Product photography is not as easy as you might think. Sure you can pop a beer bottle on a table and take a snap with your phone but it’ll look terrible. Good product photography is an artform in itself, but there are few hacks you can use to your advantage
Backgrounds – off Cuts of Wood, Odd Slate Tiles
Backgrounds are expensive and quite often are only used once. Instead of buying a purpose made background repurpose something you may already have. Old bits of wood, slate tiles disused patio paving, a sheet of glass anything really can double as a background.
I was asked to use a slate background for this image. It was the only time I’d been asked for a slate background before and I haven’t been asked since so to go out and buy slate just for one shot seemed unnecessary. Luckily, at the time, we used slate table mats and coasters. It was just by chance, but four slate mats pushed together and the seams hidden within the image worked perfectly. So go on a hunt around your house to find suitable backdrops. If you were shooting some silver jewellery, for example, try shooting it on a white or light coloured or patterned bathroom tile. The opportunities are endless.
Infinity Curve With Card and Tape
OK, these images may not be strictly products, but the concept is the same. Using slightly reflective card I taped the upper corners to the wall and the lower corners to the flat surface, thus creating an infinity curve. This small detail is extremely effective in product photography.
To shoot an object on a white background you can use card and light it well so it blows out. That’s pretty standard stuff in product photography. However, most new comers fall down as the background has a harsh line along the bottom, which often cannot be removed. This is because there was no infinity curve in place.
An infinity curve is just a background that curves creating a seamless border between the bottom and backdrop. In studios where they shoot large objects like a car the curves are purpose but and painted. If you are shooting smaller objects than that. Maybe you are selling toys on ebay, then you can create an infinity curve with a sheet of paper or card taped on the sides to a flat surface and a wall. That’s what I did when I found a toad wandering through my kitchen. I like to photograph animals in a studio setting and thought this too good an opportunity to pass up.
I set up the backdrop in a couple of minutes and set a remote flashgun to fire onto the curve. Another was aimed down at the toad and before the warty amphibian knew he’d wandered into a house, he was back in the wild searching for worms and slugs.
Create a Fake Background
If you are on a budget -be it time or financial – you can always cheat with the background and create a realistic, but fake background using a image on your computer.
As you can see I set up a quick product shot using some perfume bottles sat of a couple of plaques (they lifted the bottles up enough) and then made a bokeh background appear full screen on my laptop.
The resulting picture was a bit flat, but that’s OK, as a few tweaks in my digital darkroom and the results are hard to distinguish from a real, and expensive, shoot.
The key is flat lighting to start with and I just used light on a dull day from a large window. That was all there was too it.
You can also take a shot with a black background and add another background in its place using post processing.
Dress Your Set
Most product photography is there to sell a product and many new product photographers simply take a shot of the product and that’s it. It may be well lit, but there’s no substance to the image. Good product photography should sell an idea or a mood to invoke desire in the viewer to encourage them to buy the product.
For this shot I used the top of a rustic kitchen island and filled it with props from a neighbours garage to give an old world ambiance. The client wanted the drink to be a taste of warming nostalgia, so I went for the warmth of the 200 year old elm wood and selected hand tools and other pros that instilled the right mood to the shot.
Gavin Parsons studied photography at Huntingdonshire college one of the most eminent stepping-stones into commercial photography in the 1990s. His career skewed into journalism when he accepted the role of technical writer on Practical Photography magazine and then slid into the water and he became one of the UK’s top underwater photographers and was the editor of Sport Diver magazine.
Gavin is an award winning wildlife photographer, accomplished environmental portrait photographer and now a Youtuber with a growing channel dedicated to all things photographic.