Your website is your shop front, and the photos on it help generate sales, so using high-quality product photography is essential in creating those images. Without doubt, the best way to achieve this would be to hire a professional photographer who specialises in product photography. It’s worth noting that the skills needed for this type of work differ greatly from those needed for portraiture or wedding photography, for example. Whether you use a pro photographer, or you decide to do your own photography, here is some advice that you may wish to consider.
When photographing products, it is important to avoid hard shadows which can occur if using a very small source of light. This type of light source can cast shadows on the surface of the product, causing some distortion, and can look harsh and become distracting. Instead you should aim for soft shadow by using either natural light or a large source of artificial light. You may wish to try a flash diffuser, light diffuser or reflectors to help achieve this. Soft shadow will give a much smoother appearance to the product you are photographing, and make it appear more “whole” and three-dimensional with much visible detail but without harsh, distracting shadows.
Experiment with the angle of light source to achieve different effects – this simple change in light placement can really affect the results of your shoot. A light which comes directly from the camera, or from the same direction the camera is pointing, can lessen the detail visible in the photograph and produce a flat, shapeless effect. Instead, try aiming diffuse light from the side or sides of the product to create just enough shadow to lend some shape and dimension to the product you are shooting.
A White Background
Very often, certain types of product need to be shot against a plain, white background. This has the obvious benefit of showing nothing but the product itself , so there are no distractions to draw the eye away from the product. A plain background can be made by using a light tent, or by creating an “infinity curve”. This is done by taking plain, white card or stiff fabric, laying it on a surface and bending upwards into a curve which is then securely clamped in place onto a frame or stand which is higher than the surface. For very large objects this can be done on the floor and up onto a stand or wall. If using fabric take care to ensure there are no creases as these can show up and cast unwanted shadows.
A plain background is not always required, and for some websites it may be more appropriate to add some styling to the product photography. This may involve showing the product in its intended context, so jewellery or clothing on a model, for example, or homeware in a kitchen or living room. Depending on your brief there is much room for artistic license here and the scope for product styling is endless. As a general rule, the product should remain very much the main focus of the shot, and the background and styling aspects should serve to enhance and showcase the product rather than to distract from it. Think about the colours that will be present in the shot; do they compliment the product or clash with it? Are there too many other items in shot and should it perhaps be simplified? Whatever the setting, where styling is used it should be done so as to enhance the perceived desirability of the product being photographed, in order to communicate the lifestyle and life-enhancing aspects of the product and entice and involve the potential customer.
As well as putting a product in its natural context, styling is also useful to give a sense of scale. This is often done with miniature items, for example placing a pencil next to an item of dolls-house furniture or a penny next to an item of jewellery. Using a commonplace, familiar item gives the customer an immediate visual aid to scale, far quicker than simply reading measurements and trying to visualise the product.
Using a Tripod
A tripod is a vital tool in product photography and will eliminate the risk of blurring caused by movement of the camera. Even if you are convinced of the steadiness of your hands, you are likely to see some improvement in sharpness of image quality by employing the use of a tripod. This is especially important when photographing products close-up, as even the slightest camera movement will have an effect on the image. To reduce motion-blur even further, use the camera’s timer setting. Some small movement can still occur when pressing the shutter button even when using a tripod, but using the timer means that the camera will stay as still as it possibly can.
A horizontal tripod (a tripod with a horizontally-aligning arm) can be used if you are photographing products which need to be laid flat, such as books, clothes or paintings. The arm can be removed when not needed and the camera housing reattached so it can then be used as a normal tripod. Using a horizontal tripod gives you the means to shoot a product directly from above whilst maximising stability.
Guest article by Lizzie Winter. Indigo Plum are specialists in corporate, commercial and product photography.