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10 Beginner tips for unique product photography

By Tara Hornor

Most photographers know the basics to good product photos – using a tripod, setting your camera to the widest aperture, using a white background, creating an out-of-focus background, and more. But what about those really unique product photographs? You know the ones. They simply don’t look like a normal product photo you’d see in a regular catalog. These are usually used for full page features in a catalog or in ads for top brands.

While the photographers of these inspiring photos did follow the most important product photography rules, they also played around with breaking some of these rules. If you are too timid and unsure in your photography to step out of the box, you will probably never produce a truly unique product photo, such as what you see with Nike or the Anthropologie print catalog. However, if you are ready to take the plunge, you may want to try one or more of these 10 tips for truly unique product photography.

1. Hang Products

Now, hanging products for better view is not necessarily an unusual practice in and of itself. Creative hanging, however, is. Maybe you should hang the product upside down, sideways, or in an unusual location. Suspend it from wires or ropes that remain a part of the photo. Go grotesque, sexy, or humorous. Play around with it and be sure to take way more photos than is necessary, and definitely be sure your lighting is perfect.

2. Shoot from Strange Angles

Usually photographers place the camera at the same level as the product so that the shot comes out at eye-level. Most of the time, you want to be careful about shooting from odd angles, simply because it can distort a product. However, sometimes you can get away with this, especially if distortion is a look you are going for or if the product is one that will be difficult to distort. You may even want to try hanging the product normally, but shooting from underneath or above.

3. Try Some Macro Shots

Keep in mind that most macro shots will probably need to be ones that are used in conjunction with normal product photos. However, they can be a great asset to a series of photos for, say, a feature page in a catalog, or an eye-catching poster ad. Just be sure that your lighting is phenomenal so that the tiniest details show up.

4. Show the Product in Weird Use

Grab the product, a piece of paper, and a pen. Now write down every use you can think of for the product. You may need to start with the more normal, everyday uses to get your brain up and running, but eventually try to come up with some ideas that are really out there. Then look over your list and circle the ones that have great potential for a unique product shoot. You may need to do some digital editing/illustration or costume/set design with this, so plan out your idea fully before starting the shoot.

5. Use Photo Manipulation

This secret goes hand-in-hand with tip #4 above. If you don’t have any skills with photo manipulation, you may need to hire a graphic design artist for help. However, this could be a great opportunity to learn Photoshop and Illustrator for some seriously original product photos.

6. Incorporate an Interesting Background

Many product photos stick with the rule of a plain background to put the focus on the product or to add another image in the background. Staging a unique background and props with the main product in the foreground can really add interest and even improve how desirable a product is.

7. Keep Your Background in Focus

Wait, what? Yes, an off-focus background keeps the eye on the main product. Sometimes, though, you may want to place, say, a food product with similar foods to suggest uses. In this case, keeping your product slightly in front but keeping the background clear can help promote this idea. Although, you can also try switching it up at times and place the product alongside the props or even in the background.

8. Place Products Above a Reflected Surface

A reflection adds quite a bit of depth to an otherwise boring photo. And don’t get stuck using a mirror. Try using photo manipulation to reflect the image on water. Or place the product in a shallow pan of water. Use lighting to enhance the reflection and edit later to further bring out the reflection.

9. Use Unique Stands

Setting products on fancy stands is a great way to add appeal to a photo. Take it to another level, though, by using items that you normally wouldn’t use for stands. An old box, another product turned upside down, a hand, a belly, the top of a head, geometric shapes, or even a photo manipulated stand.

10. Add Personality

Humanize products in your photography. Or create a story that surrounds it. Give it character. Ask your client what it is that makes their unique product better or simply different than a competitor’s. Use your photos to portray this aspect of the product for which the brand is known.

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