Products are probably after humans the most photographed motive. This is how to think and how to doo when shooting products.
There is more to consider when shooting products then you think. In most cases you associate product photography with high quality images of packaging, perhaps a plastic bag with content, a bottle of whine, a watch or camera. You see these images too often in advertisements and web shops.
They may be very professionally made, but they still don’t doo for all purposes. When you see it in advertising they usually have only one purpose, brand recognition. The advertiser wants the viewer to remember the bottle when he or she is in the store, trying to select a product.
The #1 rule for commercial product photos
The images are often used in commercials and then the fundamental rule is to show the product in use. Everyone knows this in the fashion industry. Instead of showing the products as they are, they put them on models, hopefully models in the targeted customer segments for the clothing.
But you can take it further. If you are photographing an elegant lady party shoe with high heels, show it with a beautiful ankle with serpentines on the floor.
The same goes for almost everything; watches, cars, cameras, decoration, electronics, etc. Most products have some feature that makes them unique. If you ask the marketing department of the product company, they probably have a description of the target groups and why and when they will buy the product.
Regardless of if you are an amateur, professional photographer or running a web store, the more you know about the product and its market, the better job you can doo.
A image showing the product in use, will sell, while an image just showing it will only be enjoyed by someone already interested.
The technical aspects
Normally the quality of product images is expected to be perfect, with no distortions or flaws. Since you probably are delivering a series of images, they should all have the same style. Normaly, if you are using a full format sensor camera, use a 50 mm lens or your zoom at an equal setting.
- Distortion of any kind. Make the image as close to reality as you can.
- Blur on any part of the motive (the product).
- Dust, dirt, fingerprints or similar in the motive. Be thorough before shooting and you’ll have to do less work afterwards.
- Unwanted reflexes. Flashes, windows, backgrounds, even you, can show up on shiny surfaces when editing the image.
- Colour casts. Remember that coloured backgrounds can easily reflect on the product.
- Mixing different sources of light can also create unwanted colour effects. But flashes and daylight is all right.
This you can go for
- Lots of light. Use flashes or if you prefer, constant light.
- Product tents can help, especially if you are shooting many products.
- Mirrors are handy for giving light to details or parts of the motive. Use smaller mirrors for better control. A flash with a snoot may also be handy to have.
- Try to give the product a more three-dimensional feel through light. Equal amount of light from all directions may make the image flat. Use for instance lights from the sides or one behind with the main light slightly prom the side.
- Remember that the base and background is also a part of the image. Correct lighting is necessary for the entire image.
- Use a tripod that is correctly levelled and you will not have to straighten the images afterwards. With the camera right positioned it is much easier to make all the images look the same, you can easily redo the take if needed and you’ll save a lot of time when editing.
- Make notes on the lighting, camera settings and flash settings.
The motive and the rest
You cannot do too much about the product. But you can doo a lot about the rest.
All the materials in the world are available for you to use as foundation or background, anything from granite rock to transparent plastics. But remember, the purpose of it all is to enhance the product.
Use material to create a feeling. Maybe a granite countertop will give the right associations for a tough watch? For woman’s revelry white marble with rose petals and a glass of champagne is better suited? Use your imagination.
When you are photographing many products in a session
If you have a web shop and need good product images for your shop it is important to be able to replicate images, giving all the products the same style. Make sure the size of the products inside the image is equal and that the background is exactly the same.
I usually recommend white or possibly black or grey backgrounds. It is after all unnecessary work if you must retake all the images because you change your web-design. It is better to use colours on other elements then the product images.
The most important thing is to never change camera settings or the strength of the flashes during the shoot. If you doo, you’ll have a terrible job afterwards, trying to make each image background tone match. If you get it all right from the beginning you’ll be able to simultaneously edit all the images in Lightroom or Cameraa Raw (Photoshop) and get a perfect result.
For shooting many products a product tent or a product table really helps. It gets easier to add more and more products and make them look the same as the ones you already have.
The benefits of product tents
- You can quickly set it up and put it away when you don’t need it.
- It is easy to replicate images and make all products look the same. And it’s easier to retake images when necessary.
- You get full control over the setting with very simple means.
- It’s easier to use, since it matters less how the light in the room is.
But there are also disadvantages with product tents. The size of the tent is one obvious limitation. And without the tent you can work with black and reflecting screens as well as with mirrors in order to get the right feeling. And since the tent is soft and need a solid foundation it’s difficult to sett lighting from below.
A product table makes that possible and will give you more freedom when setting the light.
And of course, a real studio with full control over all the lighting is unbeatable. Dim the lights and use the modelling lights. Shoot, check, improve and redo until you’re satisfied.
You’ll find that product photography is a finicky business. You must always try to make the image just a little bit better. Every little glare must have a purpose and be at exactly the right place. The skilled product photographer is also equipped with patience; a passion for details and it really helps if you also are a pedant.
It is unavoidable with a lot of work in Photoshop when working with products. But for every extra minute you spend on getting it right when shooting, you’ll save at least 20 minutes when editing.
Finally I’d like to promote shooting in the real world. In my little quick example with the juice, (made only for this post), I’d prefer to shoot it on a set with a model drinking in an environment with warmth, evening sun, summer time and leisure. Using the evening sun together with some reflecting screens and/or perhaps some flashes.
If a watch is tough I’d prefer to shoot it on a sailor with plenty of salt water splashes, to take another example.