In the beauty industry, looks are everything. And that includes your product photography. When it comes to skincare, makeup, haircare, and other beauty and wellness products, consumers are often after a specific aesthetic—both when it comes to their own look and the brands they support.
Image is everything in today’s ever-competitive beauty market, and first impressions matter. With so much beauty commerce happening online, the photo may be the only thing your customers see before they buy. Having the right beauty product photography allows you to differentiate your brand and capture buyers at a glance.
What goes into a beauty product listing
There’s no standard set of rules of how to set up a product description page for beauty items. Some brands rely on just a simple white background photo for each listing while others use lots of different styles of images.
However, every brand should adhere to the following beauty product photography tips:
- Aim to impress shoppers. Use proper lighting—natural when available—and interesting arrangements or props.
- Tell the story of what makes your product special and unique. If your mascara is waterproof, take photos at the beach or of someone swimming while wearing it. If you boast natural ingredients, use them as props or backgrounds.
- Use a variety of images. White background ecommerce photography is ideal for browsing while lifestyle photos work particularly well as secondary images and on social media.
- Get up close and personal. Use macro shots to showcase the details of your beauty product, including texture, color, and sheen.
Every beauty product listing page should have the following:
- Main listing image
- Back of the product with label / ingredients list
- Hand shot
But it isn’t set in stone. Kitsune Beauty is one example of a beauty brand with great product photos. The brand showcases its small batch lip balms with different styles of product shots on each product page, though it doesn’t follow the above formula exactly.
In the product page above, Kitsune has five different product photos:
- A plain background shot (notice the use of a pink pastel background in addition to the plain white background as an expression of the brand’s creativity)
- A smear (creatively displayed on a glass block) next to the product shot
- A straightforward white background smear
- Model shot wearing the product
- Close-up shot of the model’s lips, showing her wearing the product
You don’t have to follow the same formula for your own beauty product photos, but this can be a great way to get your own ideas glowing. As you look through this guide and this example listing, try to imagine your product in those listing slots and what would wow your customers while simultaneously showing what makes your product special.
Types of beauty product photography
There are many different types or styles of beauty product photography. You should always use a plain background shot as well as a few secondary images to round out the story. We recommend using at least two to three additional style of beauty shots to supplement your main listing image.
Main listing image
Every product listing needs a main image. On third-party marketplaces like Amazon, Target, Ulta, or Sephora, this is often plain white. But if you start shooting ecommerce photography for your own website, you have more room for creativity—like what we see with Kistune above.
Your main product shot is arguably the most important image in your listing because it’s the first thing shoppers see when browsing online. And it should be universally appealing, removing demographics from the brand, showing a plain and focused view of the product, and maintaining a clean and consistent online shopping experience.
While it may seem like an easy DIY project, shooting on white has its own set of rules and lighting specifications. Your photographer should have an advanced knowledge of how to control lighting throughout the set—specifically how to properly shoot for a white background without overexposing your product.
A great beauty product photographer will take it a step further by creatively lighting your product and paying fine attention to detail to really make your product pop off the page. Shooting products on white takes specific knowledge and skill set, so you don’t want to hire your wedding photographer for a shoot as important as this.
Take a look at this product shot we took for Kitsune as an example of an elevated white background shot. While we could have simply taken a photo of the product in its packaging against the white background, we put our creative hats on. We opened the tub of lip balm to show the actual product, and shot with hard edged lighting. This creates a more engaging and even informative product shot.
Product with box
When you spend hours designing the perfect packaging for your product, it only makes sense to show it off. An image of your product with the box is a great way to enhance your listing and give your customers another look at your brand’s style and aesthetic. It also sets expectations for how customers will receive the product.
Notice the use of shadows in this overhead perfume shot with its packaging:
Showing the product opened is a great way to let shoppers know how to use or apply the product, as well as how to store it. They can see if it includes an applicator, whether they can store it standing up or on its side, and the consistency of the product when it leaves its packaging. The shots below show a tub of eye cream as well as a roller lip serum, each with unique application and storage needs.
Back of the product and ingredients label
More than ever before, consumers want to know what’s in the products they’re putting on their skin, hair, and body. You can do this in your product description as well as through product photos. Take a close-up shot of the product label with ingredients list, if you have one.
You can also leverage the zoom function, showcasing a photo of the product label which shoppers can zoom in on to be able to read the ingredients and other information. This is exactly the approach Avéne takes with its skin and body care product shots:
If the label is unclear or small, and you can’t use zoom, consider uploading a clean version of the packaging design instead. You can even use the original design file in some cases, similar to these images from plant-based hair care brand Captain Blankenship:
Hand photos with beauty products are a fun way to show scale for size and give a bit of personality to your product. Plus, it’s a lot more budget-friendly than a full-blown lifestyle shoot. You can position someone holding the product or even create a smear or arm swatch instead of (or in addition to) a white background smear.
There are so many different ways to go with your hand shots, take the time to research different styles and find the one that matches your brand aesthetic. Here are some things to keep in mind when planning your hand shots:
- Model’s skin tone
- Model’s gender
- Nail color
- Positioning match
- Lighting style
Smear of the product
Custom product swatches or beauty smears are photos of your actual product that show its texture and color outside of the packaging. They’re common with beauty products like lotions, serums, or creams.
These beauty or cosmetic smears are popular for beauty brands of all sizes. From simple texture smears to more elaborate stylized shots, cosmetic smears are excellent to have on-hand. They’re extremely versatile and enhance any beauty listing.
Custom swatches look artistic and creative, so they’re not only great for product pages but also on social media and in digital marketing promotions. You can repurpose them for website banners, social posts, and print or digital ads. You can also Photoshop them to be next to or behind your product.
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There are four different types of smear product shots:
- Custom smears
- Stock smears
- Product plus smear
- Product plus spill
1. Stock smears
A stock smear or stock swatch is a pre-made smear you can change to match the color of your product. It essentially uses an already-shot photo of a beauty smear, and it’s simply edited to shift the hue to match your particular product.
Stock smears are fast and cost-effective because you don’t need to have a full-blown photoshoot. As such, they’re common practice for most beauty retailers. If you’ve ever visited Sephora.com, you’ll notice that they use the same smear photo for multiple different products in the same—and sometimes different—categories. They just hue shift the colors.
Stock smears work best for:
- Showing off the color and pigment of a product more than the true texture.
- One product available in multiple colors.
- Brands that don’t have the budget for custom or creative smears.
- Cost-effective beauty smears.
- High-volume beauty smears.
When you order stock smears with POW, you can choose from 12 pre-made swatches, each with a distinct look and texture. These photos are half the price of custom smears.
2. Custom smears
Custom smears are individually shot beauty smears that show a product’s color and texture without relying on hue shifting or image manipulation. They’re the highest-quality beauty smear you can get. Plus, they allow for more creativity and control.
When shooting or planning your custom smears, there are a few key considerations. You’ll need to ensure the product texture can actually hold or create the smear you have in mind. Some products will look one way in their containers but will smear very differently than expected.
If your product is a rich moisturizing cream but your inspiration is a lightweight gel dollop, there’s going to be a discrepancy in texture. As a result, your smear may not come out the way you had planned. You’ll need to make sure you have a lot of product on hand to be able to experiment, stage, and get the shots you want.
Custom beauty smears work best for:
- Showing off beauty products with a unique texture and/or color.
- Creating specific or unique styles of beauty smears which may be unavailable as a stock version.
- Brands with a sizable budget and flexible time frame.
- Experimenting with the creative execution of your beauty smears, trying different smear styles, angles, and lighting.
- Brands that can spare a lot of product for the photoshoot.
While it’s best practice to give your photography team direction on the exact lighting and placement you want, it’s important to have some faith in your stylist. They might not be able to perfectly match your examples, but with a little creative discretion, they’ll create a shape that makes your product look its absolute best.
3. Product plus smear
A product shot plus cosmetic smear is essentially the smear placed next to the product container or packaging. It often involves two individually shot photos which are later combined into a single image. You’ll often see these shots as main listing images to enhance beauty listings. They’re also extremely versatile for marketing use.
4. Product plus spill
A product shot plus spill is similar to our product plus smear—the difference being in the style of smear. Rather than a smear existing independently from the product container, a product plus spill shows a relationship between the two. In this case, the container is positioned so it appears to be spilling or dumping some of the product onto a surface. These are more complex than the product plus spill shots. Sometimes the photo is shot at once, and sometimes it involves combining two separately shot photos.
Creative groupings of products and/or props are stylized images that add some additional information and context to your image. They work particularly well on social media, as banner images for your website or emails, and in other digital promotions. You can also throw them in as supplemental product shots on listing pages.
Remember how we mentioned you can use different colored backgrounds for the main listing image on your own website? To achieve this, you can shoot the product images on white and then clip them to put them on different backgrounds later on.
This requires some Photoshop skills, or you can outsource the clipping paths to a third-party service provider. When working with a product photography studio, ask if they can provide the clipped images as part of the package. If you order from POW, all you need to do is order the “Designers Ready Tif + Clipping Paths in the Advanced File Types” when you place your order.
Lifestyle beauty product photos
Lifestyle product photography is another great style to add to your beauty photo content mix. Lifestyle photos show scale and context, tell a story, and inspire your audience. There are many ways to go when it comes to lifestyle beauty product photography:
- No models: Use props, put your product on a scenic background, or showcase the ingredients or where the products are made. Flat lay photos also work well for beauty products. Model-free photography is the most budget-friendly option.
- With models: Show models wearing, using, or otherwise engaging with your products. You can even put smears on their skin. While working with models gives you the most control and creativity over the final shot, it’s also the most expensive and complex option.
Lifestyle composites: This involves editing your product shot onto an already-shot stock photo. You don’t need to work with models, but you can still showcase real people in your shots. This requires advanced Photoshop skills.
When planning these images, it’s critical to understand your target market and know what resonates with them while they shop for beauty products online. Think of these images as telling the story of your product in the real world.
Choose a background
Make sure you pay attention to the backgrounds of your beauty product shots. It’s important to match your brand aesthetic, the aesthetic of the product itself, and also convey the product details or story you’re trying to tell.
Megababe Beauty uses a bright solid hue as its product photo background to match its bold visual branding while maintaining focus on the product. Notice how it uses a plain white background for the main product shot while hand images and lifestyle shots feature the deep pink color.
Pick a background shadow
Shadows play an important role as well. There are three main background shadow variations when it comes to beauty and cosmetics photography:
- Flat white
- Glossy white
- Hard light
1. Flat white
Flat white is the universal standard and meets Amazon image requirements, as well as most other third-party marketplaces. It essentially puts your product on a matte white background, using a small soft shadow. You can see how Megababe uses flat white in its product shots both on Amazon and its website:
2. Glossy white
Glossy white makes it appear as though your product is on a white surface with a bit of sheen or shine, using a reflective shadow to create the look. This style is often preferred for beauty brands because it adds a level of sophistication to your products and helps them stand out. It’s the style Bare Botanics Skincare uses in this shot of its himalayan salt scrub:
3. Hard light
Hard light involves the use of very intention lighting to create dense, sharp shadows. This shadow style is more trendy and edgy. It adds style to any image and is best shot overhead, like this serum concentrate from Odacité Skincare:
Get creative with lighting
Working with natural light is best when possible, especially because studio lighting requires specific equipment and technical know-how. However, natural lighting isn’t always accessible.
In case of lack of natural light, you can work with artificial light sources to create the look you want. However, working with light tents, flashes, speed lights, and other technical lighting equipment requires advanced knowledge—otherwise you could end up ruining your shots with poor lighting.
If working with artificial lighting isn’t for you, consider outsourcing your beauty product photography needs. POW can match any style of lighting. You can tell us to match the same style of lighting of any beauty brand online. This is why big brands work with us, because we can get really sophisticated with the lighting in a way a robot or light tent couldn’t.
Which camera settings to use
It’s important to use product photography to set accurate expectations for shoppers. Misrepresenting a product online through poor-quality product photography can lead to unpleasant surprises when customers receive their orders. This turns into customer complaints and lots of returns and lost revenue.
If you get complaints that your products aren’t the color or consistency customers expected, you might look to improve your product shots before anything else. That’s why it’s important to use the same camera settings each time. Here are some guidelines:
- Shoot with the lowest ISO possible—for most cameras this is usually an ISO of 100.
- Set the aperture to f/16, the largest possible setting that still allows all of the product in question to be in focus.
- Try to shoot at shutter speeds of 1/125 or faster if you’re shooting without a tripod to minimize camera shake.
- Check your image’s exposure by looking at the meter in your viewfinder while half-pressing the shutter button. To increase exposure, lower your f-stop (to let more light into the lens) and raise your ISO.
- Don’t use an f-stop below 8, as this will result in a blurry image with poor focus.
- Change ISO last—increasing it can create noise in your frame.
Beauty product photography props
A final critical detail for your beauty product shots are the props you use. While the product is the most important element of the frame, props complement the item and help tell the story. Props shots allow you to creatively emphasize your brand’s mood and aesthetic on a whole new level, making a great addition to any beauty listing.
Some ideas for props for your beauty shots include:
- Ingredients of your product, especially if it’s nature-based
- Pedestals and blocks to build creative displays
- Different colored papers or backgrounds
- Anything spa-related, or puts the product in the environment in which it’s used
When selecting props, be mindful of the colors and how the hues and tones look with your product packaging, the actual product itself, and any skin tones for models featured in the photo. Pay attention to warm and cold hues and how they play off each other.
You don’t have to go overboard. Sometimes, simple is better. In the shot below for natural and organic skincare brand LUXE Heavenly Bodies, we used a single prop: a plant in the background. It reminds shoppers of the brand’s products’ connection to nature in a subliminal, non-distracting way.
Take extra care with your beauty product photos
There’s no one way to create the perfect beauty product photo. The key is to maintain a balance of utility and creativity—give your audience the information they need when they need it, and sprinkle in creative groupings or lifestyle shots to round out the story you’re trying to tell.
When you’re ready to give your beauty product photos a makeover, get in touch to learn about our professional beauty product photography services.
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Beauty product photography tips FAQs
How do you photograph beauty products?
1. Create a shot list
2. Get your background and props
3. Prep your space and lighting
4. Clean your products
5. Set up the frame
6. Use the right camera settings
7. Take a test shot
8. Refine and shoot