Approaching product photography for your handmade skin care business for the first time…or…FINALLY admitting that you need help in this area?
It may seem intimidating if you’ve never done it on your own before (or with the results you want) – but if you already went the length to build your own brand from scratch, you can ABSOLUTELY shoot product photos that are website-worthy!
Just like any new recipe you follow for your skin care line, all you need to succeed is the right tools, a few tips to guide you, and some practice honing your skills.
And yes, it is absolutely, 100% WORTH the practice time – intentional, consistent, attractive photos for your website are imperative to your traffic and overall success.
You have put in countless hours of work thus far to create your product line – make it all worth it with these 7 product photography tips that will showcase your handmade skincare business in its best light.
This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links (at no cost to you). Please read the disclosure for more information.
What Exactly IS Product Photography?
For our specific purposes, product photography is referring to the intentional, staged photos we take of our skin care products to display on our website sales pages and listings.
Quality product photography should communicate to your audience:
- What your product is
- What it does
- The size of the product
- Any other clarifying details that would entice them to purchase
Product photography is a structured process that is the most successful when planned out in advance to clearly represent your company’s brand – composed, edited, and formatted with care.
The best photos highlight the product itself without unnecessary flair. Photos should be well-lit, focused, and look similar to other product photos in your line for continuity. Lighting needs to be the same, props and composition all very similar.
Professional Photographer vs. D.I.Y.
If you’ve never picked up a camera before with something as serious as your WEBSITE in mind, you may find yourself wondering if there’s a way to hire this out.
And there absolutely is.
Professional product photographers can easily be found locally or on a freelance service website, such as Fiverr.
Before you decide which approach is right for you and your skill set, consider the pros and cons of your options below:
If you are shooting on your own for the first time, you can expect to purchase some photography assets such as light boxes, props, a tripod, etc. Keep in mind that most of these are one-time costs.
Hiring out for a professional photo shoot can start at around $120 per product, plus the cost to ship the product to the photographer. Multiply that fee by each listing you’ll have.
As a handmade skin care business, you’re most likely making new products throughout the year. Sometimes this means adding on seasonal listings or creating a special bundle for a sales event.
Taking your own photos and already having equipment and props at hand means that those last-minute listings can be up on your website in a matter of days.
On the flip side, one of the additional ‘costs’ of hiring a professional photographer is time:
- The time to ship the product
- The time for them to perform the service
- The time for them to deliver the photo files
You can expect an average of a 10-day turnaround time if you hire out, plus a bit extra if you request revisions. This requires advance planning so that you have your photos in plenty of time to plan and schedule your seasonal launches or marketing campaigns.
Most handmade businesses are in charge of their own online marketing (i.e. social media content, Pinterest pins, email campaigns, etc).
Once you start to take your own product photos, you will most likely begin to develop a ‘style’ that naturally crosses over into the more off-the-cuff photos you take for your Instagram Stories or other social posts.
While the similarity of product photos & social photos is not completely necessary, it does lead to greater brand recognition and continuity through all of your platforms.
If this quick ‘pros and cons’ list has you excited to D.I.Y., keep reading for 7 product photography tips to make your handmade skin care business stand out!
Tip #1: Do Your Target Market Research First
As with every other aspect of your branding, understanding your purpose and customer avatar is not only essential to slam-dunk product photos, but also makes your job easier.
- What is your business mission?
- Who is your target market?
- What kind of feeling do you want your ideal customer to have when they visit your website?
- What would your ideal customer be drawn to (Light and airy photos? Dark and rustic? Fun and playful? Luxury boutique?)
The following two product photos are from the same organic lip balm recipe, yet branded and represented in different ways. While the choices in photography style are subtle, they communicate two separate nonverbal messages.
Photo number 1 has brighter, more vibrant colors and is shot from above (flat lay). Photo 2 is a bit more toned down with a more standard landscape shot.
Which would you and your customer prefer?
Tip #2: Choose Your Background Intentionally
Time to get into some of the nitty-gritty details that can really make a difference in the outcome of your product photos, starting with your background.
Your mission and target market should help you easily decide on a background for your basic photo shoot:
Scrapbook Paper Backdrops
If you want to keep it low-cost, scrapbook paper is an easily attainable choice that comes in a wide variety of colors to keep you on-brand and to communicate a variety of moods – just make sure you choose something that doesn’t have a busy pattern to distract from your product or label details.
There are no rules that say you have to ‘keep it flat’ – consider using interesting textures such as flat wood planks, burlap, or bunched-up fabric as the background in your product photos.
Photography Backdrop Boards
Professional backgrounds, such as these photography duoboards, are also a great choice (and something that you only have to buy once) – they can easily wipe clean and provide a very finished look.
This is the option I am currently using – if you choose to go with the brand below, make sure you order two, as it’s not entirely clear that the price is for just one double-sided board.
The most important tip is to make sure the background is a slightly different color or texture than the edges of your products.
Why? Because as you begin to edit your photos after the shoot, it will be important for your software to be able to see where your product ends and where the background begins.
I have used transparent tubes for my packaging in the past, but also preferred a clean white background. I had numerous editing issues before I stumbled upon a textured paper that gave enough contrast.
Tip #3: Always Use Fresh Props
Thinking about composition and props is one of my favorite parts of product photography…but it can also get expensive.
As you consider your options, remember that you will most likely be recreating these photos for your entire product line (and for future products that you add) and they should look consistent.
- Whch props will you have to buy over and over again for every shoot?
- Will these props be available again in the future?
- What is your budget?
- Can you mix in props that won’t have to be repurchased?
Use the ideas below to keep your props simple while still providing a splash of texture and depth:
- Already grown herbs and botanicals from your own yard or from a garden supply store (you’ll get the best selection on Fridays as they freshen up their stock for weekend traffic!).
- ALWAYS opt for fresh plants – do not use silk plants or flowers for your photo shoots. It’s better to have no props at all than to use something that is clearly artificial.
- Real fruit is a lovely way to add some texture and color in a photo if you use any citrus essential oils or ground seed exfoliants in your products.
- Tip: If you have a long photo shoot and the fruit starts to look a little dried out, apply a thin layer of corn syrup with a pastry brush and it will look freshly cut and juicy.
Dried Herbs & Spices
- Getting a variety bag of dried herbs and spices is the best prop purchase I have ever made – I bought them back in 2012 and still use them in every photo shoot (not entirely sure when they rebranded as a witchcraft supplier, but these are just plain ‘ol herbs in sample sizes!).
- Store your herbs in a dry, cool place in an airproof container that won’t get squished (they really can last over a decade if treated well!).
Actual Product Ingredients
You’re a handmade skin care maker! You already have tons of ‘free’ props on hand:
- Shea butter
- Carrier oils
- Dried Herbs
Tip: Glass containers will allow you to see the ingredients without getting your surface waxy/oily are absolutely beautiful when used with correct lighting.
Tip #4: Shoot Photos with Multiple Uses in Mind
Think you’re just taking a simple photo of your latest lip balm? Guess again.
What you have in front of you is the potential to be a lotsa-things-in-one shot:
- Studio image
- Close-up label image
- Pinterest Infographic
- Social media image
- Product category banner for your website
- Business card background
- Wholesale linesheet image icon
This trick to making ALL of these things possible is to know ahead of time so that you leave plenty of distance in between the camera and your main product…
…while still keeping the tiny details on the label in focus if possible.
This will ensure that any way you crop or zoom, it will still be legible.
The easiest way to have a similar distance and angle is for your camera to be in the same exact position throughout the shoot. And for that, you need a tripod.
You don’t need anything super fancy or expensive, just the right type of tripod for your camera.
Each of the tripods below are compatible with DSLR and cell phones and shoot at multiple angles, options that will cover a wide range of your photography needs:
Tip #5: Use Diffused Lighting
When I started my skin care line back in 2012 and was taking my first product photos, I had heard that ‘natural light’ in photos was best.
I took that phrase very literally, assuming this applied to ALL types of photography, and placed my items by a window when it was sunny outside and snapped away (see not-so-lovely-or-professional example below).
(Sidenote: This photo features my long-last beloved little plant, Kinny, who was VERY accidentally abandoned during a leg-stretch break in our cross-country move…Kinny, if you’re reading this, WE MISS YOU and hope you’re enjoying your own adventure!!! 😭)
Well, the whole ‘use actual sunlight’ idea is absolutely fine and BEAUTIFUL for ‘Golden Hour’ portraits, advertisements, or social media Stories that will stand completely on their own.
This is NOT absolutely fine for product photos that will be on a website, one right next to the other…right next to the other…right next to the other.
The problem is that the color of sunlight itself is ALWAYS changing, based on the time of DAY, time of YEAR, clouds, environmental factors…everything is a variable.
If you are going to have consistent photos, you have to control as much as you can (meaning you have to take away the forever-changing-sunlight-variable).
Enter: Diffused Lighting.
Diffused light is light that has been softened (scattered) so that it creates very minimal, gentle shadows.
For product photo shoots, diffused light is created with either light boxes or softbox lighting.
I have used both versions of diffused lighting in my business journey, and they each resulted in professionally lit photos that worked well for my product listings, Pinterest pins, social media posts, and other website uses.
Let’s break down these two diffused lighting choices below:
Light Boxes for Product Photography
A light box, also known as a photo studio box or photo tent, is an economical and small-footprint method of product photography.
Light boxes come in a variety of sizes, colors, and setups.
- Many come with a velvet liner that velcros to the back, so you don’t have to worry about coming up with your own background.
- Can be used with direct fluorescent lights, which are an economical choice.
- Can be difficult to arrange props depending on the size you get.
- Here are a few examples:
I used light boxes at the beginning of my journey due to space and budget reasons, and you can see my very first setup below.
Softbox Lighting for Product Photography
Softbox lights have a thin fabric over the light itself to diffuse the light and is another popular choice for product photography, and have their own list of pros/cons:
- Easily move around product and props due to no room constraints.
- Control over the color of lighting.
- A larger investment than the lightbox and fluorescents
- Here are a few examples:
I currently use softbox lighting because we have a bit more space and it is much easier to work without the constraint of a box. It also allowed me to start using the Photography Duoboards mentioned in Background Tip #2.
This first example of our latest shoot is our background and softbox lighting setup for studio shots (done completely at nighttime so there wasn’t a chance of interference from any other light source).
This second example is using the same duo boards and softbox lights, but at a different angle to capture flatlay shots (also done at nighttime).
(❤️ Featuring my hunka-burning-love photo shoot date ❤️)
Pro Tip: Even though diffused lighting doesn’t use ‘actual sunlight’, you can still replicate the color and brightness you want by simply choosing a bulb of your lighting preference (if you need a reference point, I usually shoot my photos between 5400-5600 Kelvin):
Tip #6: Have a Shot List on Hand
Most website builders (such as Shopify) and marketplace sites (such as Etsy) allow up to ten photos or more per individual product listing.
While you don’t want to use an INFINITE amount of pictures (too many could really slow down your website), you do want to have enough to answer all the questions your audience may have about your product.
Tip: Most website visitors don’t actually read the written description of a product before deciding to purchase or not. Answer everything you can through your photos for the most clarity.
Aim to include at least the six suggested product photos below in each listing on your website for the highest conversion rates:
Studio shot: Plain background with lots of natural light
- A basic photo of your product on a white background with no props (or at least very minimal).
Scale shot: Shows the size of a product
- Shows your audience how big or small something is. This is best done in relation to something that is a common item. For example, showing a rollerball bottle in an adult hand is an easy win.
Detail shot: A close-up photo that highlights your product’s features
- Useful for a variety of needs. A close-up view of a label to show the exact ingredients; another view that shows the lovely texture of a batch of bath salts or an exfoliating soap bar.
Lifestyle photos: In its environment being used
- Important for conversions because it allows the customer to imagine how they would use it themselves. This shot could also effectively show the scale of a product and possibly even how to store it. Tinted lip balm being applied, eye cream being scooped out of the jar.
Group shot: With other items in product line or gift set
- If a customer is interested in this one product enough to click through your photos, they’ll also be interested in other items in your line. Use their attention to your advantage! Show off the other products you sell in this same general category.
Packaging shot: Regular packaging and/or gift packaging
- Showing packaging solidifies the deal. The customer can imagine how it will arrive to their home (or the recipient they’re sending it to). If you offer gift packaging, this is also a great time to display that option.
Tip #7: Record Your Camera Settings
Even if your photos end up needing some work (you will ALWAYS be working on your photography skills!), your shop as a whole will look TEN TIMES BETTER if your photos at least MATCH one another.
You don’t want your storefront to look like a community garage sale that multiple people contributed to.
Every camera and every environment is different, so it isn’t possible to provide camera settings as a standard starting point to you in this tip list. The variables are simply too vast:
- DSLR vs. camera phone.
- Lightbox vs. softbox.
- Warm light vs. cool light.
- Flay lay vs. upright.
- Personal aesthetic and branding choices.
Your best bet is to decide on what camera you’ll consistently use for your product photography and find a basic tutorial online for your exact equipment.
And then experiment, experiment, experiment.
When you find the look and combination that screams ‘THAT’S IT!’ for your particular product line, WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING so that you can recreate the same look repeatedly every shoot:
- Camera you’re using
- Time of day
- Focal length of lens
- Shutter speed
- Lights you’re using and temperature
- Camera setup (angle, tripod, height, etc.)
Get these product photography tips for your handmade skin care business in PDF format
INCLUDES DAY-OF PHOTOSHOOT CHECKLIST!
Mastering these product photography tips for your handmade skin care business can take some practice, but you can have a great time doing it! (Psst…throw in some music and a buddy and you’ve got a unique date night on the books 🤗)
The best part is, there is no RIGHT answer – you will continue to take and tweak pictures throughout the life of your business.
Enjoy the process and hop over to our private FB Group to ask any questions that you have throughout your journey!