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How to Shoot Product Photography – Part 1

Learning product photography lighting is one of the most important things you can do to help sell a product.

Prospective customers viewing items online or in a magazine can’t see or touch the item in person, so a photo must showcase an item’s beauty and detailed qualities; which is best achieved by following important set ups when lighting for product photography.

There are two types of product photography you can shoot:

  1. An object on a white, black or colored background
  2. An object in its natural environment

In Part 1 of this 2 part article on how to shoot product photography, we are going to teach you how to shoot objects on a white, black or colored background.

You can find Part 2 on Product Photography Lighting in its natural environment here.

What You Need for Product Photography Lighting

In order to shoot the best product photography you are going to need several things:

  • A dslr camera
  • 18-55mm lens
  • Tripod
  • A tabletop photo kit OR 2-3 500 watt continuous lights with stands and a tabletop background with seamless white, black and/or colored backdrops. *We recommend two for you to choose from below.

All of these items can be found inexpensively on Amazon.com through this link: Product Photography Equipment.

Two tabletop photo kits we recommend include:

Setting Up and Lighting for Product Photography

Set Up Tabletop Photography and Position the Camera

If you opted to buy a tabletop kit (which is recommended when starting out) follow the instructions on how to set it up.

If you chose to purchase your own lights with stands and a tabletop background follow these instructions. A detailed photo is also below.

  • Set up the seamless background so that the back of the material is vertical against a wall (or flat object) and the bottom is horizontal on a table.
  • Place your object in the middle of the horizontal section of the backdrop material.
  • Position your camera so that it is directly across from the vertical background of the material.
lighting for product photography sample
Photo by Lightingpictures.net – Lighting for Product Photography

Lighting the Product

  • Position one light directly above and close to your object.
  • Position the other two lights to each side and close to your object but slightly toward the camera. You want a 20-30 degree angle with the lights pointing toward the subject.

We position our lights in the manner described above in order to eliminate as many shadows as possible from the object. If you did not flood the object with light from all angles you would end up with ugly harsh shadows on the subject.

The light above should be bright enough to adequately illuminate the subject. The lights on the sides should be bright enough to make the background an even white as well as eliminate shadowing. Try to position the side lights so that they are casting the same amount of light on the object. You don’t want one light to overpower the other.

If your lights have adjustable dimmers use those to control the amount of light casting on your set up. If you don’t have adjustments just move the lights further away from the set up to reduce the amount of light or closer to increase it. There is no scientific method for this placement. Try to figure it out with your eyes.

Choosing the Best Angle for the Product

The key to shooting great product photography is choosing the best angle for the product. Generally, this is where most photographers fail. They just place the object in the center of the tabletop background, snap the photo and go on there way. This results in a flat and boring photo.

Here’s how you should angle the camera toward the object in tabletop photography:

  • Most products look best when viewed at a 3/4 angle turn to the camera. This means the object is turned half way between the camera and a profile shot. Positioning the object in this way allows you to see two sides of the object at once while enhancing its depth.
  • Many products also look good with slight downward angle. This angle shows as much of the product as possible. Position the camera so it is straight on with the subject, then raise your tripod a few inches and tilt the camera down. This also helps enhance the depth of the object and by allowing the viewer to see three sides instead of two. *You can also try a slight upward angle by lowering your camera a few inches.
tabletop product photography angle
Photos by Alex Koloskov and Yunguyen666

Camera Settings and Focal Length

Its very important that your object be in perfect focus so that viewers can see complete detail. To ensure that you achieve this in your product photography follow these rules:

  • Place your camera on a tripod to reduce all possibility of camera shake.
  • Set your ISO to its lowest setting – 100, 200 or lower. This will reduce grain in the photo.
  • Set your aperture to f/8 or f/11.
  • Adjust your shutter speed until you reach a properly exposed image. Use the histogam on your camera to make sure your white and black levels are within proper range.

We recommend using an 18-55mm lens on your camera because it offers an advantage to using a fixed length prime lens. For the most part you want to keep your focal length around 50mm to capture the object without any distortion. However, if you want to exaggerate the depth of the object and make it look bigger you can also choose a lower focal length and then move the tripod closer. This can be very effective for small items like cars, trains, or jewelry.

We hope you enjoyed Part 1 of product photography lighting. Be sure to now read Part 2 on How to Shoot Product Photography in its natural environment. Also, please use the icons below to share this article with other photographers.

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