Product Photography: Lessons Learned
Product photography is something that's always intrigued me, but I'd never ventured into ever giving it a shot before. So, this past weekend I threw caution to the wind and broke out the camera, a couple of speed lights, a couple of soft boxes and a few of my watches in my make-shift basement studio to see what kinds of photos I could muster given my complete lack of experience in the field of product photography. Here are a few things I learned along the way.
While shooting these watches, I quickly figured out there are three key priorities in achieving a successful photo. The first (of course) is to showcase the product, its features, and its style. The second priority in this kind of photography is to properly light the product, especially with respect to its surroundings as it needs to stand out clearly and definitively from its surrounding elements. Third, is the background - or what I started calling "its setting." In this case, complimenting the watch with the right background elements to enhance its look and style really sets it off and helps create a narrative about style, construction and appeal of the item.
Taking time to frame up the shot is key. Should the product be at center of the frame, or off to one side? When working with clients, they often need space to add text when the photo is used in marketing, so it's something to keep in mind as you frame your shot. Additionally, making sure to have the product (in this case watches) as the clear focal point in the shot is critical - regardless of whether it's at center-frame or off to one side. Now, making the product the focal point does not just refer to its position within the frame, but how it's lit and how it's complimented by surrounding story elements. Do they support the product or distract from it? In this case, l'd always make sure to have the main light source (soft box) just off axis from the camera. What this did is clearly illuminated the watch face, but still provided a subtle, soft shadow to the rim of the face, creating some depth and dimension. If the light had been dead-center it would have looked flat and washed-out. Another key to shooting these watches was to ensure the brand name is clear and evident, not eclipsed by any of the clock hands (yes, the second hand is between the words on the Original Grain watch shots, but it doesn't take away from its legibility).
Now, product photography comes in many shapes and sizes. When it comes to wearables, (or other fashion-related items), placing the product in a surrounding that evokes a subtle or suggestive narrative with elements that help tell a specific story or dictate a certain style about the wearer can elevate the photo even more. Look around your house or studio and find other pieces that compliment the design of the product and then just start placing them in the frame until you find the layout that works. But, now the challenge becomes how not to distract from the featured product. I found that shooting at a relatively shallow depth of field (f1.4 to f2.0) can help blur the peripheral items to where they're still recognizable, but don't draw the eye away from where the focus should be. I also found slightly underexposing my shot often lead to great light falloff as the eye moves away from the watches in the shots above to the outer edge of the frame (I even accentuated this effect in post). Also, try different angles. I started with a top-down approach, but then changed the angle for different looks and shadow effects.
So, if you're like me and haven't given product photography a try before, take a look around and grab something that speaks to you, find some complimentary items and lighting tools and go give it a whirl! Play with different ensembles and layouts with each shot until you find the winner, and just have a good time. Remember, there's no vendor breathing over your shoulder and directing the shoot - so get creative and try different things. Who knows... you might surprise yourself!
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