Most photographers find product photography boring, but it certainly has its advantages. Product photography doesn't always have to be for large companies to get you to buy their product. It can be used to post photos of your products on Etsy, ebay and even help with some of your instructables!
**NOTE: All photographs used in this tutorial were shot and retouched by myself
Step 1: What Are You Saying?
When it comes to photographing products, you need to think about what you're telling your target audience about that item.
•What is the product?
•What are it’s obvious qualities? Color, size, texture, function, shape…
•Is it portable?
•Does it make a great gift or party favor?
•Is it a service?
Keeping all these in mind, you might be able to make a concept that would show the quality as well as the functionality of the product. The photograph above, for example, is a demonstration of how fast the car is moving. Naturally when a full advertisement is put together there would be copy and probably an inset of the car, or it could be a double spread so that the viewer can associate the concept with the product.
You can also use multiple shots to create a dyptich, (two separate images put together to make a "series"). A good way to create a successful dyptich is by taking what's called a "hero" shot, and a detail shot, which will highlight the features of the product.
Step 2: Product - the Finer Details
Not all product photography can be conceptual, however, and more often than not, a simple shot of the product itself is required. For this kind of shot, you need to be extremely detail driven. The background cant be distracting, the focus must be spot-on, the lighting needs to be relatively flat and even, it needs to be fully white balanced to look natural, (which means you should also calibrate your monitor), and the label or product name needs to be the most noticable part of the image.
Using a tripod is necessary for these kinds of photos as it gives you absolute control over your camera and crop. It also gives you the advantage of photographing different products from the same angle so that if you need to put together a composite with multiple items, the process will be much easier. It will also prevent camera shake as you will not be hand holding the camera. To further prevent camera shake, I would also suggest using a cable release.
To create a clean looking background, you can create a sweep with a seamless, or even foam core and poster board. The photograph shown here was taken in a home built light box. I used a flimsy poster board to create the sweep for the background and put up foam core siding to keep the lighting as even as possible. I also ocassionally used a white reflector card in front of the darker products to get the label to stand out more.
As far as lighting goes, as I said, it must be even and bright enough to show the product in full detail. A good way to create diffused lighting is by using a diffusion panel and shining your light source through it. You can either make the side panels of your lightbox out of diffusion material and light the product through the sides, or, as I did in this photograph, place the diffusion panel on the top of your box and put your light source above the product. The white of the walls, back and foreground of the lightbox, plus whatever reflective material you may use for the front or sides will fill in the shadows.
Step 3: Play Around
You may not be able to get too creative with product photography, but that doesn't mean you can't have fun with it! Most clients will ask you for something in specific, but a lot of them like to see what you can come up with as well. First shoot what they are looking for, then branch out and try other, more interesting ways to display their product, and they may just change their minds about what they're looking for.
Keep in mind that most clients would prefer the logo or name of the product to be visible, but from time to time they might be ok with not showing the logo as long as you can incorporate it in a description or a dyptich.