10 Essential Tips for Product Photographers
Product photography is probably the most widespread genres, yet it is also the most often overlooked. This is primarily due to the oversaturation of advertising that we’re exposed to at any given moment of our day. As a result, you might rarely find yourself browsing a photography website dedicated to commercial imagery.
However, the beauty of it all comes when you finally come across that one product image that strikes something within you. Then you stop seeing it as an advertising asset but rather as a whole new world you can’t wait to explore. And thus, you find yourself looking to learn how to capture photos as incredible as that one. Eventually coming across these essential product photography tips that will help you start your journey into this incredibly vast genre.
Look for inspiration
In order to capture beautiful product photography images, you’ll first need to get your sight used to it. Chances are that this type of imagery is nearly non-existent on the list of Instagram photography accounts you follow, and you might not even know of any renowned photographers in the field.
Start by making yourself familiar with the big names in the industry, such as Tim Hawley and Lucas Zarebinski. Pay attention to the photography trends you see on both big brands’ ads and small business social posts. Furthermore, you can create inspiration boards on Pinterest to help you figure out which type of image and style you feel more drawn towards.
Pick the right lens
When choosing the type of camera lens for your product photography, there are two main things you’ll need to keep in mind: distortion and speed. The images you shoot need to portray the product as close to reality as possible, and therefore you’ll need to avoid any kind of shape deformation. In order to do so, you’ll need to use a standard focal length (35mm-70mm.)
As for the speed, you’ll want a fast lens that gives you as much freedom as possible with exposure times and depth of field. Since you’ll most likely be in control of every single aspect of the composition, it’s recommended to opt for prime lenses as you can simply reposition the camera rather than zoom in.
Before you ask, yes it is possible to shoot beautiful product photos with a smartphone. Just make sure you cross off the rest of the tips on this article.
Use a tripod
More than a product photographer tip, you should see this as a “becoming a professional photographer tip.” A tripod can have an enormous impact on your work, as not only does it keep your camera completely still, but it also forces you to slow down and think about every composition.
When it comes to product photography, unlike in most other types of photography, ditching the tripod is a rare move. This is mainly because this genre offers you full control over all elements in the shoot, from light and framing to composition and camera settings.
Using a tripod will allow you to make small changes in the scene after setting up the camera, ensuring the final result is exactly what you envisioned. Furthermore, it will also allow you to shoot at slower speeds and take full advantage of the available light.
Shoot with a wide aperture
One of the best ways to ensure your subject is the star of the image is to use a narrow depth of field. By keeping a significant part of the framed scene out of focus, you’ll be able to separate the product from its surroundings. As a result, there won’t be any elements taking attention away from it.
Rather than simply going for the widest aperture possible, make sure enough product details are visible while still managing to make the subject stand out from its surroundings. This, of course, will need to be decided on a shot-by-shot basis as it’s completely dependent on the composition and intention of each image.
Choose the right lighting
Finding the perfect light is the hardest part of any photoshoot, and product photography is no exception. There is also no one size fits all solution, as each type of product and project will come with particular requirements.
Unless you have access to a professional studio and incredible photography skills when it comes to artificial lighting, you’ll want to stick with natural light. Setting up your scene next to a window will allow you to capture natural shadows, which inherently adds depth and strengthens its three-dimensional volume.
When shooting with natural light, check the weather in advance and plan your time accordingly. For example, cloudy days will give you a flatter overcast than direct sunlight. If you want to achieve a warmer look, schedule your shooting during the photography golden hour.
Avoid harsh shadows
Whether you’re shooting with natural or artificial lighting, you’ll need to mold it to your needs in order to achieve the desired result. The best way to do so is using a reflector. This handy camera accessory will allow you to fill in shadows, create a more balanced exposure, and avoid loss of details.
There are five main types of photography reflectors, each meant for a different purpose:
Silver to increase highlights
Gold to produce a natural golden fill
White to achieve neutral-colored bounce light
Black to block or decrease light
Translucent to diffuse light
You can also take the DIY route and make your own white and silver reflectors using a piece of white cardboard or a solid surface covered with tin foil, respectively.
Keep it simple
Remember: less is more. In many cases, you’ll actually find yourself looking for a plain background that truly makes your product shine. To do so, you can use a white backdrop that will also double as a reflector or a photo light box if you’re shooting small objects.
While the use of props is very much encouraged in product photography, you should always keep in mind that the product should be the sole star of the image. Pay attention to the different photography composition rules and use simple color palettes to guide the viewer’s sight straight to the main subject.
Shoot to edit
While you’ll always have the option to fix minor issues during post processing, you should always aim to get your images right on camera. This will save you a lot of time and headaches, which in result will allow you to focus on the best files.
Make sure you always shoot in RAW, as it will give you much more flexibility when you reach the photo editing software stage. Speaking of which, familiarize yourself with all its tools and features beforehand. If you’re not feeling comfortable enough with the software to ensure you’ll be able to make your imagery vision come true, consider taking some online photography classes to truly get a grasp on it.
Tell the product’s story
When people look at a product, they want to understand what it would be like to own it. That’s one of the main reasons why Ikea catalogs are so popular, even among those who don’t actually have a space to redecorate. In order to tap into people’s subconscious, introduce your product into different lifestyle shots revolving around it.
The secret to doing so successfully is to find the perfect balance between subtlety and pure advertising. Meaning that the attention is directed to the product but in a way that doesn’t feel too obvious. This is actually one of the most valuable skills to develop if you want to make a photography career out of product photography, and it will only come to you through practice and dedication.
Explore the possibilities
Product photography offers the perfect playground to make your creative photography ideas come to life. Explore how different each object looks from different angles and camera positions, and what shape shadows take as you move it around.
Play around with textures and depth of field, treating each product as a little landscape to immerse yourself in. Think not only about the real life purpose of the object, but also what your inner child would be able to create with it. After all, the best way to create and grow is by having fun.
By Judit Ruiz Ricart
Editor of the Wix Photography Blog