A Beginner’s Guide to Product Photography

While I do not have keen interest in product photography as such, I have learnt few things from my experiences and experiments with product shoots. More than anything else, it helped me understand lighting better and use the same techniques for fashion photography and portraits. This post is not for the experts but for those who aspires to become better at product photography with minimal investment.

Step 1: Setting the Backdrop

The first step in a product shoot should be to set up a seamless background (i.e. without folds). If you are doing it for e-commerce website, white is the industry standard. Alternatively, you may also consider black or or any other colour depending on the mood or vibes you want to create for that product.

Pro Tip: For more creative shots, I would suggest a hand-painted background or combination of colours based on colour theory which resonates with the product’s brand.

I have shown four different examples of backdrop in the above gallery where I have used chart paper for images in the first row and hand-painted sheet for images in the second row.

Step 2: Setting up the Light

You can place the light in so many ways using either single light (continuous or external flash) as your key (main) light with a reflector as your fill light. Your first instinct may be to place the key light in front of the product which is fine if you are doing an e-commerce shoot. However, for e-commerce shoot, you also need to light the background properly so as to get the perfect white background as you see on e-commerce websites. If you are doing an advertising shoot, you need to be more creative with light and introduce shadows in interesting ways to create some drama. If your product has reflective surface, you must be extra careful to avoid any unwanted reflections (including your own) and should try to introduce some gloss (golden or silver) to make it shine and stand out (without overexposing). There are few basic lighting technique which you can watch on YouTube to get started with. If you can spend a bit more, I would advise using a snoot to separate the subject from background.

Pro Tip: If you want to plan your lighting better, I would suggest making a light diagram first instead of experimenting unplanned.

Now, let me suggest few lighting products that you can use without much cost:

Step 3: Placing the Product

The next step would be to clean the product as much as you can to ensure that there are no smudges, finger prints or dust specs on it. While you can also remove these on Photoshop later on, it would take much more time, efforts and precision to do so. Trust me, if you skip this part, you may face hard times removing every single dust spec on Photoshop and still not get a flawless result. Once the product is cleaned, use hand gloves to place the product on a glass sheet to get the desired reflection. Needless to say, the glass sheet also needs to be thoroughly cleaned. Keep the subject nearest to the camera and little away from the background (1/3 in front and 2/3 from focal plane) so that you can work on depth of field. Also, when you place the subject, do it in a way that highlights the features of product.

Step 4: Setting the Camera

Lens: While you can use any lens for a product shoot depending on the size of the product, I would recommend a standard zoom lens (24-105 mm), particularly for smaller objects, which gives you the flexibility to change focal length and experiment with creative compositions. If your lens has macro capabilities, you would be able to capture the minute details and design elements of the product (like watch, jewellery, etc.) more accurately.

Camera Settings: A commercial product shoot requires edge to edge sharpness, particularly when it has intricate details. This can be achieved only if you are using a very narrow aperture (ideally F8.0 or above). Once the aperture is set, the next setting you should change is ISO which can be fixed at anywhere between 100-200. Next comes the shutter speed, which you should keep rotating as and when required to get the exposure right. Keeping aperture at F8.0 or above may require you to go for slower shutter speeds. I strongly recommend using a steady tripod here to fix your camera for longer exposure (slower shutter speed). If you are using very slow shutter speed, try to avoid camera shake (created with the finger press) by using in-built self-timer (5-10 seconds) for shutter press. It is also equally important to set the auto-focus area to the part of your frame where the subject is placed.

Step 5: Final Photograph

The final shots will depend on the purpose for which you are shooting. If it is for e-commerce, you must shoot all the sides that you think a prospective buyer would be interested in seeing, before making a purchase decision, with the product being in centre.

If you are shooting for an advertisement or magazine, you must be mindful to leave sufficient space for the text. Knowing the length of your textual content beforehand would always help. You can notice the extra space I have left in the first image (below) for text and rest of the images (below) for brand logo and description of paid collaboration with Varun Dhavan. (Note: Below is the fan/artist edition of the Fossil watch I bought for myself and I have not done this shoot for Fossil.)

Try to compose your shots using all popular rules of composition (one-third rule, golden ratio, symmetry etc.) so that you have greater choices to select and work with the images later. Also try to find out if there is any industry accepted standard to shoot that product. For instance, watches are usually shot with three hands in the position of 10:10:35 for a more aesthetic look (and also to avoid any hand eclipsing the other). Similarly, you should be able to highlight any special feature of the product. For example, if the product is waterproof, you can use water splashes to highlight this feature.

I have given several examples of the products I have shot in the gallery below. Please do not forget to click these images to see the details of my camera settings for each of the photograph. Shoot me a question in the comment box below, if you need a more detailed guidance.

What You Need?

1. Main Light: It can be either continuous light (which is less expensive) or one/two strobe light(s) (which are usually more expensive).

2. Reflector: If you are relying on one single light source, you must have a reflector to bounce some light on the darker part of the product.

3. Tripod: As product shoot requires high value of aperture (F 8.0 and above) for edge to edge sharpness, you may have to reduce shutter speed very low to get the right exposure. This is where a tripod will be come handy.

4. Backdrop: This can be a simple white chart paper stuck to the wall and dropping down without bending folds. You can also use coloured paper or hand-painted sheet for creative background.

5. A Glass Sheet: This will be used to place the product to create a faint reflection.

6. Soft Cloth: This is to clean the product and remove finger prints every time you touch it with your fingers to adjust the placement or orientation.

Step 6: Post-processing

I mostly use post-processing to remove unwanted marks, scratches, dust specs, smudges, etc. (if still left uncleaned). Additionally, if you have used any sticking tapes or objects to fix or place the object upright, do not forget to remove it on Photoshop. In any case, you must do the necessary touch-ups to emphasize shadows, mid-tones and highlights and create the mood you want for the product.

As an extra step to make your product shot stand out, you can also use Dodge and Burn tool on Adobe Photoshop to make interplay of light more pronounced and emphatic.

You can use Canva to add texts and design as per client’s requirement or simply take inspiration from their advertising campaigns to create your own product photography portfolio.

Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Yash Desai for some of the tips he shared with me earlier.


Published by Vivek Kumar Verma

Investment Banking Lawyer | Photographer & Blogger | Connoisseur of Food | Poet

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