DIY: Use your mobile phone to take awesome product pics

This is a fun and worthwhile weekend project for entrepreneurs wanting to improve their overall image (no pun intended). Before I start I want to confirm that I took the pics below this morning (in my PJs) with my iPhone 5 and a free photo editing application. NO editing was done in Photoshop or any other computer program. And I don't have a fancy photo studio with lighting. My studio this morning consisted of an office chair and a big window.

I am by no means a qualified photographer. I fumble around with my awesome Sony DSC F828, learning by trial and error and kicking myself when I can’t replicate a particular ambience because I didn’t write down the camera settings - again. Aaaargh!

Not everyone can afford a professional photographer and, unless you’re a large corporate concern, you’re probably not going to be needing super high resolution photos of your products for billboards anyway.

Enter: the mobile phone (ta-da!).
Yes, you can take really great product photos using your phone camera. I have recently discovered this and use my phone all the time to take quick, professional photos when needed. I’m not au fait with all the phones available out there but I do know that my little iPhone 5 does NOT have the best camera compared to most new phones out there. It’s average, in fact. The new Nokia Lumia and Sonia Xperia Z2 have way better cameras. Anyway, enough babble. This post is to show you how to take awesome product pics with your cellphone (preferably an Android, or an iPhone), using a single, free (for iPhone) photo application.

Step 1: sort your camera, download the app
PicShop is a photo editing application that is really simple to use.  The Lite version is free for both iPhone and Android. With Android you can edit images but can't save them until you purchase the application for R30. 
It’s possible that your phone camera (if you have a great phone) may already have the necessary editing tools, so first check and see if your device has them (below) before you download the application.

These are the tools you’ll need to take great pics:
a crop/rotation tool (in case you took your pics standing on your head)
a selection of filters (including ‘intense’, ‘fade’, ‘chrome’ and ‘vintage’)
a brightness / contrast tool.
a 'save' option

If your camera phone doesn't  have these then you'll need to download PicShop which has all of these and more!

Step 2: Setup your ‘studio’
I like to work with a white background as it gives a clean, crisp, professional finish and makes the product the focal point of the image. If the products you want to photograph are mostly white, you’ll need a contrasting neutral colour background, preferably beige or grey.

So, find something white and curved if possible: a piece of bendy white cardboard or plastic work well. Bendy is to create an infinity-screen type curve to lose the sharp shadow you’ll get from the meeting of the vertical and horizontal surfaces. Fabric is not so good to use because it creases. I sometimes use a large piece of white cardboard and tape it onto a wall so that it curves down along the floor. But this time, being a Friday and all, I was lazy and used one of my white office chairs as a ‘mini studio’ because it has a nice curved back.  

Obviously this is a ‘mini studio' so you can’t use it to photograph a large piece of furniture, for example. If you have larger things to photograph, you may need an entire wall and a much larger piece of board or bendy plastic. For larger items I use a piece of white wide-format banner material that I bought from my printer. It’s waterproof and rolls up into a tube for easy storage.

Step 3: Lighting
Find somewhere to ‘lean’ your background up against where it will be facing a window, or even outside if possible for best lighting. If you’re outside, full sun is best, but find a place where minimal shadows will be cast over your ‘studio area’, by leaves or garden items, or you. If you find yourself casting a shadow over your focal area, you’ll need to move yourself so that your shadow is out of view of the shot.

If you’re inside and you have some standing lamps, use them on either side of your ‘studio’ for extra light. Make sure no shadows are cast by burglar bars if you’re shooting inside in front of a window. Move your ‘studio’ about 1 to 2 meters away from the window, but facing the window. You sit underneath the window.

Step 4: Get your stuff together
Collect everything that you want to photograph and have it all within easy reach. Bright and contrasting colours work best. Arrange your products in the order you want to shoot them. I rummaged through my bedroom drawer and found some costume jewellery, hairclips and body lotion to experiment with.

You might want to include some props with your pics like the petals (from some old roses about to be thrown out) and almonds (from my kitchen cupboard) I used for the lotion photo in my shoot for this post. Make sure you have those ready too.

Step 5: Take some pics
Select the simplest object and place it in the centre of your ‘studio’.  Open your phone camera, use the ‘square’ option for size if you can. Move your phone around so that the object is right in the centre of the viewfinder, with a bit of white space around the edges. Make sure the FLASH IS OFF! Yes, you read that right. Having the flash on can create nasty shadows that you don’t want. Use the finger-touch focus or auto-focus to make sure your image is crisp and clear. Take the photo. Try and take it so that you don’t have to rotate or crop the image at all, i.e. so that your white background extends all around the edge of the image with no ‘outside’ stuff like furniture or your foot visible. Take just a few pics to start then practice editing them (step 6) before you take the rest.

Step 6: Edit your photo
Once you’ve taken your photos, these are the only edits you should need to make to your image.
Filter: If you’re using Picshop use the ‘Intense’ filter.
Brightness: go to the brightness and contrast settings and increase the brightness slightly to lose the white background. Don't increase it so much that your image looks washed out.

Save your image. If you’re going to be printing out the photos then save images to the highest resolution. But if you’re just going to be using them online then a medium to high resolution will suffice (300 to 500kb). 

Note: Restrain yourself from using other fancy textures, fills and frames. Keep it simple. If you have to use an additional filter, depending on your product, use a vintage filter for more subdued colour, or a chrome filter for brighter colour. Once you’re happy with the result of your photo/s, store them in a safe place. 

Below are a couple of my before and after pics to give you an idea of how your lighting should look before you edit your pics.

And that’s it! Try it and let us know how it worked for you! We’d love to see your pics.

Have a warm weekend!
Yours in small-business greatness,

All content Copyright © to Jo Petzer 2015