Common product photography mistakes and how to fix them.
Updated: Jul 28
DIY product photography can unearth a multitude of issues for small, product-based or creative businesses, and whilst I applaud you if you're going it alone, it's all too easy to make mistakes. In this article, we will be looking at some of the more common product photography mistakes you might be making and how to avoid them.
Product Photography mistake 01. White balance is off
What is white balance?
It basically means the balance of colours needed to render an image with natural colours (or as close to real life as possible). How our eyes see the world in terms of colours isn't always the same as the camera sees and when setting the white balance correctly for our particular light situation we are telling the camera how we want the colours to appear, instead of letting it decide (and possibly get it wrong).
White balance issues are a commonly seen and quite often an image can have have what is known as a colour cast i.e. appears too warm (yellow) or too cool (blue) and whilst it may look perfectly fine to person behind the camera, for the most part, it just looks off, somehow.
For your DIY product shots you’ll want to strive for a neutral white balance so that colours stay true and the image doesn’t have a warm or cool cast to it.
Cause of incorrect white balance:
Indoor lights are often to blame and if shooting outdoors the changing light can really impact white balance. Ever taken a photo in the snow (that you saw as pure white) but appears blue-ish when rendered? That'll be incorrect white balance.
Standard incandescent household lights will cause a yellow cast, whilst conversely, LED or fluorescent lights can cause a blue, or even a green cast on your image. To avoid confusing your camera (and upsetting the white balance with more than one light source) turn off indoor lights and just use natural window light (or studio light, if preferred).
How to avoid white balance issues:
Look at your camera’s white balance setting (for manual and AV modes) and set it according to your light situation - I.e cloudy/sunny etc for best results, However, If in doubt and you’re not confident with setting up your camera, choose the auto white balance setting option as a last resort, but be prepared to edit your final images to correct the white balance, if need be.
When looking at the three images below - which do you see has neutral white balance and true colours? (not too warm, or cool, somewhere in between). If you can't see which - it's the centre image.
Product photography mistake 02. Barrel, or, lens distortion
This one is very common, particularly for beauty products, bottles, or pots and jars.
What is barrel distortion?
When the the field of view, is wider than the camera's image sensor, barrel distortion occurs. the effect manifests as a squeezed or contorted product or item in your image and it may appear to be leaning backwards as the middle appears to swell forward.
What causes barrel distortion?
Using a wide-angled lens and getting too close to your product is the main cause and the same can be said for those using a smartphone. The phone camera lens is wide angled and you will have undoubtedly noticed that if you get too close say to a friend or family member’s face, their features become distorted.
How to avoid barrel distortion:
The best way is to use a lens with a natural perspective, for example, 50mm (which is the closest to how our eyes see the world), or, 100mm which gives a beautiful 1:1 replication of the product or item. My preferred focal length for product photography is 70-100mm. You can read more about what else I use regularly for product photography shoots here.
If using an iPhone
Engage the optical zoom function (seen at foot of screen) and select x2.5 from the three options. Do this instead of using your fingers to zoom as it will vastly improve the perspective and do away with image distortion. Try it, and see the difference. Why not grab my free iPhone photography e-guide here.for more tips and techniques.
All of the images below have some degree of barrel distortion - swollen through the middle with the appearance of leaning backwards.
Product photography mistake 03. Not enough product photography images
Potential customers want to see what you’ve got and they want to see several clear and concise images.
It’s important to have a minimum of three images including a simple hero image of each product (or group of products). keep your hero images uniform and use a tripod to maintain the angle and perspective for each shot. This type of image is known as packshot, or studio shot.
Other images could include a lifestyle, context shot and another to show the item being used/held by a person to show size and scale.
If a customer looking to make a purchase can’t confidently buy from you because your product imagery, or lack of has sent them running to your competitors, perhaps it's time to give it your full attention. Poor product photography affects customer perception of your business in a negative way but it’s something you can definitely work on - read more about it here.
Product photography mistake 04. Lack of brand consistency
When you land on a website or Instagram grid and the imagery is muddled, with varying backgrounds or incorrect white balance it’s off-putting to customers. Among the many factors that cheapen your your brand, having an aesthetic or online “shop window” poorly presented is the quite possibly the biggest one. For the best possible customer experience, try to take a more mindful approach to your general aesthetic online.
If curating a consistent aesthetic is a gripe of yours, I can help you. My mini e-course Reconnect is coming soon.