I got such a great response from my updated flatlay post, so I thought I’d share how I style product photos (plus I got quite a few requests)! Styling product photos is something I have recently gotten into, but it’s so much fun and the styling opportunities are endless. There are a lot of similarities between flatlays and product shots, but there also a lot of differences as well and I’m super excited to share them with you! Read on to see how I style product photos.
Much like my flatlays, I also always use natural light for my product shots. I shoot the majority of them indoors in a well-lit room near a window. The product is always directly lit (there is nothing blocking it). The only difference from this and my flatlays is that my flatlays are directly shot under my window and the product shots are usually shot with the lighting coming from the side. This is only because of how my space is set up (although a reflector might fix this issue). Our windows are north facing so I usually shoot in the late morning/early evening for spring and summer and early afternoon for fall and winter. For outdoor product shots, I like to shoot in the early morning or evening.
When I shoot flatlay or product shots, there is always a hero item. The hero is one product in particular that I try to highlight. I use various items as “props” to create interest and give the hero item a believable environment to live in making the finished product look more natural. The only difference between my flatlay styling and product styling is the lay out. For flatlays, I usually place the hero item in the center of the photo or in a place where the eye would naturally go. I also shoot these with a stock lens. For product shots, I almost always use the 50mm and focus solely on the hero item(s). If it’s not in the center of the photo, then it will usually be in front of other items to create a natural depth of field. When you focus on the one item, it becomes sharpened and everything in the background slightly blurs creating even more emphasis on the hero item. Another thing to bring even more attention to the item is cropping. When you only show part of the “props” rather than the whole thing and show the entire hero item, it draws even more attention to it (see above for example – hero item is the lipstick).
Also, I should note: If a hero item is branded (example: Olay, Estee Lauder, Guerlain, etc.), always make sure the branding is facing forward and isn’t turned around (unless you’re just shooting for fun, which in that case, do what you want). This is especially important and essential for any type of sponsored work. Always make sure the label and branding is clear, in focus and prominent. If I’m shooting for a specific campaign and choose to use other like items (ex: beauty with other beauty products), I’ll either use other items of that same brand OR use different branded items in the photo but place them in a way that the label doesn’t show such as opened up, turned around or in the background.
For product shots, I like to place the item(s) in an environment that makes sense. If I don’t have an environment for it, I’ll create my own and use various “props.” Nine times out of ten, I’m usually shooting beauty for product shots and since my bathroom doesn’t have any natural light coming in and the yellow light is much too harsh, I will use the bedroom or office to create an environment. I usually use my vanity, bed, dresser or the floor for indoor shots. I usually like to place the hero item in an environment that already exists. For example, if a lipstick is the hero item, then it would make sense for it exist on my vanity table with other like items. My vanity table is already set up with lights, candles and other beauty products for daily use so usually I’ll just include my hero item with what I already have set up and style accordingly. Your environment can be as simple or complicated as you like. I, personally, prefer to have a variety of items showing to create more interest and to keep the eye constantly moving. Because of this, I almost always use a simple white background of some sort as a starting point. From there I layer items of different textures, colors, and finishes.
The props are just as important as the hero item (maybe even more!). I think it’s important to use item that make sense in the environment and with the hero item. For example, if my hero item is a perfume, I might set it on a vanity tray and style it with other beauty items, jewelry and a piece of clothing to imply that I’m getting ready for the day. For my product shots, I like to add additional props for “texture” such as roses, lights, faux fur or some type of fabric. I always like to inject a bit of my personality into each photo and tell a story. For skincare and beauty products, I like to show them open for more contrast, texture and color (example: showing all the beautiful colors of an eyeshadow palette, the creaminess of a lipstick, the texture of a face cream). Other props I use are vanity trays, shoes, handbags, candles, jewelry, fairy lights, nail polish, perfume, flowers and anything else that anything else that might exist in the space that I’m creating. Also, I should mention that all of my props are things that I actually use in my everyday life to add a more personal touch and I think it’s important to note that you should think about your branding when you create product shots or flatlays because that will determine what types of items you should use and what type of environment you should aim to create.
Balance is key when styling product shots. I think product shots look best when it’s more organic….almost like capturing a moment in time rather than a picture perfect set up. While I do set up my photos to look a certain way, I always try to keep them semi-believable. It’s pretty and pristine, but it’s also inviting and approachable. I want the photo to look like a snapshot of my day – putting on my make up, getting ready for bed, or laying out my outfit for the day. I usually arrange the items in a few different ways before I finally settle on something I like. With flatlays, I discussed using up the negative space with interesting elements to keep the eye constantly moving and while I do like to use up the negative space within a product shot, the outcome is a little different. Whereas a flatly is very flat and two-dimensional, a product shot is three-dimensional and you can not only use up the space all around the hero item, but also behind it for as far as you can see. Whenever I’m setting up my shot, I’m not only looking at my lay out but also everything behind it that the camera might capture. If I’m styling something on my bed and my nightstand is in the background, then I’ll style the nightstand as well. If I’m using any type of mirror, then I style whatever is in the reflection (or at least clean it up).
Color also plays an important part. I like to balance out the photo with items in a similar color family or in hues that play well off of each other so the image looks cohesive. For example, if I am using pink and blue tones, I won’t keep all the blues in one spot and all the pinks in another…I’ll distribute them in a balanced yet natural way. I also tend to use a lot of the same metallics together, usually rose gold or gold, but if there are pastels or cooler tones color-wise then I might mix in some silver with the gold. When I shoot, I try to get a mix of “far” shots that encompass the whole spread as well as details that only show portions. This is much more fun with product shots than it is with flatlays, especially if you have a great depth of field behind the product set up. There are really so many interesting angles you can shoot.
Another important element I like to add into my shots is…myself! I feel like this really gives it a personal touch and tells more of a story than a typical product shot. With a human element, you feel more emotion and more of a connection. It captures a specific moment in time and since I don’t typically use my face in product shots, it’s easier for others to visualize and manifest themselves in my place. This is very strategic and for this reason, I usually like to use my hands to interact with the product in an organic and natural way (ex. putting on sunscreen). I’ll place myself in the environment I’ve created, which means that whatever I’m wearing also has to look good and reflect where I am. Not only do the products have to make sense in the environment, but the clothes have to make sense as well. I’ll usually wear a complimentary color, but if I wear something that blends into the background, I always make sure it has some kind of texture or pattern to it. If I’m using my hands (which usually I am), then I’ll make sure that my nails have been freshly painted with a complimentary color and that I have a pretty piece of jewelry on.
I hope you all enjoyed this post! Since my flatlay post received so much interest, I’ve decided to create a video tutorial as well (I’ll include a product shot as well if you want!). Also, if you have any questions about blogging, in general or any fashion/beauty requests, let me know!
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Have a great Monday!