Intro to Product Photography (for Instructables)

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Introduction: Intro to Product Photography (for Instructables)

About: I enjoy photography, horticulture and carpentry, and am almost always doing something relating to of those things.

This instructable is meant for anyone making an instructable or slide show who can't seem to get good pictures, or is always criticized about their pictures. These particular tips are intended for shooting small to medium sized projects that can be maneuvered relatively easily, and put in a studio environment. But even if your particular project doesn't fit these criteria, many of the tips I'll be giving are universal, and can be applied to any photographic documentation.

In most projects, it's not practical to take the pictures for each step in front of a backdrop with proper lighting. In these cases, it's often still good to take pictures for the intro slide like this. A good intro picture will attract many more viewers.

Step 1: The Camera

Please try to refrain from using cameraphones or web cams. If you absolutely have to, be sure to have plenty of light, and to rest the camera on something to keep it steady.

Other than that, most cameras should work...use the best one that you have access to. If you don't have access to any cameras, one suggestion is to buy a disposable one, use it, and have them scan the images onto a disk.

Step 2: Backgrounds

There are two main things your background should be: Simple and Contrasty.

With a nice, simple background, your product will stick out and call all of a viewers attention to it. A cluttered background will take attention away from the product.

The background color should contrast your product as well, in order for it to be visible. White is preferable over all else, but if your product is very lightly colored, black works well. If neither black, nor white works, use a nice neutral color like light gray, or whatever you have access to.

The look in professional pictures of a background going on forever is actually easily achieved. All that's required is a curved backdrop. With no crease of where the floor meets the wall, it looks like it's all one. This effect is very pleasing to the eye.

Two backdrops that work well are poster board, and sheets or comforters. A piece of white poster board, with the back held up by something (I use weights) makes a great, professional looking background. If your object is too big for one, or even two, poster boards, or white just doesn't work (and you don't have any other colors) you can do the same thing by tacking, or weighting down, a sheet or bed comforter.

Also, it's best to have the subject be as far away from the background as possible. Due to depth of field, the background will get blurrier the farther you're focused from it. A blurry background will help make imperfections (wrinkles, creases) less noticeable.

Step 3: Lighting

In general, you want nice, even lighting all around, so turn on a bunch of lights, open window shades, etc., until you have a clear, bright picture. It's best not to use your on camera flash if you can avoid it...they blow out shiny surfaces.

If You're Getting Shadows

There are a few things you can do about shadows:
  • If it's coming from the on camera flash, position the flash directly in front of your subject, instead an offset picture. This means you'll have to shoot landscape (and crop later, if needed).
  • Position a light or reflector on the side of the shadow

If the Picture is too Dark

  • Add more lights
  • Turn on your flash
  • Back away from the subject, or zoom out, and crop later on..being farther back allows more light to enter the camera.

Diffusing

Diffusing makes for softer light. There are many ways to do it, but some easy methods include bouncing and holding a piece of white printer paper in front of your on camera flash.

Bouncing

Bouncing is a method of diffusing that involves bouncing light off light colored surfaces (like ceilings or walls) onto your product.

Reflectors

Reflectors help by redirecting stray light (like from a window) onto your product. This can be helpful if you are getting some shadows. Simply place something reflective or white on the side of the shadow, and they will be taken care of. White poster board makes a good reflector, as does tin foil covered card board.

Lighting the Backdrop

If you're not using ambient light from all over, and just have a single light on your object, you may want to light the backdrop as well, if it's white. Otherwise, it will turn out gray, and not as attractive.

Step 4: General Tips

  • Before you take all of your pictures, take a few test shots to find out what lighting set up works best.
  • Don't take everything down until you have a chance to look at your pictures...You may want to retake a few of them.
  • If your pictures require you to be up close, check to see if your camera has a macro mode. The symbol for it is a little flower, and it may be on a top dial, the back control panel, or in the menus.
  • Photographs of electronics (like circuits) should always be taken from directly above, to insure the best clarity possible.

Step 5: Post Processing

After all the pictures are taken, and you've uploaded them to the computer, it's time to take a look at them, and edit. I recommend Picasa (a free program by Google) for this, because it allows you to easily view and edit photos right then and there. Take this opportunity to crop and make any other little brightness/contrast adjustments that are needed. Make sure to crop as tightly as possible, without cutting anything out.

Step 6: Final Notes

Don't accept mediocrity in your pictures, make sure each one is focused, clear, and easy to see. If any pictures are a bit blurry, go back and re take them (if you can). But most of all, have fun with it. Don't let taking pictures be something you dread, but instead, something you take pride in. Experiment with your set up a little bit, and see what yields better results. I hope you've been able to take something away from this to use next time. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

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    65 Discussions

    ...take... ...the... ...photo... ...from... ...directly.... ...above...

    ... mind blowingly self-evident, but I would never have thought of it in a zillion years - thanks mucho!

    A great Item I found is the sunlight bulb, it's a CFL bulb that's usually around 25 watt and puts out really brilliant white very close to the colour temperature of sunlight, whether it's an SLR or a webcam it makes a big difference and seems to help with autofocus (even I don't get that bit of it) that and if you pick up a few cheapy canvases add some tape and a good bulb, I suggest fluorescent becasue the output is clearer with that than incandescent bulbs. You make a box with an open side and no top, place your object a few inches away from the back and if you have an adjustable flash unit then aim it directly at the object with triple folded kitchen paper as a 'muffler' (I like that term) and put the bulb so the majority of light is falling behind the object you get pretty good definition and also any textures etc will have some contrast because there's slight shadowing. another useful trick is using a room with a low ceiling or a big cardboard box painted white inside and directing the flash straight up or to directly above the objects.

    9 replies

    I found them at B&Q which is pretty much a hardware store...

    here's a link

    Also on the way to one for you (I see Uk pages first) I found that you can get daylight bulbs that produce negative Ions at the same time, by the way those seem a bit pricey if you hunt about a bit you can get them really cheap. Lifetime seems to be about 3 years and running

    Even better - REAL sunlight! Great lighting, ideal for macro-photography... There's a reason why almost all TimAnderson's pictures for examples are taken outside in the sun. Might not be quite up to scratch for "product photography", but it's a great solution for a nice DIY instructable...

    nice. I've had a few tries since reading this, having some trouble; any suggestions what kind of lights to use? I tried halogens and they weren't as white as I thought they would be. Also not enough light on the subject with 2 60Watt bulbs and reflectors.

    3 replies

    Sorry, I am not a native speaker, so if you meant white with "white as I thought" try the white balance on your camera. If you meant bright with "white as I thought" use a construction spotlight, you can get in every hardware store for a few buck. Be careful, they have 500 Watts and can become very hot. With them you also have to use the white balance on your camera, but brightness should be no problem anymore.

    I am gonna so try this!pics coming soon

    construction area by Özkan Matbaacılık.bmp

    You can put a black backdrop in a lightbox- I did this for some funky low-key-ish photos of dark shiny things, only lighting the lightbox from the sides and underexposing to get side highlights. I would link to the examples on my Flickr account but that's too much of a shameless plug even for me to do on a comments board- if you're interested then PM me