Items used to create this photograph
Marble surface (Or any preferable surface)
North facing window (Ideally large for a lot of light. South facing window can be used, I address it later on)
Silver shiny poster board
Matte white and black poster board
Props - Flowers, small containers, jewelry, makeup brushes, makeup and so on.
First thing, pick your product/object/food you’d like to photograph. Make sure that if it has a label on the container it is straight with no scuffs and that the container itself looks nice. If you are buying a product to photograph take the time to pick the best one. For food, create a “stand in” dish so you can set up the camera, settings and propping before putting in the real food dish in. This keeps the food looking fresh and yummy.
There are few key components to taking clean, professional photographs of products at home. First thing is locate a North or South facing window in your home. The bigger the window the better. Why does that matter? A North and South facing window light will stay the most consistent thought out the day. North light is always soft with soft shadows and South light is very sunny and harsh with strong shadows. Both can be used for photography depending on the mood of the photograph. East and West facing windows have the most variable light changes as the sun moves throughout the day. You’ll be running in circles, because once you have your shot set up the light will change!
Direction of Light
Placing your product and using the direction of light to best show off it’s features. Notice where the sun hits your product. In this example I used South facing direct sun in order to clearly show the direction of light. In the examples below, I am showing three different ways of lighting the product top down gives a nice effect. See how the light best hits your product depending on size and transparency. Lighting coming from the bottom up (not shown in example) gives the same “spooky” feeling as holding a flashlight under your chin. Not a preferable light, unless you’re photographing something creepy!
Shoot as close to the window as possible for maximum light. Set your product and background up on a table or side table, somewhere you don’t have to work off the floor. Your knees and back with thank you! Set up your camera at the angle you desire. Play around for a while to see what angle looks the best. Even handhold the camera until you figure out the angle that works best. I recommend always using a tripod for product photography; it makes everything 100% easier. If you don’t have one, try using a stack of books or something similar.
Depth of Field & Camera Settings
This paragraph includes more advanced technical settings. If you are camera savvy already feel free to read on, if this scares you skip it!
Your camera settings are important to find the perfect setting. Setting you camera to Manual gives you full control of how your photographs look. Using Aperture, Shutter speed and ISO in combination is a practice and you’ll get better over time. Here are some tips to get your going. Depth of Field or your aperture is very important for product photography. Shooting at f/2.8 creates a very shallow depth of field which gives a lovely vibe but if you want your whole product in focus opt for f/5.6 or f/10. Play around with this and see what works better. If you are shooting handheld it is recommended to set your shutter speed to 1/250th a sec or higher, unless you like a blur effect. If you are shooting on a tripod and have no moving object set a slower shutter speed to let more natural light in. As for ISO opt for around 200-400 ISO. If you camera can handle high ISO, go ahead to push it. Just know, the higher the ISO the more grain and noise with appear. Sometimes grain looks cool, but I always prefer to add it later.
When you have the shot and props framed to your likings, do a final focus check. Change the focus from Auto and Manual and try not to bump anything. This allows every frame to be the same focus and cropping for easy photoshopping later. The photographs will line up seamlessly saving you time and a headache of trying to line up two frames.
Rules of Thirds (add examples of bad and good)
Pay attention to the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is a guideline of cropping photographs. It can greatly improve the composition and balance of your images. The rule of thirds is a guideline of cropping to improve your composition of your photograph. Rule of thirds means the object/subject isn’t in the center of the frame, but a bit off to one side or the other.
Framing and Angles
If you are shooting 3/4 or straight on pay attention to your camera angle and framing. Are you shooting onto the product making the top of the product more prominent? Are you shooting up toward the product giving it a more powerful presence? See the examples below how both angles look.
Low angle shot
A shot looking up at a person or product often making them look bigger in the frame. It can make everyone/everything look heroic and/or dominant.
High angle shot
A shot looking down on a product often isolating them in the frame, making the subject seem vulnerable or powerless when applied correct
A shot taken with the camera directly over the product. Commonly also called a Top Down shot.
Composition and Propping
Propping is the key to a lovely photo yet can make or break it. Try to stick with a theme and keep it realistic. For example, when photographing perfume you would associate this with doing makeup and putting on jewelry, so add those as props. Small bowls and napkins add depth and flowers are always fun to play with. Pull a bunch of props and pay around. This is why a tripod is key. Put in a prop, take a photo and see how it reads in the photography. Sometimes taking a step away and coming back gives you fresh eyes. Pay attention to how you want to crop, will it crop out some of your props. Is that okay or should you adjust your props a bit?
Fill Cards and Bouncing Light
You’re getting so close! Let bounce some natural light with fill cards. Fill is used to lighten shadows and bounce light back onto the product. I love this step; you really see how much light comes from a tiny white card. I bought my card stock from a craft store. Below you can see a shiny silver, solid matte white and solid matte black. Thicker card stock is easier to use, but thin card stock still works. (You can also use the white & black card stock as a background!) Computer paper, a white t-shirt, or towel also works great as a white fill! (secret hint: mirror is very similar to silver card.)
North Facing Light
Here are some samples of North facing window light without and with fill. I always place the fill on the shadow side on the product. Before taking the photo I move the fill around while looking through my viewfinder to see how it bounces the best. No fill is very dark and moody. The white fill bounces a nice soft light back. Silver is a strong bounce but also remains soft because the north light is soft.
South Facing Light
Here are some samples of South facing light without and with fill. No fill creates a very dramatic shadow. The white fill here is shown 6 inches and 12 inches from object. Notice the difference of bouncing light. The silver fill (not shown) bounces light so much it creates another shadow up and looks sloppy.
So there you have it. This is a lesson in basic photography lighting skills for a object. These skills will translate for all photography. Use whatever camera, even a phone! Try them out if are photographing a person! I’d love to see what you create! Happy shooting!