How-to Set Up Your DIY Product Photography Studio

Are you thinking about setting up a do-it-yourself or DIY product photography studio in your warehouse, distribution center or office?

Before you take the DIY plunge, we recommend you answer the 8 questions below and review the equipment list and associated costs. This will help in your studio planning and set up process.

In-house vs. outsourced product photography

Setting up a DIY product photography studio means you have made the decision that capturing your product images in-house is a better option than outsourcing to a service provider. If you are not 100% sure that in-house product photography is your best option read this recent post – In-house vs. Outsourced Product Photography – 10 Questions to Ask.

Is a DIY product photography studio right for your business?

The 8 questions below will help you better evaluate whether a DIY product photography studio is right for your business.

1. Does your business outsource?

Some businesses do everything in-house, some outsource and others make this determination on a case-by-case basis. Which camp does your business fall into?

2. What level of buy-in do you need?

Product images touch many levels and departments within an organization – upper management, marketing, sales, inventory, warehousing, and product development. Where do you need buy-in in your business? This is important to consider – unless you have complete buy-in from all departments involved, the odds of your DIY product photography studio being a success is low.

3. Does your business introduce new products on an ongoing basis?

If your business introduces new products regularly your need for product images will be ongoing. How many product images do you need to produce annually? If this number is high, the case for a DIY product photography studio is strong. If the number is low, investing in equipment, software and people for a DIY studio will be hard to justify.

4. Do you have a significant number of products that need images?

If you have few products needing images, hiring a local photographer makes the most sense. If you have thousands of products needing images and you are introducing new products all the time, a DIY product photography studio may be your best option.

5. Do you have space for a DIY product photography studio?

This is important – if you do not have enough space in a warehouse, distribution center or office for a studio then DIY is not going to work. The space required depends on many factors including the size of your products, the steps involved in preparing your products for photography, and restrictions on shipping products to and from the studio.

6. Do you understand the product photography process?

The process of product photography is not as simple as you may think. Most in-house product photography programs fail because they do not understand the components of successful product photography projects. Before you make the DIY decision learn as much as you can about the product photography process.

7. Do you have the required software tools?

Product photography can be slow and costly when you do not have the necessary workflow tools. Most businesses that set up a DIY product photography studio manage the process with spreadsheets, databases, and image file transfer procedures. Image Production Management workflow software replaces cobbled together systems by providing photography workflow tools, centralized project management, image quality control and production reporting.

8. Do you have experienced product photographers?

In order to operate a cost effective DIY product photography studio you must have an experience product photographer with knowledge of the product photography workflow.

Factors that impact the product photography equipment you need

When it comes to buying equipment, there are 2 factors that impact the equipment you require:

1. Product Characteristics: The size, weight, and shape of your products impact the equipment you need. For example, if your products are large or heavy you will need specialized photography tables and camera stands.

2. Image Uses: Images can be used for ecommerce, electronic catalogs, and various print purposes. These uses can have a big impact on the equipment you need. For example, if your images are for magazine ads or other high-end print purposes you may need to invest in better quality camera gear.

What equipment do you need for your DIY product photography studio?

Below is a list of equipment you will need for your studio. The costs are based on two assumptions: 1) the products are standard – not too large or heavy, and 2) the images will be used for electronic purposes – not for high-end print.

  • DSLR Camera: A good DSLR camera is all you need to produce excellent product images. For a reasonable price you can purchase a camera that has good optics, produces high-quality, high-resolution images, and accommodates a wide range of lenses. Two examples are the Canon T3i (18 megapixels) the Nikon D7000 (16.2 megapixels).
    • Cost: $600 to $1,000 (body only)
  • Camera Lenses: Lenses range significantly in quality and price. There are ‘good’ lenses and there are ‘better’ lenses. ‘Good’ brand name lenses produce great images that satisfy the product image needs of most businesses. ‘Better’ lenses produce fantastic product images but the additional cost is difficult to justify. In order to photograph small and large products and capture close-up detailed shoots you require 3 lenses: 12-24mm (large products), 18-200mm (average products), and 105mm (close-up images).
    • Cost: $2,800 to $3,200
  • Camera Stand: You can purchase an inexpensive tri-pod-like camera stand or a heavy-duty camera stand. The middle ground is the best way to go – a sturdy, brand name camera stand will offer strength and flexibility at a reasonable price e.g. Manfrotto 9’ camera stand.
    • Cost: $2,000 to $3,000
  • Geared Head: It is worth investing in a good digital geared head as it allows you to angle and level your camera precisely and quickly. High-end geared heads are expensive and not necessary. You can’t go wrong with a good mid range brand name geared head.
    • Cost: $200 to $450
  • Photography Table: There are many different styles of photography tables on the market; some large, some small, some light weight and some heavy duty. Purchase one that can handle the weight and size of your products. Another approach is to make your own – all you need is a frame and a sheet of plexi. If you can make the legs adjustable it will allow you to raise and lower the table for products of different sizes and shapes.
    • Cost: $400 to $1,000
  • Light Tent: These are very useful in product photography as they help reduce shadows and glare. In addition, if you use a light tent you can avoid the cost of purchasing shadow boxes for your lights. It is best to get a tent that is large enough to accommodate the majority of your products.
    • Cost: $150 to $300 (4’ x 4’ x 4’)
  • Lights: The lighting equipment you need and how much it will cost depends on many factors including the type of lights – continuous or strobe, the number of lights, the type of light stands, the quality of the equipment, and whether you are using shadow boxes.
    • Cost: $500 to $4,000
  • Backdrop: If you are shooting with a light tent or on a specialized photography table you may not need a backdrop. If you are not using a light tent you will need a backdrop system including stands and an adjustable crossbar.
    • Cost: $150 to $350
  • Laptop: The laptop plays an important role in the DIY product photography studio. The camera is tethered to the laptop; all images are saved to the laptop and renamed to the product number and image view. To save time and money consider product photography workflow software, it is installed on the laptop and used to manage product categories, product numbers, image views, reshoots and to record images as they are captured.
    • Cost: $1,000 to $1,500
  • External Monitor and Calibrator: Laptop monitors are not reliable when it comes to evaluating image colors. To accurately monitor your image color you need an external monitor that can be calibrated for color. The cost below includes a monitor and monitor calibration software.
    • Cost: $300 to $600
  • Barcode Scanner: A barcode scanner is optional. If you have photography workflow software the barcode scanner allows you to scan product UPCs and to avoid the error-prone and time-consuming process of manually entering product numbers.
    • Cost: $50 to $150
  • Miscellaneous Equipment: This includes things like white balance card, extension cords, power bars, light bulbs, batteries, USB extensions etc.
    • Cost: $300 to $500

Total DIY photography studio equipment cost = $8,450 to $16,050

What software do you need for your DIY product photography studio?

A typical DIY product photography studio uses spreadsheets and databases to help manage the product photography workflow. When the photographer captures a product image they rename the image file to the product number and image view. They then record the product number and image view in a spreadsheet so they can keep track the products they have taken. This process is slow, prone to human error and does not scale when thousands of product images are involved.

Product Photography Workflow software is designed to automate many product photography tasks including entering product numbers, renaming image files, managing image views, and tracking which products have been photographed and which have not.

Are you ready to set up your DIY product photography studio?

I hope this post helps you determine if a DIY product photography studio is right for your business.

Please share your comments with us; we would love to hear from you.

Patrick Weilmerier
Patrick Weilmeier
Patrick leads Visual SKUs marketing activities and is focused on understanding customer needs, aligning with sales to generate opportunities, expanding markets, and growing revenue.

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