Here are some of the essentials you may need, and alternatives that don’t cost the earth.
• Camera and Lens. I’m not going to go into much detail here as there are so many choices. You need a camera that will let you control it manually, preferably a DSLR or similar, where you can change lenses. An entry level DSLR (cropped sensor) will be fine for most uses. It’s really the lens that’s going to make quite a difference. I wrote about this above, in the section about achieving a ‘Tack Sharp’ image. Always have a charged second battery on standby so you can swap them over.
• Background. Really, you can use any roll of paper as a background. Depending on the size of your products, you could even use a roll of plain wallpaper. There are so many options here. You can use fabric too, as long as you iron it enough first. Mount boards are available in large sizes, and various colours (watch out when re-ordering though, as the colours don’t always tend to be consistent).
• Surfaces. Quite often I have used old laminate flooring, or preferably real wood flooring. When you glue five pieces together, it gives a surface area of around 1.2m square, and you have limitless possibilities in painting them. If you do manage to find some real wood, these can be painted or stripped to accentuate the texture of the grain.
Something I personally would recommend avoiding would be printed backdrops and surfaces, for example mock 3D. I think these rarely look completely realistic and therefore really distract from the image you’re trying to portray.
You can even mix and match surfaces/backgrounds, depending on what you want to achieve.
• Sprung Clamps. Available in local hardware stores, or online. These really are so handy, it’s not possible to have too many of them.
• Table. You can buy tables specifically for product photography, by Manfrotto and other brands that incorporate an infinity curve shape in them. I’ve never found these to be flexible enough though, and prefer to use a standard square metal table, with the top removed, to allow for lighting from any direction. But basically any sturdy table, preferably on castors will do just fine.
• Window. Not really a piece of equipment per se, but some form of lighting is necessary. Never use your built-in camera flash – they’re simply too direct, too harsh, and too inflexible. Find an open area next to a window, preferably one with lots of natural light. Indirect light is best for product photography as it gives the most soft and even illumination.
White foam board is really good as it’s very lightweight and doesn’t damage other things while you’re moving it around. This is used to bounce light back into the shadows. Small pieces of white and black card are also handy for blocking or reflecting smaller areas.
• Tripod. Doesn’t have to be anything fancy; if you only have a light aluminium one, you can always use a sandbag or similar and hang it from the tripod to stabilize it a little. If you do a lot of overhead shooting, it will save you a lot of time if you have a tripod with a central column that can be moved to a horizontal position. These are generally manufactured by Manfrotto.
My own Manfrotto Tripod, shown with
horizontal central column, and a
sandbag attached for additional stability.
I hope you have found this photography series useful and you can put these tips into action. If you would like to get in touch with Richard or to see more of his work, be sure to follow him on Instagram @forevercreativephotography or online
Another good reason to get a tripod is for sharpness. Use a tripod to ensure that the camera is focussed upon your product, and then use the self timer (built into most cameras and phones) to take the image. Even when the camera is fitted to a tripod, the movement when pressing the shutter button can still affect sharpness. Even if this isn’t immediately noticeable, and doesn’t appear as a blur, it can reduce the sharpness of the image overall, so remember to use the self timer!
Inexpensive tripods can be easily obtained and will greatly improve the sharpness of your product images. If the tripod is lightweight, use a sandbag to prevent any movement.
In some scenes automatic focus can struggle to accurately recognise the focus point you need. Similarly, manual focusing can sometimes be difficult if there isn’t an area of high contrast for you to focus on. In these situations, it can be handy to have something else to focus upon and place in the scene. Anything that is very sharp and can be placed either against or by the side of your product can be used. Something like a barcode printed out is ideal, and can be quickly moved out of the shot.
Sharpness is very important with small objects, such as this jewellery above. It’s also very noticeable on things like lettering/typography within your work. Even this glasswork features lines in the design which would be lost if the image wasn’t sharp enough.
Tether your Camera to the Computer
It’s tempting to make a quick decision about the image on the back of the camera. I know because I’ve been guilty of this in the past! It really does pay to be patient and view them on a larger screen, such as laptop, computer or tablet. It’s quite surprising how many issues arise when viewing the scene larger, such as something protruding into the scene or a distracting shadow running across your product. These can easily get hidden viewing the small LCD screen on the back of the camera, and the colour is not depicted accurately. This is why I shoot tethered, which is where the camera is connected directly to the computer via cable or Wi-Fi. This makes it instantly possible to check the focusing, sharpness, colour and the overall product and scene. Entry level DSLRs are actually ahead of the professional models in terms of rolling out Wi-Fi at a reasonable cost. I’d certainly recommend looking into that if you require a new camera.
Consider that sometimes it takes quite a while to get your scene set up, and to get the camera and tripod into the exact right position. Even if you don’t tether, why not have a cable connecting the camera to your laptop? Before continuing, load up the image to check everything - that’s the least I would recommend. There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a shoot and having to set up previous shots again. I hate that!
Why Should I Bother To Use The RAW Settings? Isn’t It Easier Just To Use the JPEG Mode?
Wherever possible always use the RAW setting on the camera. This is because, if you’re working with the raw image, certain edits (such as changing the white balance) can be done without degrading the image whatsoever. You don’t have to use Lightroom as Photoshop has its own RAW image converter for importing the images. Working with raw images will give you more control and latitude when adjusting exposure, amongst other things.
When it comes to creating a setting, there are two basic types, being a lifestyle setting or a unique custom styling to showcase your product. A lifestyle setting is based around the use or placement of your product, such as this coaster image...
Client : Yellow Room Designs
Alternatively you could style it in more of a unique way, using various props such as found objects, craft supplies, art supplies etc, etc.
I’ve shown an example below, where I used some found wooden boards to give a weathered organic appearance, and added props like conkers, and pine cones to reinforce the nature theme of the greetings cards.
Client : New Leaf Cards
This type of image refers more to the design/artwork itself, than the context of the product.
When it comes to selecting backgrounds and surfaces there are many places to start. I prefer using items that have a depth to their surface, such as a textured surface. Try going to your local tile merchant; it’s amazing the different looks you can create from that one source alone. You might choose different stone/granite/tile/marble etc and it’s a look that you can’t replicate. You’ll only need one or perhaps one of each, so it won’t cost much, plus you can clean it to use again and again.
There are lots of other possibilities for surfaces. You can use the top of a table, old flooring, split down a pallet, or perhaps you could use a piece of marble or granite. It depends on what you want to communicate about your product and its style and design. If you work with real wood, it can be painted or stripped to accentuate the texture of the grain. You could use mount boards or fabric: bunching up fabric such as velvet or silk can cause interesting shapes and shadows. It’s best to avoid using printed backdrops behind your products as these look unrealistic at best; at worst they can be distracting and devalue your product.
For backgrounds I quite often use coloured card. If you pop to your local gallery or art supply shop, you can buy mount boards in lots of colours, and these are ideal due to price and size.
Client : Bespoke & Personal
In this image above, a chest of drawers is placed in front of a large mount board. On top of there a tile gives the image more interest through its reflections of the product and props.
Styling your work and Photographing in a Consistent Way
Lets be honest: not everyone has a passion for photography. For many it can be something of an obstacle to overcome and your passion for making is where you would rather spend your time. But with a little push in the right direction, you can improve your photography results no end. Aspects such as consistency and paying a little attention to the way you light your work can elevate your storefront presence, even if you don’t improve anything else. This all has a massive impact on your sales potential, so its worth taking into consideration.
Consistency across Your Images
To achieve any sort of consistency between shots, it’s essential to have a tripod. By keeping your photographs simple and consistent, it will make your photography appear more professional. By consistent, I mean a consistent overall setting, with the product position being the same on each photograph. If you're using a phone, I’m sure you can improvise something to hold the camera in position, but for the sake of around a tenner, you may as well just order yourself a simple tripod, and that’s the same with a camera. Get yourself a tripod.
Don’t forget to mark the position of your product on the surface so can easily reposition a new product there each time.
In the examples above, the card position, the surface and the props are all placed in the same position. Cards by Hannah Marchant Illustrates.
Approach Your Shoot in a Systematic Way
Many products are sold in ranges, and for these it’s best to create one setting for the entire range, and then make adjustments with the props throughout to differentiate the photographs. One way of making all the photos unique is to use colour co-ordinating items. Sometimes, all that is changed are the foreground objects, as in the example above; other times, it could be background objects that change.
It’s best to have more than one image of your product to use in your storefront. Turn your work area into a production line: have your camera or phone in one position and photograph each product in one setting/angle. Then go through all the products again to do the second angle/setting. That’s the best way to ensure consistency between shots, and having the same framing and angles throughout will give you a very consistent and professional feel overall.
Use conventional standardised angles for your images. Don’t try to be overly creative with them. They’re difficult to repeat, and even more importantly, strange camera angles can be distracting. It’s the product that needs to be the ‘hero’ of the shot.
To differentiate each shot, add or remove props from each image to make them unique, and swap out the product itself as in this very simple example above. It can be as little as changing some coloured beads to fit with the product.
There are very few applications for on-camera flash in product photography - it’s simply too direct and too harsh. If you use a table or surface placed next to a large window it saves on investing in any lighting equipment, and it also provides a beautifully soft appearance to your products. If you're using sunlight, photograph at the same time of day to achieve consistent lighting.
It’s worth bearing in mind that windows provide different amounts of appropriate illumination, mainly due to their orientation. It’s best to use a north facing window, just like a painter would, for the most diffuse and continual soft light. If you don’t have access to that, you can easily diffuse the light by placing a diffusion material across the window. Suitable materials to use are tracing paper, a voile, or a white bed sheet.
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, so use a piece of white card or foam board to reflect the light back into the shadows. Foam board makes a great bounce card, because it's rigid and white. Small pieces of white and black card are also handy for blocking or reflecting smaller areas. Pieces of black card can be used to prevent highlights (areas of too much light) within your scene.
It takes a little practise and experimentation to get them in the right place but can make quite a difference to the finished image.
Make sure you turn off any nearby lamps or fluorescent lighting so that you’re using only one light source. This makes it more likely that your camera or phone can select the correct white balance straight away. All cameras and nearly all phones will let you adjust the white balance settings; most likely you’ll have to switch to manual mode. What you want is for white and grey areas to appear correctly. If they’re too cold or too warm the image will look amateurish. If your phone only has white balance presets, the best options to use are a cloudy or sunlight setting.
There are many tutorials online about product photography, particularly dealing with the more technical details, but instead here I’ve chosen to cover some of the practical elements based upon my own experience. I’ve put together some tips on how to pick surfaces, backgrounds and props, and how to best light the images. I’ll also go into whether it’s best to have a light or darker setting to show off your product, and the dramatic effect that depth of field has on your image.
When it comes to selling online, your web presence communicates both the value of your products and your brand attributes, and your imagery is a vital part of that.
The images are not only selling tools, but communicate to your potential customer something about you and how you conduct business. They can also help you to build trust, which is an important part of online marketing.
You might ultimately want to have a professional photographer take photos for you, or you might be able to do it yourself. You will need to consider factors such as the type of products you create, how difficult they are to photograph, how often you create new products, the lifetime of the product and also your available budget.
Client : Dragonfly Dichroic
90% of this image is lit by the Christmas lights and candles, meaning the image remains true to the environment where the product would be used. This helps tell the story of the product, and place it in within a context.
1. Creating a Story
The initial part of the story is created in the mind’s eye of the consumer when they look at your product photos, which are one of your most important sales tools. Look at things from your customer’s point of view: they can’t physically see your product in front of them, they can’t feel it, turn it or touch it.
So the primary goal of the photo is to accurately describe the product and convey the tangible elements of the product. Your photos also communicate the feel of the product: for instance, does it have a smooth or coarse texture? Is it glossy or matte?
This also applies to products created by surface pattern designers and greetings card designers. To your mind the product is more about the artwork, and not the card or product itself, but the customer wants to the see the whole; they want to see special finishes and the texture of the card for example.
The secondary goal of the photo is to place the product within a context, to help your customer visualise your product in its natural environment, and to promote a lifestyle promise associated with your brand.
Now that you know what you’re trying to achieve, you need to decide how you want to place the image and therefore what type of photo you need.
Depth of Field
Two of the most important aspects in telling a visual story are light and depth of field.
The depth of field or softness of focus has a profound effect on a photo. It changes the feeling of the overall image and what is evoked by the image. It is also used to place emphasis on certain items within the frame. A camera lens can only focus on a single point, with a resulting area of sharpness that stretches in front of and behind this focus point, and this is what creates depth of field.
A shallow depth of field is primarily used in product photography to blur the items in the foreground and background. This helps to concentrate the viewer on your product, and not the props. An image with a broad depth of field, is sharp throughout the depth of the image. These images can accurately describe all the details, surface textures and reflections of the product and the overall scene.
Where there are multiple products in the image, it’s usually better to use a broader depth of field so that the majority of the product, or at least the design upon the product, is in focus.
Left: The shallow depth of field here isolates the card as the most important part of the image, with the background and foreground softer and less prominent.
Right: The broad depth of field here ensures that all of the cards are in focus.
Choosing a Light or Dark Background Setting for your Work.
Many think that work has to be photographed with bright light in a bright setting to sell well. This is sometimes true, but it doesn’t always bring out the details in the item, and sometimes it’s the details that actually do make the sale.
Sometimes it’s better to have a darker setting, because when light enters a bright/white setting, it bounces around quite a bit. If you have a darker setting, on the other hand, it becomes much easier to introduce light selectively. This is true whether you’re taking your own photos, or getting a professional to do it for you.
In this example, shown below, I used a slightly darker setting (it doesn’t have to be black) and introduced light selectively, I bounced light off the wall behind the glass, which illuminated the glass from behind. This technique illuminated the dichroic coloured elements, but also revealed the subtle texture in the glass itself. It eliminated reflections from the front of the glass, so the glassware is extremely clear. Getting the lighting right is important to revealing textures,and subtle details of your work, particularly when working with glassware, ceramics, and jewellery.
Lighting can be complicated and challenging, so in our next post, we’ll be looking at more lighting techniques in more detail.
Client : Dragonfly Dichroic
Client : Choc Affair York
The darker setting and lighting create a completely different feel and mood.
Client : Deckled Edge
The marble, props and detailed artwork of the greetings cards, all work together creating a perception of quality.
Richard Jackson, runs the Forever Creative photography studio and specialises in creating product and lifestyle imagery for artists, craftspeople and designers and makers across the UK. In 2014, Richard set up his photography studio in Scarborough on the North Yorkshire coast, and now works with creative clients across the UK, producing beautiful, detailed images that have been published in magazines and journals. He offers introductory shoots to explore ideas and works closely with his clients to produce imaginative and captivating product imagery that tells a story.
We’re so honoured to be able to share his incredibly informative guest posts with you! As many of us have or want to produce and cell our own products and handmade good, showcasing these items to make them irresistible to customers is really important. We will be publishing a series of five blog posts with Richard’s tips for creating your own professional looking product photography at home:
1 Creating a Story
2 Lighting your work
3 Style and Consistency
4 Technique and Practical Advice
5 Create Your Very Own Studio
Look out for the first post which will go live on Monday!
Hello and welcome to another designer showcase from out FolioFocus classmates. With a focus on editorial, we focussed on illustrating the “everyday” as an overarching theme with some fun trend inspiration and brief!