Skincare product photography is an exciting job for any professional photographer, as you get to show all of your mastery here: both technically and on the creative side of things.
On one hand, you get to enjoy working with models, water splashes, smudges, fun props, and sophisticated lighting setups.
On the other hand, you get to overcome dozens of things that can go wrong with models, water splashes, smudges, props, and sophisticated lighting setups.
Ready to soak up advice that comes from a team of decade-wise product photography professionals who have created these amazing cosmetic product shots? We are delighted to share our battle-tested best practices.
Challenges of making skincare product photography
So let’s start with building up realistic expectations towards beauty product photography: it’s not as glamorous as it seems, in fact, your working area can get as messy as that of a food photographer’s for some images.
Product photos of skin care products - whether for magazine ads, in-store displays, or ecommerce - can be some of the most attractive and creative product images to produce. And like other categories of product photography, getting the great results you want has its own unique challenges.
Most cosmetics photos contain both highly reflective glass or metal containers, and the contents are often a colored liquid or powder. Capturing both of these materials in one image might turn out a challenge even for a professional photographer.
All those cream jars and perfume bottles have plenty of sparkle and gloss to them - literally. And those reflective surfaces are challenging to capture and need extra attention and mastery during the shoot as well as in post-production.
Mixed package & boxing materials with different degrees of light absorption
To make things more complicated, in all likelihood a cameraman will have to deal with a combination of materials in one small product, like a matte black packaging with a shiny jar of cream with a metal cover. All of them have different light absorption properties and may need to be treated differently during photo retouching.
Model close-ups: the art of pixel-perfect skin
Product photography for skincare has a high probability of using models - so that to show the glowing skin a person gets after using the product. The intricacies of the shooting are multiple and not one model shoot is like another - so surprises are part of the deal.
Water splashes: taming the untamable
Water equals freshness, hydration, and cleanliness - all in one. Sure it's a usual suspect when it comes to photography skincare.
But. You got it right - water is not the most easy-to-photograph model out there.
Smudges & smears - the art of a perfect shape
Smudges and smears of makeup and cosmetic products are intended to provide a potential buyer with a bridge between online and offline shopping. They demonstrate both: the color and the texture, — perfectly.
That being said, it’s not always at the first try, that you get a good-looking smear shape.
Adding Reflective shadow in post-production
Do you know how creams and beauty products are routinely shot in a spa-like environment, where a product is reflected from a glossy surface?
Achieving that effect is quite a mission for a photo editor. It's a multi-stage process that may involve a combination of a clipping path, and creating a reflection due to a mirror layer of a product.
Eye-stopping hero shots: art direction with a creative twist
All creams look pretty much the same in their tiny jars - the five-dollar ones and the 50-dollars ones.
But it's the art direction that creates a perfect hero shot of a beauty product that will stop a user from scrolling their celebrity-dominated social media feed and will make them want that cream instead.
We have just scratched the surface of the multiple professional challenges awaiting anyone who dares to rise to the challenge of making cosmetics product photography skincare. And now let's go to the tips on how to pull off this complex mission with flying colors.
Professional tips for attention-grabbing beauty product photography
Quite honestly, this is one of those ecommerce segments that we don’t recommend pulling off any DIY nonsense.
Our logic is: that if you sell 5-dollar creams, you need to sell lots of them and powerful skin product images are a wall-bearing pillar of your marketing mix. If you sell 50-dollar creams, you simply can't afford subpar imagery, even if you think you can't afford high-quality ones—as the savings will backfire later in negative sales.
That being said, even professional product photography for skincare can lack some of the creative twists we aim for in our output. These ideas for skincare images may help inspire your session too.
1. Use ingredients as your props / background / guest star
Imagine a picture with dozens of avocados nicely lined up like gymnasts for the Olympics opening with the only one odd object among them: a jar of avocado-oil-based cream. A user will forever associate this cream with the goodness of natural avocado oils. It would not be surprising if the placebo effect kicked in after seeing such a powerful visual, and customers started feeling their skin plumper and more moisturized.
Joking aside, pharmaceutics and skincare scientists spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on developing natural formulas and extracting the goodness of the natural ingredient from plants, fruit, and berries.
Your skincare-product-model has some aloe vera in it? Body scrub with apricot kernels? Perfume with lavender notes? Shower gel with coffee & honey? Hair oil with rosemary? Lucky you. Your hero shot is going to be stunning.
2. Use water. It reads freshness. It translates moisture. It equals cleanliness.
Liquid photography is hectic and messy and you can't get it right unless you have been married to a camera officially for 3-4 years. With passport stamps and all. Just kidding again. But if the harsh truth is told—we better do it jokingly, so it doesn't hurt as much.
Water splashes are used left right and center in beauty industry marketing plans for the three reasons we mentioned above. Water has a direct association with moisture, freshness, and cleanliness. All of the three descriptives align with pretty much any cosmetic product.
The great news is:
- Water is free of charge
- Microfiber cloth has great absorption qualities
- Your camera can even stay dry if you make an effort to protect it from splashes.
- After a dozen experiments with frontal and back lights and flash positioning, some awkward reflector, and diffuser fixing you will get just the right shot.
The not-so-great news: the photo editor will have to do some solid post-production tweaking anyway.
3. Smudge and smear all that smudges and smears.
Lipstick images, mascara shots, cream, eyeliners, and concealers are another lucky lottery ticket for a product photographer.
You can let your imagination loose and try smearing these products on paper of every pastel color, mirrors, windscreens of retro cars, back of your hand, wine glasses and whatever smooth surface catches your eye.
The shape of the cosmetic smear? A classical drop shape is great to show the color and texture.
But let your imagination loose again.
A sentimental heart-shaped smear on the mirror in lipstick?
A macro shot of a perfectly straight line of bright nail polish droplets at an angle?
A “dessert?” insignia in lip pencil on a half-empty wine glass with a blurred candle at the back?
A GIF of a suncream being squeezed out from a tube on a model’s back in the shape of the word “hot”?
Smudges and smears are your friends. Just add a bit of creativity to it. Listen to brand values and try to incorporate them into your smear shots.
4. Bring the packaging in premium differentiator & counterfeit protection
Beauty product packaging is critical for the premium segment - in many cases, the design undergoes a robust selection and it's not unusual for boxes to be designed by artists too.
If you talk about perfume product photography - it’s also a way to differentiate between the real stuff and the fake products. When doing shots for big ecommerce marketplaces like Amazon, you can also use packaging shots with dimensions on the side.
Needless to say, you can get creative by placing the boxes in a fun way at unorthodox angles or even making them levitate. A pyramid of a dozen boxes? Great idea. A GIF of endless boxes being zoomed in and out? Sure it will catch an eye.
5. Use colored backgrounds that match products brand positioning for the vibe
You can’t go wrong with the pastel colors or white background when making images of skincare and beauty products.
However, if you need to shoot toothpaste for kids, a dinosaur pattern might do the trick.
If you need to shoot a menthol shampoo, a minty background may be appropriate.
Orange or pink for orangy perfume. You get the gist.
6. Use reflective shadow for glossy magazine effect
This has been done many times, but using a reflective shadow effect has this glossy magazine cover effect that your client may appreciate.
Some shiny surfaces will reflect the item, but creating a reversed mirror layer of your object is a way to mimic the effect in post-production.
7. Use models that resonate with the ICP
Ideally, your ideal client portrait is a person who appreciates life in all of its diverse forms and shapes - then you can work with any model of all ages and genders, and skin tones.
If your product is for a specific market - like a shampoo for blond hair - or a facial cream with an anti-wrinkle effect for 50+ —then you have to pick your models accordingly.
8. Play with how you place/hang/fix your products in a group shot
Cosmetic products usually come in a series. They can be matte lipstick or herbal-infused shampoos or soap with a scrubbing effect.
This is another great chance to play with your items for an impactful commercial image for social media or ad placement.
Making them levitate is not such a bad idea.
Making them float on water in a decadent bathtub? Why not
Placing them on a bedside table with a candle as the centerpiece? It might look good!
Snail mucin cosmetic series? You have to take a group shot in the garden with escargot on it!
Last but not least, remember to take a few similar products for the shoot:
- The box may be damaged
- Smudges mean one item less from your inventory
- These things are fragile and can get broken during the shoot
- Colors for cosmetic products are best shot as they are in real life, not edited in Photoshop
Lastly, let's give you an idea of how much beauty product images cost.
Photography pricing for skincare: how much is it?
At Squareshot we pride ourselves on transparent pricing we are able to offer our clients. If you are on the verge of releasing new products, feel free to calculate how much your product photography for your beauty line will cost by using our beauty product photography calculator.
Relevant work experience, country of residence, quality of equipment, and portfolio all play a role in the pricing of cosmetic images. This is up to a client to gauge if the potential savings that come with freelancers are worth the risks of having a subpar output.