How much does it cost to get into product photography? It’s a difficult question to answer but one I’m going to attempt today. The reason it’s so difficult is because product photography has to be the most gear-hungry genres I know, with vast differences between each subset. On the other hand, one can get by with comparatively little, and still produce very good images. I do.
In a previous article, I covered the minimum kit needed to get going in product photography, find that here. I discussed the principles behind choosing a camera, lens, lighting and so on. With this article, I’m going to get specific. I want you to come away from this with a clear idea of how much you’ll need to invest to get going.
New VS Used For Product Photography
We all know that buying used can save a ton of money but is it worth it? That may sound a little odd but with product photography you’ll be buying loads of little bits and pieces, as well as those large initial investments in lights, camera and so on. In addition, a lot of items you’re buying are quite specialist, meaning you won’t easily be able to find them on the used market. Sure, if you have all the time in the world you could get everything used but nobody has that. My simple advice is to weigh up the cost of what you’re getting. If it’s only a small saving and the item rarely appears on the used market, then maybe just bite the bullet and buy it new.
After totting up the used and new value of the minimum kit I feel someone would need (I’ll tell you what that is in a minute), the totals came to $5,865 used and $7,300 new. That may sound like a massive amount but those totals also include the purchase of a camera and lens. If you already have a suitable combo, which I bet most of you do, then the difference between used and new drops to just $500! Even I was surprised by that.
Quick Rundown Of Minimum Kit For Product Photography
There’re so many things you will need for product photography, and this is especially evident when it comes to lighting and the myriad of possible modifiers. Thankfully, an excellent way to save some money is to use Cinefoil and a reflector. By wrapping the foil around your reflector, you can create whatever shape of light you want. Similarly, by using a decent diffusion gel (something like this) you can create some cheap scrims, shooting cones, all sorts. It’s not ideal, but if you’re just starting out it can save a lot of money. With that in mind, I think the minimum kit needed includes:
- Macro lenses / lens
- Tripod and head
- A minimum of 4 lights
- 8 Light stands
- 2 small strip boxes
- Reflectors and grids
- Clamps and extension arms
- Miscellaneous (Cinefoil, acrylic sheets, foam board, paper, card etc.)
The camera can be anything with 20 megapixels+; it will spend its life strapped to a tripod, photographing subjects which don’t move, at ISO 100. As such, pretty much anything will do. Conversely, the lens you choose is really important, I’ll cover that a little more later.
Your tripod can be basic, as just like the camera, you don’t need all the bells and whistles of expensive models. I would, however, suggest that you get a decent geared head. Lighting I will again cover more in a minute but, I do think that 4 lights is the minimum. Yes, you could get away with less and use mirrors but that would be a pain.
The tough part with product photography is everything after that. After your camera, lenses, tripod and lights comes a seemingly never ending number of clamps, modifiers, light stands, booms and random bits and pieces which quickly become essential. It wouldn’t really be possible for me to list exactly what you’ll need as it will vary drastically depending on what you’re shooting. In my estimates, I allocated $1,215 to used kit and $1600 if buying new.
The Essentials Which You Cannot Skimp On And Why
As you can see, it’s not easy to nail down exactly what you need. A person shooting jewelry exclusively needs very different things to someone photographing clothing. That’s why I’ve been purposefully vague with my categories to allow some wiggle room. However, there are some items which you cannot compromise on. Namely, your lenses and your lighting.
Usually, you’ll be shooting at relatively high apertures while still needing to capture maximum, edge to edge, detail. Now, that doesn’t mean you need the best (most expensive) lens, but you will need something good. I primarily use the Sigma 150mm 2.8 OS which provides excellent quality at a reasonable price. If I were to buy one lens for product photography it would be this, unless the budget was far higher in which case it would be a whole range.
You may be able to DIY your way around paying massive sums for light modifiers, but the lights themselves must be good. Does that mean you need to drop $10k+ on some Profoto or Broncolor? While that would be great, it’s not necessary. You do, however, need lights which provide consistent power and color output as you will often be focus-stacking your images.
In addition, having the ability to adjust the output in 1/10th stops will be extremely useful in certain situations. Finally, for specialist types of product photography you will require a fast flash duration to freeze motion. Keeping all of those things in mind my recommendation’s for the budget conscious photographer go to, Paul C Buff Einsteins. For the very budget conscious, you could try to use only speedlights but you will find the lack of modeling light and power output a struggle. That said, I still throw some Godox TT600’s into the mix on occasion.
Side note – Having your product shots sharp from top to bottom is normally a requirement. I use Helicon Focus for my focus stacking. You can purchase it here with a 20% discount.
Product photography is an expensive genre with a never ending number of things to purchase. If you’re just starting out, I’d suggest purchasing the items I have listed here. As you shoot more and more you’ll begin to find the limitations in your gear. As each subset of product photography is so different there will be other things you need to buy. However, by investing either $3,715 used and $4,207 new (without camera and lenses), you should be able to create a setup which will work for most items.
[REWIND: PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY | WHY EVERYONE KNOWS YOU’RE NOT A PROFESSIONAL PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHER & HOW TO CHANGE]
As always, gear is just the first step. What is far more important is your imagination, skill and, ingenuity. You may have the money to purchase all the gear in the world but it won’t make you a good photographer. This article may have been all about gear but I cannot stress enough how important education is as well. For product photography make sure you look at Photigy, they offer loads of courses on a range of topics, click here.