canvas painters drop cloths at Home Depot, or some clean white cotton yarding at the fabric store. Make sure it's nice and thick, so you won't see things through the material. Also try to pick a fabric that doesn't collect dust or pet hair easily. While you're there, grab a few plastic zip-up bags to store your drop cloths in when not in use.

I know these items require both time and money investments. As you gather them, remind yourself that they will very likely pay for themselves in just a few weeks' time. After all, one of the beauties of selling online is that you literally have an even playing field with the "big guys" - give yourself the professional advantage of the right equipment, and I guarantee you'll be glad you did!

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