Friday, March 28, 2008

How Do I Take My Product Photos? A tutorial.

I frequently receive requests on this topic so I thought I’d take the time to blog about it. I’m no photographer by any stretch, however I do strive for good color and sharp images. Not all my photos are great. In fact, each one is probably flawed by some standards, but I do think each product is accurately represented to the best of my ability.

When I first began photographing products I was more consumed with composition than lighting. Good composition doesn’t mean squat if you can’t see the product. As a result, I’ve eliminated most unnecessary clutter from my photographs and focus (no pun intended) on good, or at least decent, lighting. And never, ever, ever use your camera’s flash!

Natural vs Artificial Lighting
There are two schools of thought on this and I subscribe to both. Natural lighting is normally my preference but I rarely have access to good quality natural light. What I mean is if it’s not slightly diffused morning light (ideal), I’m not interested. Direct, midday, and afternoon natural light is totally unacceptable. Products end up with sharp shadows, a dark side, glare, or a cast of unwanted color (afternoon light). Unless you’re one to crop around the entire product, which I am not, I would avoid direct sunlight from any angle.

Natural Light - Before:

Natural Light - After:

Adjusting to reduce the color shift in afternoon light is far too time consuming since most of my product photos represent the actual item for sale and not a prototype.

Midday light is great if you have a light studio. A light studio is a cube made from thin white fabric held taught by a wire frame and purchased for $50+ online from many different sellers. Or, it can be easily constructed from a large cardboard box with white tissue papers substituting for the white fabric. The purpose of the photo cube is to diffuse that harsh direct sunlight thereby avoiding those harsh shadows created by direct sunlight.

Because I have limited access to natural light and because I live and work on an extremely windy hill, I have invested in an indoor light studio. It sounds much more grandiose than what it actually is. It all began with a small “hillbilly photo cube” (hey, I live in Kentucky!) that I constructed using a cardboard box and tissue paper and 2 desk lamps with (*gasp*) incandescent bulbs.

Knowing this is an unsatisfactory arrangement (the bulbs were all wrong and the light cube too fragile!), I eventually asked for a photo cube and invested in better bulbs. I still use the 2 desk lamps, but you can see from my photos the end result is not half bad.

Hillbilly Photo Cube:

Than you to Marisa of ElegantSnobbery for allowing me to link to her tutorial on "How to Make A light Cube".

Here’s what I use:
- 2 Desklamps with arms (Walmart)
- GE EnergySmart DAYLIGHT bulbs, 100 watt (Walmart or home improvement store)
- Photo Cube
- Props (off-white sketch paper, dictionary, scrabble tiles, etc.)
- Camera

And here's the set-up.

Light bulb:

Click to enlarge this set-up pic:

Here's how I do it:

My digital camera (Olympus Camedia C-765) allows me to use a Macro setting (tulip icon), and I select either ISO 200 or 400. (What is ISO?) The higher the ISO the more light the camera will lens will let in (slower shutter speed). Brighter situations will tolerate a lower ISO setting.

The photo cube allows me to have the front and the top open. I have one desk lamp over the top of the top of the cube shining down over the product (about 10-12 inches above it). The second desk lamp is on the opposite side of the cube and shines through the side of the cube toward the front and side of the product. All other artificial light in the room is normally turned off in order to avoid unwanted glare.

Because I use the macro setting, I can get really close up to the subject. If you don’t have a macro setting, don’t try to get too close and lose focus. I would rather not list an item than list an item with an out of focus photo. The quality of your photos is what helps turn a visitor into a buyer.

Once I have my photos taken (and I normally take about 8 of each item)I pass them through Photoshop for a number of reasons. First, when you’re working with the macro setting every little piece of lint shows up in the photo! So I normally go through the photo and clean up the stray lint specs and smudges on the props being careful to leave the product untouched.

Next, I’ll want to adjust the curves. I do this with just about everything I photograph. What this does is make everything brighter without washing it out. I make a minor adjustment to brighten the image then I adjust the contrast.

Adjusting Curves:

Lastly, I check the levels and make adjustments to the lighter end of things. I want to be sure my whites are white and bright and not grey and dingy looking.

Adjusting Levels - Before:

Adjusting Levels - After:

The end result is true to my eye on my monitor in both color and vibrancy just as the original is in the palm of my hand.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I will answer as best I can.


Carry Grace said...

Wow, this is great! Now I wish I had a photo cube and photoshop.

Kelly Drill said...

This is the second time this week you've inspired me. Thanks for posting - this is incredibly helpful (and well-written for that matter!).

Anonymous said...

Great stuff. I have grandiose plans to construct my own light box - so it's helpful to see someone else's photoshop process :]

Leah said...

Good tutorial, Annie. I need to set up a light box...I used to have a good lighting set-up that used diffused natural light, but then we moved and I can't find quite the right location to get what I had at the old place.

prettybowtique said...

GREAT job Annie!!

prettybowtique said...

Great job Annie!!!!

New England Quilter said...

Great post Annie - I can tell you spent a long time perfecting your photography as well as writing a lovely tutorial here!

Unknown said...

Great post, Annie! Very helpful! Getting the perfect picture sure isn't easy! And you are too funny for including a link to my Light Box Building 101 blog post!! LOL!!

TotusMel said...

I've just recently gotten a nice photo set up, It was great to see someone else use a similar setup. Great how-to!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. Besides the great advice, the pictures of your set up were really helpful. And I'm so happy to see that you use stacks of whatever you have on hand to raise the lights and product! I was afraid that I was the only person doing that! Thanks!

The Downtown Boutique said...

This is really great Annie. I don't have Photoshop, but I do have a photo cube. I think you've given a great tutorial!


A Pink Piggy said...

Annie: Thanks so much for sharing your photo technique as well as your tutorial. Great job explaining the resin technique as I'm scared to death to use it!

Nil said...

Thank you very much for all information. It's great!!! I was searching some tutorial but you're tutorial absolutly the best one. Your english is really nice. Even you don't know english well like me :D

Anonymous said...

great tutorial, thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. i can not figure out how to print my photos small enough to fit on a scrabble tile. thanks so much.

Jordan Bailey said...

Somewhere a while back, I read a super-simple way to make a light cube - just use a large, white-ish Tupperware-type container. Lie it on its side and off you go! It's worked well for me, but I have to keep reminding myself not to use it for storage afterwards!

Little Dickens Designs said...

This is so helpful! Thank you so much for writing it all up!

American Sarta said...

Thank you so much for the wonderful tutorial!

woolies said...

I am SO photographically challenged.
So, with your lightbox & lighting - do you use any other light in the room? Do you do it in daylight or can you do it an nightime too?
off to read more thoroughly....

Annie Howes Keepsakes said...

I turn off any other ambient light. Daylight is OK, but the setup works great at night, too!

Sivylla said...

Annie, you did a great job!!!
Thank you so much for your advices and your tutorials are super!!! I was trying to find a way to photograph the finished tiles but it seemed so difficult... now with the light box i think it'll be fine!
Thank you for sharing all these with us :-))

Anonymous said...

WoW! As one of your many devoted customers I have to applaud you on your great head for business and a truly generous personality that comes through! You are so helpful & informative with all the questions I've had! This is a very thorough tutorial & so kind of you to share!
Thank you,
Peggy K