Product Photography on a Budget

I'm excited to introduce the first ever guest post on the Studio How-To Blog today. Mary Savel, the leatherworker and crafter behind and has put together an excellent post on taking attractive product photos on a budget. This is something I hear as a continual challenge for people making and selling things as well as people who just want to capture great shots to show off what they're doing or making.  I know I am still working on my skills. And so, I'll turn you over to Mary.


I am a leatherworker (and multi passionate crafter: knitting, crocheting, sewing, embroidery, you name it, I love making it!) who has been selling my leathergoods and crafts online since 2008 and if there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years, it’s that you MUST have great photos of your handmade crafts if you want to sell your work online.

Photos are the number one way for you to connect your customer with your products. Having great photos is so important especially with online selling, because your customer can't see or feel your product in person. So the job of getting your customer’s attention rests solely on your product photos.

It’s like a first impression.  

How I used to do product photography

Years ago, when I first started selling my leathergoods on Etsy, I was taking pictures at my studio table in a dimly lit room but I had a lot of overhead lighting so I figured I was covered.

But my photos always came out dark or sort of had an orange or yellow tone to them. They were also a bit blurry.

Not a winning combination!

My product photography before: Yikes, it was pretty bad.

My product photography before: Yikes, it was pretty bad.

It was really frustrating and it definitely played a big role in holding me back from making any sales on Etsy.

But over the years, I realized a few things about product photography.

Product Photography Myths

A lot of people think that you need to have a fancy camera or an elaborate lighting setup in order to take great product photos.

Some people think that you need to hire a photographer in order to get the really pro shots.

These things are great if you can afford them, but if you’re on a budget, there are some very easy things that you can do instead, to get great product photos.

And the good news is that there is no fancy equipment needed!

Here are 3 easy tips, that you can do using your smartphone to improve your dark, blurry and shaky photos, not to mention help you increase sales of your leathergoods online.

3 ways to improve your product photography on a budget

1 | Shoot using natural light as opposed to indoor lighting.

This is my biggest and best tip. If you only do one of these three things, do this one.

I live in NYC in what sometimes feels like a cave of an apartment. I have 2 large sliding glass doors but I also have very tall buildings all around me that block a good portion of the sunlight. Still, I’m able to get great product photos.

Below is a photo of my setup.

Product Photo Setup.JPG

I point the camera at a wall with the sliding glass door to the right or left of whatever it is that I’m shooting.

Make sure the light is coming in on the side of where you have your camera positioned.

Avoid pointing the camera directly at the glass door or window, because your subject will be dark.

You don’t need a sliding glass door to capture this natural light either. You could also use a window with a table pulled up beside it.

If you live somepleace where you don’t have access to a window, you can go outside to shoot your products. I’ve done this many times before.

I’ll pack a bag of my leathergoods that I want to shoot and some props and backdrops, head out to Central Park and make a day of it. It’s pretty fun.

If you want to take this tip one step further you can time your shoot for the optimal time of day as well.

I find that shooting in the am as the sun is starting to rise to the highest point and as it’s starting to set in the afternoon are the best times to shoot, but you should experiment with this wherever you live.

Just avoid shooting when the sun is at its highest point directly overhead, otherwise you’ll get shadows that are not going to look great in your photo.

Since I’ve stopped trying to Macgyver an at-home studio with terrible overhead lighting and instead focused more on using natural light, my photos have dramatically improved.

2 | Use white seamless paper or a piece of posterboard for your background.

The next thing that you can do to improve your photos and showcase your work in a professional way is to use a white background.

I see a lot of sellers on Etsy who have styled shots where the product is on a desk or tabletop but unless this is part of your brand it can look a little sloppy and be distracting for the viewer. You don’t want a potential buyer to be looking at everything else in the photo except for your product.

I am all for creating styled and lifestyle photos with my products. However, to show off the product and make it pop you’ll want some shots using a white backdrop.

The cheapest and easiest way to do this is to go to your local craft store and get a piece of white posterboard. Then take the posterboard, bend it slightly and tape the top part to the wall and the bottom part to the floor or tabletop so you have a nice curved background.

That nice rounded poster board creates a background that has zero distractions and will make your product look like it’s floating on the web page.

If your products are larger you might want to get a large roll of paper and do the same thing. I have a roll of paper that is about 5 ft wide which I purchased from a photography store (search for “seamless paper”). I use this whenever I’m shooting some of my larger handbags.

Avoid using dark colored poster board or seamless paper that could make the product hard to see unless of course, that sort of moody and dark look is part of your branding.

3 | Use a tripod to avoid blurry photos.

Tripod Setup.JPG

I told you these were simple solutions! But hey, they work and here is why using a tripod is so easy but really helpful.

When you hold your camera in your hands and take a photo, the slightest movement and even your breathing will cause the camera to shake slightly.

Even if you’ve got steady hands, you’re going to shake a bit and this shake will cause the photo to blur.

Blurry photos are not cute when you’re trying to show a potential customer your beautiful handcrafted products!

Also, think about this. The photo that you just snapped might look great on the small screen on your iPhone but think about when you want to use this photo on your product listing which requires it to stretch to be triple the size or even larger if you’re using it as a large home page photo for your website, for example.  

The bigger you stretch the photo, the more blur you’re going to get.

So to eliminate the blur as much as possible from the beginning and get a crisp focused photo instead, use a tripod which you can get at Best Buy or on Amazon for around $25.

Most tripods come with a little attachment that can hold your smartphone as well.

Once you’ve got your phone on the tripod and the tripod in place, we can take this tip one step further and set the timer.

If you put your camera on the 3 second timer, you will reduce the chances of blur even more. When you push the button to take the picture this can cause some shake as well. If you use the timer, you know that the camera is going to be perfectly still when the shutter opens and closes to capture the picture.

If you’re not already using the above 3 tips in your product photography, give it a shot next time you do a shoot and see what a huge difference it can make as you can see here in my photo.

My product photography after implementing 3 simple steps

My product photography after implementing 3 simple steps

Because we all know that selling handmade products online can be hard as it is, let alone if you don't have great photos. People will scroll right past your Etsy listing if your photos are sub par.

Product photography is a big piece of the puzzle of selling your leathergoods and crafts online, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.

When selling your work online, whether it’s the first time or the 50th time, you not only want to think about developing your product, but also about your photos and product descriptions and marketing methods. Basically everything else that you’ll do to help you increase your sales once you launch your handmade goods to the world.

I’ve created an awesome checklist that walks you through start to finish, pre-launch to post-launch exactly how to sell your leathergoods (this checklist can also easily be applied to sales of any handmade product).

You can get your copy of the checklist at

Mary Savel teaches people how to make traditional leatherwork and how to sell their handmade work online, at craft fairs and to stores. She runs, and lives and works out of her NYC apt that she shares with 1 boyfriend and 2 cats.