How to photograph shiny shoes and footwear for your web store

Because of the huge variation in styles and materials, photographing shoes - especially shiny leather ones - for your online store is no easy task. In this product photography tutorial, we will give you a series of tips on how to style and present your footwear online in the best possible light. 

When it comes to shoes, ranging from high heels and sneakers to formal footwear, highlighting key areas of detail such as stitching and material becomes crucial.

It’s also important to showcase how shoe looks from a wide variety of angles - so make sure your photography setup allows the flexibility to fiddle with lighting on the fly as shiny materials like leather can create great difficulty in getting the right shot. 

Read on to learn more about shooting shoes for your online store and why tabletop photography is the most effective method of doing so.

But first, here’s a list of equipment and tools you should prepare for your photo shoot:

View the video tutorial

The equipment you need to take great shots of your shoes

  • Tabletop surface - A bright, lightly reflective surface works best for flat lay photography
  • Camera - Any camera will suffice but a Canon EOS 5D Mk III is recommended as the industry-standard for professional product photography
  • Studio lighting - A source of continuous cool LED lamps are recommended for lighting to ensure exposure, shadows and contrast are kept consistent
  • Your shoes - High heels, sneakers, brogues; any type of shoes with glossy surfaces benefit from these tips
  • A diffuser - A diffuser is needed to manage the reflections from the polished surface of the shoe
  • A reflector - A sturdy bright and reflective surface, such as a whiteboard, helps cast light back into areas of the shoe 

Use a diffuser to soften reflections on the leather

On many style of shoes, you will see areas that reflect a great deal of light back into the camera. These are usually features like metal buckles and straps, but on highly polished leather - such as the image on the right - the reflections can get very messy and unappealing.

You can see a clear problem area in the reflection coming from the gold heel buckle. On the upper of the leather, you can also see the harsh reflections from the studio lighting being included in the shot. This doesn't make for a professional final image. 

Positioning the diffuser

Place a diffuser in front of the incoming light source to soften the reflective surfaces on the shoe.

Experiment with the angle and of the diffuser to the product in order to manipulate the reflected light more effectively.

You can place it top-down over the shoe, by the sides - it doesn't matter as long as you are putting it in front of the global light source.

Instantly, you will see how the diffuser acts to clean up the messy reflective surface of the leather as seen in the top right image.  

The result of using a diffuser

A diffuser works just like a cloud passing in front of the sun. It attenuates the rays and spreads them over a wider distance to achieve a more natural lighting gradient, so play with it to find the right presentation for your shoes. 

Take a look at the photo on the right to see the noticeable impact of using a diffuser to 'clean up' the polished shoe. 

However by doing so, we have removed a lot of the sheen that a shiny leather shoe should have. This is where the importance of manipulating your studio lighting comes in. 


Highlight key features of the shoe with a reflector

Whilst too much shine across the whole of the shoe makes it look messy and hard to appreciate the leather, too little and you lose a lot of the product's impact. A reflector is crucial here. 

A reflector will reflect a greater amount of light onto a specific part of the shoe, so experiment in how you play with your light source. 

On a sideways profile shot of the shoe, identify where the natural curves of the shoe are best shown and angle the light back to create an attractive sheen that will help your shoes stand out online. 


Shoot the shoe from a variety of lighting angles

Getting a polished shoe to stand out in a clean, appealing manner is all about how you shine light on it.

Take a look at the example image to the right to see how we have manipulated the global light balance in the shot to achieve a sparkling finish. 

The profile shot of a shoe is the most common way of presenting shoes online. Therefore it’s important to make sure you your profile shot highlights the smooth, shiny polish of the leather.

Tips and tricks

  • A diffuser is a photographer's best friend when shooting highly reflective surfaces - learn how to use one quickly and effectively
  • Your difficulty in shooting shiny footwear depends greatly on your technical skill and the equipment you have at your disposal. Don’t be disheartened if the results don’t look quite as good as the samples in this tutorial - controlling reflective surfaces takes time and patience. 
  • The importance of controlling your lighting cannot be underestimated - make sure your setup allows for you to adjust global light balance with ease

Don't feel like reading? Watch the tutorial in full (2 mins)

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Stephen Warr