As photographers, we typically sell our craft as our product — but what about when we are asked to photograph a product or need to sell one ourselves?
Prop Styling photo from “Product Photography At Home” via Craftsy instructor Jessica Marquez
One of the first products I was asked to photograph was a dress for a small clothing company. After looking at ads and photos from clothing magazines, I knew that it was key to get the lighting right, the details recorded and show the piece in action. But what about when you need to photograph something to be sold online or in a store?
Now, as one of my few side jobs, I do the behind-the-scenes work for a wonderful company known as PWE Gifts. My main job there is to fill in the information for the products in Photoshop, but on occasion I also take the photos of those products to be displayed on their website.
Here are a product photography tips that I’ve picked up over time. Keep them in mind when capturing images of items being sold.
1. Maintain one lighting setup
One of the most time-consuming aspects of product photography — especially when it comes time to edit a lot of shots — is trying to manually adjust the lighting for each shot and match them up to one scene.
The two images below show two different lighting situations. Between the two images, adjustments would have to be made to match them up. It is best to use a continuous lighting set up to save time and to keep a good flow on the page where they will be displayed.
Instead, when shooting still photography, have a tripod to keep the angle and lighting the same from shot to shot. When you shoot from the same angle each time, the lighting tends to follow. If you’re indoors, close all of the blinds and use the same spot consistently. Here are more tips on setting up lighting in a home studio.
2. Stay focused
Make sure your images are in focus! While many people may not notice if an image is out of focus, with today’s resolutions on various media devices, it has become more obvious when they are not. Nothing is worse than looking at a subject and feeling like you need glasses — or if you wear glasses, feeling like you need another trip to the eye doctor.
I make sure what I’m shooting is in focus by increasing my f-stop to no less than 4.0. After I shoot, I zoom in on the image on my camera’s LCD screen. For the image below, I shot it at f/4.0 and a shutter speed of 1/320. Note that the lettering on the frame is in focus. I was still able to achieve a shallow depth of field by moving the product and its base away from the wall.
3. Keep composition consistent
As mentioned several times before, consistency is key. When scrolling through a website, we do not want to be diverted by 15 different backdrops displaying a product. There is a reason Amazon uses white backgrounds for nearly all of their goods: It’s easy and it shows the products well. Smaller companies also use this tactic and often will have their products displayed on similar (if not the exact same) backgrounds throughout their sites.
4. White balance, white balance, white balance!
There is nothing worse than sitting down to edit and seeing that you have 50 different white balance settings for a ton of product photos. If you do not edit your own product photos, at least set the white balance correctly and spare the editor a huge headache and a lot of wasted time. Trying to get all of the photos to have the exact same white balance is a pain especially if there is a specific look the client is going for. Remember: cooler tones denote cold and aloofness. Warmer tones are more inviting.
This first image is the image as it was shot with my own white balance settings in camera. I typically use the automatic white balance setting, since I do not find myself in too many odd lighting situations.
This next image shows what can happen if you make it too cool.
The next image shows how the image would look if it were too warm. Note how her skin is becoming more yellow.
When all three are placed side by side, you can really see the differences.
While the image above is a portrait, the same concept applies to product photography. If you were trying to sell the baby’s romper, for example, you’d want a white balance setting that not only complemented the image but also displayed the color of the romper correctly.
A little secret I found out by pure accident: our cell phones correct the white balance, almost too well. So if you are ever wondering the best white balance, snap a picture with your cell phone and compare the colors.
5. Don’t forget the details
It’s your job to capture the small things that a customer might not see. It can be something as simple as a tiny bow on a dress or the detailed engraving on a personalized frame. Get up close and shoot those details. This will require a steady hand or the use of a tripod to reduce camera shake and keep the image in focus.
Below is an image that might not be conventional. If I were trying to sell a mushroom, this would be a great example of a detail shot. I used a black-and-white conversion to keep the focus on those small details that might have been missed otherwise. Not all detail shots have to be in black and white, but having a good eye for what might display the product better is important. Don’t be afraid to get up close.
6. Understand perspective
Ever notice that when you look through an online catalog, that all of the images seem to be shot at the same level? Most are at eye level or below. When shooting product photography, try to keep the perspective consistent, even if you take photos of a product from multiple angles.
For example, you might take most of your shots at eye level and then add a few shots from above and from the side for every product. But you wouldn’t take one shot up close, one from the top, and then all of a sudden from across the room for just one product. It makes no sense.
When shooting the PWE frames, I try to shoot on my knees. That way, I am always at the same eye level. If there is a large product, then I have to adjust my stance to fit the product.
In the image below of the outfit, I kept my angle at the subject’s eye level so she didn’t have to look up or down at the camera. When a prospective customer looks at the dress, they see it from their own perspective. Many fashion photographers shoot from below their subjects to give them height. This is fine as well, as long as the resulting image makes sense when looking at it.