The Secret to Beautiful Product Photography

by | Nov 22, 2014 | Tips & Tricks | 1 comment

You know a professional product image when you see one. And you probably don’t even contemplate the fact that it’s professionally taken. The professional product photographer has done his job well when viewers think about the beauty or quality of the product, not the beauty or quality of the picture.

Product images that are ugly—blurry, underexposed, off color, harshly lit—cause us to second guess the quality of the product, and sometimes wonder if the company itself is a little off color. If a product is quality, pictures of it should look quality.

And when a product image is quality, it adds credibility to the company. Obviously, it’s not the only thing to factor in  when determining the credibility of a company, by far. But the Western mind is so accustomed to perfection that it’s very important to present products as perfect as possible.

So, how do you take professional product images? Glad you asked!

You must start with . . . first and foremost, above all . . . can you remember this? . . . diffused light! Light without high contrast. Light that fills in from all sides. Light that makes an object practically glow. Now, that seems like a tall order. But that’s because I’m trying to stress the importance of it. Really, it’s just a way of saying you need even light over your subject. It doesn’t matter if your product is against a completely white background, or if you’re arranging items in a more natural setting. The same rule applies.

So, how do you create diffused light? You couldn’t have asked a better question!

This video and article by IzzyVideo explains the concept very well, and shows you different ways to diffuse light. He is using all professional material, though, so not everyone can duplicate what he does. However, if you’re shooting objects smaller than people, you can create your own little lightbox to get great diffused light by following the simple steps in this tutorial by Terapeak.

So, with this information in mind, I set up my own lightbox today! The pressure was on. My brother David needed product images taken of his beautiful, 100% beeswax candles which he’ll be selling online soon. My brother Michael is a beekeeper and needs product images taken of his honey as well. And then I got a call from a friend who may soon ask me to shoot hundreds of product images for his soap business. It was time to set up my own lightbox.

This was my first test shot. (Actually, my very first shot was perfectly black, but that was because the lens cap was on.)

3175_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 60 mm, 1-125 sec at f - 16, ISO 200

I took tons of test shots. That’s how I learn. Here is another shot that indicated I still needed a lot of tweaks.

3178_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 98 mm, 1-125 sec at f - 14, ISO 200

By now, I’m feeling like I got my lights positioned correctly. My setup was a little different than the do-it-yourself tutorial I mentioned above.

3205_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 47 mm, 1-125 sec at f - 16, ISO 160

Now for the first run on the real products. I still have a ways to go, but at least it’s a start.

3235_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 73 mm, 1-125 sec at f - 16, ISO 125

3226_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 58 mm, 1-125 sec at f - 16, ISO 160

3237_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 58 mm, 1-125 sec at f - 16, ISO 125

I still have a lot to learn before I am comfortable taking professional product images, but at least this is a start. Before setting up a lightbox, this was the best I could do. And still, it was with a speedlite bouncng light from off the the wall. A wall is a pretty large source of light, so that’s why the light looks diffused.

2976_Salem-West Virginia-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 105 mm, 1-60 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 400

Once I get a hang of getting even lighting in a small white box, I’ll start moving into taking pictures of multiple products, product arrangements, introducing natural backgrounds and surrounding elements . . . the possibilities are endless. Take it one step at a time, I keep telling myself, so I hope sharing what I’m going through this will help you get started in taking product photography as well!

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1 Comment

  1. Sarah Brown

    Wow! Thank you James for this post! Product photography is something that I have been working on for Dad’s business. I will for sure be watching the video and tutorials and reading this article as well! Thanks again for sharing what you have learned threw it all!


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