Product Photography 101: Basic Camera Settings Explained

Author Chinavasion Marketing 5.4.2010. | 10:24

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By Francisco Pupo

One of the challenges of selling online is taking good photos of your products.

Your photos work like bait, if it doesn’t look enticing enough to “hook” your viewers, chances are it wont help you “catch” very many sales.

Good product photos need to be clear, attractive, and informative to capture attention and convince your viewers to buy.

Your online viewers obviously can’t touch or feel your product before they buy it, so you will need to communicate as much
information as possible through the use of good product photos and a detailed product description.

The goal is to remove any fear or doubt your viewers might have about purchasing a product they can’t see or feel first-hand.

To accomplish this goal you don’t have to go out and buy expensive camera and lighting equipment either. You can use inexpensive
equipment easily found at your local Wal-Mart or Costco and still achieve great results.

In the next few sections we will teach you some proper lighting techniques, how to use manual camera settings, and explain some
basic methods for capturing good product photos.

By the end of this guide you will be ready to start taking professional looking photos and begin to attract the attention your products truly deserve!

1- Lighting

Proper lighting is the most important factor in capturing high quality images. You want to use lots of lighting, but not direct lighting, as this will create strong shadows that will ruin your photos.

For more details about setting up lighting check out my earlier blog Product Photography 101: Building A Budget Light Box.

2- Camera

It is best to purchase a camera that has some basic manual controls like shutter and aperture control. Obviously the more control options you have the better, but even so, you can still get acceptable results with little to no image controls.

If you cant afford an expensive camera with manual controls you can still use an automatic camera. With an automatic (point-
and-shoot) camera you will need to rely heavily on lighting and white balance presets to do most of the work for you.

A popular automatic camera that is great for product photos is:


3- Main Camera Controls

Study your camera and learn how to use the manual controls. You will be using the shutter speed control and aperture control
primarily. Most modern digital cameras around the $250 price range will have these settings.

Shutter speed

The shutter speed will control the length of time the film or chip is exposed to light. The longer it is open the more your camera will collect light and the brighter your image will be. A shutter speed of 1/30 means the shutter is open for 1/30 of a second. This is a relatively slow shutter speed.

shutter speed


The aperture or f-stop setting adjusts the diameter of the opening that allows light to come in. The larger the opening the more light will enter your camera. It is useful to remember that the lower the number is for this setting, the bigger the opening will actually be.

apeture setting

Play around with these controls and take plenty of test photos with each one of the settings. In a few hours you will have a better idea of how the aperture setting and shutter speed actually affect your photos.

4- Additional Camera Controls

For even better image control you can experiment with some of these additional, but equally useful, camera control settings.

White Balance

Most cameras come with white balance control presets. White balancing allows you remove any unrealistic colors in your image so that objects which appear white in person are rendered white in your photo as well.

Most cameras will have a variety of preset white balances that you can choose from. Common settings include; Tungsten,
Fluorescent, Daylight, Flash, Cloudy and Shade.







Most of the time the names of these settings are inaccurate. It is recommended to first set up your photo box, lighting, and product, then take a picture with each one of the presets. Then compare the photos and select the best one.

If you are using a white background you can select the photo that looks closest to white and use that setting for the rest of the photos.

ISO/ASA (film speed)

This settings is normally found on 35mm film cameras. Try to select a speed from 50-100. The faster your film is the more “noise” you will have in your photos. Noise on a camera makes the image appear grainy, so less speed is better with this setting.

It is also important to remember that less speed also means less means less light sensitivity. So additional lighting will be required to compensate for a slower film speed.

ISO setting

Macro Mode

This allow you to focus your camera very close to an object, sometimes within millimeters. This is important if you want to take
photos of very small products like ear rings, coins, stamps, or if you just want a close up and detailed shot.

The symbol for macro mode is usually a small flower or tulip. Turn this feature ON and learn how close you can get to a product
before this mode is actually needed.

5- Taking your Pictures

When taking product photos it’s important to keep the camera as still as possible. This is especially true when taking photos at slow shutter speeds. You can buy an inexpensive tripod from Wal-Mart or eBay that will work just fine.

Make sure you take your time and take LOTS of photos. Take photos from different perspectives, reposition the product, take some
up close, then farther away.

When you take plenty of shots, with different settings, and from different perspectives, you increase the chances of getting a good one. This is what’s great about digital photography – you can take as many pictures as your want and just delete the bad ones!

Well there you have it. With this simple yet effective information you can start taking those great looking product photos just like you see on Amazon, eBay and Chinavasion.

However, there is one last element that we left out of the equation. photo manipulation and photo editing. This is an important step that, if taken, can be the difference between good sales and great sales.

There are number of options out there including:

  • Adobe Photoshop (either the lite free version, the medium paid version or the pro version)
  • Gimp (A free, open source photo editor)
  • One of the many proprietory programs that are available online.

While some people swear by Gimp Photoshop is probably the most commonly-used program for this type of work.

Check back with us soon for the second part of this tutorial, “How to Prepare Photos Using Photoshop”

Author Chinavasion Marketing 5.4.2010. | 10:24
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