Better Product Photography With Your iPhone

For website product photography, smartphones are generally reliable options, and iPhones in particular have excellent time-saving features. Let’s go over a handful of helpful tips, and then compare two ways to quickly get good shots of your products for your website.

General Advice

Start with a good background

A consistent background goes a long way towards solid product photography. You can buy a seamless white background online for not a lot of money, or you can get creative with solid colors. What’s the difference? Well, white backgrounds are very common (with good reason), but your particular products might stand out with a more colorful treatment. Whatever you decide on, be consistent, and think about what they’ll look like when shown in a grid format on your website.

Use a tripod

Tripods are key for sharp images. You can use a tiny tripod that you put on the table in front of the product, or a larger tripod that sits on the floor. Either of these will help you get better results.

An example of a simple setup using an iPhone on a tripod.
An example of a simple setup using an iPhone on a tripod.

The tripod helps you keep your phone steady, but even pressing the shutter button can move your phone slightly, so you might want to even consider using the timer so that the photos are taken without the phone being touched at all. (If you have headphones plugged into your phone, pressing the volume up button will take hands-free photos.)

If possible, leave your setup in place

Consider a semi-permanent setup for even more consistency, if you have the space. If you’ve got a setup on your table for taking the pictures, you could also get a tripod and an attachment for your phone to put on that.

If you need to put the set-up away, place three small pieces of masking tape on the floor, where your tripod legs go, and possibly one small piece of tape where you center your products. If you do this, you can be fairly sure they’ll be lined up perfectly every time.

Consider your lighting

Lighting is key to great images. If you have north-facing windows, this can help a lot, because that’s very good lighting almost any time of the day. However, the ideal option is setting up your own lights, because again, you know that they’re going to be consistent. A small light can be attached to your phone’s mount, but ideally you want more than one light with a diffusion screen in front of each.

Use a third-party camera app

The built-in camera app tends to give decent results without much effort. We like Halide, but there are plenty to choose from. And remember, if you find you want more control over white balance or exposure, you’re ready to move beyond the defaults.

Clean your lens!

This should go without saying, but use a soft cloth and wipe down your camera lenses before you shoot.

Taking Your Photos

Shooting on iPhone

Now that you’ve got everything set up, take your picture. If you have a well thought out setup, with the backdrop and lighting just how you want it, this might be your final step. Begin by taking the photo, cropping if necessary, and you’re (potentially) done.

A Puff Coffee bag on white background
An example of an unretouched product image we took.

Truth be told, you might not be 100% happy with the iPhone images as is since it can be tricky to get the exact backdrop you want, or to nail the lighting. Luckily, there are a handful of next steps that are worth taking a look at.

Shooting with iOS trickery

Beginning in Fall of 2022, the newest version of iOS includes a handy feature that lets you lift the subject of a photo with just a long press. Simply long-press on your image in the Photos app, then tap Share, then tap Save Image. The isolated image with transparency is now saved in Photos.

Lifting a Puff Coffee bag from it's background
Long press on a photo subject, on the latest iOS, and it will extract just the object, with transparency.

Once you have your product extracted with transparency, you have options such as compositing it onto a textured backdrop that will make your product pop (for example, this marble beauty).

Puff Coffee bag on a marble background
Is that real marble? Who is to say.

What makes this approach ideal it is then straightforward to create product thumbnails that line up nicely on a website.

is that you can make a layered file in Photoshop or another editor, where you have each foreground image and a single background, and you can turn the foreground products on or off. This helps you to line them up really precisely, even if you’re adding images much later. And, because you’re replacing the background completely, small differences in exposure won’t be visible.

Do note: this technique doesn’t work as reliably if your products need to be photographed from the front instead of overhead, since it is more cumbersome to composite an image in the background that has the correct perspective. However, it can be done.

Express Your Point of View

Here is a quick example of what a grid of each might look like.

Puff Coffee bags on white background
Puff Coffee bags on marble background

Ultimately, the decision of what backdrop works best is a matter of your brand and point of view; there is no one answer that works for everyone. Decide what approach works best for you, and good luck!