Product Photography Tips
What you're going to need:
A white background.
White bounce cards made of foam board.
A table tape.
The right room.
Recommendations for product photography:
Set up your table.
Set up your sweep.
Set up your camera.
Set up your product in the middle of the surface.
Set up the reflector card.
Take the picture and evaluate.
Get your pictures retouched.
You don’t need a crazy camera system. While shooting images with a Nikon D850 (~$3,500) sporting a 105mm f1.4 lens ($1500) is awesome, it’s also totally unnecessary in this case.
Still, if you’re feeling excited and have the budget for a new camera system for this project, a Canon APS-C format is good enough, such as Canon 80D, or even 800D with a prime lens such as Canon 50mm f1.8 stm lens or 18-135mm lens is good enough to kick start.
So what camera do you need? I would just start out with whatever you have handy and see what the results are. It’s a common myth that it’s the camera that takes the pictures. In reality, the camera is only one piece of the whole. A photograph is made up of a series of choices that includes: lighting, exposure, styling, and post-processing.
Not to get too technical, but you’re going to set your camera to a very small aperture so that you can have the most depth of field your camera is capable of.
The width of the depth of field defines the area of sharp focus and to get to that you need the largest f/stop number your camera can obtain. Shutter speed and f/stop are related. Since a larger f/stop number, like f/8, lets in less light, you’ll need to counter that by using a slower shutter speed to allow more light through.
When a camera has a slow shutter, you can’t hand hold it or the subject will be blurry, so a tripod is your answer. A stable tripod with horizontal arm will be helpful for product photography such as Benro GA268 series tripod.
3. White background
4. White bounce cards made of foam board
When you’re lighting with window light, there will be a bright side where the light is striking the product and a shadow side. This shadow side will typically be too dark and so we use something white to reflect the light back into the shadow, brightening it up. Foam board makes a great bounce card because it's rigid and white. Or can use a softbox diffuser.
A standard, 24-27 inch wide folding table works best.
Depending on the table you end up with, you can use tape or clamps to secure your board so that it sweeps properly.
7. The right room
A room with windows next to a wall is perfect. The bigger the window, the more light you’ll get in. Being closer to the window will create a softer light with darker, softer shadows. Being farther away will give a more even light, but with lighter, sharper shadows.
How to photograph your product on a white background
Alright, let's get into the step-by-step process for shooting your product photos.
Step 1: Set up your table
Once you have collected your gear, it’s time to set up your shooting area. Place your table as close to the window as possible without intersecting the shadow from the windowsill. You’ll want to start with the window 90 degrees to the right or left of your setup. The closer you are to the window and the larger the window, the softer the light will be.
Also, remember to turn off all other lights inside the room you’re shooting in as other light will contaminate the set. This is very important and is the most common mistake I see.
You can try rotating the set so the window is at 45 degrees or try shooting with the window straight on for a different style of lighting. Food photography, for example, is often shot with a window behind the setup and the camera shooting into the window for a more dramatic photo. Another variation is setting up in a garage with the door open, which will have the same qualities as a window, just without the glass.
You do not want direct sunlight hitting your set. Direct sunlight is harsh, and looks bad on most models and products.
Step 2: Set up your backdrop
There are a lot of ways to do this, but the ultimate goal is to have your sweep vertical. You may need to use a backdrop stand. We recommended to use muslin cotton backdrop as it can minimize the refection. Place your product in the center on the flat part of the sweep and leave enough room to sneak your white reflector card in later.
Step 3: Set up your camera
Every camera is a little different. Some cameras are fully auto and some have the ability to make adjustments. The beauty of this window light setup is that you can set everything to auto if you must and it will still work.
Set your white balance (WB) to auto (AWB).Turn your flash setting off.Set your image settings to the highest quality (RAW, if you have it.) Most point-and-shoot cameras don’t have the RAW setting, but if you do, then use it. This file is the largest the camera can shoot and it utilizes the full bit depth of the camera. You will have to edit in a software that reads RAW imagery (e.g. Photoshop, Bridge, Lightroom, Aperture), though.
If you don’t have RAW, set it to the largest JPG setting you have. On my Canon, there are two settings to look out for:
Size. L- (large), M- (medium), S- (small). Pick large. This setting determines the file size and you almost always want to shoot at its largest file size for optimal image quality. You can always shrink an image once it is taken, but you can’t make it larger.Quality. S (superfine), F (fine), N (normal). You should always set it to superfine. This setting determines the number of pixels that are used on the camera sensor. Not using all the available pixels will render a lower quality image.
Set your ISO to 100 as well. The ISO controls the sensitivity of the sensor. The higher the ISO, the more noise there is. Typically, the lowest ISO you can set your camera to is ISO 100, so set it there if you can.
Step 4: Set up your product in the middle of the surface
Setting up your product is one of those things that seems simple, but can take time to perfect. If it’s a bottle, for example, you have to keep the label type centered. Often there are many tiny movements and adjustments required to get everything lined up perfectly.
Step 5: Set up the reflector card/reflector
This simple white card is the single most important light modifier we have in our studio and I use it for every shoot. The light will bounce off the card and fill in all the shadows. How you position this card is a matter of taste, so try it at different angles to the product.
You can also use a 80cm or 110cm round reflector for a better effect.
Step 6: Take the picture and evaluate
Once you take the picture, take some time and really look at what you’ve created. This is where experience and education comes into play. What’s working, what isn’t working and what can you do to make it better? Experiment with different methods of making your image better and, over time, your skills will naturally improve.
Upload your images to your computer to get a better idea of how they look. The back of your camera is never very accurate. I suggest using Adobe Lightroom to organize all your images. It can also be used to do almost all of your editing except very advanced processes. You’ll no doubt need to make some adjustments to the images to get them to look just right.
Post-production software like Adobe Lightroom is very in-depth and we don’t have time to go into the details of using it right now because it’s simply too much.
Step 7: Get your pictures retouched
Once you’ve got a final image you’re happy with, it’s time to get it retouched. If you photographed your product correctly, the product should be properly exposed and your background should be a light gray. It should look something like the un-retouched images above. Comparing them to the retouched versions shows you how important this step of the process actually is.
By Jeff Delacruz and modified by Ocean Camera Gadgets