12 Product Photography Styling Tips

By Lisa McGrimmon | Published March 11, 2021
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12 product photography styling tips to help you take more engaging photos of your handmade items.

Learn how to use product styling props and backdrops to take impactful photos of your handmade items to sell online or promote on social media.

What is Product Photography Styling?

Styling for product photography is the art of arranging your products with props, backdrops and surfaces.

Typically, more styled images will be lifestyle photographs. White background, product-only photos won't require a lot of styling. However, you may use some styling tools, such as acrylic blocks or adhesive putty, to position your products at a variety of angles when taking product-only photos.

Your goal will be to use product photography styling to create images that connect with your target customer, tell a story, provide information about the product, and build a consistent brand image. 

Emotional responses can heavily influence buying decisions, and effective styling can go a long way to elicit those emotional responses. The props you use for your product photography styling can provide plenty of opportunities to evoke appealing memories of scent, taste, or touch, or to stir up thoughts of inviting locations.

Product Photography Styling Tips

Let's take a look at 12 simple product photography styling tips you can use to create more engaging photos.

  1. Represent your brand and your product
  2. Check out examples
  3. Get some backdrops
  4. Choose some surfaces
  5. Start a product photography props collection
  6. Add some helpful tools and accessories to your kit
  7. Provide context
  8. Mix materials with care
  9. Remember composition rules
  10. Use design elements wisely
  11. Experiment
  12. Seek consistency in your product photography styling

1. Represent Your Brand and Your Product

Before you can make good decisions about how to style your product photos, you need to be clear about the information you want to convey and the story you want your images to tell about your product and your company.

Before you make any decisions about styling, brainstorm answers to these questions:

  • What the are all of ways your product could be used?
  • Can you think of any creative uses for your product?
  • What would a customer need to know about your product to be happy with their purchase and ensure it will meet their expectations?
  • What makes your target customer want to buy your products?
  • What is the overall personality of your brand? 
  • How could you communicate those ideas in a photo or a series of photos?

Within your answers to those questions, you'll find ideas to guide your product styling decisions.

2. Check Out Examples

Handmade soap styled for product photographyProduct photography styling tips for craft business owners.

Look for examples of well-styled product photography, and ask yourself why the images work.

Keep a collection of your favorite images, and make notes about what you like about each photo. Over time, you'll start to notice patterns. You'll see repetition in how certain products are often styled and observe what works and what doesn't work.

Look for images of products that are similar to your own, but also check out how different types of products are styled. If you're photographing handmade items, check out images on Etsy and Instagram, where you'll find plenty of product photos taken by skilled amateur photographers.

3. Get Some Backdrops

A backdrop forms the vertical background of your photo. Some backdrops can be set up to create a gentle sweep that forms a seamless horizontal background and vertical surface.

A plain white backdrop is an excellent, versatile starting point for product photography. A white background will suit almost any look you want to create. It can be used to photograph product-only images as well as lifestyle photos.

You may also want to explore using black or solid color backdrops.

Beyond solid colors, you can use all kinds of backdrops to suggest a location or create a mood. You can use photography styling boards to resemble almost any flat surface you can imagine such as:

  • kitchen tiles
  • brick walls
  • marble
  • or wood planks

Just make sure your backdrop relates to the product and suits your brand.

If you're photographing items small enough for a tabletop setup, pick up some poster boards or foam boards for affordable solid color options.

If poster board doesn't suit your needs, you can buy larger photography backdrops made for studio photography.

Keep in mind, you'll need a way to hang your backdrop. If you're working with something fairly small, like poster board, you'll probably be able to use your creativity to rig something up.

If you're working with a larger backdrop, you may need to invest in a photography backdrop stand made specifically for that purpose.

4. Choose Some Surfaces

A surface forms the horizontal background of your image. In tabletop photography, it can form a large part of your image. The same boards you use for your vertical backdrop can also be used as a horizontal surface. 

The surface you use can evoke a feeling or location. You may want to purchase background mats for tabletop photography that are designed to resemble a surface your product might sit on.

For example:

A weathered wood surface can resemble a cosy dining table.

A marble patterned surface may evoke a luxurious kitchen counter in your product photos.

As with backdrops, just be sure to choose something that relates to your product and will fade into the background without competing with the focal point in your images.

5. Start a Product Photography Props Collection

Start with a theme that suits your brand based on the ideas you brainstormed back in step 1. Now make a list of props that relate to that theme.

Above all, your props must enhance, and not overshadow your product.

Any product photography props you use should:

  • be clearly related to your product
  • make sense together
  • tell a story
  • be an appropriate size compared with your product
  • be part of a cohesive color scheme

You can build your product photography styling kit over time, picking up interesting prop as you come across them.

Be on the lookout for: 

  • props that help you make good use of composition and design elements like color, texture, and line in your photos 
  • raw materials or tools used to create your crafts that would be excellent product photography props
  • small items to scatter throughout your arrangement such as leaves, or confetti
  • simple items that tell the story of your brand
  • props that help show the size of your products or show how your product can be used

If you sell handmade items at craft shows, have a look at the stands and decor you use in your display booth. You might find some items that are perfect for styling your product photos amid your craft show display supplies.

6. Add Some Helpful Tools and Accessories to Your Kit

Props may form the fun, creative part of your photography styling kit, but there are a few essential supplies that work hard behind the scenes to help you create the look you want.

Clear Acrylic Blocks

A variety of sizes of clear acrylic blocks are good to keep on hand for product photography. They will help you adjust the height and angle of items in your photos.

You can use any type of block for this purpose, but acrylic blocks are easy to keep hidden because they are clear.

Clamps

Product photographers keep a variety of clamps on hand.

Clamps might not sound exciting, but when you start putting together your photography setup, you'll quickly realize how essential it is to have a little stash of tools that will hold a multitude of things in place — backdrops and reflectors, for example —  at just the right angle.

Microfiber Cleaning Cloth

A microfiber cloth is a handy addition to your product photography styling kit. You can use it to wipe your products, or your props to ensure everything is smudge-free and lint-free before you begin.

Be sure to keep any other type of cleaning supplies that are appropriate for your particular products on hand as well.

Gloves

If you're going to photograph items that easily pick up smudges, keep some lintless gloves in your styling kit. Put them on any time you rearrange your product and props throughout the photo session to avoid leaving fingerprints.

Something Sticky

You'll want to keep something sticky on hand that you can use to hold your products or props in place at the exact angle you choose. Be sure to use something that won't damage your product, props, and backdrops.

Here are a few options you can use for different situations:

Adhesive Putty

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of adhesive putty is hanging unframed posters on my wall as a teenager.

Adhesive putty has a consistency similar to plasticine. You can shape it and use any amount you need, which makes adhesive putty a great option if you need something secured and raised just a bit or placed on a slight angle.

Glue Dots

Glue dots are small, clear double-sided adhesive dots that come in a handy dispenser. They will stick to paper, metal, glass, wood, plastic, foam, photos, and card stock.

Double Sided Tape

Double sided tape, of course, is tape that's sticky on both sides. You can buy it in a variety of sizes.

Low Tack Tape

Low tack tape, or painter's tape, can be removed more easily than standard tape. Delicate items, like paper, are less likely to tear when removing tape if it is low tack. Also, it's easier to reposition items that are secured with low tack tape. 

Museum Wax

Museum wax is used to secure breakable items on shelves to prevent them from falling and breaking. You can also use it to secure items in place for photographs. Museum wax comes in a clear formulation, which helps it remain hidden from view in your photos.

7. Provide Context

Product photography styling presents excellent opportunities to convey important information that can be difficult to show in product-only images.

If you photograph your product with a prop that has a consistent size that everyone is familiar with, that prop can help customers visualize the size of your product.

You can also show customers how to use your product by placing it alongside relevant props.

8. Mix Materials with Care

As you add props to your collection, be very careful about mixing different types of items. Different categories of subjects require different lighting, and mixing them in your styling can make the job of lighting your photos more difficult.

For example:

If you need to photograph your handmade linen napkins, and you style them with some shiny silverware, you've made your scene tougher to light well. The addition of reflective silverware as a prop for a non-reflective product means you now have to be concerned with reflections in your photos. You've added an unnecessary complication to your product photography — something you don't need to deal with if you're a beginner photographer. A matte flatware set would tell the same story without adding the complication of lighting reflective objects.

9. Remember Composition Rules

A beautifully relaxed, informal looking photo may appear to be arranged randomly, but even the most organic-looking arrangement, if it's well-composed, will have been planned with composition rules in mind.

If you're not sure about how to use principles like the rule of thirds or golden triangle to create a harmonious arrangement, I've written some photography composition tips for beginners to help you get started.

10. Use Design Elements Wisely

Smart use of design elements such as line, color, shape, light, texture, and negative space is essential to creating compelling photos. Well-chosen props will provide plenty of opportunities to experiment with those elements.

You can learn more about design elements in my article Photography Composition Tips for Beginners (linked in tip number 9).

11. Experiment

Don't expect to get your styling perfect on the first try.

Arrange your product and your props, take some photos, see how they look, adjust as needed and then take some more photos.

A lot of the work in product photography lies in the initial preparation and setup. Once you have everything set up, you might as well experiment, even if you love the first photos you take.

Try photographing your items from different angles, use different camera settings, move your reflector to adjust the light, or rearrange your product and the props and take more photos.

The more you experiment, the more you'll learn and discover what works best with your products in your setting.

12. Seek Consistency in Your Product Photography Styling

As you experiment, you'll start to discover a style you love. Once you find the look that works, you'll want to be able to replicate it across all of your product photos.

That's when you should create a product photography style guide for your brand.

A photography style guide lists all of the specific details about your product photos so you can keep them consistent from one photo session to the next. It will help you create different images for a range of products that, viewed together, form a cohesive group.

What's in Your Product Photography Styling Kit?

Here's a summary of everything you might want to include in your product photography styling kit. Keep in mind, you won't need all of these products — just the ones that make sense for your particular needs.

Styling Props

Grow your collection over time, keeping an eye out for items that would make great props. You might include in your collection:

  • tools you use to create your crafts
  • raw materials you use to create your crafts
  • stands and decor you use to display your products at craft shows
  • items that tell a story about your product
  • items related to your product that can show size and use
  • small items to scatter throughout your arrangement (particularly good to use in overhead flat lay photos)

Backdrops and Surfaces

  • background mats that resemble surfaces like marble, wood, or brick and evoke a location that's relevant to your product
  • poster board or foam board for solid color backgrounds large enough for tabletop photography of smaller products
  • larger photography backdrops are only needed if you're photographing larger items that are too big for tabletop photography
  • a photography backdrop stand is also only needed if you require a way to hang larger backdrops

Helpful Tools & Supplies

  • clamps to hold anything and everything in your photography setup at the perfect angle and keep your hands free for other tasks
  • clear acrylic blocks are easy to hide and perfect for raising or tilting items to vary height, add interest in your arrangement or show a different side of your product
  • microfiber cleaning cloth to ensure everything in your photo arrangement is clean, smudge-free, and lint-free
  • other cleaning tools and supplies appropriate for your products
  • gloves to avoid smudges when you rearrange items that easily pick up fingerprints

Something Sticky

More Craft Photography Tips

  • Product Photography Lighting Setup

    Product photography lighting setup guide for beginner photographers. Three simple ways to set up lighting in your home product photography studio that don't require a lot of specialized equipment.

  • Light Box Product Photography

    Light box product photography tips. Beginner photographers' guide to using a light tent for tabletop craft photography.

  • Using Natural Light in Photography

    Using natural light in product photography. How to photograph your crafts outdoors or in front of a bright window and get excellent results.

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