How to Use your Smartphone For Product Photography
Choose Your (Phone) Camera
Most smartphones today come with high-performance cameras built in. The newest models have more megapixels and better image sensors than ever before, and some even have two or three lenses instead of the standard single lens. You should use the newest model with the highest megapixel ("MP") count you can get your hands on. Everything in this tutorial can be done with a mid-level smartphone camera so don’t worry if you don’t have the latest and greatest device. I used an iPhone 8.
These phones all have cameras with 12MP or more, which will deliver the image quality you need:
iPhone 8 or newer
Google Pixel 2 or newer
Huawei P20 Pro or newer
Samsung Galaxy S8 or newer
Gather Your Accessories
Tripod or Stand
Stabilizing your camera is an important step to ensure the images of your product come out sharp and consistent. There are plenty of budget-friendly options available so a tripod is well worth the investment.
If you shoot mostly small items, a table-top or mini tripod will do. If you shoot larger items (i.e. furniture) you might want a full-size tripod. Make sure the one you buy either comes with, or is compatible with, a smartphone clip attachment.
Camera shake = blurry photos. Every time your hand taps the screen to snap a photo, you run the risk of shaking the camera while it’s capturing the image. Even a small movement can make a big difference in the quality and sharpness of the photo and result in losing important detail of your product. Wireless remotes are inexpensive (most less than $10) and easily connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth.
Mobile photography has come a long way and so have the options for add-on lenses. A wide angle lens could be useful, especially for larger items that might be difficult to fit in frame. A macro lens can help show intricate detail or texture of a product. Just be careful that the lens you choose doesn’t distort the appearance of your product. A fisheye lens, for example, would create inaccurate proportions which might look stylistically cool, but your customers will want to see what the product actually looks like.
Pros: great quality and lots of options.
Cons: lenses are expensive and you have to buy their proprietary phone case to attach the lens to.
Camera Apps Choosing the right camera app is an important part of the shooting process. Most smartphones come with a serviceable app, but there are third-party apps that offer many of the same manual controls as a DSLR camera that you can use to customize to your needs. Many camera apps offer an option to shoot in RAW format in addition to the standard JPEG. This can be a helpful option if you plan to edit on your computer later. Make sure you install the app you want to use on your phone and familiarize yourself with it prior to the photo shoot. Some of the top-rated options for Apple iOS and Android:
Camera+ 2 for iOS - $2.99 (It's what I use in this demo)
VSCO for iOS and Android - FREE + in-app purchases
ProCamera for iOS - $7.99
Lightroom for iOS and Android – FREE to use. Advanced features and ability to sync to Cloud and desktop version require Adobe Creative Cloud membership - from $9.99/month
Camera FV-5 for Android – Lite version FREE, Premium $3.95
Prepare to Shoot
Now that you’ve got your materials gathered, it’s time to set up your studio and get everything in place.
Build Your Set
To set up your studio you need 3 things: a flat surface, a plain background, and a light source.
Choose a flat surface in a space with enough room for your background, product, and tripod/smartphone.
For best results use a simple white or gray background that won’t distract from the product. A white “sweep” works best as it will fill in the space behind and underneath the product, and will also help reflect light onto the product.
White seamless paper is a good choice and easy to find at any photography store. White craft paper or cloth could work, too. Just make sure your background is wider than your product and fills the whole frame of the image so you don’t have to crop in.
For small products, a table top setup will work. You can either DIY your own, or purchase a professional light tent.
For larger products, you’ll need to make a bigger sweep by hanging a roll of white seamless paper from a stand, or taping to a wall.
Soft, diffused light is best for shooting product images. There are two ways to get it:
If natural light is available, it’s the easiest to work with and it’s free. Bright, indirect sunlight is best. Fill in shadows and create even lighting on all sides by using a bounce card to reflect the natural light around your product.
If you’re shooting at night or in a room where natural light is limited, you can use artificial light. It can be challenging to get the results you want when using artificial light so if you know you’re going this route, it’s probably a good idea to invest in some lighting equipment, such as a light tent or soft box kit.
There are some fairly affordable options available like this pop-up shooting tent and this self-lit “studio in a box”.
I used a sturdy chair to build my set on. I cut a small piece of paper off my roll of white seamless and clipped it to the back of the chair to make a sweep. Using a chair allowed me to position the set where the light was going to be best. For a bigger item you could push a table against a wall instead of using a chair. I also used a white bounce card to help reflect the window light onto the shadow side of the earrings.
Position Your Product
Make sure your product is clean and camera-ready (i.e. remove tags, stickers, etc.). Place it in the middle of the sweep and adjust your fill cards and/or lighting to minimize shadows.
You might need to display the product on a stand or lean it against something if it doesn’t stand on its own. I poked holes in the background paper and hung the earrings from it.
If you’re shooting something like a hat or bag, stuff it with tissue paper or clothing to make it look full.
Get Your Smartphone Ready
Clean your lens! Our phones are constantly in our hands/pockets/purses and as a result they collect all sorts of smudges and debris. If your smartphone case is shiny or sparkly, it would be a good idea to remove it for the shoot to avoid lens flare.
If using a wireless shutter remote, pair it to your smartphone per manufacturer instructions (usually standard bluetooth).