What is product photography, and why do you need it?
Firstly, to answer my own question: what is product photography? Essentially it’s a branch of commercial photography which is about representing a product both accurately and attractively. The resulting photos are often used in catalogues and on websites, or for advertising purposes. Their importance in selling or promoting goods shouldn’t be under-estimated.
It’s the light, stupid!
One of the key factors in photographing any product is getting the lighting right in order to show off that particular object most effectively. There are no hard and fast rules about this – each job is different but as a rule most subjects look better if lit with a soft light (i.e. no harsh, direct lighting). At its simplest this can be natural light from a window, although many professional photographers prefer to use flash for consistency. There are products such as light tents that provide gentle, all-over lighting for the all-important eBay product shot, but again professionals would probably opt for a soft-box or umbrella for controlled directional soft lighting.
Keep it consistent
If you’re shooting product photography of a group of items (for a catalogue or website) it helps if you have a consistent background – whether it’s plain white or something more decorative such as a textured cloth. On the subject of consistency it’s important to maintain correct exposure and lighting across the whole set of photos – any shot that deviates from the norm will stick out like a sore thumb.
Case study 1: Safer Systems required detailed photographs of all the vending machine security devices they sell. Some of these were very small, while others were attached to a full size machine. Given the number and size of the items it wouldn’t have been practical for me to shoot in my own studio. As a result the job was carried out on their premises in Ripley using studio flash or portable SpeedLights where appropriate. For the smaller items such as the padlocks at the head of this page I used a white perspex background lit by two soft boxes which created a pleasing white space, with faint reflections on the glossy perspex. The resulting photos were used on the company website and in their print brochures.
Product photography on location
On occasion I find that I’m asked to shoot on location, and this is where modern lighting equipment comes into its own: I can take my lighting and backgrounds and create a pop-up studio in an office, a factory or an artist’s studio if necessary. The flash is so powerful that I don’t need a blackout in order to have control over the lighting.
Case study 2: Grespania Tiles needed photos of their tiling products displayed in bathroom and kitchen sets in their showroom in Birmingham. I took two studio flash heads with diffusers in order to photograph each setting with good lighting and correct white balance. Some of the displays presented problems where they included glossy tiles and chrome fittings, so there was a fair bit of manoeuvring of light stands, but I think the resulting shots (below) do justice to the high quality of the products.
Case study 3: I photographed Andy Mason’s beautiful ceramics at his studio – I didn’t want the responsibility of moving these precious pots! With objects like these the aim is to capture their beauty and texture in order to demonstrate Andy’s skill as a ceramic artist. With a graduated background and a single light I was able to capture the look and feel of the pots in a relatively short space of time.
Case study 4: Cliff Moughton contacted me with an unusual request: could I photograph his painting so that it could be printed out at the same size? That sounded simple until he explained that the painting was 2 metres long! I realised that in order to maintain quality I couldn’t photograph it in one shot, so the solution was to photograph it in sections which were then digitally edited into a panoramic photo. I set up my lights, initially softened with white umbrellas although I then realised that if the light was too soft the texture of the painting was lost, so in the end I used direct flash. The resulting photo was supplied to Cliff as a large digital file ready to be professionally printed as a high quality art print.
I could do that!
It’s true that many marketing managers will do their own product photography using whatever camera is at hand, and will capture a decent likeness of their items. However there’s no denying that most people don’t fully understand the technical issues such as white balance, lighting ratios, depth of field and pixel dimensions, all of which can have a negative effect on the photo.
Achieving correct white balance can be a frustrating experience as our own eyes are not easily able to spot subtle changes in the colour of the light: daylight will shift from a warm tint to cool blue as the sun moves across the sky. Modern digital cameras are very sensitive to such changes, but it’s possible to measure and control the colour temperature so that the products being photographed are shown with accurate colour. This is obviously important so that the customer knows exactly what they are buying. The pictures below show how different light sources can affect the look of your photos – the booklet should be black & white, but only one of the four images shows it correctly.
Lighting ratio concerns the balance between the main light source and any secondary source (another light, or a reflector), important in retaining detail throughout the image. In the photo above there are highlights and shadows, but there is detail in almost all areas of the image.
Depth of field is concerned with controlling the camera and lens in order to show the whole item in sharp focus (or alternatively to selectively focus on one part of the product). In the example below the focus is on the measuring device, with the operator and background gradually falling out of focus.
A creative challenge
Other jobs present particular challenges: glass is always tricky to photograph as I found when asked to shoot some stained glass pieces for a client. The difficulty lies in capturing the colours and texture in the glass the way that we see it, and this particular piece required a special background and additional lighting in order to bring it to life.
This is where a professional photographer has an advantage, and will be able to light and photograph your products in order to show them at their best, and to provide finished images to the correct technical specifications.
Contact me today to discuss your product photography
As you can see from the examples shown above I’m able to work in a variety of styles, and cope with the demands of different clients. The one thing that these photos have in common is their clarity and fidelity to the original items. If you need to update your website or brochure and want top quality product photography you can email me here or call me today to discuss your requirements on 07709 269577.