Thursday, May 17, 2012

What I Learned from Product Photography

By Tina

Originally when we started our business as professional photographers we specialized in school and sports portraits.  But along the way our business model morphed.   We learned that taking school portraits, while profitable, becomes routine with very little creativity involved because of the time constraint.  It becomes a high-end mug shot with scheduling challenges.  The process for school portraits goes sort of like this - sit the child down, have a prop or two in the frame, take the photo and then say "Next."  The most creativity you have with school portraits is with the lighting and posing but even then it becomes routine.

We ended up branching out and discovering how much we both love family portrait photography.  There is so much creativity involved with family and lifestyle photography.  Plus the natural lighting, changeable scenery and lack of strobes allowed us more freedom and versatility.

Recently I've stumbled upon another business model for my photography, and that is product photography.  Right off the bat it does not sound exciting.  Food photography might seem more fun (and tasty - don't the photographers get to eat what they shoot?)  But as it turns out I feel like I've come full circle.  Because with product photography I've taken my backdrops and strobes out of storage, but this time with a pure white backdrop.  (My client requires a ton of catalog product shots and they all have to have a pure white background.)

It's like High Key Photography 101.  What I love about it so far is that I am in complete control.  There's no planning ahead to make sure I get a smile from the toddler or concern about the weather.  With product photography I have an area in my office where I have a backdrop, a couple of strobes, plus my handy-dandy Speedlite and  Pocket Wizard. I was hoping I would never have to bring those out again, but as it turns out, it's okay!  I have learned so much about lighting and composition.  I'm forced to do everything in manual mode (I'm a fan of AV mode) and am becoming very adept at how to position the products, control the lighting and set my shutter speed, F-stop and ISO.

Interestingly enough, there's a challenge with product photography when it involves glassware or white products on a white backdrop.  I have discovered that I often have to underexpose a shot so that when I go back and do my post-processing work, the product looks accurate against the white setting.

Glassware is the hardest.  Take a look at the glassware at Crate and Barrel.  I refer to that site
for inspiration.  Stacking cups, shooting at an angle, it's all part of capturing the product to show it in the right 'light.'  And try it yourself as a test, get a nice piece of glassware from your dining room, get a white foam board and 'take a shot' at it.  Can you capture the glassware and set it against a totally white backdrop with nothing more than a small shadow at the bottom? More challenging than you thought, eh?

So I guess the point of this article is this: say "yes" to new challenges as they present themselves.  And what I initially thought of as "simple" photography turned out to be quite challenging and creative.  I'm enjoying the range of jobs that keep my skills finely tuned.    Check out a sample of my product shots, I included a few "white on white" so you can see what I mean when you test this yourself (you are going to try it, aren't you?)

Are you taking on a new challenge?  Or do you want to pursue something this year that you didn't have a chance to do last year?  Let us know because we get so inspired by what all of you pursue.


  1. Here's an excellent reference on lighting for glass, chrome and white on white.

    It's not always simply a matter of underexposing and adjusting in post, this alone will add grain, contrast and colour shift. It's also about controlling the light and the reflections. I've been a product photographer for 12 years and my new challenge is teaching. Good luck with your new endeavour.

    1. Hi Tracy, thanks so much for your reference. I will check that out. And if you hold a class on product photography, let us know! We'd love to help you promote and take it ourselves!

  2. Wow! Thanks for the set up. I'll be back for sure. Visiting from IG


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