How to Photograph Products for Instagram

We hear so much about selling a lifestyle on Instagram these days, and though that is important — and we’ll be touching on that a little later — it’s also essential that you’re showcasing the product itself. Your audience needs to see what you’re selling, and Instagram offers the perfect platform to focus on the details of your products and how it will benefit potential customers.

There are a number of ways to do this beyond the classic product shot. When we went through the 5 C’s of Creating Content, you might remember that I suggested breaking your content down into 4-5 content categories and including a mix of those throughout your feed, so we’re going to build upon that. Consider this a sample breakdown for a product-based business, with content categories that are broad enough to apply to a variety of business types.

As a brand, I want you to think of your Instagram feed as including a mix of educational and inspirational content that includes both products and lifestyle-focused posts, building trust with your audience and positioning yourself as an expert in the industry and an aspirational brand that is sought after. So let’s break down a few different types of posts that you include — with some examples, of course, and there’s also a downloadable worksheet for you at the end!

1. Classic Product Shots

These are simple, professional (i.e., high quality) shots of the product, focused on showcasing what you sell and highlighting the details of the particular item.

These are essentially your product shots, and if you’ve had professional shots taken of your product for your website or a lookbook, you can use those, as it will maintain consistency and provide a seamless shopping experience from one platform to the next.

Product shots are great because they’re often clean and include lots of white space, allowing the product itself to really shine and you can focus on highlighting the details. Of course, a product shot doesn’t mean it has to be on a white background, and as is always the case, ensure that these are consistent with your overall brand style. For example, Ban.do’s products are all shot on pink backdrops of varying shades, which ties into their overall brand style, and with the addition of an interesting backdrop or a simple prop, you can also jazz these up a little more, while also providing a little more variety in your content.

Product shots are focused on selling the product and presenting in a simple “this is what you get” scenario, so in the caption, this is the perfect opportunity to focus on what makes it special and unique — tell your audience exactly what they’re purchasing and why they need it.

These types of shots also provide the perfect opportunity to tell the story behind your products. Share more about why you chose (or designed) this particular item as part of your product assortment, what the inspiration is behind it, what the production process looks like, why it’s exemplary of your brand, etc.

Don’t be afraid to share more than one or two shots of each product. Just space them out a little (this is where using Planoly can be particularly useful for planning and scheduling out your grid!) and offer a variety of angles, detail shots, etc. that highlights different characteristics of the product.

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So say this Summer Rose perfume is a product I sell. Above you’ll see an example of a super simple product shot against a white seamless backdrop, and also an option that is styled a little more, by placing it on marble, adding in a colored backdrop on a diagonal, and accenting with a little bit of ribbon, which as we move on, you’ll see I’ve also used as a consistent prop to tie my content together.

2. Aspirational and Lifestyle-Focused Content

These shots will showcase who your brand is for and how it fits into their ideal lifestyle by showing the product in use and sharing details of the life they’re leading (or want to be leading).

As a complement to your clean and simple product shots, a lifestyle approach to content allows customers to envision how they would actually use a product. You’re giving them a chance to see themselves in the photo while telling a story and appealing to their emotional and aspirational tendencies.

Lifestyle content starts to become a little more complicated in that you’re incorporating more elements into your shot, but that added complexity is absolutely worth it as an opportunity to showcase product styling, pairings, and specific usages.

The main thing to think through with these types of shots is that every element in your photo should enhance the product and tell the broader story, not compete with it. So think of how your product might be used “in the wild” and make sure every choice — from the backdrop to each prop — supports this.

This type of content won’t necessarily feature products or even mention your products or shop in every post. It’s more about showcasing your style, sharing the lifestyle of your ideal client and building trust with your audience. By doing so, you’re letting them know that you’re one of them and that you understand their needs, wants and desires.

I wanted to showcase the perfume as if it was displayed on someone’s vanity, so I chose a few other beauty products that would complement it nicely. I added some lace for texture and context and made sure my product was highlighted nicely in the front, so it was still clear what the focus of this story was.

Here are some of my favorite questions to think through when brainstorming ideas for lifestyle content:

  • Where is your customer hanging out on the weekend?
  • What cocktail do they indulge in at the end of a long day?
  • What books or magazines are they reading? What music or podcasts are they listening to? What movies or TV shows are they watching?
  • What is their dream travel destination?
  • Where do they shop and who are they drawing style inspiration from?
  • What routines do they practice on a regular basis?
  • What’s important to them?

This will, of course, look different depending on the type of product you sell, but answering some of those questions will help you think through the broader story you’re trying to tell and paint a picture for your viewer. There are a few specific ways you can style lifestyle content, two of which I wanted to outline below.

The Flatlay

Ah, the flatlay, whatever did we do before these styled photos existed? Flatlays provide a relatively simple way to tell more of a story around your product through the selection of a backdrop and the addition of props. Colored backdrops and props are a great way to tie in your brand colors, and through regular use, you’re tying in that consistency once again.

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Ensure that every choice you make when styling a flatlay support the overall story you’re trying to tell. So, for my perfume, I kept it simple with a few key props: blush roses that tie in with the scent itself and the motif on the bottle, an image that represents the style of the product (and the color scheme), a pair of vintage earrings that speaks to the idea of getting dressed for a special night out, and a few ribbons as accents. The idea with this was that these items help to tell the story and showcase the style of this particular perfume.

The Human Factor

These types of shots involve incorporating — you guessed it — a real live human. Whether that means someone is holding the product, wearing it, or using it in whatever way it is intended for, these are great for establishing that personal connection, evoking emotion and providing a glimpse of what it might look like for your audience — the “that could be me…” factor.

If producing these types of shot feels intimidating, think simple and don’t worry about needing to include a full person in all of your shots. By simply adding a hand into your shot or shooting over the shoulder of someone to give a little more context, you can achieve this in the same way without having to invest in models or worrying about who exactly is going to be featured in your shot.

What I wanted to hint at here is the action of spritzing perfume on your wrist, so when I took this shot, that was my primary intention. Of course, I’m also paying attention to the styling, opting for a blouse and nail color that coordinates with my product. These small details make a big difference.

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3. Behind the Scenes

This is about giving people access into your world and showing them where the magic happens. Think of your community as VIP members of your club, and focus on providing them with that little something extra that’s usually kept behind closed doors, even if that’s just a glimpse at the beautiful chaos of your studio space or desktop.

If you have a storefront or a specific place that you sell out of, share that on a regular basis, so that people who may not be able to visit can still get a sense of that experience. And if you sell online or don’t have a permanent space, you can still take the opportunity to share glimpses of your workspace, a visit to your suppliers, etc. — think outside the box and focus on taking your followers along on the journey. By including your community more in the behind-the-scenes of your process and building a relationship with them along the way, they will become part of your story and invest in the outcome. And that’s exactly how loyal customers are made!

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • A peek into your workspace
  • A glimpse at the design (or sourcing) process
  • The tools that are used to make your product
  • Where your inspiration comes from

So here I have another styled flatlay that might represent the creative direction for a photoshoot I’m planning, or maybe a mood board for a new packaging design that we’re working on behind-the-scenes. There’s no product featured in it, but if I focus on telling that story in the caption, it still ties in nicely with the rest of my content, while providing a glimpse at another aspect to the brand.

And if I want to get a sense of what the photos might look like together in my fictional feed for this perfume, I’ve laid them out below, similar to how I would do it in Planoly. At a glance, I can now see that this provides a good representation of what I’m selling, while also showcasing my overall brand style, and providing a variety of content that tells a story while still maintaining that visual consistency.

Ready to start planning out your content? I’ve created a downloadable worksheet to lead you through the process!

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About our Guest Contributor

Paige is the owner and creative director of Studio Bicyclette, a lifestyle blog and creative studio that aims to inspire and help brands and businesses find their magic, style their brand and tell their story. Her wanderlust and ability to find and create beauty in the unlikeliest places comes from a belief in fairy tales that started at an early age, a place where imagination is a tool that can be used to tell a story, spark creativity and solve any problem. When she’s not styling a photoshoot or helping clients implement a social media strategy, you can usually find her dreaming up fancy cocktail creations, planning her next adventure or hunting for the perfect shade of pink lipstick.