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DIY Your Way Into Product Photography

DIY Your Way Into Product Photography

While most of us are sitting at home as non-essential personnel, many have come up with ways to keep the creativity flowing. Some are learning how to photograph wildlife, some leaning on their new love for macro, and some even testing out product photography for the first time. One photographer decided to test out some DIY options for products saving herself some money while she had the time on her hands. 

Nicole Smith is a fashion, lifestyle, and commercial photographer in San Diego, CA. She has been in the game for almost ten years working with top modeling agencies such as LA Models and No Ties Model Management. Her favorite client was Beauty Bakerie. So she is no stranger to photography or what agencies are looking for. 

She came upon the idea for her product photography flatlay board while browsing on Pinterest. "I wanted to find a way to elevate my photography and I kept noticing that all of them had these gorgeous flatlay boards. I started to see where I could get my hands on one but most ranged from $150 to $200, which is worth it when your buying a custom board but I had some extra time on my hands" Smith wrote. 

Thus, the search began. She looked everywhere for DIYs, articles, and blogs that showed how to make the board when she realized that she would have to figure it out. After hours of looking at art and home decor videos on YouTube she realized what was needed to create her own boards. 

All together the cost of her DIY supplies came to $150 with the board and paint being the most expensive. Smith explains that you do not need any experience with the supplies just a solid idea. She suggests to have all your ideas in one place. She uses a Pinterest board so she could reference back to the supplies she needed easily. This board will also help her if one technique works better than another she can update her ideas. 


This list of supplies and other information about the specifics and fine tuning can be found on her blog.

  • Sanded Plywood (FSC Certified) (Common: 15/32 in. x 4 ft. x 8 ft

  • Westpac Materials 3-1/2 Qt. All-Purpose Pre-Mixed Joint Compound

  • 2 x 3 in. Flat Chip Brushes

  • Everbilt 5 Ft x 5 Ft Small Project Canvas Drop Cloth

  • Wal-Board Tools 2 in., 4 in. and 6 in. Plastic Taping Knife Set OR 6 in. Joint Knife

  • 4 in. x 3/8 in. Shed Resistant White Woven Paint Roller Cover with Frame

  • 4 in. x 3/8 in. Shed Resistant White Woven Paint Roller Cover (2-Pack)

  • 7-1/2 in. x 5-1/2 in. Extra Large Grouting, Cleaning and Washing Sponge (3-Pack)

  •  9 in. Metal Paint Roller Tray

  • Pro Grade Precision 9 in. x 11 in. 120 Grit Medium Advanced Sanding Sheets (4-Pack)

  • Pro Grade Precision 9 in. x 11 in. 320 Grit X-Fine Advanced Sanding Sheets (4-Pack)

  • Paper towels

  • Bucket

  • Paint

Methods and Techniques 

She chose a 4X8 plywood for her board that had not been sanded. An important tip is to make sure you wipe off the dust before you lay down the joint compound or paint to make sure everything is dry before proceeding to the next step. 

She starts by sanding both sides and edges of the wood. After dusting it off she wipes the board down with a dry paper towel. Last for this step is to spackle the roughest side of the board if you still have splinters. Smith gives a trick for this step. She uses a "bit of water when the joint compound got too dry. This allowed me to smooth out and blend some areas that needed some more work".  From here she allows the board to fully dry overnight. The next day she will repeat the sanding and dusting process which she is then ready to paint. 

Her next step was to chose paint colors. Smith used one black and one white along with to shades within a color palette. "Start by applying the lightest color you have with the brush then build up the depth and texture by adding the darker colors" she writes. She explains that you can create any kind of texture when you are using the joint compound and painting. She will use sponges (wet and dry), her own hands, water, and the knife set to create all sorts of texture. The options for creating textures are endless if you look around your house there is always something new you could use. 

Colors shown are Behr Pure White / PPG Vanilla Milkshake / PPG Terrazzo Tan

Using the paint splatter method is a great way to add depth to your boards as well. Simply flick the paint brush on the area and use a dry sponge to dab off the spots you want to remove. She uses wet and dry sponges to create different effects on the boards.

Colors shown are Behr Pure White / PPG Magic Wand / PPG Blueberry Pie

Colors shown are PPG UFO / PPG Onyx Black

When placing your products on your board keep things simple and with the flow of the product itself. Creating multiple boards is easy once you have the initial supplies as well as endless options. 

Being in quarantine made this project special to her because it allowed her to focus on a genre of photography that she had been absent from. "Most of my clientele are models or fashion companies so my recent work has focused on people rather than products" she wrote. She ended up reaching out to a few local small businesses and gave them the opportunity to get some free product shots and do a small part to make someone else’s day a little better she explained. While so many of us do not have the ability to shoot with our clients at the moment, product photography is a perfect way to keep up with your craft. If you decide to offer your services for free in the start you will be helping small businesses get their names out there. If you chose to charge for this work you will be able to perhaps create income during this time of current events. 

Smith would love to see what you come up with if you use her tutorial. Tag her on instagram @nikkigotspirit or comment here with your image. 

All images are with permission and courtesy of Nicole Smith 

Jennifer Tallerico's picture

JT is known throughout the International Boudoir Photography Industry and the region for her unique approach to Fine Art Photography. Her underwater work as JT Aqua is ethereal based and conceptual. She is an educator, writer and currently teaching workshops for underwater and boudoir.

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I'm definitely doing this. Thank you for sharing. I've actually been struggling to find different backdrops that I can use to photograph some products I have so thank you :).

Great article! One thing I used to use for product photography was vinyl tiles which also work really well and can come in all different/unique patters.

Thanks for the information, love these content

Photography is a great art. There are so many emotions in one picture.

The tips in this article will last a lifetime. Thanks for sharing. I had to get creative for this client at the start of the pandemic (https://www.robinnicolebeauty.com/) when our studio day was canceled. I shot the marketing assets at home utilizing daylight and whatever I had laying around. It ended up being a great challenge that kept my DIY skills sharp. Thanks again. -A https://www.photosophic.com/