Artist with something to sell? Here’s how I DIY’d a product photoshoot to sell band t-shirts.

A couple months back, I finally found myself in a position to be able to order t-shirts for my music for the first time. Hooray! What band (or solo artist, in my case) doesn’t want their own merch, right?

I got my design together, put in an order with a print shop, and a few weeks later my shiny new shirts had arrived. Then I remembered that I actually wanted to sell them. And, if I expected people to buy these things, I probably shouldn’t upload a bunch of shitty pictures that looked like they were taken in my living room.

The problem, of course, was that I didn’t have the budget or equipment for a professional product shoot, so the living room was going to have to do.

Figuring I was nothing if not creative, I pushed forward, undeterred, determined to make these damn neon shirts I’d ordered look as good as possible with a phone camera, a couple old lamps, and some basic photo editing.

The results:

Now, I’m going to level with you: H&M has yet to show up and ask me for my clothing photography secrets just yet, and I’m not holding my breath, but as a solo artist in need of keeping expenses down all while creating something presentable? I’m pretty damn happy with them!

If you find yourself needing to make your merch, artwork, or other product look good in a pinch, maybe my process can help you too. Here’s how I did it:

Petravita’s Guide to DIY Product Shots:

Step 1) Location choice

First things first, decide where you’re going to take your pictures. Keep in mind that most smartphone cameras and cheap digital cameras have trouble maintaining image quality under poor lighting settings, so even before you start thinking about additional lighting, pay attention to the following when choosing your space:

  • Natural light: I chose my living room because it has the biggest windows/allows a lot of sunlight in during the day.
  • Time of day: I shot in the sunny afternoon hours to give myself the brightest setting I could.
  • Lights already in the room: You’ll want to be able to use whatever light fixtures are in your room already, but keep in mind that you’ll need to not be standing in-between your lights and your products when you take pictures, otherwise you’ll cast shadows on them — so pay attention to how you’ll position yourself.

Step 2) Additional scene setup

In an ideal world, you’d have a solid white or colored backdrop for your shots like a professional studio. Since that wasn’t the case for me, I knew I’d be Photoshopping out a background and that the more uniform the background was, the easier I would make this on myself. For this reason, I chose to lay down a white sheet on the floor before getting started.

Next, I brought in two small lamps, took the lampshades off of them, and set them up on my sheet. Here’s a pic from my Instagram story at the time showing what my makeshift shooting stage looked like:

And to make things easier to understand as we move into taking the actual pictures, here’s a diagram of how the room was setup, where I was standing, etc.:

Step 3) Taking the photos

For capturing the photos, I used an iPhone 6S Plus, which is a few years old at this point, but it seemed to do the trick!

A couple of things that helped me were to lock the focus of the camera on the subject, and to also manually slight up the brightness/exposure slightly. Both of these are described in the first two sections of this article.

If you’re using an Android phone or another camera, you’ll have to judge for yourself whether these adjustments are necessary, and play around with them before you get started!

I took the pictures of the shirts on the sheet myself, and asked my girlfriend (ha — free labor!) to take pictures of myself standing in roughly the same location the shirt was in previously for the shots where I would be wearing the merch.

Here were the raw results:

Not bad! But still a ways to go. As you can see, the lighting on the pictures where I’m standing shows a sharp contrast between the light on one side of me (where the window was) versus the other, but I liked the effect it created and decided to not spent any time worrying about it/trying to correct it by positioning the shoot differently.

Step 4) Cleanup and editing

Once you’ve got some pictures you like (I took quite a few of each shot before choosing these five), email or otherwise get them to a place where you can open them on your computer.

Personally, I used Photoshop for this for all of the next part. If you don’t have a copy, you can always activate a license of Adobe Creative Cloud for a month for just $9.99, then cancel it when you no longer need it — you may also be able to get away with just using the free trial.

Step 4a ) Tracing

Your main task at this point is simply to remove the background from your images, leaving just the product. To do this, use the Magnetic Lasso tool in Photoshop, and start to trace around your product:

The bigger contrast between your product and the background, and the more simple the colors in the image, the easier it will be to quickly trace around your product. As you can image, the above image was much easier to crop than the one below, where there’s more going on in the background, and some colors are somewhat similar, like my black jeans on a dark gray carpet:

Worry not, here are a couple of tips if the tool isn’t sticking to the right things as you trace along:

  • You can hit ‘BACKSPACE’ on your keyboard to undo the last point in your selection, and you can go as far back with this method as you like, so there’s no need to start over if you mess up.
  • If you’re having trouble, zoom in (CTRL and the + sign) on an area to work more closeup with it. When you need to see more of the image again, you can use CTRL and the minus (-) sign to zoom back out.

Step 4b) Background removal

Once you’re done tracing all the way around your image, you should have a line of ‘marching ants’ showing your selection. Invert this selection by pressing CRTL+SHIFT+I and the selection will invert. Now, instead of having the subject of your image selected, you’ll have everything EXCEPT the product (hint: you’ve now just got that pesky background selected!) and can press the DELETE key to get rid of it.

Note: If the area does not delete, you may need to right click on the layer your photo is on in the right side panel of Photoshop and click ‘Rasterize Layer’ or ‘Layer From Background’ to make it editable.

This step should look something like below:

4c) A shiny, new background

Now that you’ve got a blank slate, click the ‘New Layer’ button in Photoshop (it’s near the very bottom right of the screen in my version and looks like a piece of paper), then in the layers panel position it underneath your product layer:

Now, go ahead and use the paint bucket tool to fill in the background of your image. I went with white, since I had originally shot on a white background and this not only helped hide any imperfections in my tracing/cropping of the image, but kept things looking clean. That said, feel free to experiment with different colors!

Step 5) Finishing touches

At this point, you’re pretty much home-free, but here are a couple of extras you may or may not feel you need:

  • Your can use the eraser tool to clean up any mistakes/remnants of your original photo’s background.
  • You can add shadow back in, like in the images above, by right clicking the layer your product photo is on, clicking ‘Blending Options…’ and then clicking ‘Drop Shadow’. The three main sliders in that panel will let you manipulate how your shadow looks.
  • Cropping: Depending on how you’ve framed your image, where you’ll be posting the product shots, how your webstore will display the photos, etc., you may want to use the crop tool in Photoshop to frame your images differently to cut down on the amount of background and focus in on the products instead.

Step 6) Go post on your website/Instagram/Facebook/wherever and sell some damn stuff! ;)

And there you have it — a DIY blueprint for making not-so-crappy photographs of your merch. Let me know below if it helped you!

This article is an original piece for the How To Art blog and podcast. Click here to read and click here to listen!

What would help you to learn more about as creative/artist/entrepreneur? Let me know what the next topic should be!


Petravita is an independent hip hop artist and poet based in Stockholm, Sweden. You can learn more and hear his music on his website.