Handmade Soap Photography (on a budget, or not)

Hello fellow soapmakers (and other crafters of handmade items),

I’ve been struggling with product photography for 5 years. I quite literally have never had a product photo, in the thousands I’ve taken, been really and truly a shot I was happy with. Those that were “good enough” made it to my website. And if you’ve been paying any attention to how to sell online, you’ll know that good photos can and will turn a hesitant buyer into a happy customer. Bad photos will turn them off your site and they won’t return.

I finally (I’m slow) said enough is enough and did some digging into what it really takes to get good studio quality photos without spending your children’s college funds. And it turns out, not surprisingly, that lighting – not your camera – is the numero uno thing to fix when you want the perfect photos. And fortunately, that lighting is pretty cheap.

So here’s the photo I took of my “lightbox” set up (at my terribly messy computer desk), this one is poor quality, but keep reading, cause the results are worth it.

I shopped at 2 stores – Walmart and Dollarama. I’m not rich enough to snub my nose at either store, but if you have the funds, you can get everything at most home goods stores.

You’re going to need the following –

  • Clear frosted tub of approximately 26″ x 15″; this one is Rubberneck brand, picked up for $10 at walmart
    • This is your “light diffusion” that help spreads the light evenly through the tub and eliminates the need for any other diffusion
  • 2 articulating desk lamps. I had one, so this set me back only $20
  • Daylight lightbulbs – 5000k – 6500k brightness – I got a 4 pack of Great Value compact fluorescent bulbs for $14
  • 4 white poster boards $2 at Dollarama
  • 2 clamps – pack of 10 at Dollarama was $1.50

That’s it, $47.50. Cheap, eh?

Your timing and location for this needs to be somewhere you can depend only on the exact same lighting every day – so at night or away from windows. That way, actual daylight doesn’t change your photos from day to day and you can learn what to expect from your images.

When you set it up, do so like in the photo, add a bar of soap or whatever, and move those lights around so there is an absolute minimum of shadows. Take a few test shots (flash always off) and adjust the lighting as needed. I had to turn off my overhead light as it places a shadow along where the light shined through the edge of the tub. If you don’t have a tripod, grab something high enough to rest your phone or camera on to minimize any blurriness from shaking (might not be needed, see below). If you can use a tripod and good camera, set your timer to 2-3 seconds to give yourself a moment to get perfectly still after pushing the button. Just stepping on the floor can cause a minor blur.

Take enough test shots to learn the new lighting and figure out what exposure gets your images as close to the exact colour on your item – thankfully with Daylight lightbulbs, this is pretty easy.

This photo below, is hand held (no tripod), with me leaned over a bit to get the right angle, with a iPhone 5c with flash off. After I took the shot, I noticed it was a tiny bit darker than I wanted so I went into the edit screen on the phone, and upped the exposure just the tiniest amount. That was all. A perfectly usable photo for the web (though I would have put the box straight instead of at a little angle, if this one was for my website).

lightbox2Proof is in the pudding they say – it took me 2 evenings of about 2 hours each to take all the photos (using my older Canon xSi dslr), upload them to my computer, and resize them all (approximately 30 soap varieties with 2-3 images each) – see them live here or in the other soap links above. I haven’t done the rest of my products yet, but soon!

Some other photos I’ve done in the past couple days:


For my Home Page

For my company’s facebook page cover photo

This was a quick post done on request and may be riddled with typos and things I need to clarify, let me know if something needs editing.


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