If you’re looking to create eye-catching images of mascara or elegant photos of perfumes, keep reading for my top tips for photographing cosmetics and makeup product photography.
From what to do before you start shooting, to how you can use composition techniques to create visually appealing images, these are all methods I use in my own photography to ensure I get the best results.
1. Clean the product
Once you get up close to any product, you’ll be amazed to see how much dust, dirt and fingerprints there is.
To save yourself time and frustration later, make sure to clean the product really well before you start shooting. Wipe the product down with a damp cloth (we often use a little methylated spirits) before giving it a blow with an air can, or similar, to remove any residual dust or dirt.
If you need to move or adjust the product during the shoot, wearing gloves, similar to those you’d find at a jewellery store, will help to avoid getting any new fingerprints or dust on the item.
2. Consider the background
The background plays an important part in product photography and choosing the right background is something that often sounds easier than it is. Ideally, you want something that complements, but does not distract from, the product.
If you’re shooting for a client this will probably be pre-determined by the art director, but if you’re shooting for yourself then it’s important to consider things like the colour of the background and the texture.
MDF boards, acrylic sheets (or Makrolon), or a wall are all great options for smooth, even backgrounds and I often use these for my work. Other types of backgrounds include paper rolls or canvas and wooden boards, which you can easily make yourself.
3. Elevate the product
A common technique used in product photography is to shoot from slightly below the product to make it look more heroic and imposing.
This can be done by simply lowering the position of your camera, or even by placing the product on blocks or other items.
For more ideas on how to shoot cosmetics, take a look at my six ideas for cosmetics photography
4. Guide the eye with composition techniques
The rule of thirds is a well-known composition technique but it isn’t the only compositional technique, or even the best.
Leading lines, juxtaposing colours, and framing are other well-known techniques, and there are other, lesser-known, factors to do with colour, contrast, juxtaposition, narrative and emotion that can also be used to hold the viewer’s attention and guide their eye.
Think about how your eye travels through the image and consider whether there are any items that might take your eye out of the frame, distracting highlights, or any other elements that confuse or detract from the message.
5. Use extension tubes
Photographing small items can be tricky, particularly when it comes to focusing when shooting up close.
Macro lenses are one way to solve this problem, but they aren’t the only way. Extension tubes offer a cheaper alternative to more expensive macro lenses while still allowing you to focus on very close objects.
While extension tubes may be significantly cheaper than macro lenses, they still hold their own when it comes to quality. I did a full comparison between a macro lens and extension tubes, which you can see in the video below.
6. Use gradient lighting
Whether you’re using studio flash or natural light, gradient lighting will make all the difference when photographing cosmetics and makeup, particularly if the subject has gloss or reflective surfaces.
Instead of using a softbox, which is what results in those harsh, unsightly reflections you often see, use a piece of diffusion material or scrim in front of your light (or window). This will soften and diffuse the reflections and immediately result in a more luxurious feel.
7. Consider the depth of field
Although a shallow depth of field can give very creative results, when it comes to product photography it’s generally preferable to be able to see the entire product in focus.
I often shoot at around f16 when shooting products, simply so that I get maximum depth of field while avoiding the risk of diffraction.
However, when shooting small items up close, as is often the case with cosmetics and makeup products, it can be difficult to get the whole subject sharp, even if you’re using the largest aperture. In these cases, it may be necessary to use a technique called focus stacking, which allows you to shoot a series of images at different focus points and merge them together in post-production.
8. Polish everything in post-production
Once you’ve got your final image, there will always be some degree of post-production and retouching required.
From removing dust and scratches (a technique I demonstrate in this product retouch class and watch retouch class) to making contrast or colour adjustments, this is an important part of the photographic process and you may be surprised at how even the smallest tweaks can make a difference.
To learn more about how to photograph cosmetics and makeup product photography, take a look at some of our cosmetics photography classes. Each of these classes teaches important skills like how to light small products or what lenses to use for close-up photography, and reveal top cosmetics photography tips.