We left off last time with the shoot workflow and a promise this time to dig into the gear used to make product photography work for you. If you missed Part 1, check out the blog at Product Photography: Part 1 for the previous article.
Let’s drill into some of the items recommended in Part 1 to understand the whys.
Interchangeable Lens Camera—Set to Shoot in RAW
Simply put, a camera with interchangeable lenses is going to give you the greatest level of flexibility in placement and viewpoint. You should shoot in RAW because JPEGs use destructive compression, and you want the highest quality file for post-processing, because you WILL be post-processing. Brand is not relevant, ease of use and functional delivery is.
Tripod with Ball Head
You can certainly shoot off of your kitchen table, but I really do recommend one of those plastic-topped folding tables with the metal legs. I like the ones where the legs can be locked at different heights. They are inexpensive, take up little space, clean up easily and are large enough to take a rolled backdrop or set plate.
Whatever light system you select, get three of the same lights. Working with multiple configurations is annoying and increases the likelihood that something is going to go wrong. For static product shots, I like continuous lighting. It allows the photographer to see in the viewfinder, exactly what the product is going to look like in the shot—a luxury that flash does not deliver. However, if the subject can move, flash is superior. Note that for enough depth of field with continuous lights, your shutter speeds are going to be quite long. Flash solves this problem, but you will be limited by the power of the flash head. Once you reach full power on the flash, there is no simple way to get more light on the subject without more flashes and some math.
Soft Box for Overhead Light
Light Stands with Booms and Sandbags
Light / Flash Meter
I have seen too many great ideas go to pieces because the wrong background was used. Choose a background that is opaque, so lighting cannot pass through it. Choose a background that is easily kept clean or a new section made available or you will spend forever retouching. Be cautious in the use of velvet or flocked materials. They pick up and hold a static charge and become dust magnets. Muslins are wrinkle monsters. Sheets of heavy vinyl, wood, including a package of slat floor glued together, as well as paper rolls, brick panelling, and such make good backgrounds. If you know that you will be separating the subject off the background to insert a different background in post, do not under any circumstances use chroma green or chroma blue as your background. You will get horrible spill back on your subject and you will never get rid of that colour fringe in post-processing. If separation is your goal, use a neutral background that creates a lot of contrast with the subject so the selection for clipping is easy to make.Whatever background you use, be certain it is well secured, and cannot fall over hitting the subject, your lights, your camera or yourself.
Grey Card or ColorChecker
Time to Shoot
In Part 1, we covered the workflow, and the steps to do your own product photography. This is a wonderful skill that you will build over time. The next question is where to start?
Start at Home
Our homes have all manner of products that we can practice on. There will be figurines, cosmetic bottles, kids toys, packaged foods, jewellery, place settings, utensils, small appliances, computer mice, watches; I could go on and on. The good thing about starting with products that you already have is that you can take your time, and your costs are minimal. Moreover, all these things will have different qualities in terms of texture, colour, reflectance and even transparency or translucency. Each of these characteristics brings new challenges and new skills.
This is a game of light and shadow. Try shots, move the lights a bit, play with the background, write yourself a story goal and try to accomplish it.
Here’s a satirical shot that I made a few years ago, using product photography processes and home props to create a story.
I hope that you found this 2-part tutorial of use and are trying simple product photography with the kit that you have.
What other photographic or video tutorials might you want to see? Share your thoughts in the Comments, or if you have questions on this or any other subject.
Until next time, peace.