With so many designers using Photo Boards as backgrounds for shots of their handmade products, I thought that this week I would share my top tips for taking beautiful product photos. I have many tips and to write them all would be the longest blog post ever so here are my 6 ultimate basic rules that every great product photo should follow.
I have spent many years working as a product photographer and I know that if the following elements of my photos are perfect then the client will always be happy.
Nowadays I teach these rules to my Photocraft students so that they (and you too) can capture great product photos. The most exciting thing is that you can apply these rules whatever camera or smartphone device you use, so if you are a complete beginner or wanting to polish your beautifully styled photos then read on...
1. Correct your exposure
If you can ensure that your photo is perfectly exposed (not too bright or too dark) then you are most of the way there to achieving a beautiful product photo. I see so many shots that are perfectly styled but let down by this easy to control element and they just appear gloomy and dull, or in some cases so bright that all detail in the highlights is lost.
Whether you have a smart phone app or digital camera, look for your exposure compensation controls that allow you to manually override what the camera thinks is the correct exposure (professionals among you will of course control exposure manually but this post is aimed at beginners).
So What is the correct exposure? Whatever result gives the closest representation of the scene before you is the answer. If you are still unsure, brighten your photo using the + brightness end of the sliding scale until your subject is lovely and bright but hasn't lost detail in the highlights.
If your smartphone camera doesn't have exposure override then try downloading the Adobe Lightroom app which has many DSLR features in camera mode and some cool filters too!
2. Use only natural Daylight
Use only natural daylight (or daylight balanced artificial light) when capturing photos of your crafts and you will see your scene spring to life with lovely highlights and shadows. This means turning off any conflicting room lights too, even if you are shooting next to a window they can cause unwanted colour casts from afar.
I know it's an obvious tip but it's surprising how many people just shoot under a direct room light not realising how much more AMAZING and natural their photos would look captured in the daylight from a window. I realise that not everyone has the luxury of working in daylight hours though, so luckily there are some cool lighting gadgets to help you out. I'm coveting this new LuxPad43 light available at Wex Photographic for a space saving option of a soft continuous light source when daylight is in short supply.
3. Use a tripod
For various reasons a tripod is an essential piece of kit for product photography and used by every professional. Firstly it allows your camera to stay in position while you change props and style around your subject, checking back through the camera to see how your styling efforts are affecting the scene.
If you put your camera down to make changes to your scene then it is very unlikely you will be returning to exactly the same angle when you pick it up again. With a tripod you can keep the same camera angle and watch as slight changes in the position of your props bring the scene to life.
Secondly a tripod will help you get super sharp shots in low light by keeping the camera nice and still. The slightest movement can cause a very blurred photo and you might not even see the blur until the shot is downloaded to be viewed up close, by then the perfect light could be long gone.
4. Search out the perfect light
Speaking of perfect light, don't just stand where you land, search out the best light in your house or studio and watch how your scene changes in appearance when you alter the distance from the subject to window or alter the angle of the light on your scene.
Your product will look very different if the light falls from a high angle or a low angle and your subject will change in appearance dramatically depending on whether the light hits it from the side, front on or from behind.
This is where Photo Boards are so useful because you can rotate, lift or lower your scene to get the lighting effect you love.
5. Avoid distractions
We've all added a photo prop to a scene before because it looks pretty, because it was something new we just picked up and have to get it into a photo, or because lots of other people use something similar on Instagram, but always ask yourself if it is adding anything positive to the scene.
Bad prop placement can ruin a perfectly good photo (not to mention confuse your customers!) and I find my story telling method helps to decide if a prop has a place in a photo and ensures every photo is as simply styled and serene as this one above.
I often ask my students to describe the story of their photo to me, so next time you create a small scene, imagine describing the story behind it too.
For example above my story is the customer has taken off her bangle and is about to place it in the bedside table jewellery dish, alongside that pretty fallen flower. That is a perfectly plausible story (even if obviously a styled shot), but if there was a random prop added to the scene that doesn't quite fit the story, for example a gold plated staple gun or other equally out of place prop, then you know it is time to remove it from the scene.
Of course if you removed the jewellery bowl and flower to replace them with some patterned paper and ribbon with the stapler, then your story can become this is how I wrap and staple my little packets of jewellery before sending them to customers. So there is always a story you can tell but by thinking about what that story would be you can simplify which props make the cut, and avoid the possibility of placing confusing objects together.
6. Level up
This final tweak to your photo may seem obvious but again it's one of those tiny changes that will make a huge difference to your shots and if you can add this extra level of attention to detail to your photos they will really sparkle and make people stop and look.
If there is an obvious line or horizon level in your scene then align it with the edge of your shot, even if you do this afterwards in an editing app or in Instagram just before you share it. The slightest few degrees to level up your shot can turn it from looking like a snap into a pro looking photo. Of course some photos are purposefully taken on a strong diagonal angle which is totally fine, it is the ever so slightly off look shown on the left that we are trying to avoid.
I see a lot of photos like this, and of course who can resist delicious looking cake frosting this shot would for sure attract lots of likes on Instagram, but even more if perfectly level as shown on the right. Just making a photo level adds a sense of calm, of non hurried capture.
Apply all of the tips above and you will have beautifully exposed, naturally lit, sharply focused, simply styled, level photos with natural looking highlights and shadows. This is a great start for improving the look of your product photos, now all you need are some beautiful Photo Boards backgrounds to set the scene!
Tune in again next week for some more tips and ideas for your photography. Have a great weekend!