Lights, Camera… Action! Last week we explained how good product photography drives sales and now it’s time for a few tips on how to affordably photograph your products.
While many established artists and designers budget for product photography to be shot by a professional, not everyone can afford to hire a photographer or buy a full studio’s worth of equipment. Below is some basic information about equipment and technique that will help you get started!
Depending on your budget, you have a couple of different options. Investing in a good digital camera may make sense if you are planning on taking lots of product photos in the future. Digital single-lens reflex cameras, more commonly known as DSLR, are getting more affordable every year. But before you commit to a higher-end camera you may be surprised by what today’s smartphones can do. The iPhone 4s and 5 both have the capability of producing professional grade photos, especially with the help of free apps like Pixlr Express and VSCO cam.
There are a couple of rules that you should follow no matter which camera you use.
- Always have a good tripod. Not only do they prevent camera-shake, they also ensure that every photo you take is the same distance from the product. Tripods are available for smartphones along with plenty of other affordable equipment on www.PhotoJoJo.com.
- NEVER rely on your built-in flash alone in product photography. Flash is no substitute for good lighting. The flash will create hard shadows and outlines, causing you to lose the intricate detail of your work.
“Using only the flash built into your camera (the one that “pops up”) is probably the most common cause of bad product photography. While these flashes can be good to trigger a set of professional lights, using them alone creates harsh light that will cause your final image to have unflattering shadows and hotspots.” This is one of several product photography lighting tips found on arqspin.com.
When photographing your product, consistency is important. You most likely want multiple shots of the same object from different angles, and as a whole your photos should match existing ones. Lighting is one of the most important elements that must remain consistent.
One of the first things you’re told is that natural light is the best. But why? Everyday incandescent and fluorescent household lights can cause unwanted color changes in your shots. Natural light has always been touted as producing the truest color. However, when it comes to product photography, natural lighting is not dependable. Sunlight changes and flickers, and is impossible to reproduce on command. When photographing your products, you need to be in complete control of the placement, distribution, and intensity of light. Natural lighting is unpredictable and time-sensitive, and doesn’t allow for that consistent, controlled environment.
For shooting objects indoors, you should use cool, strong lights that mimic white natural light. For best effect, use cool 5000K bulbs, which can be used in standard everyday lamps. Clamp lights are recommended for their flexibility and are a budget-friendly alternative to fancier lighting kits. Both of these items can be found at most home improvement stores.
You can have an inexpensive but controlled DIY set-up, no studio needed. As a rule of thumb, make sure your product is ready to be photographed. It should not be covered in dust, tarnish, fingerprints, etc. The background should be simple enough that it does not detract from the product. You don’t always have to shoot on a flat monochrome background; just make sure that your backdrop complements your piece.
If you make smaller products, a basic product photography shoot sometimes takes the form of a lightbox. A lightbox is a simple set up that allows you to use the controlled lighting that we just discussed. Generally, a backdrop (often paper or cloth) is draped from the back wall, and extends down over the floor towards the camera. The product is placed on the backdrop or on a stand, and the walls of the box are constructed of a white, translucent material that will diffuse light. Lights are shone through these surfaces or reflected off, depending on how the subject is being lit. Beautezine has a good example of how to affordably build your own light box here.
It is important to remember to keep your shooting environment consistent, and if you are shooting a series, it is recommended that you document the arrangement of your light box: Draw a diagram! Measure distances! Doing so will ensure that the next time you photograph, setup will be that much easier.
Remember to Be Patient
Try not to get discouraged if the first dozen photos don’t turn out how you envisioned. It may take some time to learn the more subtle nuances of lighting and staging that will make your work (almost) as beautiful in a photograph as it is in person. Keep in mind there is a whole industry of professional photographers out there that does this for a living—don’t lose hope!
Once you have your photos it will be time to edit and finalize them. Next week look out for the final post in our product photography series with tips on cleaning up your images.