What is the best way to get consistent angles in product photography?
January 7, 2013 8:30 PM   Subscribe

"I'm shooting a large amount of products on a white background for an electronics company, and they are wanting every item to be shot solo at the exact same angle/degree, to be composited seamlessly at a later time in various group shots.

Keeping the angle ultra-consistent wouldn't be an issue if they were all being shot on the same day, but the company will be filtering the items to me over a period of months. My studio and tripod set-up will obviously be broken down and moved around in between these product shoots, and I'm looking for suggestions on foolproof ways to re-create the exact same angle each time. I realize it may be as simple as recording the measurements and positioning of the tripod, camera, and table, but it still seems unlikely that the angle and plane will be precisely the same every time. Does anyone have experience with doing this sort of thing long term? Or know of a feasible method of keeping it consistent throughout the months? Would love to get some pointers, or better yet find an existing tutorial. My search efforts thus far have been fruitless. Thanks."
posted by theperfectcrime to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You could make the desired angle out of L-shaped cardboard or mat board taped on one side to the background board or the table you are shooting on. Fit the electronic items into the L, then flip it aside for the photo. A couple of strings of specific length attached to the cardboard L could be used to position the camera and tripod.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:17 PM on January 7, 2013

This is what I would do: make two tape or chalk marks a set distance apart. Center your tripod at a fixed height above one of the marks. Attach the camera and set it to a given focal length, etc. Point it directly at the other tape/chalk mark-- I would use the focus spots to make sure the other piece of tape is exactly centered. Then put the product on the second tape/chalk mark.

Lighting is going to be even more critical; inconsistent lighting is what will make the final composite look obviously-composited.
posted by supercres at 9:19 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm making these comments to spawn some conversation, since I don't do a ton of compositing. But I do work on commercial shoots.

I would anticipate your client's needs because they sound like they might be idiots. I don't fully understand why they think that have all the products at the same angle would be good for compositing. First of all, what is this angle? Is it slightly from above with the object at a 45 degree angle? If that's the case, I would make sure to shoot the object pointing in both directions - camera left and camera right - because if they want to use the image on the left side of a composite versus a right side, they'll run into problems.

Secondly, what else would you do to keep your shoots consistent over months? I would dedicate a tripod to this project - don't use it for other shit - mark tape for the legs and where the center column is, etc., as well as the distance from the object. Also mark the light distances and their settings as well. You don't need anything else.

Also, if you want to be totally anal about this, make sure you shoot fully lit, don't get all artsy and introduce any shadow on the objects. Why? Because you can add this in post, and removing it is a bigger pain in the ass.

And also, depending on your camera - for example, if you are shooting with a high megapixel full frame - I would shoot with a longish lens, like a 100mm, to reduce lens distortion, and make sure the image is well in frame - do not max out the frame.
posted by phaedon at 10:27 PM on January 7, 2013 [8 favorites]

Agree with phaedon, and I would extend that by saying if the client isn't willing to pay you extra to maintain a dedicated studio space for this horseshit that you pass on the project. What they want -- identical setups across a span of months -- requires a dedicated studio. Are you going to be expected to eat the cost of retakes if the light is a little off in your setup from June to December? That's a crock of shit right there. If they need precision and perfect repeatability they need to pay for the hassle it takes to maintain it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:53 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've worked with photographers doing product and catalog shoots over the years and they always had dedicated set-ups for exactly what you are being tasked to do. You can try recording the measurements and angles, and re-create the set-up each time, but I guarantee you won't get it right.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:08 AM on January 8, 2013

Phaedron has the right answer. Still, you might want to look into what's going on in the world of stop-motion animation. These days they composite the live camera view on top of the previous frame, letting the animator get things just right. Using a similar system, you can composite new hardware to line up with old hardware shots.

Still... phaedron has the right answer.
posted by chairface at 8:05 AM on January 8, 2013

Thirding/fourthing Phaedron.

This is dedicated studio work. I have done some catalogue work in improvised on site studios however and I found the best way to get consistent results was always carrying around a test model to shoot and compare with archive pics on a laptop.

(And keep the lighting simple, make sure your tech is consistent and tell the client how much quicker and easier it would be to hire a studio space for a weekend and conveyor belt the whole thing)
posted by brilliantmistake at 12:08 PM on January 8, 2013

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