Beginner Cat Photo Skills

Pet Product Photography: Make Your Products Shine

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]

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.

Adobe raw Raw DSLR Camera
If you are going to use a DSLR, know how to operate it.

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.
Compact Camera for photography
Yes, a compact will take pictures for your post!
  • 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.

Professional product photography setup for taking pictures including a camera and a white background sheet.

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:

  1. Place a chair or small table by a window.
  2. 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.
  3. Check your background is supported if you use a table.
  4. Take trial photos to assess the intensity of your light.
  5. Brightness = intensity and dark shadows.
  6. Softness = softer more flattering shadows.
  7. 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.
Simple setup to photograph a cat toy.
Simple setup to photograph a cat toy.

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.

successful result for small setup to take pet product photographs

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:

  1. Aperture
  2. ISO
  3. White Balance
  4. Manual settings like focus
  5. Using a tripod

Compact Camera Users can explore:

  1. Settings
  2. Auto/manual focus
  3. Close-up/macro mode
  4. Exposure controls
  5. A tripod for support.

Smartphone users will want to check:

  1. Focusing on the subject
  2. Exposure and shadows
  3. Explore HDR mode if you have it.
  4. Zoom with your feet. Zooming reduces your picture quality. Don’t use it.
  5. Smartphone tripods are a great asset (small/light).
  6. 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.
  7. 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
Probiotics for Cats Promotion photo
Harvey is close-up with product placement.

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.
Best DSLR

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.

woman taking smartphone photograph of herbs and spices

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..

A montage of professional shots for a blog post

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’*
Good light and a plain background always works.

Have you taken photos for a sponsored blog post or a post showcasing a product you love? How did your photographs turn out?


Resources

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.

31 thoughts on “Pet Product Photography: Make Your Products Shine”

  1. Always great tips for both seasoned photographers (we can always use a fresh-up course!) and new shutterbugs! While I’ve taken some product pics, I have thrown some neutral or color non-glare fabrics on a variety of objects for stability (pillows, chairs, etc. you know what I mean!)…I have thought about purchasing one of those box units meant for small items…but we really can do wonders with makeshift. You are so right about lighting. So important. I always used my DSLR, I have to admit, this dinosaur is definitely taking a lot of pics now on my iPhone 14pro. I have to admit, while not the quality of the DSLR, it does take some pretty nice quality pics! Unless one is going to blow up the pic to billboard, the iPhones are pretty impressive, I must say! Sharing this – great tips for all!

    Reply
  2. These are great tips! I’ve taken tons of product photos for sponsored posts on my blog. I have used a white sheet for background “flooring” but I like the white card board a lot.

    I have an inexpensive lighting set that I bought on Amazon for $50 – I’ve used it for several years. Lighting is always such a problem so anything I can do to improve it is very helpful. Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Great tips as always, I need to practice more although I think am slowly getting there with Layla, thanks so much as always

    Reply
  4. Excellent tips for taking great product photos! I really need to try putting a white background on my products. Although, I will generally have Henry with the product. But a white background may still look better. I’ll have to play with that a bit. You’ve given me a lot to think about once again. Thank you!

    Reply
  5. I don’t have the space, and I’m a lazy person, so I always take product photos outside. Makes it so much easier 🙂

    Reply
  6. This is an excellent “how to” post and you break it all down so well that it is helpful to anyone from novice to pro. I am sure this is going to be extremely helpful to so many. I loved using my own Huskies in my product shoots, and did add a few of the product’s (if any) to the post. I have to say, that is a really great shot of Harvey with the probiotics, the close-up, the angle, and how prominent the product shows up. (I hope he got model wages, or at least cat-nip tip for that job! MOL!) And I love your tips for a great backdrop. I’ve always been one to wing it and have been known to use lots of things to support a shot, so this was right up my alley! I’ll be Pinning to share!

    Reply
  7. Wile I don’t have products to sell or promote, I used to make a lot of one of a kind baby blankets/shawls, crocheted without a specific pattern, So I took pictures of them for my own records. And asked the recipients whoo I gifted those to to make pictures of when they used the blankets/shawls for their new babies.
    That was years ago, and I still enjoy seeing my ‘projects’.

    Maybe now with a nicer camera and my smart phone, too, I could repeat this if I make any new ones…and I do have one still unfinished.

    Reply
  8. You have said just the right thing, lightning is very important. I think now I know why the photos don’t come out well. I will take it next time.

    Reply
  9. Firstly, I don’t have a DSLR camera. So, I use my smartphone camera instead for the pet product photography. Yes, the quality of smartphone images is pretty good. You have said just the right thing, lightning is very important. I think now I know why the photos don’t came out good. I will take of it next time. On the other hand, your other tips and ideas on pet product photography will help us a lot. Thanks for sharing your amazing ideas with us.

    Reply
  10. Great recommendations, you have definitely been helping me push my photography game! One of the things that I’ve liked learning is doing product images. I also played with taking the products outside in nature, and I was surprised by the results. They looked very inviting!

    Reply
    • A lot of photographs you see in print have that ‘fresh’ lifestyle look that makes them shine. You are so right that natural light is a real boon for product photography.

      Reply
  11. As always, wonderful recommendations! My most difficult challenge is taking photos with natural light because I rarely have it coming into my home.

    Reply
  12. Thanks for this. I learned a lot. Treeno had a video shoot job today for a cat food maker’s training video. He was so good I got to just watch the photographer work. They did 3 product shots with him (which I can never get him to do!) it was really interesting to see how they set it – by a window but where it couldn’t cast shadows.

    Reply
  13. Wow, these tips are great! Thank you so much for sharing them! I don’t often do product photos because I rarely have sponsored posts in my blog, but I DO do a lot of cat photos, which are a challenge on their own.

    Reply
  14. My husband does all of my photography and has learned a lot about shooting products from the blog. These are all great tips!

    Reply
  15. You have put so much great info into this post, Marjorie, thank you.
    Having fun doing these photoshoots as well as learning is a key to getting more from what we do.
    Purrs
    ERin

    Reply
    • I’ve never done product shots, but I might give it a try. Thanks for the tips. I always enjoy your photography posts.

      Reply
      • Thank you. I try to ensure beginners can take positive action to make their blogs shine.

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