We set out to create a selling-ready photo with as small a number of items and total price point as we could muster. We came up with what we believe to be a lowest common denominator for a functional studio; all the basic trappings to start your e-commerce business on solid footing.
This product photo of our office maskot, a fragrance diffuser, was taken with a DIY studio setup that cost less than $100. Here is everything you need to create this studio (we’re assuming that you already own a camera and a table).
The first item on your list should be a white backdrop. Even if you plan to change your background color in post-production, a solid backdrop is essential; also, white is the least likely to drastically alter the color of your product. We chose paper as the ideal material for this job, as its lightness and rigidness holds the creaseless angle better than a piece of fabric would with some tape. On the floor or on a table against a wall, you’ll tape the top and bottom of a long sheet so that the angle of the backdrop is suspended slightly from the surface.
Get the paper roll we used for a backdrop here.
Next on your list should be a set of sturdy clamps in a variety of sizes to prop up your products or staging accessories. Man, are these things versatile. They’re perfect for hanging backdrops, propping up diffusers, holding wires and the like for product suspension, and probably plenty of other things we just haven’t thought of yet! The bigger clamps work best to hold a counterweight and the smallest are best for holding small materials. All pack a major punch when it comes to grip.
Get the clamps we used in our setup here.
Whether or not you work with natural lighting, it is a good idea to have one of these on hand to play around with different lighting treatments. This type of light is also very customizable. You can attach a (non-flammable) diffuser, like an old t-shirt or shower curtain material, to the front for an all-in-one lighting package. You will find that the clamp included in this model is essential for affixing the lamp in various angles. Start with one for your studio and work your way up if need be.
When looking for light bulbs, we would recommend getting daylight (around 5000K–6000K, ours were 5000K) LED lights. You’ll want to choose the brightest possible (you can tell brightness by lumens, these lights are 1600 lumens) and as high of a CRI (color rendering index) as possible (these are 90 out of 100; sunlight is 100). A high CRI translates to a fuller spectrum of light and more color accuracy.
The reflector and diffuser combo that we’ve chosen is incredibly versatile at a very low cost. It includes multiple colors of reflectors based on what temperature of color you’re looking to accomplish. It also has a diffuser mode that is semi-transparent for accurate light diffusion. We often have it placed about a foot in front of our light for it to disperse through the material.
Very often you’ll need to be using a reflector and a diffuser at the same time and by all means, you can certainly just buy two of these. Our suggestion, however, is to invest a whole $3 in a foam core board from your local craft store. Two benefits to this option: It saves you money and it gives you another type of diffusion. Given its opacity and its finish, it produces a much softer result, which you may want down the road.
Now that being said, in our example, you’ll see that the reflector sleeve from the circular reflector was draped over the foam core. This was purely a preference move on our part.
Here’s a side-by-side example, the right using the foam core as a reflector and left using the reflector sleeve. We suggest experimenting with your set up like this to find what best creates your perfect look.
If you can’t be bothered with leaving the house, or need extra foam core for other projects, here’s the link on Amazon.
Even besides giving your studio a complete and super professional look, you will come to find that a tripod is necessary when taking different varieties of product photos. One can get pretty far with hand-shooting or using a household surface, but for steadying and customizable height purposes, a tripod is an inexpensive solution that will pay for itself in no time. There are even cheaper versions on the market, but for the sake of inclusivity, we chose a DSLR/Smartphone hybrid. A model specifically made for either option starts more around the $15 mark.
Get a DSLR tripod with Smartphone attachment here, we haven't tested this one specifically, but it's gotten good reviews. Get a cheaper $15 dollar tripod here — we did test this one and liked it as a cheaper options.
Not bad, eh? Now get shopping and shooting!
There are many ways you could arrange these items to get a great product photo. We positioned both lamps 45° from the front of the fragrance diffuser, then positioned the diffuser panel between the subject and the lamps to get some nice, diffused light on the front left side of it. We found that we achieved the best results the closer the diffuser was to the subject. Play around with its distance to see what looks best to you.
On the opposite side, we used the silver reflector cover propped up by the foam core to bounce light back. This ensures both sides are properly lit. As shown earlier, either the foam core or the silver reflector can be used to accomplish this; simply play around and see which one gives you a better look. It might even be worth trying both and see which shot you prefer after editing, as it can change after you clip it and alter the colors and brightness.
This setup can be used with great results for many objects. The key is making sure your object is well lit with a lot of diffused light; this will produce a suitable result for a majority of objects.
Deck out your photo studio for under a $100 with these items — a white paper backdrop, clamps, light sockets, LED light bulbs, reflector, white foam core and a tripod — to take some lovely product photos like the one pictured above. We've personally tested all of these except for the tripod (which we chose because of its good reviews on Amazon).
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