Being more technically inclined, even though most people view me as a creative, I find myself more drawn to product photography. I guess the creative side revels in being totally lost in creating the
perfect image required with product photography. Product photography, as I say is an extremely technical discipline. More often than not, your client is going to require the images for their website, online store or a catalog, which means you need to provide a direct representation of what the product looks like. There is very little room for artistic flair here though, in some cases like jewellery, artistic flair has its place.
- Correct colours
- Correct exposure
- Correct composition in adherence to brief
- Correct depth of field to provide detail throughout.
That being said, product photography is also one of the most interesting fields in respect to the products that have filled the studio. We have seen everything from high-end race car parts to HIV test kits come through the doors.
The anchor of all my product photography equipment has to be my infinity curve table. This table was made by me a few years ago and, if I say so myself, it is a remarkably well designed feat of engineering. It is high enough to comfortably fit studio lights underneath and is able to fold up and fit onto roof-racks of a small car. It also has wheels welded to the bottom to make it more manageable in a studio environment. It takes a sheet of Acrylic UHI resist 65 opal that is 1m x 2m x 3mm. This is available from Maizey Plastics at a reasonable price and is the correct translucency, strong enough to support reasonably heavy products such as turbos yet flexible enough to create the required curve under its own weight. It is also slightly more scratch resistant than perspex.
Here are a few images of the table.
Once you have set up your table, your next step is lights. Bearing in mind, the most complex of light setups always start with one light, my starting point is always the lights underneath. We want a larger depth of field here so I always begin with my camera set to F20. This is a tricky situation to use your light meter in so I usually place my product on the table and start with 2 x 200 watt lights underneath. I find it convenient to use my set of Photon 200 watts available from Kameraz as they are light enough to mount on a boom. It is also better to use 2 light sources than one to prevent hotspots. Both lights are placed on booms which make them easier to move around.
Here are a few images of the lights on the booms.
I always do my product photography tethered to a Mac. This provides me with more accurate colours and exposure and it allows me to view the lighting in more detail. Another added bonus is it allows the client to approve the composition as we shoot if the client is present. We want a larger depth of field here so I always begin with my camera set to F20. I then set my lights underneath so they blow out the background without “wrapping around” the edges. It is important to magnify and view the edges to ensure this is not happening before commencing with the shoot. Once you are satisfied you can proceed with your main and fill light.
Scenario 1 is when you have a product that is not very reflective. Here you setup the table lights as usual and your main and fill lights, I use a Hylow 400 watt and a Hylow 260 watt with softboxes all available from Camerastuff, here, setting them to F20 with a light meter, to achieve the even lighting in the image on the right.
Scenario 2 is when you have a product that is very reflective. Most of these are chrome products that act like a mirror. Here we setup the table lights as usual but we have to use a light tent, see below, that is also available from Camerastuff to eliminate the reflections. Our main and fill lights are the same. Here I am using a beauty dish with cover for the fill light and am firing the main light, without any modifier as the side of the light tent acts as the diffuser.
Scenario is when you have a product that has a screen you want to display in your image as opposed to “placing” the screen in post production. The important factor to remember here is that you are dealing with 2 light sources. when dealing with 2 light sources in a studio environment, one has to remember that the main light, the studio lights here, are controlled by the aperture setting which we have set up at F20. Setting up the light here (see below) I have used one light which is “feathered”, which means it is fired from the side of the product. This prevents any reflections on the screen. The screen is treated as what we call “ambient light” and this is controlled by the shutter speed. The shutter speed in the product image is 1/2 sec to allow the image on the monitor to show.
Tips and Tricks
- Make use of a lens with a focal length the same or longer than the “standard lens” for the sensor you are using. A full frame is 50mm and a cropped sensor is 30mm (approx figures based on the diagonal of the sensor). This will prevent distortion. I always use a 70-200mm F2.8 for product photography as it allows me to get further away from the product to increase the depth of field.
- Always make use of a grey card or ColourChecker Passport to ensure your colours are correct.
- Always factor in extra time spent with the client to familiarize yourself with the products and the brief.
- When shooting “sensitive” products such as medical products, it is advisable to have the client or a representative present as incorrect composition (e.g. in shooting medical test kits) may have dire consequences.