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Product Photography: How to take great shots with your phone

Hi Everyone,

Paul here, Sen5es marketing manager and photographer. You may know me from our social media, emails or my previous blog about my first adventures in homebrew!

I'm here this week with another blog. However this one is all about product photography. I've created a step by step guide, including some simple and helpful tips, that you can use with your smartphone to help improve your product photography game.

Paul's product photography guide for jars and bottles

If you are still unsure and want some awesome photographs of your products, head over to our product photography page and we can do it for you!

For this blog I'm going to be using one of The Somerset Chilli Co's "The Circus" hot sauces as my subject and I will be using my iPhone 11 as my camera. I'm also using a simple tripod with a phone mount. The tripod will help you to compose your shot within your frame. So it's a good idea to invest in one. It doesn't have to be anything fancy!

Follow along below and let us know what you come up with! Tag us in social media (@sen5esbottles on Instagram) and use the hashtag #sen5esbottles.

Hot sauce bottle photography
The bottle I have chosen to photograph

This is my opinion on how to take product photos. Other photographers may have different techniques but for a basic starting point I believe this is pretty comprehensive. I've tried to lay everything out in easy to follow steps. But in reality everything sort of happens at once.

When you choose your location you should be thinking about your lighting. When you are telling your story you need to be thinking about your composition. But with practice, this will become second nature!

Step 1: Location

The first thing (after choosing your product) is to choose your location. You want to think about a few things when it comes to your location. Below are a few key points to think about and how I addressed them.

Lighting - How much light is there in your location? Is it too bright? Is it took dark? It's great to be near a natural light source which isn't too strong, close to a window usually works.

What I did - For my photo I chose to use my conservatory. I knew there were quite a lot of clouds in the sky, meaning the sun wouldn't be too strong and I would get a nice even light across my bottle.

If the sun is bright move inside and use a thin curtain to diffuse the light.

Setting up for my product photography
My chosen location. The conservatory!

Background - What's going to be in the background of your shot? Does it match up to your product? Does it help tell your story? (see step 3)

What I did - I originally thought that the green of the garden would create a nice background for my scene. However later I realised this wasn't the case. Luckily I had a few simple pieces of card which I used to create a background behind the product.

As you can see in the first image, the background is too distracting and the subject doesn't really stand out. I experimented with orange and blue card, as this is what I had access too. I felt like the orange complimented the sauces and helped it stand out more.

iPhone product photography
I chose this table as I knew it would be big enough for my scene

Accessibility - Is it easy to move your subject in the space? Do you have enough room for your camera and your product?

What I did - I made sure that my table had plenty of space on it for my subject and my camera and tripod. If I needed to move anything it was easy and simple. I didn't have to climb over or move anything.

Step 2: Composition

This really should be happening at the same time as your dressing of the scene/telling a story in step 3 below.

Composition is so important! It doesn't matter what you are taking a picture of or what camera you are using. I believe composition is the most important thing in photography. Way more important than all the technical stuff. Without good composition even a perfectly exposed image will appear boring and bland.

With any type of photography composition is key.

What is composition? Composition is simply how the elements of a photo are arranged. For example where is your product in the photograph, what else is in the shot and where do you want the viewer to look.

Things to think about when composing your image.

rule of thirds photography
The rule of thirds on my phone

The Rule of Thirds - My first tip in regards to composition is to learn about the rule of thirds and to base your composition around this. This is how I shoot the majority of my images. Essentially the screen is broken up with 4 lines, splitting in in to 9 sections.

You can turn this on on your phone, so that it appears on your screen. My main focus is to put the subject (the chilli sauce in this example) where the lines intersect. Or for the case of Instagram, right in the middle of the shot.

This is where the eye is drawn and therefore where you should have your point of interest (the product).

Level Horizons

Using the rule of thirds grid and the horizontal lines for the horizon also allows you to ensure your horizon is level. No one wants a wonky picture. Making sure your product is standing up straight and tall will make it much more appealing to the eye. Unless you have intentionally given it an angle, you should always keep it straight.

What I did - In this case you can see I've kept the bottle in the centre of the frame and dressed the scene around it. I did this because ultimately this image will be used for Instagram.

Step 3: Tell a story and dress your scene

Don't forget to keep your picture interesting. If you have your product on the left, what can you put in the right of the frame. Or what is in the background? Remember you can be creative but don't make it too distracting. You want your product to be at centre stage.

This is a really important part of photography. In a world of social media where people are bombarded with images every day you need to do something to get someone to stop scrolling and to like your photo. A story can help with this.

Think about what makes your product special and unique and use these factors in your photo.

In this case I am using a hot sauce which has an emphasis on fresh fruit. So I can use ingredients from the sauce to create a story around it. It's also a very vibrant colour. So I can use this as well within the image to help it stand out on a website or social media. Below is a series of images where I added to my scene to create the story I wanted.

As you can see I used layers below the product and placed fruit in front of and behind the bottle to add depth.

For example I added the pineapple behind the bottle as it's large and would cover the bottle if it was in the foreground. What are you trying to sell with the image? Is it the pineapple or the hot sauce? The pineapple is just an accessory to highlight the sauce, so it needs to be in the background.

On the other hand the chillis and the strawberries I used are small enough to distract from the focus of the image so these could be used in the foreground, creating depth.

As you can see I covered the garden background with a piece of orange card. I felt this complimented the sauces colour and helped the subject stand out from the background. I also arranged the fruit around the bottle, keeping the bottle as the main focus for the image.

photographing a bottle of hot sauce
Using a tripod lets your concentrate on dressing your scene.

This is where the tripod comes in to use. The camera is in a fixed position so you don't need to worry about it. You can adjust the fruit and other object freely within your frame. Knowing your frame won't move.

It will allow you to become more experimental. You know your composition is locked and perfect the way it is. Meaning you can experiment with what else is going on in the scene. Just remember the star of the show is your product. So don't add too much to the scene.

Step 5: Taking your photo

The main thing you need to worry about when taking pictures is the exposure of your image. The exposure is basically how dark or bright your image is. The lighting tips in step 1 should have helped with this!

You don't want your photo to be so dark that you can't read your label. You also don't want it so bright that none of the details are visible.

In these two images you can see the first one was way too bright. The sun came out from behind a cloud and created some harsh shadows on the image. I waited a few minutes for the sun to disappear again and got the second image. Which has a much more even light to it, especially in the background.

When using an iPhone you can tap and hold your finger on your product to set that as the main exposure point for your photo. This will make sure that your product is correctly exposed even if the rest of the photo isn't. Other phones will have similar features so experiment or look up guides on how to use your particular model.

Once you have chosen your subject as the main focus for your exposure you can adjust it slightly by increasing or decreasing the exposure or brightness. On an iPhone you can do this by sliding the little sun up and down on it's slider.

The thing to do is to push the little shutter button to capture your image!

Step 6: Editing

For the sake of this blog I'm assuming you don't have access to paid for apps so we just do some basic editing using the Instagram app. It's actually quite good for photo editing and is completely free!

  1. Open your Instagram app and choose the photo you think is the best from your photo shoot. I think my shot with the orange background and even lighting is my favourite.

2. Click the edit tab at the bottom and then adjust. Crop and straighten your image to how you think it will look best on Instagram.

3. Adjust the brightness so the image in nicely exposed all over.

4. Increase the contrast to help all the colours stand out and make the image more vibrant.

5. As the subject is in the centre of the frame I decided to add a vignette. This darkens the edges of the frame which helps highlight the centre. This is an optional adjustment.

6. Apply your chosen filter and reduce the amount of it. Reducing the amount is really important as you don't want it too powerful, just a nice subtle adjustment to your image.

And that's it! It is now ready to be posted to your social media or on your website, blog, email newsletter. Wherever it's needed.

Here are the two images side by side. Straight out of the camera and edited. What do you think?

Step 7: Practice, practice, practice

With most hobbies/ passions/ jobs, practice is key. No one is going to be amazing at something overnight. Despite wanting that to happen. My biggest piece of advice to you would be to practice. Get your phone and your product and take lots of photos. Experiment in different environments and with different props to create your story.

Don't forget to perfect your style. These are your photos of your product. So it needs to be in your style. As mentioned earlier everyone has their own unique voice and style. You just need to find it. Take pictures, try different things. Think outside the box. Go off the beaten path. Look for new angles. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Keep practicing and experimenting until you find something you like. And then hone that skill. Work on it. Keep that in mind every time you take a new picture. Does this fit my style? Does this tie in to my other shots.

The most important thing with photography is to enjoy yourself. It's an artistic creative process!

The most important thing that I would tell you is to enjoy yourself and have fun. Take loads of pictures, experiment, try new things! Not every picture has to be perfect. Not every picture has to be liked by thousands of people on Instagram.

share your images with us
Don't forget to show us your photos!

Thanks for reading my first product photography guide. I hope you found it helpful and useful in some way. If you have any questions please leave a comment below.

If you have a go at taking your own product photos don't forget to tag us in any posts! We love to see what our customers are up to. You can follow us on Instagram @Sen5esbottles and don't forget to tag us and us the hashtag #sen5esbottles.

And remember if you want to have your product professionally photographed, don't forget to head over to our product photography page.

All the best

Paul at

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