Photography: Creating a Story Guest Post by Richard Jackson


There are many tutorials online about product photography, particularly dealing with the more technical details, but instead here I’ve chosen to cover some of the practical elements based upon my own experience. I’ve put together some tips on how to pick surfaces, backgrounds and props, and how to best light the images. I’ll also go into whether it’s best to have a light or darker setting to show off your product, and the dramatic effect that depth of field has on your image.

When it comes to selling online, your web presence communicates both the value of your products and your brand attributes, and your imagery is a vital part of that.

The images are not only selling tools, but communicate to your potential customer something about you and how you conduct business. They can also help you to build trust, which is an important part of online marketing.

You might ultimately want to have a professional photographer take photos for you, or you might be able to do it yourself. You will need to consider factors such as the type of products you create, how difficult they are to photograph, how often you create new products, the lifetime of the product and also your available budget.

90% of this image is lit by the Christmas lights and candles, meaning the image remains true to the environment where the product would be used. This helps tell the story of the product, and place it in within a context.

1. Creating a Story

The initial part of the story is created in the mind’s eye of the consumer when they look at your product photos, which are one of your most important sales tools. Look at things from your customer’s point of view: they can’t physically see your product in front of them, they can’t feel it, turn it or touch it.

So the primary goal of the photo is to accurately describe the product and convey the tangible elements of the product. Your photos also communicate the feel of the product: for instance, does it have a smooth or coarse texture? Is it glossy or matte?

This also applies to products created by surface pattern designers and greetings card designers. To your mind the product is more about the artwork, and not the card or product itself, but the customer wants to the see the whole; they want to see special finishes and the texture of the card for example.

The secondary goal of the photo is to place the product within a context, to help your customer visualise your product in its natural environment, and to promote a lifestyle promise associated with your brand.

Now that you know what you’re trying to achieve, you need to decide how you want to place the image and therefore what type of photo you need.

Depth of Field

Two of the most important aspects in telling a visual story are light and depth of field.

The depth of field or softness of focus has a profound effect on a photo. It changes the feeling of the overall image and what is evoked by the image. It is also used to place emphasis on certain items within the frame. A camera lens can only focus on a single point, with a resulting area of sharpness that stretches in front of and behind this focus point, and this is what creates depth of field.

A shallow depth of field is primarily used in product photography to blur the items in the foreground and background. This helps to concentrate the viewer on your product, and not the props. An image with a broad depth of field, is sharp throughout the depth of the image. These images can accurately describe all the details, surface textures and reflections of the product and the overall scene.

Where there are multiple products in the image, it’s usually better to use a broader depth of field so that the majority of the product, or at least the design upon the product, is in focus.

Left: The shallow depth of field here isolates the card as the most important part of the image, with the background and foreground softer and less prominent.

Right: The broad depth of field here ensures that all of the cards are in focus.

Choosing a Light or Dark Background Setting for your Work.

Many think that work has to be photographed with bright light in a bright setting to sell well. This is sometimes true, but it doesn’t always bring out the details in the item, and sometimes it’s the details that actually do make the sale.

Sometimes it’s better to have a darker setting, because when light enters a bright/white setting, it bounces around quite a bit. If you have a darker setting, on the other hand, it becomes much easier to introduce light selectively. This is true whether you’re taking your own photos, or getting a professional to do it for you.

In this example, shown below, I used a slightly darker setting (it doesn’t have to be black) and introduced light selectively, I bounced light off the wall behind the glass, which illuminated the glass from behind. This technique illuminated the dichroic coloured elements, but also revealed the subtle texture in the glass itself. It eliminated reflections from the front of the glass, so the glassware is extremely clear. Getting the lighting right is important to revealing textures,and subtle details of your work, particularly when working with glassware, ceramics, and jewellery.

Lighting can be complicated and challenging, so in our next post, we’ll be looking at more lighting techniques in more detail.


The darker setting and lighting create a completely different feel and mood.

The marble, props and detailed artwork of the greetings cards, all work together creating a perception of quality.

Join us tomorrow for tips on Lighting Your Work!


Richard Jackson, Forever Creative Photography