Table of Contents
- Phone Camera
- Tripod or Stand
- Wireless Remote
- Add-on Lenses
- Camera Apps
- Prepare to Shoot
Choose Your (Phone) Camera
Most smartphones today come with high-performance cameras built in. The newest models have more megapixels and better image sensors than ever before, and some even have two or three lenses instead of the standard single lens. You should use the newest model with the highest megapixel ("MP") count you can get your hands on. Everything in this tutorial can be done with a mid-level smartphone camera so don’t worry if you don’t have the latest and greatest device. I used an iPhone 8.
These phones all have cameras with 12MP or more, which will deliver the image quality you need:
- iPhone 8 or newer
- Google Pixel 2 or newer
- Huawei P20 Pro or newer
- Samsung Galaxy S8 or newer
Gather Your Accessories
Tripod or Stand
Stabilizing your camera is an important step to ensure the images of your product come out sharp and consistent. There are plenty of budget-friendly options available so a tripod is well worth the investment.
If you shoot mostly small items, a table-top or mini tripod will do. If you shoot larger items (i.e. furniture) you might want a full-size tripod. Make sure the one you buy either comes with, or is compatible with, a smartphone clip attachment.
$14 - UBeesize Portable and Adjustable Camera Stand Holder with Wireless Remote and Universal Clip
Durable construction, no-slip feet and a rotating ballhead make this a versatile choice. It can even be used with a tablet.
$25 - Manfrotto PIXI Mini Tripod Kit with Universal Smartphone Clamp
Trusted, high-quality brand. Features universal smartphone clamp, rotating ballhead, standard ¼” mount can be used with many other digital devices and cameras. Can be used as a tripod or grip.
If you already have a regular camera tripod at home, you can save money and just buy a smartphone clip for it.
Camera shake = blurry photos. Every time your hand taps the screen to snap a photo, you run the risk of shaking the camera while it’s capturing the image. Even a small movement can make a big difference in the quality and sharpness of the photo and result in losing important detail of your product. Wireless remotes are inexpensive (most less than $10) and easily connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth.
$8 - CamKix Wireless Bluetooth Remote for Mobile Photography
Camkix has been around for a while, doesn't require an app, and reliably stays bluetooth paired.
Mobile photography has come a long way and so have the options for add-on lenses. A wide angle lens could be useful, especially for larger items that might be difficult to fit in frame. A macro lens can help show intricate detail or texture of a product. Just be careful that the lens you choose doesn’t distort the appearance of your product. A fisheye lens, for example, would create inaccurate proportions which might look stylistically cool, but your customers will want to see what the product actually looks like.
Best “top-shelf” option:
$175 - Moment Starter Set
- Pros: great quality and lots of options.
- Cons: lenses are expensive and you have to buy their proprietary phone case to attach the lens to.
Best budget option:
$17 - AMIR 3-in-1 HD Camera Lens
Amir makes a popular clip-on lens with a much smaller price tag.
Moment lenses are pretty much the unanimous favorite among smartphone photographers—if you can afford them.
Choosing the right camera app is an important part of the shooting process. Most smartphones come with a serviceable app, but there are third-party apps that offer many of the same manual controls as a DSLR camera that you can use to customize to your needs.
Many camera apps offer an option to shoot in RAW format in addition to the standard JPEG. This can be a helpful option if you plan to edit on your computer later.
Make sure you install the app you want to use on your phone and familiarize yourself with it prior to the photo shoot.
Some of the top-rated options for Apple iOS and Android:
- Camera+ 2 for iOS - $2.99 (It's what I use in this demo)
- VSCO for iOS and Android - FREE + in-app purchases
- ProCamera for iOS - $7.99
- Lightroom for iOS and Android – FREE to use. Advanced features and ability to sync to Cloud and desktop version require Adobe Creative Cloud membership - from $9.99/month
- Camera FV-5 for Android – Lite version FREE, Premium $3.95
Prepare to Shoot
Now that you’ve got your materials gathered, it’s time to set up your studio and get everything in place.
Build Your Set
To set up your studio you need 3 things: a flat surface, a plain background, and a light source.
Choose a flat surface in a space with enough room for your background, product, and tripod/smartphone.
For best results use a simple white or gray background that won’t distract from the product. A white “sweep” works best as it will fill in the space behind and underneath the product, and will also help reflect light onto the product.
White seamless paper is a good choice and easy to find at any photography store. White craft paper or cloth could work, too. Just make sure your background is wider than your product and fills the whole frame of the image so you don’t have to crop in.
For small products, a table top setup will work. You can either DIY your own, or purchase a professional light tent.
For larger products, you’ll need to make a bigger sweep by hanging a roll of white seamless paper from a stand, or taping to a wall.
Soft, diffused light is best for shooting product images. There are two ways to get it:
If natural light is available, it’s the easiest to work with and it’s free. Bright, indirect sunlight is best. Fill in shadows and create even lighting on all sides by using a bounce card to reflect the natural light around your product.
If you’re shooting at night or in a room where natural light is limited, you can use artificial light. It can be challenging to get the results you want when using artificial light so if you know you’re going this route, it’s probably a good idea to invest in some lighting equipment, such as a light tent or soft box kit.
There are some fairly affordable options available like this pop-up shooting tent and this self-lit “studio in a box”.
I used a sturdy chair to build my set on. I cut a small piece of paper off my roll of white seamless and clipped it to the back of the chair to make a sweep. Using a chair allowed me to position the set where the light was going to be best. For a bigger item you could push a table against a wall instead of using a chair. I also used a white bounce card to help reflect the window light onto the shadow side of the earrings.
Position Your Product
Make sure your product is clean and camera-ready (i.e. remove tags, stickers, etc.). Place it in the middle of the sweep and adjust your fill cards and/or lighting to minimize shadows.
You might need to display the product on a stand or lean it against something if it doesn’t stand on its own. I poked holes in the background paper and hung the earrings from it.
If you’re shooting something like a hat or bag, stuff it with tissue paper or clothing to make it look full.
Get Your Smartphone Ready
Clean your lens! Our phones are constantly in our hands/pockets/purses and as a result they collect all sorts of smudges and debris. If your smartphone case is shiny or sparkly, it would be a good idea to remove it for the shoot to avoid lens flare.
If using a wireless shutter remote, pair it to your smartphone per manufacturer instructions (usually standard bluetooth).
Shooting with your Smartphone
Equipment Used in this Shoot:
- iPhone 8
- Mini tripod with smartphone clip
- White seamless paper for background
- White bounce card
- Wireless remote
- Clip-on macro lens (for close-ups)
First, some DON’Ts:
DON’T use the digital zoom (or zoom as little as possible). When it comes to smartphone cameras, image quality gets worse the more you zoom in. Try moving your phone closer to the product instead, or use a clip-on zoom or macro lens.
DON’T use the flash. The flash on your phone won’t give you the results you need. If you need more light, get it from your other light sources. Add a bounce card, increase the power on artificial lights, move closer to the window, etc.
DON’T use photo filters. This isn’t the time to use the fun filters in your camera app. Keep things as natural as possible so the photos are an accurate representation of the product.
Now, what you should DO:
Once everything is in place, open your camera app of choice (Camera+ for me) and start composing the image and making adjustments to the settings.
- Make sure your app is set to shoot in the highest image quality available.
- Decide if you want to shoot in JPEG or RAW
- RAW photos collect more image data than JPEG files so you’ll have more information to work with later. This can be useful if you plan to edit the photos on your computer. They are bigger files and take up more room on your phone so keep that in mind if you’re low on storage space.
- JPEG is the standard format for most smartphone photos and is perfectly fine for most purposes, especially if the photos are going to be used primarily online (as opposed to print, for example).
Open the Camera, then:
- Turn on the Grid and Level so you can place your product evenly in the center.
- Focus – tap the screen to manually focus on your product. Lock focus.
- White Balance – you can adjust the white balance to your lighting conditions, or choose AWB (auto white balance) if you’re not sure. AWB usually does a pretty good job “guessing” the right balance when you place the WB button on the white background.
- ISO – some apps will choose the ISO automatically or you can adjust it yourself. Try to keep it below 800 or you can end up with grainy images.
- Exposure – the camera can choose the exposure for you, but make sure to “tell it” where to look (i.e. don’t expose for the white background or your product will be too dark). Drag exposure button to the area you want to expose for and let the app adjust accordingly. This option is easiest if you’re not familiar with DSLR camera controls.
- Alternately, you can manually set exposure by adjusting the shutter speed (try to not go slower than 1/125 to reduce risk of camera shake), and use Exposure Compensation +/- to increase or decrease brightness. Lock exposure.
Once your settings are in place, use the wireless remote (or very gently tap the capture button on your phone) to take your first photo.
STOP and look at the image BEFORE you take more photos.
Make sure your lighting, focus, exposure, and position all look right. Make adjustments as needed and take test photos until you’re happy with the settings, then fire away.
Take a variety of photos of the product to show as much detail as possible. Use a telephoto or macro lens to zoom in on important features, such as texture. Take photos of the front and back, the inside and outside, the top and bottom. You can leave your tripod, background and lights in the same position and only move the product so the lighting and perspective will be consistent in all of the photos.
Once you’ve captured all the images you want, it’s time to edit. The camera apps listed earlier all have dynamic editing suites, so you can shoot and edit in the same app if you want to. Or you might like the camera controls in one app and the editing features in a different app.
Or you might not want to spend your own precious time editing images when you can get them professionally edited by Pixelz. Post-production is a great opportunity to take advantage of the efficiencies available in our interconnected, technology driven world. Compare retouching features on different Pixelz plans, and integrate with the free Shopify app if you're on Shopify! Here's a quick Shopify app walkthrough if you need it.
But back to mobile apps. While I use Lightroom (more on that later), Snapseed is another app worth mentioning. It’s one of the best mobile photo editing apps on the market, with advanced controls for experienced editors and plenty of easy-to-use features that just about anyone can figure out. For iOS and Android.
How to Edit:
Select the images you want to edit.
If you plan to edit in a different app than you shot in, you may need to export the photos to your camera roll first so you can import them to your editing app.
I have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription and like editing in Lightroom, both for the features/ease of use, and so all of my photos sync from the cloud. For shooting, I like the Camera+ 2 interface better than Lightroom so I use one app to shoot and another to edit. It’s really personal preference.
Most images need a little help to look their best. Use the app to make basic adjustments such as brightness, contrast, sharpness, highlights/shadows, and white balance.
Don’t overdo it here. The goal is to make the product stand out and look as good as possible, but the image should still be an accurate representation of what the product really looks like. Artistic flare like filters, borders, tints, and over saturation should all be avoided.
Once you’ve finished editing your first photo, you can save the settings you used as a ‘preset’ so you can apply the same edits to the other photos in the set. Creating a preset saves time but make sure to look at each photo individually after applying the preset in case you need to make small adjustments. Presets are great but aren’t always one-size-fits-all.
Side note: If you're interested in learning more about Lightroom features like Tethered Capture, Presets, and Batch Editing, I collaborated on this guide on how to use Adobe Lightroom for product photography. It goes well with the non-smartphone DIY guide to building your own photo studio.
Final Product Image... or is it?
You can take what you have right now, pictured below, and put it up on your e-commerce website. If you've followed the steps in this blog post and your product is fairly straightforward, it should look great!
The above image was captured and edited entirely in a smartphone. That's pretty neat! Of course, you may not always have the time, desire, or ability to capture AND edit images yourself.
If your product is more challenging (for example if it's reflective, or you're shooting white products on white backgrounds), you need additional editing (like background removal or retouching), or you simply need editing done in bulk and don't want to do it yourself—take advantage of a service like Pixelz.
It's easy, fast, and high quality. That's why Pixelz is trusted by leading brands worldwide.