Choosing your product photography kit bag essentials
Updated: May 10
Paying someone to capture your products is all well and good, but what if you could save yourself the financial burden (usually ongoing) and take control of your own imagery?
If this is you, the concept of becoming your own in-house photographer may seem a bit daunting and you might be thinking - where do I start? Often, the thought of choosing the right camera and lenses for product photography is enough to put you off; making it all too easy to continue using your smartphone instead.
Your smartphone will only take you so far - sign up to my smartphonegraphy e-guide here. However, If you're serious about improving your imagery you'll want to consider a few things before jumping in with both feet - buying a camera and regretting it later.
The camera body
If you’re already confused about the term camera body, don’t be - It’s simply the camera itself, but without a lens attached.
There is no end of DSLR cameras available and with a price ranging from the lower end of the scale (where your purchase won't flag up a problem to your bank manager) through to a hefty chunk of money and a more considered or significant purchase. Unless you're planning to open up a professional studio, you can easily find a happy medium to work with and one that suits your budget.
Of course, the saying "you pay for what you get" does ring true here and you'll want to buy the best you can afford. Also, particularly for product photography, do consider elements such as the megapixels rating when looking to choose a camera, I would suggest at least 20 megapixels as a good starting point for product photography where capturing detail is all-important.
Sensor size matters and will impact your imagery. My Canon camera has a FULL-FRAME sensor which means it's bigger and more powerful (better in low light situations too) allowing more detail to be captured. If your camera is a crop sensor i.e. Olympus Pen EPL series, then it won't capture fine detail so well and does struggle rather in low light or gloomy days.
I actually have an Olympus Pen EPL-10 which I rarely use, however, when coupled with a 45mm four-thirds lens, it does produce gorgeous lifestyle photographs which are quite noticeably better quality than say a smartphone. They also have a certain recognisable Olympus Pen look about them - (in a good way) which is great for lifestyle imagery where the focus isn't so much on the product per se, rather capturing a "scene".
If you choose a mirrorless crop sensor camera as in the Olympus Pen series then you'll not have the joy of a viewfinder (entry-level mirrorless cameras don't have a viewfinder). This is ok for most situations but if you're using the camera on a bright sunny day, you'll really struggle to see the LCD screen properly, which, believe me, is frustrating.
The basic principles of any camera body are pretty much the same, but here are some pointers to look for if you’re having trouble deciding.
When purchasing a DSLR camera it will (most often) come with a kit lens included. This lens is "ok", and will enable you to get started straight away. Use your kit lens to practise with whilst getting to grips with your new camera. Often times, your kit lens will have a zoom function so you’ll have a few bases covered in terms of focal length.
If you’re going to continue shooting your own products and developing your skill, then I would highly recommend investing in a lens or lenses which are more specific to your genre (in this case -product photography).
Let’s open up my product photography gear bag and see what’s inside:
My camera body:
Canon 6D MK ii full-frame 26.6 megapixels. Approx £1,400
The camera body whilst costly in itself is basically the control centre. It houses the image sensor, the circuitry, LCD screen, the battery and is what you hold when taking your shot.
This is where you’ll want to really consider your purchase. Often, decent lenses are very definitely investments for your kit bag.
I have three favourite lenses which I use the most:
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens
(with image stabilisation) approx £1,000 (new).
This one is my most used lens. I adore the focal length, perspective, super-sharp image quality and the image stabilisation aspect. However, whilst you may be thinking a macro lens is only for extreme close ups, it's actually quite a versatile lens and is often favoured for portraiture. You'll need to allow plenty of room to move back from your set up or subject as it's quite zoomed in, but it produces some really beautiful images and definitely one I won't be without. It's also currently my choice for videography.
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
The Canon 24-70mm is one chunky monkey, it's heavy and a little cumbersome in my opinion, but, it's a fabulous addition to your kit bag (if your budget will allow) and has many uses, with its zoom capabilities from 24mm through to 70mm.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens approx £110 also available in f/1.4 £399
This one isn’t such an investment with its humble price tag and I would say it is my least used lens. Not because the quality isn’t there, but because 50mm isn’t a focal length I often require. I will use it for flat-lays or for when I want more of the scene in the frame i.e. interior shots.
Plus points: It's affordable, very lightweight, most natural field of view, and small.
When shooting highly reflective items, using a polarising filter will help reduce unwanted or distracting reflections. It also increases contrast and colour saturation, however, bear in mind that a polarising filter will reduce the amount of light hitting the sensor so you may want to adjust your settings (according to the exposure triangle) to compensate. Buy my polarising lens filter here.
For filming and/or for cinematic shots I love to use a Cinesoft diffusion filter with my 100mm lens. If you're a fan of the Big screen filmic look then you might want to try a soft glow filter. It smooths highlights and gives a beautiful, but indiscreet bloom to your scene along with softening features and creates super dreamy bokeh.
Finally, if you don't yet have the finances to buy new, please consider buying used. I would recommend MPB. I have purchased camera gear here previously myself and always found excellent customer service and great quality kit. You can choose from "well-used" through to "like new" at a price point that suits. There is also a trade-in opportunity too if you're looking to upgrade your current gear.
I cover lenses in much more detail in my signature product styling and photography course which is launching soon. I'll also share my suggestions on other gear essentials you might want to consider going forward to make your at-home shoot a little easier.
If you're interested in learning how to create aesthetic, storytelling Instagram reels for your business then you might be interested in my STORIES IN MOTION mini e-course. More here -