Monday, April 20, 2009

Basic Product Photography - Part 1

For those selling on-line or in catalogs good photos of your items is essential. When you sell in person your customers can look at the actual piece, hold it, and see its beauty and value. When you must convey that with a picture you want to be sure that picture is perfect. This is just a basic guide to creating photographs that will best represent your work.

The first thing required is a good camera. There are many levels of digital cameras on the market. You can certainly do everything that you need to do to take product photos for your purposes with a point and shoot camera - one that has auto focus and auto exposure (which are basic to most). You do not need the best camera available but you do want a camera that has certain features that are required for good product photography.

The first feature that is a must have is Macro mode. A macro is a close up photograph. A camera lens has a set range of distance at which it will take clear images. This range determines how close you can get to the subject to take a focused image. Generally the shortest distance most lenses on point and shoot cameras will focus on is about three feet. While this may seem close it is really not close enough for product photography where the aim is to get close detail of the product. For this you need to be able to focus as close as six inches or closer and that is what the Macro mode setting on a camera will do. What is important to understand about macro mode is that this has a set range of distance also - and that range will change at different changes between the wide angle and telephoto range of your lens. So, if you set to macro and you are set to full wide angle you are set to the closest distance that you can get an image in focus. This range will always be specified in your camera's manual. If you move the telephoto control on your camera you will change that range and you will need to move the camera further away from the object in order to get a focused photo. Again, these ranges are stated in your camera manual. Some cameras add a Super Macro mode along with Macro mode. The Super Macro mode will allow you to get as close as a fraction of an inch to your image. This will make a remarkable image but generally this is way to close for a product photo. Remember, you want detail but you don't want your work examined as if under a microscope.

A second feature to look for on a camera is the ability to change the white balance on the camera. Most cameras come with auto-white balance, but there are situations where the auto setting will not do what you need it to do. White balance is the adjustment of the photograph to the light that it is taken in. Incandescent lights give off a yellow glow and when an object is photographed under regular room lights the image tends to look yellow. Auto-white balance should correct this but it does not always do so. Many cameras - but not all - will allow you to set the camera to the light you are shooting in. The type of light is indicated by little pictures - a light bulb for standard incandescent light bulb light, a bar with little rays coming from it for fluorescent lighting (which tends to give off a blue tint), a sun for sunlight, etc. When shooting under room lights you will want to set your camera manually to the incandescent setting to get a balanced, non-tinted image.

A third very valuable feature to look for on a camera is a good optical image stabilization system. This is a system built into the camera that will compensate for any movement of the lens when a photo is taken. This is especially important when macro shooting because when shooting that close even the movement of the camera button will blur the image. Canon Powershot cameras excel in Optical Image Stabilization. Other cameras offer this feature as well, but many rave over the results from the Canon cameras. This has been my experience as well. If you have a camera without this feature then a must have is the next thing to get for product photography.

The second thing required (unless you have a good optical image stabilized camera) is a tripod. As stated above, when shooting in macro mode the slightest breath of movement will result in a blurred image. A tripod will hold your camera solid and steady. It also has the advantage that it sets a fixed distance between the camera and the object that you are photographing. You want a decently made tripod that will hold your camera steady. They attach easily with a screw knob to a screw hole that is on the bottom of most cameras, put there for just this purpose. A floor standing tripod is best, but you will see small tripods and similar gadgets that will hold your camera on the table you are shooting on. These can be just as good, but they are not as steady as a good floor tripod.

To be continued...


Rachel Kovaciny said...

Very informative! I especially appreciated the info on tripods. Thanks!

Carmel said...

Thank you-these are great tips