So, you are interested in becoming a product photographer?
There are many benefits to doing product photography. With consumers shopping online more and more (especially because of the pandemic) product photography is more important than ever. It is a very creative, innovative field, because the sky is the limit in creating interesting concepts and effects. I also love being a product photographer because most of the work happens on weekdays during work hours, and I can work from home a lot of the time. I could go on and on, but you get the idea!
Being a product photographer also requires a lot of technical skill and knowledge, and some unique needs for gear.
I’ve compiled a list of the 10 essential pieces of gear a product photographer needs.
My List of 10 Essential Pieces of Gear for a Beginning Product Photographer
No surprise that this is top of the list! To begin learning product photography, you have to know the basics of using your DSLR camera. To learn you can use a crop sensor or full frame camera. However if you are wanting to grow into a freelance product photographer, it’s essential to have professional level equipment. Because of this, I would highly recommend having a full frame sensor DSLR. I personally use the Nikon D750, and have for the past 4 years or so. It doesn’t really matter what brand you have – Nikon and Canon are so closely comparable in quality that either brand will work great for you. The things that will affect the quality of your images the most are lighting and styling, not the brand of camera you have.
There are many different kinds of lenses, that are used for many different purposes. It’s important to understand the effects each lens has, so you can be intentional with how you use them. If you take a look at different companies, you can see how different lenses are used. I often see wider angle images (probably shot with a 50 mm or 35 mm or wider) in outdoor and travel company images. In beauty and skincare, I usually see lenses of 100 mm or higher being used. My favorite lens is the 100 mm macro lens. This lens can be used for model and product work. It also allows me to get macro shots of textures, product details, makeup details, etc. It’s very versatile and perfect for product photography.
This is often the most intimidating piece of gear for a new photographer. As a product photographer, it’s important to be able to create consistent lighting conditions. It’s also important to be able to create lots of different lighting effects. When you are first getting started, you can practice with natural light – just use direct sunlight or window light. When I was first studying lighting in college, I bought hot lights at Home Depot for around $20 each and practiced with them. However if you want to start building a professional kit, I’d recommend purchasing a strobe. There are brands such as Godox and Alien Bees that are often used. I personally will always use Profoto. Although Profoto lights are more expensive, they are durable, reliable, and very high quality. There is nothing worse than being on a job and the studio light starts misfiring or doesn’t go off. This has never been an issue for me with Profoto lights. My Profoto B10 is my baby, because it’s small but powerful. It can plug into the wall, so you can shoot all day and not worry about running out of battery. However any light by Profoto will be great to use. This being said, I know several successful, talented photographers who also started with Godox lights, so if those fit your budget better, those are a good option too.
In the studio, I usually just use $2 white particle boards from Walmart. They have a trifold particle board that is my favorite, because it can stand up by itself (you don’t have to prop it up with clamps or stands). There are also gold and silver reflectors available to create different reflection affects. I also always have a black posterboard on hand in case I want to deepen shadows or minimize reflections. The great thing about white particle boards is you can cut them into different shapes and pieces, so you can completely customize how much light you want reflected in the image, and where you want it reflected.
A good camera bag is harder to find than you think! I spent months looking for one that I liked and had what I needed. (I’m a bit picky when it comes to aesthetics). I came across the Kamrette bag several years ago, and have loved using it! There is a ton of storage space – it can fit two camera bodies, my profoto b10, two lenses, a laptop, your wallet, your phone, cords and batteries, and other odds and ends. The design is also beautiful, which is a nice perk for maintaining a professional appearance.
Here’s a link to that bag! I have the tan Lyra backpack, but they have other gorgeous options too!
A tethering cord is essential for studio product photography. A tethering cord allows you to see the images on your computer as you take them. Seeing the image on a large screen allows you to make fine tuned styling and lighting adjustments. A tethering cord allows me to perfect the image in camera. The main brand available is TetherTools. I have the wireless and cord systems, but I usually just use the cord since it imports images faster. I recommend the 15 foot cord, it’s nice to have the flexibility to move around the studio.
Obviously you need Lightroom or Capture One and Photoshop to retouch your images. The industry standard is Mac computers with Capture One and Photoshop. Capture One has great capabilities for tethering and retouching. One of my favorite features is live view while tethering.
A tripod is essential for a product photographer for many reasons. The first reason is consistency. Often times you will have to take several different images of the same scene, perhaps with different products in each image. Having a tripod allows you to maintain an exactly consistent camera angle with each image. A tripod also makes styling much easier. In my process I usually set up the product, then the camera. I get the camera angle exactly how I want it. Then I adjust lighting and styling of props. Since the camera angle stays consistent, I can move the lighting and props exactly where I want them. Again, it just helps in the process of perfecting the image. I personally use a VanGuard tripod that can take flat lay images. However I’ve heard great things about the Manfrotto tripod as well.
Product photography often requires some fine tuned, detailed retouching work. For me, this just isn’t possible to do with a laptop touch pad. Although it’s probably not impossible, it’s just time consuming and not precise. At the bare minimum, using a mouse will be faster and more precise. However, the fastest and most precise tool for me is the Wacom tablet. The Wacom tablet is essentially a mouse that’s a pen. The strokes are much faster and more natural. However if your budget isn’t huge, a mouse will work just fine.
If you want to become a professional, a website is crucial to have! You have poured your heart, thought, time, money, and effort into your photographs, and they deserve to be shared. When I started my career while I was a college student, I intuitively knew I needed a website. My website helped me start booking jobs and gaining clients and experience. Many photographers really like Squarespace, WordPress, and Show It. My personal favorite is WordPress, with a theme from Flothemes. I’ve used Flothemes for five years now, and they have great customer service, and easy to use and beautifully designed professional templates.
My last piece of advice – don’t let this list overwhelm you! One of my favorite photographers Karen Rosalie once gave good advice – she said to not purchase gear until you need it for a job. I’ve followed that advice, and it has served me well. It is important to have back ups on jobs (for example, a back up camera and light) but you don’t need to have every bell and whistle to be successful. Keeping it simple also frees up mental clutter so you can be creative and focused.
Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions! You can always reach me at email@example.com.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. Keep in mind that I only share about companies that I truly believe in. Thank you for allowing me space to share what I love while also supporting my business.