Loren O'Laughlin Creative

A Guide to Simple Product Photography

Left: The image as shot. Right: The product isolated on white and ready for publication. I shot this on "Auto" in the shadow of a north facing wall. Settings were f/6.3, 1/160 s, ISO 200 & I had the stock 28-200mm lens zoomed to 70mm. 

Left: The image as shot. Right: The product isolated on white and ready for publication.

I shot this on "Auto" in the shadow of a north facing wall. Settings were f/6.3, 1/160 s, ISO 200 & I had the stock 28-200mm lens zoomed to 70mm. 

Over the past few months I've had the need to have clients collect the original photos of their products for me to add to their publications or websites. The best solution is always to have a skilled photographer capture these type of shots, but occasionally time and/or budget do not allow.

After doing a few off-the cuff tutorials, I've captured that wisdom and put it into this guide for future use. Enjoy!

—M. Loren O'Laughlin


There are a gazillion things to consider when taking photos, but I'd like to focus on three main areas in regard to getting useful product shots:

  1. Lighting

  2. Distortion

  3. Background


1. Lighting

Obviously if you have a lighting setup like this, by all means, use it!

Obviously if you have a lighting setup like this, by all means, use it!

Leave the flashes to professionals and vacations. For product photos, we need soft ambient light. One of the best places to find this kind of light around your home or office is in the shadow of a north-facing wall. Here in the northern hemisphere, sunlight creeps up from the south. Direct sunlight can create some awful harsh shadows. By going outdoors to a north-facing wall, you allow the whole neighborhood to be your light reflector which makes for beautiful, soft shadows.

To get the correct exposure, keep the settings in "Auto." The folks in Japan & Germany worked very hard to make Auto a great answer for just this scenario.


Shot in the same location as the paper airplane, I pulled out my iPhone 5s to snap a photo of the camera I was using. This serves as a great example of the distortion we are trying to avoid.

Shot in the same location as the paper airplane, I pulled out my iPhone 5s to snap a photo of the camera I was using. This serves as a great example of the distortion we are trying to avoid.

2. Distortion

To get the right kind of image, make sure that the zoom lens is set at about 70mm. This will mean you have to back up from the subject a bit, but anything over 50mm will give us a clean clear image without any fish-eye type distortion. The image above was shot on my iPhone 5s (default zoom set at about 33mm). This serves as a great example of the distortion we are trying to avoid.

Deep perspective can be a great artistic effect, but the wider the angle you shoot from, the more distorted the subject. We need to stay focused on the fact that this is not a creative shoot, we want the truest, most clinical shot of your product, and that means shooting from farther away and zooming in.


The inglorious truth behind it all.

The inglorious truth behind it all.

3. Background

I used a large piece of watercolor paper because it was what I had. It is important to find a background that you can easily distinguish your product from. I can work a lot of magic in Photoshop, but if the product is overlapping other objects in the background, this makes clearly picking out what is and is not a part of our key image very difficult.

There is a temptation to use black, which I understand, but white or a lighter color shows us the natural shadow pattern which is helpful in creating a nice look for the final file.


I hope this is a helpful guide. I'd be happy to answer any questions via email: create@mloreno.com