Create Stunning Product Photographs with Tips from Neal Walters

“The better the photograph, the more likely people are to engage with the product. It really is as simple as that.”

Neal Walters

Canon Collective Ambassador Neal Walters is an accomplished product photographer and has shot for some of the hottest brands on the planet. Here he offers his professional advice on how to take quality images that are sure to inspire your clients and customers.

Whether you’re looking for tips on taking better photos of products you manufacture or sell yourself, or you’d like to level up your skills to impress your commercial clients, this insightful guide is sure to help.

Why Product Photography is Important

During my Collective workshops, I’m often asked why anyone should care about how their products look in images. The answer is simple: if your product shots are boring and outdated then your product will appear that way also. The main goal of product photography is to create images that give customers a good feel for the particular product. But we also want product images that inspire customers to share them with their friends and family, to feel excited and proud of the items they purchase.

How to Make Your Product Shots Stand Out

The easiest way to stand out from other product shots is to create something fresh and exciting, something that no one else has seen before. Your creative options are limited only by your imagination. For example, you could use a different colour gel on your lights or add a sparkler in the background and use a slow shutter speed of a half a second to create a light trail. You could escape the studio and shoot in the middle of a busy city intersection to add energy, movement, and emotion to your shots, or shoot at a beach or forest to instill a sense of peace and tranquility. Creating product shots that pop is all about thinking outside of the box.

Bottom view skater shoes
EOS 1D X Mark II, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Lens, 1/1000sec, f/5.6, ISO-100

“The beauty of product photography is that you don’t necessarily need the best camera or gear to get the best shots.”

Neal Walters

The Best Cameras, Lenses and Gear for Product Photography

All Canon DSLR and mirrorless cameras are capable of producing excellent product images. And all you really need to create a home studio is a white bed-sheet and a speed light. Shooting commercial products is not about having the latest camera or lenses, but more about knowing your camera settings and having the most original ideas.

Recommended Camera Settings for Product Photography

There is no rule book when it comes to camera settings but one technique you should definitely employ is bokeh. Bokeh allows you to blur out the background or foreground of your image and make sure the overall emphasis is on the product. You can achieve a nice buttery bokeh effect by using a low aperture of around f/1.8 or f/2.8.

Water resistant white sneakers
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens, Canon Speed Light, 1/200sec, f/2.8, ISO-100

The above shot is an example of where I adjusted my aperture to create an exciting product photo. I shot these cool shoes in the street outside of my house on a rainy day. I set my aperture to f/2.8 to achieve that beautiful blurry bokeh effect in front of the shoes. I also used a speed light to illuminate the scene from above and a relatively fast shutter speed of 1/200 sec to freeze the movement of the water droplets. The result is a dynamic image where the product really jumps out at you.

Lighting Gear and Techniques for Product Photography

Successful product shoots are not about having the best lighting gear, but more about working with what you have to create the right mood for the right product. It’s a creative process that rewards imagination and experimentation.

Balance is everything when lighting your scenes. If you’re shooting in a dimly-lit room, for example, or have harsh shadows over your products, then your images will lack that professional crisp look that you’re ideally looking for. The distance between your light source and subject plays a huge part in achieving the right vibe. The closer your light source is to the product, the harsher the shadows will be. In some cases, this can be a good thing, such as when you want a spotlight effect on a whiskey bottle in an old tavern, for example. But in other scenarios, such as shooting an elegant piece of jewelry, you’ll most likely benefit from moving your light source away from the product to create a softer, more balanced feel. My main advice is to try lots of different lighting positions and combinations until you find the best scenario for the particular product you are shooting.

Product photo of chilli pepper oil bottle
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens, Broncolour Lights, 1/100sec, f/8, ISO-100

Product Photography Quick Tips

• Don’t Forget Your Tripod
Consistency is key when it comes to creating beautiful product photos. If you change the angle of your camera for each and every shot, you’ll likely find it difficult to find and maintain the perfect setup. Using a tripod allows you to change up your scene as many times as you want and make those millimeter adjustments that combine to create the perfect look and feel

• Treat Your Product Like a Person
I know this may sound weird, but trust me… When you’re taking portraits of people, you’re looking for the perfect lighting and angles to make that particular person look their best. Shooting products is no different. Your job is to find the best angles and lighting to capture the product in all its glory.

• Master Your Camera Settings
Do you want sharp images with no movement? Then use a higher shutter speed such as 1/500 sec or above. Do you want the background to be in focus as well as the subject? Then a higher aperture such as f/13 or above will work beautifully. And remember to always try to stick to a low ISO number, such as 200 or 400 where possible, as higher ISO numbers will introduce noise/grain to your images, which isn’t ideal for photos that will be used on giant billboards.

• Start Simple
This tip really does apply to every form of photography: if you’re just starting out in product photography then don’t think you need all the fancy gear you can get your hands on. Why not start by shooting in natural light, or in the warm light of golden hour? Combine with the bokeh effect we mentioned above and you can create beautiful pro-looking images without spending a fortune. Look to push your boundaries further every time you shoot and experiment with new creative ideas to achieve your vision.

Find out more about Neal Walters here.

Get inspired and learn more with these tips