This is a guest post by Krysten Leighty from RemoveTheBackground.com.
Before you spend money to rent a DSLR camera and a lens for your product photography, consider using the quality camera that you carry around with you all the time: your smartphone.
You may be thinking that using your smartphone for product photography sounds a bit crazy, but with today’s advances in technology, it’s absolutely feasible to create great product images by utilizing your smartphone’s advanced camera features and a tripod. This option is both budget and user-friendly – not to mention convenient!
Here's a step-by-step guide showing you exactly which tools and apps you'll need.
Step One: Using Your Phone As A Camera
Most smartphones in today’s market come equipped with great cameras. If you’re one of the many consumers who have purchased one of these devices, then you have a high quality DSLR alternative right at your fingertips!
Below are a few smartphones that have great camera features:
Apple iPhone 5S
- 8-megapixel iSight camera
- Video Recording HD (1080) @ 30 frames per second with audio
- LED flash
- Image stabilization
Samsung Galaxy S5
- 16- Megapixel Camera
- Video Recording HD (1080) @ 30 frames per second
- LED Flash
Whichever smartphone you choose to use for the photoshoot, make sure that your device has autofocus and the maximum amount of megapixels possible. Once you have identified the phone you plan to use for the photoshoot, you’re ready to move on to the rest of this tutorial and learn about how to take great images from start to finish by utilizing your smartphone’s advanced camera capabilities.
Step Two: Accessories
With all of the different accessories and gadgets that can be used with smartphones, it can be hard to decipher what you actually need to achieve great images. We recommend using a backdrop, a table, a lighting setup, a stand or tripod, and a lens to help your images stand out!
Use a white or light gray backdrop behind your product to give your photographs a clean and consistent look and to eliminate distractions. You can create your own backdrop easily by using a sheet, rolled paper, foam board, or a wall. It is best to make a “sweep” so that your backdrop is not only behind the product, but underneath it as well. This will greatly speed up your post production workflow!
Utilize a table so that your product sits higher, which will make it easier for you to photograph your product during the photoshoot. Depending upon the type of image stabilization equipment you choose to use, it would be easy to prop your smartphone on the table as well.
There are many options for lighting, but the easiest and most budget-friendly option to use is natural window light. Set up your product and equipment near a large window to allow for ample light in your frame. If natural light is difficult for you to find, try using a larger lamp or renting a softbox-type lighting kit, depending on how big your object may be.
4. Image Stabilization
Using soft natural lighting makes for beautiful product photos, but it often creates the need for image stabilization equipment, such as a stand or a tripod. Although smartphone cameras do contain internal image stabilization software, there will still be camera shake if you hand-hold your phone, resulting in blurry images.
For the best possible results, we recommend using a tripod. Here are a few great options that can be used on basically any smartphone:
Gorilla Pod Mobile ($15)
The Gorilla Pod Mobile product is a great combination pack that includes a mount and stand all together. This is a small and compact tripod that can easily be placed on a table as you shoot your images. It’s very flexible and can be used in multiple positions depending on the situation.
Joby Grip Tight Mount ($20)
If you already have a tripod or stand the Joby Grip Tight Mount is a great option for smartphones that will hold onto any mount with it’s bottom screw post! This is extremely useful because some people utilize larger and smaller tripods to photograph their images. And for price, this is a great universal portable option for you to invest in while still being able to use what you already have.
If you like this mount but don’t have a tripod, you can get the combo set including a gorilla pod as well for a just a few bucks extra (http://joby.com/smartphones/griptight-gorillapod-stand).
This $25 Spiderpodium is an extremely flexible spider mount that will not only hold your smartphone, but will also prop it up on a stand too. This option is a little pricier than the Gorilla Pod and the Joby Grip Tight mounts, but its incredible versatility makes up for the increased cost. You may even find yourself using the Spiderpodium in everyday life as well. If you need to use a larger tripod, you still can—just wrap the spider legs around your tripod to use it as a mount only.
As always, search around for the best deal and search for coupon codes, since you may find these products cheaper somewhere else and since there’s a chance that you might find a better option for your needs altogether.
Believe it or not, you can use external lenses with your smartphone, and having them on hand is a good idea to make it through tough lighting and focusing situations. If you want to zoom in closer to your product and create a macro product image, for example, you’re going to need a macro or telephoto lens, since your smartphone will only be able to focus from a certain distance away from your product.
Here are a few great lenses that can be used on smartphones:
Photojojo iPhone & Android lenses ($20-$100)
This is a great inexpensive lens collection. Photojojo allows you to pick and choose which lenses you include in your package, or to simply try them all! The lenses work on iPhones and Androids to enhance your camera’s perspective.
Olloclip iPhone 4-in-1 Lens ($70)
Olloclip 4-in-1 lens is a universal option with great portability and a lot of value since it contains 4 lenses all packed into 1 unit. Unfortunately, however, the Olloclip only works with the iPhone, so Android users will have to look for another option.
Moment iPhone & Android lenses ($10-$80)
If you’re willing to spend more and wait for the product release, check out Moment’s professional iPhone and Android smartphone lenses, which are going to be created via Kickstarter funding. You will have to pre-order the lenses, but the possibility of taking your smartphone photos to the next professional level with their extreme quality engineering, may be worth it to you!
For more details on setting up a small photo studio in your home or workplace, read our first DIY post here (How to build your own photo studio on a boot strapped budget).
Step Three: Choosing The Right Apps
There are a plethora of camera shooting & editing applications for your smartphone, so how do you decide? One thing to remember is that apps have been designed to help you to use your smartphone to its full potential. We recommend that you start by consulting professional app reviews about which apps are the best. Apps even win awards based on these reviews for being so great!
Below are a few apps that have received stellar reviews:
For shooting, we recommend that you first try to use the default camera app that comes already installed on your smartphone. If you aren’t getting the results that you want, then it’s time to try another application. Here are a few suggestions:
Android Camera Zoom FX ($3)
This Android-specific app has been rated #1 in camera apps for Android phones. If you’re looking for a shooting application with a few more features than the default camera app, then try Camera Zoom FX to help boost your images to the next level.
iPhone Camera+ ($2)
Camera+ is an iPhone-specific application that has been rated #1 in camera apps for iPhones. Using this application will allow you to harness your smartphone’s advanced shooting capabilities. The photos included in this tutorial were taken using this app.
Free Adobe Photoshop Express
Adobe Photoshop Express is a free image editing application for both Android and iPhone smartphones. This quick and easy app might be all that you need in your post processing workflow.
Photoshop Touch ($5)
Photoshop Touch is an editing app with more bells and whistles than the free “Express” version. It’s a great editing app that replicates the desktop version of Photoshop while still remaining user-friendly. The Touch program has much more functionality than the Express version.
Sharing images via social media websites is a wonderful way to promote your products. After you’ve shot and edited your images, it’s time to share them. Many of the applications that we have mentioned are designed to help you to share your images to sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, so be sure to take advantage of those features.
Shooting With Your Smartphone
Step One: Preparation
The equipment that we use in this tutorial is all pictured here.
After gathering all of your accessories and applications, it’s time to use your smartphone to capture your images. For this tutorial, we will be photographing a pair of earrings with an iPhone 5S smartphone, a Joby Grip Tight mount attached to a Vivitar mini flexible tripod, and Photojojo lenses. We will shoot the images using the Camera+ app, edit the images with Photoshop Express, and store and organize the images using Dropbox.
The foam board to the left bounces available light onto the “dark” side of the earrings.
1. Perfect your lighting.
First, consider your lighting situation and choose to set up your studio in an area with ample available light. We have utilized a large window to let soft natural light into our frame, as well as a small white foam board backdrop to bounce light onto the “dark” side of the earrings, as pictured above.
2. Set up your table and background.
After perfecting your lighting, it’s time to set up your table and white backdrop so that you have something to place your product and tripod on. We are using white seamless rolled paper for our backdrop, since earrings can very easily be displayed in a flattering manner by hanging them from the paper, as depicted below.
3. Stabilize and position your smartphone.
Next, mount your smartphone and position it at the proper distance from your product in order to center your product in the frame, as shown above. Because our earrings are small, we have placed our tripod and smartphone roughly one foot away from our product, as pictured in the image above. By using a Photojojo telephoto lens, we will be able to zoom close enough to capture the earrings at an optimal crop from this distance.
Note: Fill the frame with your product but leave enough space on all sides in case you need to crop the image.
For more details on setting up a small photo studio in your home or workplace, read here (How to build your own photo studio on a boot strapped budget).
4. Take care of the extra details.
Before you begin shooting, make sure that your product is pristinely clean and that all price tags and strings have been removed. Dust and minor damage can be fixed in post production, but removing as many imperfections as possible before you photograph your product will save you a good deal of time later.
Step Two: Capturing
1. Adjust the app settings.
Now that your setup and product have been meticulously prepared, you need to properly adjust your camera’s settings to ensure that you receive the best results.
The settings circled with red are the ones we recommend adjusting.
Zoom: Make sure that you have the zoom feature turned “ON” so that the zoom feature is easily accessible to you if you need it.
Grid: We recommend leaving the Grid function “ON” because it will help you to easily align your product in the middle of the frame.
Live Exposure: Live exposure mode will allow you to read your camera’s auto exposure settings as the camera adjusts it. It is good to take note of your exposure settings just in case you need to change them later.
AutoSave: This feature will allow you to specify where images are saved onto your smartphone as you capture them. The default is that images will be saved to the “Lightbox” contained within the Camera+ app, but you can change the destination if you would rather the images be sent somewhere else.
iCloud Lightbox sync: You can also sync your iCloud to your Camera+ Lightbox so that every image that you shoot will automatically be backed up into your iCloud.
Quality: It is very important that you set your image quality to High so that your smartphone can help you create the best images possible.
Sharing: If you utilize Facebook, Twitter, or Flickr, try setting up this service to facilitate easy sharing after you’ve edited your images.
2. Adjust the camera settings.
Now that you’ve properly adjusted your application settings, it’s time to work on changing the camera’s manual exposure settings to capture the best light within your frame.
The settings circled with red are the ones we recommend adjusting.
Zoom: Pull the zoom slider at the top of the screen to adjust the frame around your product. Make sure that all of the product fits inside the frame and make sure to leave enough room on all sides so that you can crop the image if necessary in post processing.
White Balance: To properly set the white balance according to the light temperature in your setup, touch the WB button and then touch the white background.
Exposure: Touch the circular Exposure button and then touch your product so that the camera knows to properly expose the product.
Focus: Touch the circular Focus button and then touch your product so that the camera knows to properly focus on the product.
LOCK: When you are finished adjusting each of these settings, make sure to tap each one again to lock the settings in place. This will keep the camera from auto-adjusting the settings while you are taking images.
Take a look at your image and see if you think that it needs to be brightened or darkened in order to achieve a proper exposure. If you think that the exposure needs tweaking, touch the +/- button below the circular Focus button and pull the slider up or down to change the exposure. Our exposure needed to be brightened. We began with the screen on the left and used the exposure slider to brighten the image several stops to create the screen on the right.
However, we still didn’t feel like the setting 0 EV really did the earrings justice, so we bumped the exposure up again to +0.7 EV. Now it looks great!
3. Capture the image.
Now that all of the settings have been adjusted and you have perfected your exposure, composition, and other elements of your image, it’s time to make a photo by pressing the big round button from the menu.
The button outlined in red is the shutter release button.
If you’d like to get even closer, try using your lenses to capture close-up detail shots with a macro lens or use a telephoto to zoom closer to your product from a distance. Switching lenses and/or zoom lengths will allow you to capture additional angles and create multiple images for your product listings, which will raise the overall appeal of your product.
Zooming closer with a telephoto lens allows us to capture the detail shot of the earrings seen on the right.
Since we saved our images into our Lightbox in Camera+, we will need to move the images into our phone’s “Camera Roll” to be able to edit them in Photoshop Express. To do so, touch the filmstrip at the bottom of the app, select the images you would like to save to your camera roll, and touch either “Save and Remove,” “Save and Keep,” or “Save Without Edits and Keep.”
Step Three: Editing
Now that we have our images saved into our phone’s Camera Roll, we will open up our editing application, Photoshop Express, and choose the images we would like to edit in order to prepare them for the web. All digital images need a little bit of tweaking to really shine. Here are a few basic adjustments that we recommend making to enhance your images: Crop & Straighten, Sharpen, Contrast, Shadows, and Vibrance.
After making just those basic five adjustments, you should notice a huge quality boost in your image, as we did. Here are the before (left) and after (right) images—which one do you think looks better?
There you have it, folks. You have now used your smartphone to create high quality product images for your business—and with this technique, everyone wins! You win because you didn’t have to scrounge up the budget money to buy or rent a DSLR camera to make great photos.
But most importantly, your customers win.
When you provide them with wonderful product images, they will know exactly what they’re buying when they decide to purchase your product. That will make them happy, and it will make them eager to do business with you again in the future—and isn’t that what running an online business, or any business for that matter, is all about?
Happy smartphone shooting!
This post originally appeared on Remove the Background, and is re-published with permission.
About the Author: Krysten Leighty is a technical writer at RemoveTheBackground.com and a professional photographer and image retoucher with a strong focus in Fashion Retail. Remove The Background is the leading product image editing service for internet retailers, bloggers, designers, photographers, and webmasters.