One of my favourite disciplines of photography
Product photography is one of my favourite disciplines of photography. Especially so when it’s done right. It’s taken me a while to get anywhere near happy with the quality of my shots but, slowly and surely, I’m starting to feel happier and happier with them (although they’re still a long way from being perfect). So, since I’ve learnt some things about product photography, I thought I’d write a little blog about it. That way, if you’re fancying having a go, you’ve got a few less mistakes to make and possibly something new to think about. And, whilst we’re all stuck inside, you can still be creative without even having to leave the house.
When setting up a product shot, it’s really important that the product is the centre of the attention. That might sound obvious but think about those perfume adverts you see on the telly. Don’t we all sit there and go ‘what on Earth is this?’. I’d never want any of my product shots to be like perfume ads. Instead, it’s the product that gathers the attention. That’s not to say that it has to be the biggest thing in the frame, just that the eye has to be drawn to it. Start out by making sure the product is exposed properly (yes, even at the risk of losing the highlights or shadows elsewhere). Then, make sure the camera is focused on the product. If it’s not, well what’s the point in even taking the shot? You can also draw the eye to the attention by using other elements. Things like the grain of wood leading towards a product, or carefully angled items pointing at the main element help to subconsciously point the viewer in a specific direction. Finally, the product doesn’t have to be in the middle of the frame either. In fact, deepening on how you’re shooting, you might want to stick to the ‘rule of thirds’. This is basically just splitting the shot into 3 columns and 3 rows. Where the lines overlap and form an ‘+’ is a ‘powerful place’ to position the subject.
Next up, I like to try to create a bit of a story. I don’t mean that there’s got to be different aspects of the photo all leading into one another, but the better product shots show a little more than just the product. They make you think ‘oh yeah, that’s how I’d use that.’ At the time when I shot some GÜP stuff for Cyclorise, it was a relatively unknown product (it still might be new to some of you). Whilst people hadn’t encountered it before, shooting it with some spare tyres instantly creates a story, or link, between GÜP and the fact it’s something to do with bike tyres. Getting this bit right helps to reinforce the point in the product and creates better product shots. Of course, there’s a time and place for plain backgrounds but they’re typically best for print or product images for websites where there’s a lot of text accompanying them. The text ends up telling the story rather than the image in this case.
Lighting shouldn’t be underestimated when shooting products. In the case of the GÜP shots above, I feel I didn’t quite get it right. With these shots of the FÜD energy drinks (what’s it about umlauts?) I took for a review I wrote, the lighting is much better. The lights need to be set up in a way that helps show the product off. Sometimes harsh shadows fit a product (something a little bit dangerous like flat pedals, for example) but a lot of the time you’ll want to show off the product as best as you can. If you’ve got some white lights at home give it a go placing them around the products in different ways. If you’ve got a diffuser (more on this in a moment), even better as this will help stop any harsh highlighting or shadows. Pay close attention to the shadows and how these change. Obviously, white lights aren’t a common staple of most households so the next best thing is shooting net to a window. Some folk will argue that natural light is better than artificial light, even if it’s white with a diffuser. Personally, I don’t find that the case because natural light can’t be moved around as easily. Sure, you can block it out and reflect it but I find setting up flashes exactly where I want them to be the easier option.
Diffusers can be a game changer when shooting with any light, whether that’s natural light or ‘studio light’. They’re basically a sheet which softens the light and gets rid of any harshness. Think of it as a portable cloud – on overcast days the shadows are way less obvious. It’s the same thing with diffusers except you can carry them round and put them where you want. If you’re interested in giving them a go, you can pick them up pretty cheaply on Amazon – something like this would do. Whilst we’re on the subject of light, there’s nothing wrong shooting under permanent light. Sometimes I’ll use a mix of things – flashes, natural light and constant light. Do what you think is best for the product and what you think looks best. In my opinion, having fun and taking shots you like outweighs the ‘purist’ approach of only shooting a certain way. Whilst all this is the case, it’s not usually a good idea to mix different colours of light. For example, most household lights will give a warmer, almost yellow, shade of light. It’s wonderful to have in the living room but doesn’t help the colour when used alongside a white light… in most situations. That’s not to say you can’t shoot with warmer lights and then alter the colouring in post a little.
Once you’ve got the light, story and your product gets enough attention, hit the shutter. Review the images and see what’s working and what’s not. Change some things. Maybe you need to move the products to prevent glare across the branding. Perhaps, you need to add more or less light. Try some light behind the product. Shoot it from a different angle. Once the story, light and composition are sorted the rest is exploring. If you get some good shots, please do share them with me; I’d love to see them.