When you're selling items on shopping sites such as eBay and Etsy, presentation and marketing are just as important as producing a high-quality product. Customers are bombarded with images of goods of all shapes and sizes. Since they can’t try things on or test them out, it's important for you to provide a clear, accurate, and appealing representation. Even if the cashmere scarf you knitted is beautiful in person, no one will want it if it appears out of focus, looks poorly lit, or sits wrapped around your unshaven friend’s neck.
Luckily, you don't need to hire a photographer or use a professional studio to take great product shots. Simply follow these steps to cast your product in the best light and please the eye of would-be buyers.
Choose Your Equipment
When you're on a shoestring budget, the best camera for product photography is the one you have. The cameras on modern smartphones are of extremely high quality--the Droid Razr and iPhone 4S, for instance, each pack an 8-megapixel camera. You can find many options for camera accessories, too, such as external lenses and tripods for smartphones--especially for iPhones. (For details, check out our list of must-have iPhone camera accessories.)
If you can afford new equipment, an interchangeable-lens camera or a digital single-lens reflex camera is the best choice for high-quality shooting and easy manual focusing. Both camera types usually come with a kit lens designed for zoom versatility; for the best results, however, a dedicated macro lens or wide-aperture portrait lens might be worth the extra cash. (See the “Choose Your Lens” section on the next page for more information.)
Between those two extremes are your standard point-and-shoot cameras, which are much more affordable than the average DSLR or interchangeable-lens model. Most basic snapshot cameras cost around $200, but at that price they usually don’t offer significantly better quality or controls than a high-end smartphone camera. For about $300 to $500, you can buy a higher-end point-and-shoot camera with a wider aperture, manual controls for focusing, and a zoom range that provides ideal focal lengths for both wide-angle (24mm) and macro photography (50mm and up).
No matter what kind of camera you use, a tripod is essential if you lack steady hands and want a consistent angle on the product while you change the lighting. Miniature tripods, such as the bendy Gorillapod, are handy and affordable. At the very least, find a solid, flat surface to rest your camera on while snapping each shot.
Understand Your Camera
Some external lenses can make your photos look as if you captured them with a more expensive camera, but other lenses are suitable only for novelty effects. For product photography, stick to the macro lens attachments. If you encounter any distortion, blurriness, or trouble focusing, ditch the attachment and stay with your original lens.
You have no need to shoot in full-manual mode for basic product photography, but you should understand how to focus your camera manually and turn off its automatic flash. Check out PCWorld’s guide to camera basics for guidance.
If you are using a smartphone, try an app that lets you manually focus and edit easily. The Camera+ app for iOS and the Camera 360 app for Android, for instance, let you take and edit your photos right on your phone.
Be careful to avoid using distracting effects. A tilt-shift, blurring effect can make your product stand out in the frame, but a retro or comic book effect won't provide an accurate representation of your product. If you're using the default iOS camera app on the iPhone, make sure that HDR is off.
Once you have turned off the flash, choose a focus mode that allows you to select a single point in the frame--called “Single-Point” on Nikon cameras and “Manual AF Point” on Canon cameras. This mode is extremely common in DSLRs, and it's available in many higher-end point-and-shoots as well. In this mode, the camera automatically focuses on a point in the frame that you've chosen; an empty square marks this exposure and focusing point in the viewfinder or on the live-view screen. On iOS and Android phones, you can simply touch the on-screen objects to adjust focus and exposure automatically.