Instagram is the perfect marketing tool: you are able to reach thousands of people at once, interact with your customers and easily connect with other people in your industry. However, you can create the best products in the world and not sell any if you aren’t able to take a proper photograph. While Instagram is a great marketing tool, it relies heavily on imagery. You don’t need to be a professional photographer to sell your craft, but you do need to learn how to take a proper photograph.
The beauty of Instagram is that you don’t need to own a lot of expensive photography equipment to get ahead. Smartphones take incredible photographs these days, and there are a lot of professional editing programs that work via applications. You can create your own presets or purchase them premade so that all of your images have the same beautiful tones with just one click.
Likewise, gone are the days where you need a photography studio with a lot of complicated lights. Although studios are still helpful in other situations, small businesses don’t require them to take beautiful product images. All you need is a clean backdrop, a window with natural light, and a piece of whiteboard to use as a reflector. We’ll look into all of this in further detail!
One of the best ways to market your products is by photographing them in a ‘flat lay’. This is essentially a meticulously arranged photograph that is taken from above. Luckily, setting up a beautiful flat lay is easy once you master a few basic steps. You can take what you learn from creating a flat lay and transfer that knowledge to other product shots, whether you’re shooting from above, eye-level or other angles.
Let’s get started!
What you need:
- Your products
- Extra props for ‘context’ – this can be anything loosely related to your products or simply there for the design aspect such as fresh flowers or crystals
- A flat surface – this can be a white board, a wooden board, or simply a vinyl backdrop with a particular pattern
- A white reflector board
- A camera (or use your smartphone)
- Photo retouching software, on a computer or smartphone
Step 1: Get inspired
Although you don’t want to copy what others are doing, Instagram is a great place to get inspiration for your own product shots. Instagram is filled with inspiring flat lays, from beautifully composed travel accessories to art supplies to foraged plants. Search through a couple of flat lay hashtags and get some inspiration for color schemes and compositions.
If you sell pottery, take a look at how other potters, woodworkers or craftsmen are photographing their products. What works, what doesn’t? Is it more effective to focus solely on the product being sold, or should you add a human presence to show it in use? Understanding what isn’t effective is just as important as understanding what is.
Take note of other decorative objects that may be added into the scene. Are the products photographed in the studio itself, surrounded by the tools that were used to make them? Are they placed delicately into a scene surrounded by beautiful plants?
Another great way to get inspired is to create a mood board for your company. What sort of images inspire you? What small details make you look closer at a photograph? Are there particular color schemes or layouts that you often use in branding?
Don’t worry too much about constructing a perfect scene in the inspiration phase. This is a fun way to figure out what it is that draws you to imagery and products, that’s it! Let this phase be fun and easy. Compile a collection of images that speak to you, and then think about how you can add some of these aspects to your own images.
Step 2: Set up a makeshift studio
One of the most important aspects of photography is light. While a real photography studio can offer myriad options in terms of artificial lighting, the easiest thing to do is rely on natural light. All you need is a white board (or wood, or marble, or other material of your choice).
Set this up on a table next to a large window. You want to make sure you have a nice flat surface. Prop up your white reflector board opposite the window, tilted down towards your flat surface. This helps bounce even more light from the window onto your surface so that you don’t get any harsh shadows.
If you are lucky enough to have a room with multiple windows, you may not need the reflector board at all. Use this as a test: place a product and a couple of props on your flat surface. Does the window light cause any unwanted shadows? If so, move your reflector board around until the shadows disappear. When they do, this is where you need to set it up.
If you don’t have any ideal space indoors, you can also set up this same studio outside in a shaded area. Shooting in direct sunlight will create too much contrast, and will add unwanted shadows into the scene. The best light is in the morning or late afternoon.
Before placing any of your props or products on your flat surface, make sure that it is clean and free of any dust or debris.
Step 3: Place your products
What do you want your photograph to convey? Let’s say you are a potter. For photographing flat lays you have two different options: only photograph your products, or add in a bit of context. To just photograph your products, you could create a beautiful flat lay with a grid of handmade mugs.
If you want to add in a bit of context, you could have a couple of mugs surrounded by a handful of pottery tools. Another way to add content is by adding in a human presence. With mugs, you could have someone holding one or pouring coffee into one. You could even show different ways of using your product, such as tea in one mug, a smoothie in another, and even a plant coming out of the last one!
When you are just starting out, it can be very helpful to start with more props than you are going to need. Gather everything before you begin so that you can simply sit down with your objects and experiment. What was maybe a perfect idea in your head may not translate well to a flat surface.
Don’t get discouraged! It can be difficult to photograph your products in a way that appeals to you and your customers, but it gets easier with time. Try to experiment on a day that you don’t have a lot of deadlines so you are free to play with objects as long as you need. Add objects and take them away, move things around, and experiment with different forms of context whether human or not.
Step 4: Mastering composition
Flat lays and product photography can be clean and simple with distinct lines, or strategically ‘cluttered’ while still remaining stylish and effective. If you choose to go the more cluttered route with a lot of extra props, it is important that your product is still the main focus of attention. Utilize the rule of thirds and try to maintain balance throughout the image.
Keep your colors consistent. You don’t want to have a feed that is mostly cool, desaturated tones and then throw in a photograph with neon colors. Try to use props that don’t take the focus away from your product. When in doubt, use less.
Although colors should remain consistent, don’t spend too much time overthinking the particular colors and tones of the objects you are using for props. If you are really set on using a bright pink flower and your feed is mostly muted tones, you can always fix this during post processing.
Texture is also important, and can be added by using a tablecloth over your surface or adding in fur, feathers, crystals and other objects. A plain white surface can look very clean and crisp, while a rumpled sheet or tablecloth can add a “real life” aspect to the scene.
Contrast and balance are key factors to take into consideration. Contrast can be achieved in a variety of ways, by using color, texture, light, shape, size, etc. Balance doesn’t mean your photograph needs to be perfectly symmetrical, although you could go this route.
With balance, practice makes perfect. Take a look at your scene and acknowledge how the different objects pull your eye around the image. Is your product the first thing that catches your eye? If so, good. If not, move your props around so that your product is the main focus. Try to achieve proper balance by placing your objects so that your eye naturally moves around the scene without getting too stuck anywhere that isn’t your product.
Although it may sound complicated, your inspiration shots can come in handy when determining what makes perfect balance and contrast in a photograph.
Step 5: Taking the photograph
Before pressing the shutter, make sure that the focus is correct, and that you are shooting at an aperture that allows everything in the frame to remain in focus. You should also make sure that all of your props and products fit within the frame.
It is alright if some props seem to be “falling off” the photograph and are cut off at the edges; this can add a unique aspect to the final image. However, try not to cut off any part of your product. Your product should be easy to see, and its purpose should be clear. If one side of the product doesn’t give enough context, try adding another one next to it set on its opposite side. For example, the front and back of an article of clothing.
If you are shooting a traditional flat lay, you’ll want to stand on a stool or other object so that you can get the classic bird’s-eye view. When shooting from above, make sure the camera is completely straight. You can also experiment with shooting your flat lay from different angles, such as straight on.
Step 6: Retouching
Consistency in your feed is key, and this should be reflected in all of your product photographs. One of the best ways to achieve consistency is by using filters – whether pre-made or not. You can easily create your own filters in any advanced photo editing software, allowing you to quickly and easily edit your photos in a uniform way. Here is the list of best photo editing software to choose from, free and paid.
If you aren’t up to the challenge of creating your own filters, you can purchase them pre-made or use ones that are offered in editing applications. Keep in mind that most successful businesses do not use the pre-made Instagram filters; you want a clean image that doesn’t look too edited.
Try not to go too wild when editing your photographs; brighten photos when needed, and boost the clarity so everything is in perfect focus. Add on your favorite filter, and voila! Your beautiful image is ready for posting, and will hopefully draw new customers.
Step 7: Post it!
Although it may seem intimidating at first, photographing your products for Instagram can be fun and easy. Choosing the perfect props, finding the perfect composition, and creating a unique editing style take time. The more you practice, the better your product photography will become.
If you don’t receive the feedback you desire the first time you post, push through and keep posting. It takes time to build a business and sell your products with Instagram marketing, and you won’t gain a huge following in one day.
Utilize apps that allow you to plan your feed in advance and schedule posts. This way, you can see how all of your images work together within your grid and you won’t need to spend as much time staring at your phone.
A little bit of effort can bring a lot of payback. Create beautiful images, and your audience will come!