What do you need for the start?
If you ask me what is the most important tool to take a great product photograph – I will say that it is light! Yes, the camera is important, lens – yes, (though not that necessary if you are using a pinhole camera) and an object to photograph. You can have it all, but if you don’t have any light source you will get plain black picture.
So, the main light source available to everybody is daylight. There are a lot of photographers who prefer to work with natural light and get amazing results. Daylight does not necessary means sun. Overcast day is even better, because the sunlight is dispersed and shadows are not as harsh as in the bright sunlight. You probably noticed that if you take a photo in the bright sunny day the places in the shadow are very black and show no details. It happens due to so called camera’s dynamic range capabilities. Cheaper digital cameras may have lower dynamic range, high-end professional cameras might have higher, but no camera can be compared to what our eye can see.
Okay, so big enough window, preferably without anything blocking the light (like close wall or tree) and you have your free light source!
What camera is best to take a product photograph?
Now, camera… the most available cameras nowadays are our phones. Which phone is the best? The one you have in your hand! To me all phone cameras are quite the same; the difference might be in settings available to enhance the image. Of course, if you have a photo camera it will give you more flexibility with settings and photo options. Whatever camera you pick I would recommend for you to get the tripod. I’m sure you noticed sometimes if you hold your camera in your hands the image comes out sort of smudged.
That happens when the light is low and shutter speed is slow. On the phone and cheaper cameras shutter speed is one of the settings that you can’t change, but you can control stability of your camera and keep your image sharp. Small tripods are available in camera shops and staff will help you to get the best option for you. If you really stuck – put your camera on the small beanbag, really anything that will keep it steady.
So, technical part like camera and light is sorted and now the creative part! Apart from the actual object – your product, you will have to think of the background. Frequently the a product photograph is photographed on the plain white background. If you choose that, the best would be to get a large sheet of white paper (available in most art shops) size A3 or A2, depending on the size of product. A piece of white fabric will do the job too, only keep in mind that it has to be well ironed every time you using it.
The best way to use that type of background is to attach the upper part of the paper to the chair (or similar base like wall + table) and let lower part to rest on the base. Do not fold it at the corner let it curve smoothly. In this case you won’t get any unwanted shadows and stripes on the background.
The images above show the “emergency” setup – white bed sheet on the baby table and transparent part of reflector (that can be anything white too). The table is covered with white sheet of baking paper to hide creased fabric.
As you can see even in the emergency set up things can work out well in the end.
If you don’t have anything white at hand you can use the available space, like the interior of a coffee shop or plain wall. In this case you have to pay attention to details on that background, so you don’t have any objects in the shot that are not suitable for your product photograph. Make sure that nothing on the background distracts attention from your main object. The background can be blurred out too. That can be achieved if you place your object far from the background (if you are using your phone) or zoom in and step back (will work on cameras with optical zoom) or even better both of the above. If you have higher end camera with manual settings, set your aperture to the smallest number.
The images above were taken in the restaurant with phone camera. The object is a cup and as you can see the available background was not the best, there were people sitting at the nearby table, so I had to block the view with milk pot by placing it further away from the cup and have it a bit blurred, so the main attention is still on the cup. On the second photo the angle of view is changed, so the background is not visible (another trick to remember). Also the cup is not fully in the shot, just a part of it because I used one of the main rules of composition.
“Don’t put object in the dead middle, unless your shot is symmetrical.
This rule is called The Rule of Thirds.”
Some rules for taking a great product photograph…
So, what is composition? Long story short – it is the placement of your object in the frame. There are many rules, but the main rule to me is: Don’t put object in the dead middle, unless your shot is symmetrical. This rule is called The Rule of Thirds. If you ever noticed that on your phone/camera is the option called grid. If you activate it, you will see on your screen of two horizontal lines and two vertical lines that splits your display into nine rectangles. Those are the guidelines of the rule of thirds. Frame your shot in a way that your object is placed at the one of four cross points of the lines or along the lines.
Another thing to remember is that diagonal lines and all kind of curvy lines are pleasant to the eye. That is the rule I applied taking the product photograph of the second coffee cup shot. Round curved lines are attracting your eye and keeps attention on your image. Of course, there are many other guidelines to composition, but to me the two mentioned are quite enough for the start.
…and tips for a great product photograph
Now some tips. To show your product in the best light (no pun intended) you will have to “play” with the lighting and see which way it looks better. Great look can be achieved with so called back-light, which literally means have your light source on the back of your object. This will give the 3D look to your object by enhancing contours of it, but then we will have dark shadows in front of it. That can be fixed by using a reflector that will “fill in” the shadow with light. Believe it or not, the most available reflector can be found in your kitchen press! A crumpled piece of tin foil! For the best results crumple it slightly, so that reflected light is spread evenly and stretch it on an even surface (chopping board or coaster will do).
This is a basic set up for taking a great product photograph, but you might have to move around your object and see what angle of light is the best for it. It can look best with the light from nearly the side of it or almost straight from the back, you decide which way you like it more. The angle of the reflector can be changed too, do some experimenting and see which way looks better.
The last advice – be careful with objects with shiny surfaces. There might be unwanted reflections and spots of light. For that you might need some professional help… I am available for both teaching and photo shoots.
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