If you run a pet website and you want to monetise your blog, you will face the challenge of photographing cat or dog merchandise. Being genuine and offering your readers relateable content is important so how do you take photographs that make your product look good and include your real pet in the process?
Your camera skills will also come in useful when you start creating short form videos for social media too!
Let me share with you how to take good looking product photographs with the equipment you have. No need for any fancy lights for your beginner’s adventure, grab your camera and let’s go. [Revised September 2023]
We are an official Amazon and Joby tripod affiliate which costs you nothing but allows us to earn a modest commission.
I am using my own product photographs in this post and also show how the professionals take photographs. This first image is an excellent professional example. Eye catching colours brighten a simple arrangment of cat toys.
Which Camera Do I Use For Product Photography?
When you are starting to work for sponsors, you might feel you need a fancy DSLR before you can start. Not true, your own camera will work for product photography. Even a modern smartphone takes breathtaking images. [Sure, we would all love softboxes, flash guns and beautiful backgrounds but you don’t need them to take a clear and accurate photograph (or video) of a cat product].
How you prepare for your shoot is more important.
Knowing the device you will be using for your product photos is your first step to success. Whether it’s a DSLR, mirrorless, compact or smartphone camera, you need to grab the manual or invest a few minutes in finding an instructional video to make the most of your camera’s capabilities. This amps up your skills 100% before you even start.
Explore what your camera can do. Know it’s limits and how far you can push them.
Starting Cat Product Photography
The settings you use can change how your photographs come out. It sounds obvious but it needs saying. The best advice for anyone doing a product shoot is try not to work against a looming deadline and work everything out as you go.
Not. Going. To. Work.
Please take time to do a practice run with your product. Be prepared to get it wrong often, but I guarantee you will learn lots.
If you don’t have a sponsor to work with, but you are keen to get some experience under your belt, pick a favourite cat product and set it up for a trial photoshoot. An exercise like this will help you understand the preparation you need to do before you undertake a serious project for a sponsor.
- As a bonus, if the shoot produces some great shots, you might be able to create a non-sponsored post with it and use affiliate links to start earning.
What ‘modes’ does your camera have?
Let’s start with a look at your most important piece of equipment. This is the camera you will be using. Can you answer these questions?
- A DSLR or mirrorless camera will have specific modes. These include Aperture Priority (A), TV or Shutter Priority, Manual and Automatic modes. Have you explored them, are you confident you can use them? If not start with your camera’s Auto mode.
- A Compact camera will have a range of sophisticated options. Modern compacts can be amazing so check what your own camera can do. Options will include close-up, sport, portrait or landscape.
- Smartphones are very popular for taking photographs and the quality is superb. If you have a ‘phone it can definitely be used for product photography on a blog. You may have portrait and macro settings which are great places to start exploring your product photography.
- You can hear me on the Humarian podcast, I was interviewed while at pet blogging conference Blogpaws®!
Preparing for Cat Product Photography
Make sure your battery is fully-charged and your lens is clean. A good lens cloth, similar to those you get with a pair of spectacles or sun glasses, is made from fine microfibre; ths will not scratch or damage your lens.
Unless you have professional lighting set up, start taking pictures using natural light. It’s free and when you are doing budget pet product photography, free is good.
There are plenty of lighting options to explore as your confidence grows (which it will). There are many basic selfie light setups, like ‘selfie rings or check out some of the larger lights that diffuse their glow in a product friendly way. Check these out online, or at your local photography shop.
Product Photography Lighting Tips
Use natural light whenever possible. Natural light is the most flattering type of light for product photography. If you can, shoot your photos near a window or outdoors on a cloudy day.
Always be aware of your light and what it is doing.
Direct sunlight casts strong dark shadows that don’t flatter your product. But, if you have no choice but to shoot when the sun is high, you have a workaround. Pin or drape a net curtain or large sheet of cartridge paper over the window. This can help soften strong light.
A Simple Lighting Setup
The picture above demonstrates a larger setup than you or I would use for a simple shoot. But it does show how you should position your sheet of paper (called a sweep) to showcase products.
You can set up your ‘product photography table’ something like this:
- Place a chair or small table by a window.
- Put a large sheet of white card or paper on the chair and attach it at the top so it doesn’t slip. Masking tape or Blu-tack is good and doesn’t leave marks.
- Check your background is supported if you use a table.
- Take trial photos to assess the intensity of your light.
- Brightness = intensity and dark shadows.
- Softness = softer more flattering shadows.
- Shadows in front of the product can be removed with a ‘reflector’. Your reflector only needs to be a budget sheet of white card. Or you can invest in the collapsible kind.
TIP: A white background for pet product photography can be decorated with props. Plain white means you do not have to worry about colour clashes. If you are working with a specific colour scheme for a brand make sure your props match their feel or colour
This photo shows the successful outcome of a plain background and a single product. There has been a small amount of image lightening in post production.
Summary Of Camera Settings for Product Pics
Tips for helping to troubleshoot problems as well as discovering your camera’s capabilities. For DSLR, compact and smartphone users.
DSLR users can see what difference it makes when you alter these settings:
- White Balance
- Manual settings like focus
- Using a tripod
Compact Camera Users can explore:
- Auto/manual focus
- Close-up/macro mode
- Exposure controls
- A tripod for support.
Smartphone users will want to check:
- Focusing on the subject
- Exposure and shadows
- Explore HDR mode if you have it.
- Zoom with your feet. Zooming reduces your picture quality. Don’t use it.
- Smartphone tripods are a great asset (small/light).
- Modern smartphones have a ‘portrait’ mode which blurs the background. This works like a DSLR’s ‘depth of field’. Experiment with this in your product pictures if you have it. Or take a photo and use a smartphone photo app to add the blur.
- Try turning off your overhead lights. Indoor lighting can give your photographs a yellow or a blue tinge. Can you adjust you white balance?
For Smartphone Users Check to see if you have HDR. Your phone does all the work for you. Snap your picture and it will spit out one regular photo and one HDR photo. The result is something that should look more like what your eyes see, rather than what your camera sees.Lifehacker
Taking Your Cat Product Photos
Compose your shots carefully. Make sure that your products are centered in the frame and that there is plenty of negative space. You can also use props and styling to add interest to your shots. Here’s some quick-fire inspirational ideas to get you busy.
- Show the product in use. This will help your readers to visualize how they would use the product in their own lives and gives a real touch of authenticity to your photos.
- Use ‘lifestyle’ photography. Lifestyle photography shows products in a real-world setting, although you may not have the perfect house we often see in this kind of shot, a clean clear space works well. These photos can help your readers to connect with the product on an emotional level.
- Use storytelling. Use your photos to tell a story about your product. This will make your photos more engaging and memorable. This works with short form videos too. Tell a quick, positive story.
- Be creative. Experiment with different lighting techniques, backdrops, and props. Don’t be afraid to try new things once you are confident you have a basic setup that works. Take multiple photos of the product not just one or two. This gives you plenty of choice when you edit.
What do I do if things do not work out?
Take time to review your unsuccessful shots and assess what you might be able to do differently. If you can, try to assess photographs on a computer or at least a different screen. This gives you a different viewpoint to your own smartphone or compact camera, so you can adjust your set up or lighting to improve your next shots.
There really is no quick fix, or one size fits all solution. Different products will require different lighting, and it’s up to you to figure out what works best for your products. Once you get a handle on the basics, it’ll be a case of trial and error until you find the perfect formula. We’re going to focus specifically on natural lighting.Shopify
I found one piece of advice that pops up on photography blogs, and as a beginner cat product photographer, I had not thought of this but it’s true.
Don’t Move Your Camera!
Once you have found an angle and light that works, don’t move your camera, adjust the product instead and take a series of shots. It’s a lot easier than changing your set up, and your shots are all framed the same way. My thought was always ‘move the camera’ but I was making work for myself. Now I compose my shots carefully and try for visually appealing compositions.
Take Pet Product Pictures Outside
If you are taking product photos outside be conscious about your lighting. Check for deep shadows and the intensity of your light. If I take photographs outside I look for a location maybe under a tree or tall bush where the light is still bright but more diffused thanks to the leaves overhead.
- With your cat (or other pet’s) enjoyment comes first so, remember to make your photoshoot fun. Unhappy pets will never cooperate.
You can achieve good pictures (and videos) without worrying about being too perfect. Here’s an example; this video clip includes Harvey enjoying our Raindrop fountain. It may not be cinema quality but it shows the product in use in a very positive way. Remember, your sponsor, or readers of a blog, are looking for real cats in real ife.
- Readers will relate to a kitty culprit sneaking snacks, or knocking over the sponsor’s bag of kibble and your shot adds a touch of genuine authenticity which is essential for blogger reviews right now!
Sponsor’s Ready-Made Images
A bonus for bloggers who work with a sponsor is professional product shots provided by the sponsor themselves. These are ready for you to incorporate into your blog post and you can spend your time working on a shot or two with your own cat. If a brand has a specific look and this is part of their branding these are always great to include in a blog post.
A product review done by Dash Kitten for Humarian’s Probonix allowed us to incorporate professional images and add a sweet shot of Harvey keen to have his daily probiotics at home..
Photo Editing Apps
Edit your photos. Once you’ve taken your photos, you’ll need to edit them to make them look their best. You can use editing software to adjust the brightness, contrast, saturation, and hue of your photos. You can also use editing software to remove blemishes, wrinkles, and dust spots.
If you are nervous about editing an image, practice on a duplicate copy of your photo. You can experiment without pressure trying different adjustments. You will be surprised how a photograph can be changed or improved by small changes.
- Photo software like Affinity Photo or Photoshop Elements is worth investing in. You take control of your photograph’s ‘post-production’*
Have you taken photos for a sponsored blog post or a post showcasing a product you love? How did your photographs turn out?Best Accessories
There is a good overview of editing to improve products here at Shopify. You do not need to join Shopify but the post is a helpful way to kickstart editing your product photography if you need help as a beginner.
- Post-production* Post-production includes all stages of production occurring after photographing or recording individual images or video segments.
- Once you have your prints – don’t forget to store your images properly.
- VSCO Photo Editing App
- iPhoto for Mac/iPhone
- GIMP – Free. Complex but versatile.
- The best free editing apps on Android – Gadgets 360
- Affinity – one-off payment. We use Affinity and like it.
Photoshop Elements– one-off payment
Marjorie is a motorbike riding blogger and award winning cat photographer who believes that everyone can create impressive cat photographs and fun movies with the camera they carry.
She is a Professional Member of the Cat Writers Association, Kuykendall Image Award winner and published photographer at the Guardian newspaper.