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Product Photography

Selling on Ebay, Craigslist, or elsewhere?

Sell more with better photography.

1 - Use P, Not Auto

If you're using a DSLR camera, or a sophisticated point-and-shoot camera, switch the exposure mode dial from the Auto setting to P (Program).

Your camera may designate the Auto setting with a green rectangle icon.

When your camera is set to Auto, you can't make many of the improvements described below.

When using the P (Program) setting, you're able to take better product photographs.

2 - WYSINWYG2 - WYSINWYG

In photography, there are two what-you-see-is-not-what-you-gets.

#1 - Shadows

Shadows on your product highlight its shape and any texture.

But, the shadow you see with your eyes will be darker on the photograph.

Brighten shadows by:

1) Reflecting light into the shadow with a white board.

2) Using a second light.

#2 - Color

Our eyes and brains are great at correcting color.

Your camera isn't as good.

Outdoors

Product photographers often photograph outdoors when the sky is overcast or in the shade.

The light source is large, the sky, so the lighting is low contrast.

There are no shadows, or if there are some, they're bright with soft edges.

But, the light is:

• Blue with an overcast sky.

• Blue/green, or cyan, in the shade.

Set the white balance on your camera to the cloud or shade icon.

Indoors

Incandescent

If you're photographing indoors with incandescent light (old-fashion light bulbs, halogen lamps, ECT photo bulbs), use the incandescent icon.

Flash

Flash light is too blue sometimes.

If so, set the white balance to the flash icon.

Florescent

Most florescent tubes produce green light.

Use the florescent icon.

Full spectrum florescent tubes may produce light close to the color of daylight.

Try the sun icon.

The color of florescent lamps varies.

Experiment.

Custom White Balance

If you're using light sources with different colors, or need the most accurate color, create a custom white balance setting.

Check your camera's manual.

During the process, you'll photograph a white board that's in the same light as the product.

Your camera measures any unwanted color from the white board.

The unwanted color is then subtracted whenever you select this custom white balance setting.

Don't Forget . . .

. . . to change the white balance back to automatic.

3 - Exposure Compensation (+/–)

You can use exposure compensation to brighten or darken the photograph.

On DSLR cameras, press and hold the +/- button and twirl the knurled knob.

With point-and-shoot cameras, check your instruction manual.

When to Use +/–?

There are three situations.

#1 - Too Dark or Too Light

If your camera's light meter isn't doing a good job, use +/–.

Use a plus exposure compensation to lighten a photograph.

Use a minus exposure compensation to darken a photograph.

Darker   Brighter
-2 -1 0 +1 +2
                       

#2 - More Saturated Color

If you want the color to be more saturated, use a small minus exposure compensation, such as –.3 or –.7.

#3 - Product Isn't Medium Colored

If your product is light or dark colored, your camera's light meter will set the exposure to make the product medium colored.

For light colored products, overexpose the product by using a plus value.

Try +1.3.

For dark colored products, underexpose the product by using a minus value.

Try –1.3.

Don't Forget . . .

. . . to change the exposure compensation back to 0.0.

Some cameras do this for you when the camera is turned off.

4 - ISO

ISO is how sensitive your camera's sensor is to light.

For the best quality, use a low ISO, such as 100 or 200.

If your lights are not bright, an ISO of 400 will probably be fine.

Avoid higher ISO values because the quality of the photograph deteriorates.

Caution

Your camera is probably set to automatic ISO.

It decides which ISO value to use.

Let's say you're using a slow shutter speed and the camera is on a tripod.

There's no danger of camera shake causing a blurred photograph.

The camera doesn't know you're using a tripod, so it may set the ISO to 1600 or higher.

Set the ISO manually.

Don't Forget . . .

. . . to change the ISO back to automatic.

5 - Focal Length

Products should be photographed using a focal length that records the product accurately.

A wide-angle focal length, such 18 mm on a DSLR camera, will make your product more bulgy.

A telephoto focal length, such as 200 mm on a DSLR camera, will flatten your product.

When using a DSLR camera, set your zoom to 55 mm to 70mm.

When using a point-and-shoot camera, set the zoom from 12 mm to 17 mm.

6 -Tripod

There are three reasons why you should use a tripod.

#1 - Focus

You can focus close-up photographs more accurately.

You may need to focus manually.

DSLR Cameras

On your lens, move the switch from A to M.

Don't confuse the above with the M on the exposure mode dial on top of your camera.

Point-and-shoot Cameras

Check your camera's manual for manual focusing.

#2 - Slow Shutter Speeds

You probably won't be using powerful lights.

With a tripod, you can use slower shutter speeds, those below 1/60th.

You may move the camera when you press the shutter release.

Use your camera's self-timer, or a remote shutter release, to press the shutter release for you.

Caution

At slow shutter speeds, the light from a distant window or lamp may blend with the lighting that your using near the product.

Close the curtains or blinds.

Turn off any extraneous lights.

#3 - Composition & Lighting

When your camera is on a tripod, it's easier to study the composition and lighting.

7 - Composition

Go to Composition.

Do the following.

1) Get closer!

Fill the frame with your product.

2) Use a plain background, such as paper or fabric.

The paper shouldn't have creases, the fabric, no wrinkles.

Consider using seamless paper, which comes in rolls that are 107' or 53' wide.

3) You can use a background that contrasts with the tone or color of the product.

But—strong contrasts may make the contrast the star of the photograph—rather than your product.

4) Be aware that your camera will photograph more than what you see in the viewfinder or screen.

5) Don't include items not included in the sale.

6) If needed, do include a quarter or ruler to show the size of your product.

8 - Close Ups

Photograph parts of the product, including any defects.

You can use a set of close-up filters to get closer.

As you get closer to your product, there's less and less depth-of-field.

You can get more of your product in focus by using a physically smaller aperture.

DSLR Cameras

If you're using a DSLR camera, set the exposure mode dial to the flower icon.

Or, set it to Av or A.

Select a big aperture number, such as f/16, for more depth-of-field.

At f/16, the aperture is physically small, creating more depth-of-field.

Be careful.

There's not much light coming through an aperture of f/16.

If you see the shutter speed number blinking, or if you see a blinking Lo, there's not enough light for f/16.

Try f/11 or f/8.

Point-and-shoot Cameras

Set you camera to a scene mode for close-up or macro photography.

You may be able to use Av or A, as described above.

Check your camera's manual.

9 - Lights & Umbrellas

If money is no object, purchase studio flash and soft boxes, as seen in the photograph below.

This article is for those who are keeping an eye on their business expenses.

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Lights

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Go to Cheap Bright Light.

Florescent lamps can be used in a clamp-on type light fixture described in the above link.

Halogen work lights from home improvement stores may be used as well.

Umbrellas

Purchase translucent white umbrellas rather than opaque silver umbrellas.

Aim the light through the translucent umbrella at your product.

The umbrella can be moved closer to your product, reducing the contrast of the light, as seen in the diagram below on the left

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10 - Lighting

Go to Light and Light Rules.

Size

Large light sources produce:

• Bright shadows, with soft edges.

• No glare.

That said, you may want some shadows and highlights.

They tell your customer about the shape and texture of your product.

Yes—bounce your lights off of white walls, cardboard, foam core—or through translucent white umbrellas—to make the light less contrasty.

But, if your product needs to glint or glisten, add a small-sized light source.

For example, portrait photographers often use large light sources.

But, they add a small-sized light source to light up the subject's hair and shoulders.

Experiment.

Direction

From Everywhere

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Light tents are great for creating low contrast lighting for small subjects.

They are the ultimate large light source.

The light is coming from everywhere.

It's a must when photographing products with reflective surfaces such as jewelry.

It's often the best light for other products as well, except when your product:

• Needs to glint or glisten, as described above.

• Has shape or texture, described below.

From the Side

If your product has shape or texture, light from the side.

Place the light to one side of your camera, not all the way to the side of the product.

The shadows will accentuate these features.

Just be sure to brighten the shadows.

As described above, the shadows will be darker in the photograph.

Use a white board to reflect light into the shadows.

Or, use a second light on the the shadow side of the product.

Move the second light slightly further away from the product than the first light.

That makes the second light dimmer than the first light.

If the second light were the same distance as the first light, the shadows would be eliminated.

Also, to prevent the second light from casting its own shadows, keep it near the camera position.

Place an imaginary string between your camera and the product.

Locate the second light just to the left or right of the string, off camera, of course.

Light from Behind the Product

Backlighting may be needed for glass.

Backlight may create flare.

Flare looks like haze, and often produces odd looking shapes.

Shade the lens as you would your eyes in bright sunlight.

Use a lens hood, your hand, or a black board.

White Background Is Gray

In the Photograph

A white background often turns gray in the photograph.

This is because the lighting on the product becomes much dimmer when it reaches the background.

You can:

• Light the background with additional lights.

• Edit the contrast of the photograph.

11 - Useful Items

Gaffer tape is more expensive than duct tape, but it's less likely to damage surfaces to which it's applied.

Small clamps can be purchased at home improvement stores.

If you're using the clamps on hot lights, get clamps made from metal.

 12 - Editing

Your camera takes the information gathered by the sensor and makes many technical and aesthetic decisions.

You're better at developing the photograph.

You know what was photographed—the camera doesn't.

Lightroom (Windows or Mac) and Photoshop Elements (Windows or Mac) are powerful programs with learning curves.

Adobe offers free trials.

GIMP (Windows or Mac) and Paint.NET (Windows) are powerful free programs.

Beginners may like to try one of the programs below before delving into the above programs.

Free Editing Programs

For Beginners

The programs below edit your photographs in your browser.

Adobe Photoshop Express (Windows or Mac)

Go to the Adobe Photoshop Express tutorial.

PicMonkey Scroll down to the free version, has ads

Pixlr (Windows or Mac)

Exposure & Contrast

Use an editing program to tweak the exposure and contrast of your photographs.

Again, tweak.

Don't make the product look different than what it is.

Sharpening

If you're somewhat familiar with editing, sharpen a photograph where the product has fine detail.

Digital photographs, because they're made from square pixels, can't record the edges of curves accurately.

The pixels jut out along the curve, making it look out-of-focus.

Sharpening uses an optical illusion to make digital photographs look sharper.

Your camera added sharpening when it developed the JPEG.

You may need to add some more.