Are you struggling to capture stunning smartphone product shots? You’re not alone.
Smartphone product photography often seems tough, especially when you’re starting out. But here’s a secret:
With a little bit of know-how, you can take product photos with a smartphone that look just as good as product photos captured with a DSLR or mirrorless camera. You just need to take advantage of your camera settings, your equipment, your lighting options, and your compositional skills – all of which I explore in this article.
So no matter your product photography skill level, read on for plenty of tips, tricks, and examples, starting with:
1. Use a good camera phone
Different smartphones include cameras of various quality; for instance, some smartphone cameras offer more megapixels, better dynamic range, superior color rendering, and so on.
And it’s true: Camera quality does matter.
Most smartphone brands have professional models with a higher megapixel count and/or bigger sensors. These smartphones cost more, of course, and I’m not saying that you have to buy the newest most expensive phone on the market. But try to find a good balance between the camera specs and your budget; that way, you can get the best results.
Nowadays, many smartphones offer three or four cameras/lenses. This is hugely useful because it gives you a wide variety of focal lengths to work with – but be careful. Changing the lens may change the resolution, and you don’t want to accidentally capture dozens of low-res product photos, so make sure to check camera/lens resolutions before doing a shoot.
(Of course, you can always buy external lenses to switch up your focal length choices. Just make sure they’re good quality!)
At the end of the day, it is possible to get great shots using the smartphone that you currently own. Just remember that better specs make it easier to capture better-quality images, so if you can afford an upgrade and you want amazing results, it might be worth the extra money.
2. Don’t limit yourself to the default camera app
Some smartphones have excellent native camera apps, especially smartphones that are designed for photographers.
But if your native camera app doesn’t give you enough control or you’re simply looking to experiment, try some third-party camera apps. There are some great ones out there, and many of them offer amazing features such as:
- Manual mode. In some camera apps, this is called Pro mode. Whatever its title, Manual mode allows you to set the shutter speed, the ISO, and the white balance manually, which gives you far more control over your product photos.
- Composition-grid overlays. The arrangement of elements in the frame is your composition, and it can greatly influence how the viewer experiences each photo (and each product). Most camera apps have a rule-of-thirds grid overlay that’ll help you create more dynamic compositions, and to further up your game, look for an app with more complex compositional overlays.
- A histogram. The histogram is a graph that depicts the exposure of an image. That way, you can evaluate image brightness and detail without relying on the screen preview (which can be deceiving!).
- Level. A level not only helps you keep your horizon straight, but also helps prevent perspective distortion. This can be especially handy for flat-lay product photography!
3. Use a tripod
Most smartphone product photographers try to handhold their product shots, and while this can work, it often results in blurry images.
On the other hand, a cheap tripod will keep your smartphone steady while you shoot, preventing camera shake and any resulting blur effects. (For the best results, make sure you use your smartphone’s self-timer feature or a remote release. That way, you don’t create additional camera shake when you press the shutter button.)
Tripods are also helpful for creating complex product arrangements; a tripod will keep the framing fixed as you move your product(s) throughout the frame. And it’ll force you to slow down and really think about your composition before shooting.
Finally, a tripod will free up your hand so that you can hold a light or even appear as a model.
As I mentioned above, you’ll get the best results by pairing the tripod with a remote shutter release, which will let you trigger the camera shutter from a distance. And if you don’t want to pay for a remote release, the self-timer feature works, too.
4. Carefully prepare your product photo
While impromptu snapshots are fine for personal use, if you want to take photos for a brand or a business, you need to put in some real preparation.
If you’re photographing for a brand, there may be a marketing team that explains what the brand is after. However, if you’re photographing your own products or you don’t have a briefing from your client, it’s up to you to decide how to proceed.
Should you use a white background? This is often the case for e-commerce photography. If not, what color should the background be? Do you have a color palette to work with? If you’ll be capturing a series of shots, make sure you determine your color palette in advance!
You’ll also need to plan for props, locations, and even models. Once you have everything together, carefully prepare the entire set, including lighting, props, and backgrounds.
Finally, take the time to clean and style the product. After all, it’s the hero of the photo! Any time spent preparing is time you’ll save in retouching and post-processing.
5. Take control of the lighting
Professional product photographers often use strobes and all sorts of studio lighting equipment, but as a smartphone product shooter, this isn’t really an option. You can’t sync strobes to a smartphone – yet you can control and manipulate light for pro-level results, so I highly recommend you spend time learning how to work with light.
If you want to use natural light, you’ll get different results depending on the weather, the time of the day, and the direction of the light. If you position your subject under the direct sunlight, for instance, you’ll get strong shadows, while photographing in the shade or on a cloudy day will give a softer, more even effect. Experiment with different types of light, and you’ll soon start to notice what you like – and what you don’t.
Another choice is to use continuous lighting lamps. You can use LED lights designed specifically for photography and video, or you can simply use a flashlight or a table lamp. Which is best? Photography-specific lights tend to give you the most control, but it really depends on what you can afford and the result you want.
Whether you choose to use natural or artificial light, you should use light modifiers to gain even greater control over your lighting. Softboxes and diffusers allow you to turn hard light soft, and you can use reflectors to bounce the light and fill in the shadows on the opposite side of the product.
In fact, working with modifiers is a ton of fun, so I recommend you buy – or make – a few, then see what you can create.
6. Choose the best aspect ratio
Did you know that most camera apps allow you to choose different aspect ratios before you snap your picture? It’s true, and it’s a great way to create more powerful images.
You see, different aspect ratios work well for different compositions, so by picking the right one, you can increase the impact of your product photos. Plus, certain websites have specific aspect ratio requirements, which means that – unless you shoot with a specific aspect ratio in mind – you’ll be doing a lot of cropping.
So before you start shooting, check out your image display requirements. For example, Shopify’s product images have a 1:1 aspect ratio, but the banner image is 16:9 – so you might want to take most of your images using the 1:1 ratio, then do a couple of special shots at 16:9. And on Instagram, the best post format is 1:1, but if you want to share it in your stories, it’s better to use 9:16. Make sense?
If you’re not sure which aspect ratio to use, I’d recommend leaving enough room around the main subject so that you can crop later on. Keep in mind that you’ll be losing pixels this way, so if you don’t have enough resolution, the final photo might look a bit rough. That’s why it’s always best to get the aspect ratio right in advance!
7. Shoot in RAW format
These days, many smartphones offer RAW file formats – and if you can’t find a RAW option in your native camera app, you can always download a third-party app that supports it. Some good free RAW-supporting apps are Lightroom Mobile, ProShot, and ON1 Photo RAW.
But what makes RAW so special? A RAW file holds more information than a JPEG or a HEIF; RAWs are uncompressed, which means they contain all the data from the moment of capture. Therefore, RAW photos allow more flexibility when editing: you can recover underexposed shadows and overexposed highlights, make significant color adjustments, and do much-needed color correction.
You’ll eventually need to convert your RAW photos to JPEGs for posing online as browsers cannot display RAW images, but the enhanced quality is worth the hassle.
8. Make use of editing apps
Whether you like it or not, post-processing is an essential part of the product photography process. Pretty much every professional product photographer – smartphone or otherwise – edits their images, which means you should be editing your images, too.
Your editing workflow doesn’t have to be complex. You can do basic adjustments, such as contrast boosts, exposure shifts, and a bit of sharpening. Alternatively, you can do more complex edits, such as HDR composites, focus stacking, and even multiple exposures.
No matter the editing workflow you pursue, one thing is clear: Using the right photo editing app can simplify your work and save you lots of time.
Fortunately, there are some great free editing apps out there. Snapseed, the basic version of Lightroom, or the basic version of VSCO all do a nice job, and you’ll pay nothing for the basics. That said, if you’re going to do smartphone product photography professionally, you might want to invest in premium plans or even specialized apps.
Smartphone product photography: final words
Hopefully, you now feel more prepared and confident for your next smartphone product photoshoot!
Just remember the tips I’ve shared above, and you’ll do just fine.
Now over to you:
Which of these smartphone product photography tips will you use? Which is your favorite? And do you have any tips of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments below!