One of the most important features of an e-Commerce site is the product photos. Having the ability for the customer to almost feel the item through the screen, and knowing how the product would be as if they had bought it. This could be the difference between you making a good conversion rate or not. Gaining customer trust is another aspect that can be acquired with good product photography.
I’ve recently been doing a lot of product photography for the company I work for. Well, it is one of the main reasons they hired me I suppose, aside from my design skills. Product photography can be easy, but can also require a lot of work. There are certain lighting techniques that will help improve the image of a product, and certain techniques that can destroy the image of a product. The style of the product photography should not only fit the branding of the company, but also match the site in which the products will be presented.
The requirements set by the head guy and passed down to me, was to basically nuke the image so everything was white, but still showed enough contrast in the image to successfully convey the product. When our company deals with large quantity buyers (ie. walmart, target, etc), they request that the images of these products be all white with just the product and barely any shadows at all. Sounds a bit odd right? Almost as if the product is just floating. Anyways, you tend to please the one who signs your checks.
If you don’t pay close attention to prepping your products before the shoot then you’re making your first big mistake in acquiring a good image. This could be folding shirts properly, cleaning the product, misting the product for added effect, cleaning the seamless, and cleaning any glass throughly.Carefully adjust the product to show its best side. Move certain elements of the product to pose them just like you would a subject to enhance its better features.
The part that will make or break your images, lighting. For most products your lighting setup can be pretty slim, unless you are shooting bigger objects. The lighting gear will also depend on the style of the photography you need. Soft boxes are perfect for this type of work. They create soft light and wrap the shadows nicely. A three light setup is ideal. That way you can have your key on the product, have a filler, and a background light (or another filler, or rim light). When shooting more complex objects the amount of lights will change. You could be snooting a light to accent a label on the front of the product, or you could be using kickers on the side to give the product contrasted edges. Another thing to think about is using gobos and cookies. Gobos (or more commonly known as flags) are “go between” objects between your light source and camera to help control light spill. Cookies are objects that help create effects or patterns within your image.
Getting Your Exposure
The easiest way to nail down an exposure is using a light meter. However, you certainly don’t need one. I didn’t start using one up until this year and have relied on chimping (shoot, adjust light, shoot, adjust light). Set your camera at max sync speed, and a low ISO. A good DOF to start at is in the 8-14 range. This will make your whole object in focus. Once you have those set, adjust your lights accordingly until your exposure is how you like it. With more practice you will be able to judge what’s the best settings before you even take a first test shot.
You are not done once you’ve taken the photos. Take care in pulling your photos into some sort of post production software, the modern equivalent to a dark room. Use lightroom and/or photoshop to help you. Clean the background up, fill in the seamless for any missed spots, sharpen the image, adjust exposure if needed, or add any effects to which you see fit.
Here is an example of what I was working on to help illustrate my setup and final image. My key light was a boomed 64″, silver diffused, PLM with an AB1600 at f/13. My fill was a 28″ westcott softbox camera left with a AB800 at f/14, and a 28″ westcott softbox camera right with a 580ex2 at f/13.
Here is the final shot. Nearly straight out of camera with a few minor adjustments.
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