Product photography is a huge part of running an online business. Since most people will never touch or feel the product before purchase, it's important to put your best foot forward online. While I don't have a huge budget for this work, after doing it for several years now, I've picked up a few things along the way.
Lighting (window vs. artificial). Each type of lighting for our product photography has its merits. Oftentimes, we’ll need shots of a frame on a white seamless background for use in a magazine and it’s helpful to be able to turn around a photograph like that when an editor needs it. But most often window light is preferable. It’s the most natural way to portray our frames as if they were in your own home.
Our workshop has two places where I can photograph to get window light. In my office and in the rear of the workshop by the garage door. Most of the photos you see online are taken on a small wall in my office, with a window beside it. Really easy.
A look at the wall in the rear of the workshop, painted different colors for different looks.
Another look at the workshop. The photo on the wall is sideways to get a different look, but will be replaced in post production, which I'll do on occasion. The light was somewhat harsh this morning so I set up a panel to diffuse the natural light.
Here's one of the final images from the scene above. Normally I start with an idea and then rework it for a while so I have variations to use, but also to try to hone in on the best set-up.
Decor, Props, & Furniture
You can spend a lot of time and money getting props, decor, and furniture for your product photography. I've found that these items, while important, are not everything in the photograph. In fact, you want them to be present, but not too present, if that makes any sense. I've posted images where the chair or prop garnered more attention than the actual product. So it's a balancing act to decide what to include. The best solution is just to experiment. Often I will take several variations on the same scene in order to get the right one.
Borrow. I try not to spend a bunch of money on different props. A couple times a year I'll ask friends or family to borrow unique and contemporary items from their home. There have been plenty of times when I’ve been at a friends house and leave with something that I can use in one of my product shots. I'll then take photos with it and return it. I also make use of the Target return policy on certain items as they usually have a lot of decor that's contemporary to current trends.
Prints by Greg Balkin.
Make the product look like it belongs in the viewers home. If you can connect on that level, then you are much closer to making a sale than you were before. In addition to including props around the product its important to occasionally add a human element. Either leave a trace that a person was recently near your product or include a person. With a frame, it’s a steady element in your home that passively participates in nearly everything you do in your home. We want to try to highlight that by leaving traces of human elements. For instance, if a frame hangs above where you might set your keys when you get home everyday, then add some keys and sunglasses to make it look like someone just walked through.
If you do include a person however, make them a passive element in the photo - don’t make them the focus of the image (that is of course assuming the product isn’t a piece of clothing). How we tend to do this is to include a hand or something like that, straightening up the frame - or someone sitting nearby.
Final image. Print by Alan Maxcy.
The panel to the right is situated to block the reflection. I'll also use a blanked over the tripod to remove the reflection of the tripod in the frame.
Final image from above. Print by Chris Burkard.
Photo Techniques & Equipment
Removing Glare. When photographing frames, one of the key elements for making the photograph usable on a website or publication is removing the glare from the glass. There are two ways to do this. First, is just to remove the glass. Second, and what we use most often, is a large black panel to basically null the reflection out.
Shoot with narrow depth of field to make sure everything is in focus. One thing people do most often when they are looking at your product page is to enlarge the photo for a better view. Making sure everything is tack sharp and in focus (on your product) is key.
Use a Tripod. Shooting at a higher depth of field will cause your shutter speed to go slower, often when using only window light, shooting hand held isn’t an opti . Makes sure it’s tac sharp. This is important because usually a website will have a “view it bigger” option.
Overexpose Slightly In-Camera. Light and airy photos are typically much more inviting than than a darker photo and in our product photography we want to portray a positive vibe. Look at any Pottery Barn catalog to see what we mean. An easy way to add this element into your product photographs is to overexpose your product images slightly. I prefer to do this in-camera and then adjust the histogram levels later.
Editing for publication. Building on the previous point, I try to aim for bright photographs and tend to overexpose in camera. Once the images files are imported into Lightroom, there isn’t a lot of editing that needs to be done. My overarching goal in this process is to keep the photo and product looking as natural as possible. Here is what I typically do to each image:
Spot removal. I use the same walls for our product images all the time. After hanging so many pictures, there are some scuffs on the wall, nail holes, and even places where I’ve ripped off some on the dry wall. The first thing I do in Lightroom is to clean the area around the frame up.
Tone Curve. Slightly bring up the lights and highlights to add to the light and airy feeling and slightly bring down the darks and shadows to add a little bit of contrast. I should also mention that I shoot every product image as a .raw file. With a .raw file the image comes out of the camera a little duller than a .jpeg will because the camera hasn’t added any processing to it. So it needs to have some editing added to bring it back to a natural look.
Vibrance. I’ll add between +5 and +15 on the Vibrance scale to bring the colors up. Since I'm usually photographing prints, I try to avoid doing too much on the color scales so that the original prints are depicted as they should be.
We'll that's about all I've got for now on the subject. Have any questions or any additional tips? Would love to hear em!