Photography is fun and creative. With a little know-how, it can be simple to produce an image that’s eye-catching, appealing, and dynamic.

But for product photos, it’s all too easy for your images to fall flat — literally.

Most objects just sit there, and you can’t get too crazy with your setup because shoppers have to be crystal-clear about what’s for sale.

Sure, some clients and marketplaces will allow you to use beautiful models and ornate backdrops, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes you have to capture only the product and no added distraction.

That’s not much to work with.

One way to add dimension and visual interest without distracting from the product (and still being Amazon-compliant!) is to use boxes. Your product will be the star of the show, but your setup will provide visual interest, too.

But how can you best use blocks and boxes to help your product photography? And where do you get a block like that?

Here are a few ideas to help you find the perfect blocks and boxes and then set things up correctly for whatever product photoshoot you can dream up.

In this article:

Why use shadow boxes as product photography surfaces

Boxes and blocks (which we’ll refer to interchangeably after this point) provide interest to an otherwise flat landscape. Sometimes your product has enough visual interest to stand on its own, but many products — especially those in clean, geometric shapes like cylindrical candles, bottles, and the like — look boring on their own.

Stacking boxes around and below these items adds new lines, planes, and angles for shadow and highlight to play with — but not so much that it drags the viewer’s eye away from the most important part of the image: your product.

Also, if your product doesn’t have a flat bottom, you can lean it against something to get it to stay in one place. Blocks provide the perfect structure for an otherwise wobbly situation.

Finally, boxes highlight an object. You can set your product in a box and make it seem like a present, or you can place it on top and make it look like it’s winning a medal. When there aren’t many options you can get creative with, plain blocks and boxes allow you to play and create focal points without stealing the show.

How to prop up products for photography with boxes and blocks

The stack

If you want to make your product look special, consider stacking multiple boxes. This gives a wedding cake effect that's difficult to ignore. Also, the stack gives an eye-catching look that you can lean your product against if you're working with something on the tall side.

The single

Simplicity screams luxury, and the use of a single, simple box is no different. Placing your product in or on one single box really does give the sensation that the item is a gift. When your viewer looks at the product in the photo, that's definitely a feeling you want them to have.

The multitude

If you want to give the impression that your product is standing out amidst a landscape of plain alternatives, using a multitude of boxes can give this feeling. Whether you stack them in different ways or lay them all out around your product, a slew of blocks or boxes will draw the viewer's eye to the one thing that's different in the image — your product.

The monochromatic

Want to create a truly eye-catching image? Try using boxes that are the same color as the background. The monochromatic look will give dimension, shade, and detail to an otherwise flat composition. Because your product is the one thing that’s not the same color, it’ll stand out — in a good way.

The off the wall

If you want to give the feeling that your product is unconventional or an ideal item for a person who considers themselves to be kind of quirky, a variety of blocks and boxes in different shapes and colors is what you want to use. Artfully arrange your blocks into a pleasing grouping, then add your product so it can be the star of the photo.

Where to get shadow boxes for photography props

By now, you’re probably eager to add some blocks for your own product photo studio. But where can you find these guys? Are they readily available, or will you have to engage in DIY? And will they be costly?

Worry not — we’ve curated a selection of the best photography boxes and blocks for you.

Acrylic blocks

Acrylic blocks or boxes are typically transparent and also used for in-store retail displays. They lend a sort of museum-collection feel, and clean lines and lack of color lend structure without any distractions.

Use acrylic blocks to elevate your products, or get really creative and shoot partially through one block to create distortion.

Where to find acrylic boxes or blocks:

  • If you’ve got Prime shipping, you can have your acrylic boxes in two days or less because Amazon has a huge variety of them. If you’re looking for something more specific, try Etsy.

Foam

Ready to really stretch your imagination? Then foam blocks might be perfect for you! You can use these shapes to support or cradle a product.

The unusual surface gives a texture to the image that will leave the viewer thinking twice about the photo — and, of course, your product!

You can get foam in blocks or pads — depending upon what you need it for, of course.

Where to find foam blocks:

  • Go to your local Home Depot or Lowe’s, and if that’s not quite the selection you’re looking for, try Amazon, Walmart, Target, or eBay.
  • Another place to check is Dollar Tree — inexpensive photo props? Yes, please! — as well as your favorite craft store like Michael’s.

One really important thing to note: If you’re planning on using styrofoam blocks and then painting them, just know that spray paint melts styrofoam. Instead, you can use a different kind of paint or change the color in post-production. (More on that in a minute.)

Children’s building blocks

Building blocks aren’t just for the pediatrician’s waiting room any more! Now you can use these shapes to support your product photography goals. Because of the small size and odd shapes, you can really dress up a jewelry or cosmetics shoot — and if you paint them beforehand, no one will ever suspect that your great photo prop is actually a child’s plaything.

Where to get children’s blocks:

  • Get yours here on Amazon or go the local route and pop into Walmart, Target, or your favorite toy store.
  • Browse garage sales and thrift stores in your area. Families with children who’ve outgrown building blocks may be looking for a new home for the toys.

IKEA shelves

The word IKEA used to be synonymous with college dorm decor, but the Swedish furniture giant has really stepped up their game since those days.

Now they’re a product photographer’s paradise — the minimal design aesthetic coupled with their low prices makes them a great go to for shelves, blocks, boxes and more.

Check out your local IKEA (you can find locations here) and — word to the wise — grab a cart on the way in. You never know just what perfect product photo prop you’ll find next. You can also shop IKEA shelves online here.

Concrete or bricks

The human brain is a funny thing. One thing it finds pleasant is the concept of juxtaposition — dark and light, hard and soft, and, in this case, smooth and rough. Pair concrete blocks or bricks with something smooth and shiny like jewelry to activate the “This is interesting!” sector of the brain and your product is sure to shine.

The rough hewn texture of the brick really brings out the glittering perfection of shiny, sparkly pieces — that ring or necklace will get all the attention when photographed this way.

Where to get concrete or brick blocks: 

  • Again, you can get a selection of bricks and cinder blocks from Home Depot or Lowe’s.
  • If you want a more refined concrete look, check out the props in this Etsy shop.
  • From time to time, you can also find them at craft stores like Michael’s and JoAnn’s. Check in aisles you wouldn’t normally think of — like the miniature train set aisle. They have all sort of unexpected textures just waiting for you to find and photograph.
  • Check garage sales, secondhand/thrift shops, and junk stores in your area. They might have old materials they’re looking to get rid of.

Wood

When all else fails, there’s always DIY! If you’ve got a specific size and dimension in mind, you can make your own with wood and paint.

This tutorial shows you one photographer’s step by step method to building her own custom set and blocks.

You can roll on paint, use a can of spray paint, or even add lacquer for a high gloss shine.

Where to find wood boxes:

  • As usual, if you’re going to DIY, you’ll want to hit up Home Depot or Lowe’s. Can’t find the perfect paint or finish? Try craft stores like Michael’s — their selection includes everything from matte to glossy, pearl to stone finish.
  • Photographer Jim Costa recommends apple boxes.“They’re versatile and used for propping things up, mounting or leveling lights, furniture and other gear, as well as raising and seating talent and crew. Support them in the center both vertically and horizontally for increased stability.” You can get them online for around $40.

Product packaging

If there’s one thing that can make me whip out the debit card faster than you can say “Buy Now”, it’s a pretty package. If your product comes in a pretty or interesting package, use it to your advantage by using it in the product photos!

Make sure the packaging itself is pretty, specifically branded, and photogenic. You’ll wind up with a very unique look that no similar manufacturer will be able to duplicate.

CGI or post-processing

Maybe you’re thinking back to a shoot you’ve already completed and wishing you could go back in time to add in blocks.

Never fear! You can manually add these geometric elements to your shots during post-processing.

If you haven’t found the right color, you can always use a plain gray box and change the color later.

If you haven’t found anything, you can use an advanced program like Maya to virtually create blocks in your shot.

Not a fan of spending all day in the digital darkroom? Not a problem. If you don’t have design skills (or the time to commit to doing it yourself), you can also outsource these edits to a trained professional.

Moving forward with your product photos

There you have it — a wealth of ways to add dimension and character to your product photos with blocks and boxes.

Regardless of the route you take, you'll need some post-processing touch-ups. If you’ve already spent enough time perfecting the shot, outsource your basic edits to our team of trained professionals who can have your photos back in six hours or less. Check out the offerings at Clipping Path India — why would you ever trust your important photos to anyone else?

Get started — request a quote for fast, quality photo edits.

Misha Hettie

Misha is a copywriter and brand photographer who cannot escape her strong "oldest kid" tendencies to plan, improve, lead and teach. Her photo work has been featured in Uppercase Magazine, Travel + Leisure, Gayot Guide, Cooking with Paula Deen, Design Guide, NHOME Magazine, Urban Home, and more. She helps creative entrepreneurs build a brand that stands out online, and PS? That's not really her natural hair color.