I have always enjoyed shooting product photography but learning how to do so was difficult because there aren’t many resources on the internet about how to do it. Today I want to give you a small foundation to start making your products look amazing for websites and various print materials (if you so choose to start marketing).
What you will need:
- A camera
- A tripod (optional if you have a better way to stabilize your camera)
- A can of air (for dusting)
- A table or a surface to set up on
- A long white poster board sheet (optional if you want a shot in context)
- Clips or tape to hold poster board
- A white bed sheet (optional)
- Objects to set around your product (optional)
- Your product
Before we continue.
The camera you use doesn’t need to be of a professional quality. Those cameras run about $4,000+ and lenses for them cost upwards of $850+. But fear not. If you are using these images solely for your website and web promotions, use your handy dandy iPhone. Most iPhones and smartphone cameras have surprisingly decent cameras. The most important thing you need to be able to do when using an iPhone or smartphone is to make sure when shooting that the phone stays completely still. Now you can either buy a tripod specifically for phones, or during your setup make sure that your phone is braced against something to reduce vibration.
If you do plan on printing out a poster or some other print material with the image on it, go to your local camera store and see what their prices are for renting out cameras. If you plan ahead for a weekend shoot, you might be able to get a sweet deal. One of my nearby camera shops rents out professional cameras and lenses for about $60-80 through the weekend. Look into it because the results you get may surprise you.
Let there be light!
The most important aspect of product photography is lighting. If your lighting is perfect, then your images will look amazing.
The reason I didn’t put a lighting kit in the previous section is all you really need is the light coming from a window. If the light coming from said window is too harsh, use the white bed sheet to diffuse it.
Before you even start shooting make sure to pay close attention to how the light moves throughout the day. This will help you understand what kind of light you are working with but also when you will be able to get the most light for the amount of time shooting.
Your ideal setup will be by a window, so make sure to give yourself enough space to be able to maneuver in and out of the space.
This is what you are aiming for.
When it comes to setting up your product, keep your camera stationary and move the product around when you get a camera position you like.
Cleaning your product is a step that a lot of people forget about because of all the hard work setting up everything. But if you want to save yourself the headache of having to go into an editing software, make sure your product is dust-free with your can of air. This part only takes a couple seconds to do but makes the final image look more refined and developed.
Note that if you are shooting food you shouldn’t use the can of air (unless it’s for an action shot). But still make sure that what you see on the screen is exactly what you want. Having to retake photos because of something you missed is both time consuming, frustrating, and can cost you more money.
The money shot
This is the part where you adjust, shoot, and re-adjust. If you are working digitally (which I hope you are), the amount of images you can make is almost limitless. However, because you can take hundreds of photos, make sure you are doing it in a smart way so you don’t have to waste time searching through duplicates later.
I find it helps to start with three very different angles when shooting. This way you can quickly see which particular angles work and which ones don’t. Then refine the angles that work by making small adjustments here and there.
If you aren’t sure when to stop, set a timer for one hour. Don’t like how much you’ve got? Set it for another hour. Have too many images? Slow down and take your time between shots, spend more time visualizing how the product interacts with the light and try to understand how shadows are falling. It’s really important that you pace yourself and try to measure your results because you might lose track of time.
Now the reason I’m saying that editing is optional is because not everyone has Photoshop or image editing software and certainly even fewer know how to use it specifically for editing product photography. Recently, I have been trying to adopt the mentality, if you shoot a great shot, you don’t need editing. This forces me to really be involved and thoughtful about how I am shooting.
For those who do wish to edit and have Photoshop at their disposal, I only have a couple small things to suggest.
When it comes to product photography, you want your product to look as real as possible. That means when you edit in these powerful image editing programs, don’t change anything drastically – it’s distracting and untruthful.
My second comment is to keep edits to a minimum. It is so easy to get caught up in all of Photoshop’s facets and tools intending to make a few small edits, and then find yourself in the next moment with your own version of a digital Picasso painting.
Before you open Photoshop, write down the things that you think need to be altered in the image: hue, saturation, sharpness, etc. Then go through the list again and mark which ones would make it look more “real”.
Open Photoshop, make the changes, save the file (both as a PSD and jpeg) then get out!
You’ve just successfully completed a day in the life of a product photographer.
One last thing before I go.
This post is by no means a substitute for a professional product photographer. The reason they are paid the big bucks is that they have the resources and knowledge to make great images and to do so in a timely manner. My motivation behind this post was for those of you who either cannot afford to have professional photos taken and/or are eager to learn something both challenging and rewarding.
And here are some other shots I took…I was a little hungry.