Product Photography

by William Lulow

It’s been a while since I wrote anything about doing product photography, so here is an article about it. Commercial photographers are often asked to shoot many different kinds of subjects under many different conditions. The mark of a good commercial photographer is that he knows all the various details and “tricks” about how to make ANY subject look good. So, even though I photograph people mostly, I did a stint as a catalog product photographer early in my career. It was during that time that I learned many of the techniques of good product photography.

So, the other day I was asked to photograph a number of brushed suede dopp kits (for shaving supplies, toothbrushes, etc.), for use on a website. Now, most products should, normally be lit from above, with fill-in lights added on both sides where necessary. This was my initial setup for shooting these products:

I was able to shoot this upstairs in my small studio because all I needed was a tabletop with a no-seam paper for a set. These “softboxes” give excellent light. They are direct, but diffuse and help to delineate the subject.

Here is one shot we made with this setup:

This was the rest of the lighting setup:

This shows one fill-in light added from camera-left position, but for the above product, it was bounced into an umbrella. There was another softbox placed to the right of the camera which provided a highlight on the right side of the bag. Note: For bottles or shiny objects, you should really have two softboxes, one on each side of the subject, in order to provide the correct highlights.

Now, the client needed for her bags to be represented in their true color, since she was selling them online. If customers are shopping from a website or catalog, it is important that everything in the shot be crystal clear and show the product accurately. If they order something and it’s not EXACTLY what they wanted when it arrives, the company has lost the sale. So, it’s very important that the photography be spot-on! Each image was downloaded immediately to my computer with its 27″ screen so that the client could get a good picture of what each image was.

Here’s another example:

Here, we added a couple of props and used the client’s hands for the laptop. (Image on the screen was “burned in” using a slow shutter speed while turning off all studio lights.)

Here’s yet another example:

You can see the effect of all the lights. The detail on the zipper shows as well as the highlights from the main light (softbox).

I used to shoot all of my product shots with my 8×10 Deardorff or my 4×5 flatbed view cameras. These days, I do most of my product photography with my Canon 5D with a 60mm macro lens. I also like to use the 60D with the revolvable LCD screen. Most of the images were shot at f/11 or f/14 to ensure maximum sharpness.