The basics of subject photography: how to take beautiful photos

A beautiful and original shot of a product will immediately interest a potential customer, and so it will end up on your website or social media account. It sounds simple, but in order to take that same shot, you’ll need to learn the basics of object photography. We’ve put together some basic techniques that professionals use in advertising photography and beyond – here.

Preparing by Gennady Yagupov


You don’t have to go to a studio to get the perfect shot of your subject. You can set up your scene at home – right on your desk. Grab a cloth or paper to create the right background. Make sure no borders or horizon lines are visible anywhere. Glass is also handy because it provides a transparent surface and will create a dramatic reflection in the frame.

You can also shoot the subject in its ‘habitat’. This technique is most commonly used in advertising photos of white goods, but it works with any subject. To make it easier for the viewer to picture how they would use what you’re advertising, put the item where it best fits in. Shoot a person making espresso with a stylish coffee maker or a hoover sliding comfortably across a carpet next to their pets. Add life to your subject shots.


Subjects are always shot using a tripod, even if you’re shooting with a smartphone. Plus, sometimes you have to work with a single light source or intentionally shoot in a dark room, and a tripod helps keep your camera in one place. So you can try out different shutter speeds and effects. Your photos won’t be blurred and will look more professional as a result.

The Raylab Pro 70 is an inexpensive tripod that’s suitable for studio and home subject photography with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, and for a smartphone you can get the Raylab MTF-SSC with a special holder.

Planning for post-processing

For subject photography, post-processing in graphics editors is quite usual. Again, it doesn’t depend on what you are shooting with. Before and during your shoot, you should always think about how exactly you’ll be able to edit the resulting shot. If you’re shooting for Instagram or a marketplace, keep in mind what format the photo is used in order to compose all the subjects correctly.

The frameĀ 

Accessories and props

You might have noticed that a shot of a pack of coffees appeals more when there’s a steaming cup of coffee next to it. And books look great with a bookmark or flowers. It’s a great idea for a product photographer to use what’s at hand to create a backdrop or ambience that makes the shot look more organic. But don’t forget that you don’t want to litter the frame with too many things either.

Changing angles

Regardless of what you’re photographing, an important technique in object photography is to change your angles. A single shot, taken from above, is simple and boring. After all, you can post whole albums on social media, and the more we know about it, the more we see it, the more attractive the subject is. Take pictures from the side, from above, from below, and be sure to focus on one or more details. Viewers, and especially buyers, want to see everything and have a complete picture of the product you are showing them.


For a photographer, working with color is a real challenge. And for commercial photography it’s even fundamental. Colors affect the human psyche: their combination always creates a certain mood.

We cannot cover the entire color theory in a nutshell, but we shall mention the most important things you should know about subject matter photography.

  • Complementary colors are opposite shades on a color wheel. They create dynamics.
  • A triad is a combination of three colors, equidistant from each other in a circle. The result is the same as complementary colors.
  • An analogue triad is 2 to 5 colors which are side by side on a circle. It produces a more subtle image with the main color highlighted.
  • A contrasting triad is similar to a normal triad, built in a triangle with equal sides. It is a variation of a complementary color combination, but instead of one of the colors being used, the colors adjacent to it (left and right) are used. The bright color sets the base and the pair of opposite colors supports it. The result is a softened (compared to a complementary combination or triad) dynamic.

Technical recommendations

Backlighting your subject

The most important thing to consider when photographing your subjects is lighting. Without it, neither the object nor the background will look the way you want it to in the photo. You may have noticed that white can turn gray or yellowish in photos. That’s why light is important. You can use both natural and artificial light. You don’t have to splurge on professional studio lighting, especially if you’re just starting out or are an amateur photographer.

Natural light is fine for food or clothing shots. If you’re photographing indoors, it’s best to place your subject closer to the window and shoot in the first half of the day to get maximum light.

Lamps are better for taking pictures of graphics or subjects with a lot of fine detail. There are a few basic tips for getting the lights right.

  • Take two lamps and point them at the background, either side of the subject. Make sure they illuminate the background.
  • Point one bulb at the object and one bulb on top of it. This will illuminate it and the top lamp will get rid of the shadows.

The ideal aperture value

For subject photography, it’s best to choose one of three aperture values depending on the situation:

  • If you want to make your subject stand out from its surroundings, use the lowest f-number, i.e. the maximum open aperture. That way you’ll provide bokeh and the subject will be in focus. However, you will have to move away from the subject for the trick to work. Anything superfluous will remain blurred and the details of the subject will be sharp.
  • If you are shooting the subject with the model or surrounded by other things, use an aperture value of about 2.8. This will keep the background blurred and the main subjects sharp. But in this case, try to bring the viewer’s eye to the main subject.
  • In the studio you might want to use medium or closed aperture (indicated by a larger number) as the object in the background will be emphasized by the light.

Standard lens

If you are photographing a product, it is important to make sure its dimensions are not distorted in the frame. Wide-angle lenses will stretch or magnify different parts, this is something to avoid.

A standard lens, on the other hand (essentially as close as possible to what the human eye can see), is ideal for subject matter. It does not distort proportions. Standard lenses generally have a focal length of 40-58mm, with 50mm being the most common.

Ideas for subject photography

  • Capture the outdoors. From forests to beaches, almost any subject looks great with a natural backdrop.
  • Shoot indoors: Cosiness and comfort set the mood, while surroundings help the viewer visualise how the subject fits in.
  • Don’t be afraid to use children or pets in the frame. They won’t distract from the main subject, but will make the shot more interesting.
  • Let the subject dictate the surroundings. Look at its colors or function – what does it remind you of?
  • Use your imagination and don’t be afraid to bend the rules.

Now you know how to make your images memorable and show ordinary objects in an unusual way. In the age of online shopping, we can’t see the product in person, so we rely on a picture of it to make our choice. Make it eye-catching and no one will resist buying it.

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