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Backgrounds and Props for Product Photography

Updated on August 4, 2016
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Rose is a full-time freelance writer who frequently writes about education, special education, DIY projects, food, Milwaukee, and more.

I briefly addressed photo backgrounds and props in my product photo hub. This hub has been so well received that I decided to expand on several topics that I covered there, including backgrounds and props. This list is by no means comprehensive because the possibilities for this aspect of your photos are endless. However, I've done my best to cover the most commonly used backgrounds and props as well as other things to consider that I think will be helpful to a wide variety of online sellers. If you have any other ideas to share or would like to see anything else here, please don't hesitate to leave a comment.

One thing that I want to mention before getting into the specifics is that no matter what backgrounds and props you use, please eliminate all clutter and unrelated objects from your photos. There is nothing more distracting than this!

White/Light Neutral

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The white or light colored neutral can be striking because it provides a stark contrast. It's simple and works for a large variety of products. Be careful with your light balance when using this background. Many people overexpose or intentionally blur their photos with light backgrounds, which can create a harsh look. You don't want to underexposure your photo either and end up with a dull background. Experiment until you get a setting that is just right with bright, balanced light. You may need to change your settings for different items, depending on the item colors, so don't be afraid to keep making adjustments as needed.

Gray/Dark Neutral

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This is my personal favorite background right now. Gray can provide a softer neutral than white does without compromising the stark contrast. Be careful not to use a background that's too dark or your item may get lost in the shadows.

Color(s) To Match The Item

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Some sellers like to choose background colors that will compliment their items. Sometimes this provides clarity will not come out with a stark color. Be careful that the new color does not distract from your item.

Music/Sheet Music

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This was my original trademark background for my Etsy shop. I still use at least one music background for all of my listings. I love the contrast that it provides for a lot of my items. There are many types of sheet music out there. If music is one of your passions, try experimenting with different music backgrounds. Make sure that it doesn't distract from the piece and that your item coordinates with the black and white. The only colors that haven't worked well on sheet music for me are cream and pale yellow.

Open or Closed Book

Life is like an OPEN BOOK Cufflinks
Life is like an OPEN BOOK Cufflinks | Source
Fuchsia Mae . antiqued brass & glass . Butterfly Charm Necklace
Fuchsia Mae . antiqued brass & glass . Butterfly Charm Necklace | Source

The open book provides a similar black/white contrast that the sheet music does. Think about what sort of book would suit the items that you're photographing. Consider the color and age of the book as well as the size and characteristics of the font. Almost anything vintage is very popular on Etsy. Don't use a vintage image for this background or prop choice if it doesn't fit with your items. There are lots of modern as well as different types of retro books to choose from that may be a better fit.

Prop That Fits Your Shop Style

Decorative Tack Set Vintage Sewing Buttons Cherry Cordial
Decorative Tack Set Vintage Sewing Buttons Cherry Cordial | Source

Again, be careful to use props that fit your shop. Don't use props simply because they are trendy. Also, make sure that the props that you're using compliment your items and don't distract from them. Don't be afraid to experiment with lots of different props.

Looking for vintage props? Check out goodies from Etsy's "thehouseofoliver."

Magazines/Old Cards/Other Photos

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Pictures can make interesting backdrops when the colors and style compliment your items. I love the example on the right. The wrong color palette could clash with the vivid tones in this set of buttons, but the background here picks them up perfectly.

Indoor Settings

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If you're not interested in using a light box, there are lots of indoor settings to try, such as window sills, tables, counters, and bedspreads. Search for areas in your house that have lots of natural light. If you've found an ideal backdrop that doesn't have much natural light or you're planning to do a lot of shooting during non-daylight hours or when it's overcast, consider using Ott bulbs. I've linked a wonderful Etsy forum thread that explains a method for this non-light box option.

Outdoor Settings

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There are numerous possibilities for outdoor settings including grass, benches, and cement. If possible, avoid shooting in direct sunlight. Look for settings that have filtered sunlight. If you're shooting small items, you can create cheap light filters by using your light box outside or using other simple set ups with white cardboard, fabric, or paper.

Mannequin

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It is almost always beneficial to show your items modeled. A mannequin is one option for this. Depending on the type of items that you're photographing, you can use either a full or half body. You can use a hand model for bracelets and rings. Personally, I think that a lot of the hand models are creepy, but some of the clear plastic ones are all right. If you don't want to model all of your items on a mannequin, shoot one or two items from a product line on the mannequin and include these shots as examples for all product line listings. You can also use necklace displays to demonstrate how necklaces and pendants will hang.

Live Model

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Again, you can use one photo as an example for entire line of products or made to order items if you don't want to model or use models for everything that you made. If you aren't comfortable with modeling your own items, see if you can recruit a friend or family member to model for you. If you model your own items, use the self-timer on your camera or have someone shoot photos for you.

Other Considerations for Product Photos

Here are a few other things to consider for your product photos. This topics primarily pertain to photos that most likely won't be the first picture in a listing but may be included.

Pattern Listings

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It's important to include links or photos of the finished product with your PDF pattern listings. I usually include a link in my pattern description for all of the available items with that design. You can see an example of that here. To the right, I have an example of a listing where the seller took advantage of the additional photo slots to show an example. You may choose to use some of your photo slots to show difficult color variations.

Set Photos

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Even if a listing is just for a pair of earrings, one photo in your listing can show it with a matching bracelet and necklace. Many buyers appreciate links for other set items in the description. Even if these items are in your shop, people won't always take the time to search for them. Make it easy.

Light Box vs. Not

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I started using a light box almost a year ago and haven't looked back. That being said, I'm still proud of many product photos that I've taken without my light box. I also believe in using natural light light as much as possible, with or without a light box. I've included examples of a couple pictures with different lighting techniques. There is no one right way to shoot all jewelry pieces. Don't be afraid to experiment.

Packaging Prop

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One way to stay competitive on Etsy is to have attractive, personalized packaging. Some sellers choose to enclose a photo that showcases their packaging. Personally I like this photo to include the product as well, but some people choose to include a photo of the packaging on its own. For resources, check out my shipping and packaging resources hub.

Component Listing

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Component listing: If you sell any sort of jewelry components, consider including photos that use those components. If you use social networks, encourage your followers to post pictures of their work with your components. Jewelry sellers, getting these photos out there is a great way for you to network as well.

Size Prop

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It is helpful to have at least one photo for a listing that indicates the size of the object. Even if you include measurements in the listing (which you should), this visual is still important. You can include a small object such as a coin in the photo to provide a frame of reference. You can also hold the object in your hand or if appropriate, model it yourself.

Other Creative Model Displays

Marigold, Flower Posts - Apple Green
Marigold, Flower Posts - Apple Green | Source

Experiment with new ways to model your products. Have fun with it! Consider what will fit with your shop or with specific products.

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Additional Creative Ideas

These final backgrounds and props are truly unique ideas. Again, don't be afraid to experiment. You may come up with something that looks silly or stupid, but you may stumble upon the perfect trademark for your shop or simply the perfect backdrop for a particular item.

Final Note

Study other shops for inspiration. Think about what does and doesn't work, why you are or aren't drawn to specific photos, and how the shop photos do or don't coordinate.

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    • profile image

      Samuel Olsen 10 months ago

      Very useful article for product photographers. I must use these tips and suggestions for my next product photography assignment. One of my favourite background theme from this article is open and closed book. Its very creative and new concept.

    • randomcreative profile image
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      Rose Clearfield 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks! It is tough to figure out what works well with your products and generates a positive response from customers.

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      I love the pig on the keyboard! I have to admit that I frequently don't get creative with product photography backgrounds. I've been trying to get better about it, but I frequently forget!

    • randomcreative profile image
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      Rose Clearfield 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks, vibesites! Best of luck to your sister. :)

    • vibesites profile image

      vibesites 4 years ago from United States

      Wow, useful and amazing tips. My sister makes earrings and also has an Etsy account, and I help her with mounting her ads with photos. Thank you very much. Voted up and useful, awesome. :)

    • randomcreative profile image
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      Rose Clearfield 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      jocent, it's great to hear that this article is a valuable resource for you. Best of luck!

    • jocent profile image

      jocent 4 years ago

      I am an amature photographer and reading your hub fascinated me more to my hobby. Combining video with photo, I was able to make some movies and uploaded them on Youtube. After this I now can improve the qualities of my products knowing all the things you mention in this hub. If I forget some things, I surely know who to ask. Thanks a lot!

    • randomcreative profile image
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      Rose Clearfield 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks, gardenideashub! I appreciate that.

    • randomcreative profile image
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      Rose Clearfield 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much, Cyndi! Yep, I did get my DSLR. It has been amazing. Have you checked out any of my photo shoots on my blog or Facebook from the past few weeks? All of them have been with my new camera. I ended up getting a Canon Rebel.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      I've always admired your pictures and your backgrounds are great. Did you get a DSLR for Christmas? If you did, I imagine you're going to town studying the fun settings and things you can do with them. :)

    • randomcreative profile image
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      Rose Clearfield 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much, photostudiosupply!

    • photostudiosupply profile image

      photostudiosupply 4 years ago from Rochester, New York

      Very nice and helpful photography ideas with really beautiful and different product photos. Great hub!

    • randomcreative profile image
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      Rose Clearfield 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      You're welcome Vinaya! You've made an excellent point. Even if you don't take product photos yourself, understanding what makes product photos good will help you choose high-quality ones for your articles.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      I have never done product photography, but sometimes I need to photograph products to use with my article when I'm reviewing or writing about it.

      Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips.

    • randomcreative profile image
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      Rose Clearfield 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much!! Check out my general product photography hub for tips about lighting. If you have any questions, let me know. :)

      https://feltmagnet.com/photography/Tips-for-Taking...

    • RetailRich profile image

      RetailRich 5 years ago

      Excellent article. Very informative and I love the photographs that were included as well. Very good

      Any suggestions for lighting?

    • randomcreative profile image
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      Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      That means a lot to me! I'm so glad that this was so helpful for you. Best of luck to you! Let me know if you have any questions about anything.

    • imatellmuva profile image

      imatellmuva 6 years ago from Somewhere in Baltimore

      randomcreative, YOU ARE MY SHERO!!!! Your hubs are wonderfully written, offer great support, and answers many...I mean MANY questions! I was thinking about photography for my crafts, and thought well I can't really afford to hire anyone, but you've offered solutions for camera shots, backgrounds and props (HOW TO USE PROPS) that I can try on my own, and didn't even consider. THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!

    • randomcreative profile image
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      Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks Deb! Natural lighting and a tripod will take you a long way with product photography.

    • profile image

      storybeader 6 years ago

      very nice and complete analysis. I tried a light box but never got the hang of it. So I returned to my wood table and natural lighting. I think a tripod is very helpful too. {:-Deb

    • randomcreative profile image
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      Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks Edi!

      A white background can definitely be difficult. It's one of the reasons I started experimenting with gray.

    • profile image

      Memories for Life Scrapbooks 6 years ago

      Another great post! You really covered a lot here!

      I always wonder if I should try different backgrounds, or a setting style photo for my albums. A white background is so hard to photograph sometimes!