Product Photography for Beginners Using Cheap Household Items

Product photography might be one of the subcategories of this business that has seen a growth in available work, thanks to all of the e-commerce opportunities. By using specific techniques, you can showcase any product in a non-conventional way to have it stand out from the rest. While most of product photography consists of an all white background, you can experiment with items available around the house to show the same item in a different light. 

Remember for the client is looking to make a splash with their products, it's a good idea to see how it might stand out from the rest. They'll need images for social media, their website, catalogs, and for video. Play around and have fun with the work. With e-commerce continually taking a bigger bite from brick and mortar stores, you can bet this field will change at an unprecedented rate. Photographers will offer new methods to show their work and to stand out from the sea of competitors. 

Start experimenting with different techniques, you’ll want to be known as the product photographer who offers the unconventional for the higher rate jobs. Before you buy gear and have huge set-ups, try to work with what’s in the house. For this quick tutorial, we photographed my Hasselblad camera to show it's possible to get good images with household products.

The materials I used were:

  • Product: My Hasselblad Camera (but you can use what fits your need)
  • Reflective Surface: I used glass from a side table. You can find what's around your home, possibly even using the glass from a framed photograph. Place something dark underneath it for great reflection.
  • Tape: Use any type of tape available
  • Camera: I used my Canon 5D Mark II Camera
  • Lens: 50mm lens
  • Gels: We played with blue and red, but I opted for red. You can get a starter gel kit online for under $10 with multiple colors
  • Aluminum Foil: You have this! If you need to purchase a roll, go for a wider option but both will work.
  • LED Light: You can get a decent LED light at your local discount store for a few dollars. They're powerful enough for this experiment.
  • Smartphone: Use any brand that you have and turn on the flashlight mode. If you don't have a smart phone, then any little flash light will work.
  • Dark Room: Go into any room in your home that can be completely dark for controlled lighting

I saw this technique on an Armani shoot for a perfume line. This production had 12 people on it; I counted. By the way, 8 of them were standing around and collecting a check, and good for them! I want to show that with a little improvisation you can get a similar feel with household products.

If you're looking to expand on your product photography, I suggest experimenting with what's available before you rent gear. At the perfume commercial they have giant budgets and can afford a large crew with endless gear. That's not everyone's reality but you can get great images also, without the million dollar budget. 

For this quick demonstration I only used what was available to most photographers. I did not use a C-stand or professional lights for that reason.


Quick tips:

  1. Have glass cleaner on hand, as it's relatively easy to collect dust on the surface. 
  2. If I could do it again, I'd attach a larger area of aluminum foil to the background.
  3. The further your subject is from the wall (foil), the bigger your bokeh. Experiment with it and find what looks best for you!
  4. Put your camera on a tripod so that you can have an additional set of hands to move anything around. 
  5. Be patient. The person holding the LED light and iPhone will undoubtedly get tired, even if what they're holding barely weights anything.

Other suggested items:

  1. Perfume bottles look beautiful in this setup
  2. Jewelry
  3. Glass of wine with bottle nearby
  4. Makeup works well.

You can experiment with anything. One might find that changing the lighting or its angle could dramatically change a photograph. Play around and have fun. Remember photography is about experimentation and finding your own recipes. This is something to build on, and adapt to your needs. 


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Spy Black's picture

Using gaffers tape can hold the background light in place somewhere, self timer to shoot, then you can hold the product light and it becomes a one-man show. ;-)

The first knurled ring on the lens is the only thing close to being in focus. The rest is mostly blurred. Product photography? No. The image in your recent article on Vaclav Rus, The Orange Watch, *that* is product photography.

Agoston Zacs's picture

It's true that you can make spectacular picture with some creativity with the help of household items, but product photos need big DOF.

Walid Azami's picture

They do! I stated this was a starting point and people should build on it according to their needs. in hindsight I'd add so much more DOF ... but this is a starting point for some. Thanks for the comment.

Step 1: reach up and grab that cheap household Hasselblad 500C/M you just happen to have lying around.