Hello everyone! Welcome to the Product Photography Crash Course.
Photography can seem intimidating to some. But it doesn't have to be!
It isn't limited to people that have the most expensive cameras or the biggest studios. The amazing thing about modern technology is that pretty much everyone has a camera in their pockets. Your phone!
My goal is to give you the tools in order to create great looking images from the comfort of your own home. All you need is your phone, a window and some creativity.
In this guide, I will cover five key tips in the process of creating product photography, along with three different setups to learn from:
1. Learning to use available light
2. Understanding light qualities
3. Considering your background
4. Using texture and creating contrast
5. Using perspective
The important thing to note is that this is a guide. Take the information you learn here and experiment with it, have some fun! With that said, let's get into the course.
1. LEARNING TO USE LIGHT
Unless you happen to have a studio lighting setup, natural light is your best option.
You'll likely have encountered this situation before. You take a photo in a dark room, without using flash, and it appears grainy. This is because there is not enough light in the room for the camera to recreate the image naturally, so it resorts to less than optimal methods to expose the scene properly.
Typically this is exactly what we want to avoid in product photography.
Natural light is not only bright, so will likely avoid unnecessary grain in an image, but it is free!
Another important thing to note is how different materials react to light.
Dark materials absorb light and block it out. Light materials reflect light and bounce it.
Shine a light against a blank piece of paper and see how the light reflects back onto objects that are close to it. Equally, if you find a dark material like a black t-shirt, barely any light will reflect.
In professional photography, bounce boards are used to reflect light, which help fill out the subject with more light. These are essentially a large white board, a low-budget version can be made out of polystyrene. Although later on in this guide I will show an even simpler solution I used for smaller products.
Try it out, bouncing and blocking light is one of the most powerful tools as a photographer.
2. UNDERSTANDING LIGHT QUALITIES
Light can take many shapes and forms. Another step in learning to manipulate and use light is understanding light qualities.
I'll define two main types for this guide - hard light and soft light.
Typically, I'd advice using soft light for product photography. This creates a very natural and smooth transitions between the highlights and shadows (the fancy terms for brighter and darker parts of your image). In other words, it reduces harsh shadows being cast.
Soft light can created by a technique called diffusion. This is simply making your light source come from as large of a surface as possible. Clouds are a natural example of this, an overcast day will produce much softer shadows or almost none at all - this is because the sun is being diffused by a large surface of clouds. On the contrary, if there were no clouds in the sky, a lot of harsh shadows would be cast - this is hard light.
Using a large bounce board will create soft light, as the reflected light hitting your subject is coming from a large surface. Another idea could be to shine a light through tissue paper or a shower curtain, anything put between the light and your subject in order to make it come from a large surface.
All of this is not to say that hard light is the enemy, though! Soft light may be preferable in most cases but hard light can be used to good effect. Take a look at the images below, they are mostly the same but one is using hard light and one is using soft light - both look good, but the subtle differences create a very different look.
3. CONSIDERING YOUR BACKGROUND
Your product matters, it needs to stand out.
The background you choose should compliment your product. You know your own product best, now consider what you could place either in the background or alongside the product itself. Take a look at this example below.
Mike, the photographer here, has placed his product on this lovely rustic wood texture which compliments the rugged font on the hoodie. What really takes this to the next level is the eggs which both tie into the design but add some humour and personality to the image (this works especially well since the product ties into a comedy podcast).
Take inspiration from this and think about what would compliment your product best.
4. USING TEXTURE AND CREATING CONTRAST
Your two best tools against dull images.
As an example, I'm going to use Mike's hoodie photography from the last section. Not just because I love it so much, but because it uses both texture and contrast in the background choice.
Since the hoodie is a mostly black and white design, using a flat black and white background might make the image too plain. The texture of the wood compliments the font and the colour also creates some contrast and separation between the product and its background.
With that in mind, there are times where a textured background can be your enemy. If there's a particularly complex texture as your background it can detract from the main focus - your product! Don't be afraid to experiment, but keep this in mind.
5. USING PERSPECTIVE
Sometimes a flat-lay just isn't enough.
Variety is key, if people keep seeing your product from the same perspective, they can get bored. Mix it up!
I chose these two examples below because they use perspective to achieve two things. Firstly, the image on the left uses the lines of the bathroom tiles to draw your eyes towards the product. These are called 'leading lines' and can be used to direct the viewer's eyes towards your product.
Secondly, perspective can be used to show what size your product is. The coffee cup on the right is placed in relation to the laptop, which we know roughly what size that will be, giving us an indication of what size the coffee is too.
The key thing to remember here is to experiment. You don't have to use all five of these tips at once. See what works for your product and what you can achieve from home.
I'm very excited to see what you can do! If you need any more advice on specific ideas, let me know I'm more than happy to help - just check out my contact page and message me however is best for you.
I'll soon be posting three examples of my own to give some context to these five key tips, so keep your eyes on The Incubator group for an update on those.