Tips for good photography for selling products
August 17, 2004 6:57 AM   Subscribe

PhotoPhilter: I'm in the process of getting ready to launch a new business based on a product that I manufacture. I've just realized that I need pictures of various products for web and possibly sales brochures. I know absolutely nothing about how to take good product pictures. Do any of our photo gurus have tips, websites, examples that they'd like to share? (more inside)
posted by dejah420 to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know how helpful this is, but the photography --> commercial photography --> products section over at Deviant Art floats my boat and might provide some conceptual inspiration.
posted by littlegreenlights at 7:05 AM on August 17, 2004

Response by poster: The product, should it make any difference, is handmade well as things like bathbombs, lotions, etc. The products are all natural and organic whenever possible. I'm using essential oils instead of fragrances, and the soap is made the old fashioned way...saponified oils and a lot of time. :) Most of the time, the product is initially made into "logs" before being cut into bars, so I can use the big logs as part of the pictures too, if that would help. I was thinking about surrounding the soap with the objects from which the essential oils were generated when practical...such as oranges, grapefruits, limes, coconuts, etc.

But, I don't know if the best way to do things is to create a drop cloth for a unified background color, if I should aim for outside light, or try to create the effect of studio lights, if a good digital camera is enough, or if I should break out the 35mm.

My experience with photography is primarily chasing a child while trying to click the shutter and floral photography...which is just a hobby, I have no idea what I'm doing.

In an ideal world, I would be able to hire a pro to do this sort of thing, but having asked around the Dallas area, the cost of a professional photographer is just not in the budget, so I'd like some tips that would help make the pictures look nice, even if I can't get the perfection that would happen with an experienced pro.

On preview...thanks littlegreenlights, I'll go check it out. :)
posted by dejah420 at 7:07 AM on August 17, 2004

Best answer: DIY Photography on the Cheap has some recommendations for affordable lighting (tungsten), backgrounds (white formica), and cameras (go digital), along with the optimistic advice that "your first 10,000 photographs are your worst." Good reading.
posted by Aaorn at 7:34 AM on August 17, 2004 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This site offers some good tips. Check out the "Basic Floral Photography" link.
posted by azul at 7:54 AM on August 17, 2004 [1 favorite]

While not a direct answer to your question, if you send some samples to me I'd love to take some product shots for free.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:03 AM on August 17, 2004

Best answer: Light. It's all about the light.

Basically, the idea is to illuminate the subject evenly. This can be as simple as two tungsten lamps (like those cheap aluminum reflector clampy deals from the local Home Depot) from the left and right at the same angle so they cancel each other out. In a pinch you can use baking paper as a diffuser so the light isn't as harsh.

Alternatively, you can diffuse the light over the entire subject. You can even use a white sheet -- glue together some PVC or use wire to build a 'tent' large enough to cover the subject and then blast the light down through it.

For backgrounds, you can use a large sheet of poster paper. Attach it to your table and then with two-sided tape attach it again just behind where the product will go and begin a gradual curve up. This, providing your depth of field is correct, will make for a seamless transition.

A tripod is essential. If you don't have one, go get one. Now. Once you get the lighting and focus set you want consistency. Since your subject isn't moving and you want it clearly defined (not to mention an iffy light source) a slow shutter speed and a wide open lens is required, shooting macros like this makes the image vulnerable to the slightest camera motion (even breathing at the wrong time). Did I mention you need a tripod?

Pay attention to the white balance on your camera. If you can set it manually print out a gray card and do it that way. Otherwise make sure it's set to match your light source (or not, you'll have to experiment to see what works).

Or, as others have offered, send me a few samples and I'll be glad to send some high res pictures back. When your business takes off, let me know where to send the bill :)
posted by cedar at 8:37 AM on August 17, 2004 [1 favorite]

cedar is spot-on.

let me add, don't be afraid of wasting shots or wasting film. take the same shot several times with different settings. even if you think you have the lighting right, you may not. film is cheap--flash memory even more so. and when you think you've been shooting close enough, shoot closer.

i'd go with paper--instead of cloth--for the background, just to avoid wrinkles.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:53 AM on August 17, 2004

$0.02 - Backgrounds are easy and look great, but an environment is sometimes better. If you can fit your lights and tripod in a really nice bathroom that might set the mood better. Or, since you have organic products, you could try to get some shots out in the woods.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:38 AM on August 17, 2004

Best answer: B&H Web Photo School has some pretty good tutorials on product shots.
posted by smackfu at 10:13 AM on August 17, 2004

Best answer: If the things you're photographing are small (such as jewelry), what you gotta do is make a light diffuser from a gallon milk jug. Cut the bottom off and cut a big enough hole at the neck to stick your lens in.
posted by kindall at 10:36 AM on August 17, 2004 [1 favorite]

Ooh. Photographs of the soap in the woods/herb garden/etc. Could be done very nicely.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:59 AM on August 17, 2004


Offer the job of taking the photo and processing it to a struggling artist photographer. If I were in Texas, I would do this for free so that I could have the credit of having done somebody's commercial product catalog. Seriously, some kid in your neighborhood is probably struggling and wants to live the dream - you can help them live that dream!
posted by crazy finger at 1:07 PM on August 17, 2004

Why offer the job to a local struggling photographer when you could be that very photographer yourself?
posted by kindall at 1:57 PM on August 17, 2004

So dejah could be two kinds of starving artist at once! A soap artisan and a struggling photographer!

She will, of course, have to dress the part.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:19 PM on August 17, 2004

Response by poster: She will, of course, have to dress the part.

Well, ok...but I'm not sure the clothes from the "art school girl of doom" phase still fit.

These are great suggestions gang, thanks a bunch! Good link resources too! Cedar, that's a lot of really useful info, thanks! I do indeed have a tripod. And two good cameras. Not phenomenal mind you...but probably sufficient for web photos. One is a 4 megapixel digital and the other is a complicated 35mm that I have no idea how to use, but I've a better selection of lens with that one.

I'm going to try the light tent idea and the environmental idea. I found myself today looking at all kinds of objects and spaces thinking "Hey...would that work in a photograph?", so I think I've been inspired. Thanks again. :)
posted by dejah420 at 5:21 PM on August 17, 2004

No joke on the starving student salivating for commercial work. Find your local art/photography schools, make a call directly to the head of the photography department or guidance counselor. If the school operates on a quarter system, for instance 8 quarters, ask for a 7th quarter (8s are usually too busy with their portfolio) student who is aiming to become a "product" photographer.

Since you're looking to use the images in a brochure, a larger format camera think 4x5, studio lighting, and transparency film will make a huge difference, unless you're planning on taking the images and putting together the brochures on the computer yourself.
posted by Feisty at 8:32 PM on August 17, 2004

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