Product Photography Tips For Simple & Unique Imagery (How I Shot It)
I took inspiration from this shot from one of the many product photographers I regularly follow, and I’ve talked about the importance of looking at other photographers work before, you can find that here. I use the work of others as a benchmark to set my work to, as inspiration and as a means to drive me forward. The idea here was to create something minimal, vibrant, and fun which utilized the color of the product in the background.
The Challenges And Aims
Before you start any project, I highly advocate planning. I’m certainly someone who looks, looks again, and again, then leaps. Therefore, as you might imagine, planning comes quite naturally to me. Sadly, however, drawing does not, but regardless of that, I do my best to sketch my vision for the shoot as well as think of some of the aims of the shot. For this shot they were:
- Show the texture of the bag but don’t let the lighting be too hard or contrasting. The whole image needs to be bright and vibrant.
- Ensure a good bottom shadow to be able to pull out later in post. Shoot the large bag separately to control the shadow created by the smaller bag.
- Lighting should be even and symmetrical for final composition.
- Labels must be perfectly visible and have gradients highlighting the metal.
- As always, the image must be sharp from front to back. This is easily achieved using programs like Helicon focus. See my review here.
I’m obsessed about control with product photography. That obsession bleeds into my choices of modifiers, strobes, lenses, editing software and methodology. For example, the shadows in this shot. I knew I would be cutting the bag out in post and placing it on another background. The shadow had to be suitable for this, but I also wanted to control the shadow which the smaller bag cast onto the larger one. To do so all I had to do was capture an image of the larger bag on its own and merge the two images together in Photoshop. I could then paint in the shadow to whatever degree I wanted.
The Lighting, Why And How
As you can see from SOOC above, I achieved all of the aims I had prior to the shoot in terms of lighting. The shot is underexposed but the goal is to ensure no highlights were blown out. The main light can be seen in the BTS photo above, it’s on a c-stand to the right of frame. The strobe has a 10-degree grid on it and is pointed at a slight angle toward a scrim.
By pointing the strobe at a scrim I had ultimate control over the size of the light source. Place the strobe closer to the scrim and the light gets smaller, and vice versa. The slight angle of the strobe meant that that there was a subtle gradient created across the scrim, which means that one side was lighter than the other. This gradient was reflected by the metal on the label.
It’s actually very simple in principal, although often quite difficult in practice, to achieve gradients on shiny surfaces. Something shiny sees whatever is reflected in it. Place a black piece of card in front of it and it will appear black on camera. Place a bright softbox in front of it and it will be white. Or, place a scrim with a gradient in front of it and, guess what, it’ll show the gradient. That’s why shiny, reflective objects with surfaces at different angles can be so hard to photograph. They see everything. A spherical object sees your entire room!
The most difficult part to accomplish comes in the form of finding the right angles. A good way to approach this is to imagine a line coming from your camera and hitting the surface of your product. Where would that line bounce next based on the shape and angle of your product? Place your light there and tweak until it looks right. A flashlight comes in very handy for this.
The second light was placed over the top of the product using an extension arm. The aim of this light was to add a nice highlight to the handle and bag while also acting as a small fill. This was done by placing the translucent part of a 5-in-1 reflector at an angle to the Stripbox. The angle meant that some light spilled over the front adding that fill, and was key to the placement of the third light.
The purpose of the final strobe was to add a slight gradient to the metal, and carve out the lettering of the label on the small bag. I used a strobe with a standard reflector and one of my favourite pieces of equipment: Black foil, known as Cinefoil. It’s cheap, sucks up light, and is very easy to manipulate. You can create tiny spots of light or miniature strips as I have done here. Placement was key to ensure the desired gradient across the metal. The torch was extremely useful here for figuring out the right angle.
The last little addition to this lighting set up was some negative fill in the form of two small pieces of black foam board. The idea here was to darken down the edges a little giving the bag more dimension. Foam board is another one of my favourite tools for product photography. Its usefulness and versatility really can’t be overstated.
Shooting For The Edit
Above, you can see the final version of this image, and the great part is I knew the look of this shot was going to be achieved in the edit. I already knew the composition, colours, and general style that I wanted prior to the shoot, and having that clear vision before you start is something I strongly advise.
With that in mind, for this image I made sure to ‘shoot for the edit’. I wanted to fill the frame with the bag to ensure maximum detail for editing, however, I had to pay special attention to the angle. Too low or too high and it would look strange when increasing the canvas size. As mentioned, I was also concerned with protecting highlights, ensuring a good shadow was produced, and emphasizing the various materials.
Removing the shadow was one of the more challenging and out of the ordinary aspects of this edit. I recently wrote an article which describes the technique used in depth. You can find that here.
The edit itself was relatively simple, at least when compared to other images I have recently completed. My edits often start with the creation of very accurate masks, and this was no different. Having created the mask, it was a question of following a similar workflow which I apply to all my product work (You can find more info about my workflow in this article). I like having a somewhat regimented workflow as it ensures no details are missed. As well as the shadow, the other unique part of this edit involved heavy use of the Liquify tool to fix lumps and bumps in the leather of the bag.
Simple, minimalist photos are some of my favorites, and some that have the greatest impact. For them to work well, the lighting and editing have to be spot on as there are too few elements for anything to be off. Having said that, with product photography, nothing should be less than perfect anyway. Allow me to stress once more how imperative it is to have a clear plan and vision before you start, and to always think about what you are photographing; the materials it’s made of, and it’s shape.
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