Tips for Fast and Effective Studio Product Photography

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This is the second part of a series that will explore a studio setup aimed at product photography. You can see the first here: Equipment Tips for Quick and Efficient Studio Product Photography.

Although this is built primarily for product photography you can use it for a few other genres. In this second part I will be going hands on with an actual shoot. I will show you how to set up a shoot based on the equipment from part one and go over some tips that I have gathered over the years of using it. If you haven’t read part one yet, head over there and give it a quick look so that you are up to speed with how we are about to implement that system.

PICTURE 1

Getting set up

Now that you are caught up let’s dive in. For almost every shoot I start by turning on my table lights. Those include the lights behind and beneath my table to allow the surface to glow from within (see photo above).

I have one of my Spiderlite TD6 heads above the table aimed straight down. This really helps fill in the top of the product and knock down the shadows caused by the table that underlights the product. My second TD6 light is the one that moves around my set. This is my main light as it is set brighter than the others and it is responsible for the main direction of light.

Settings for my lights will differ slightly from what you will need but this is a good starting point. The overhead TD6 is set for 30% power. The two Flashpoint lights under the table are set to 50% power. I have two small fluorescent softboxes behind the table at full power. My main TD6 is usually at 66% power (two switches turned on).

PICTURE 2 PICTURE 3

These are the settings I run on my lights, and they work for almost all of my clients that need photos shot for their Amazon, Ebay, Etsy stores or their online company catalog. You need to realize that all bulbs are not created equal and that if you are mixing different daylight balanced fluorescents that colors can come out altered in your shots.

Set the color balance

To counter this problem, invest in the Xrite color checker. Make a custom profile for your camera using your lights and this will ensure that colors are accurate. To find more information on incorporating the Xrite into your workflow check out this article by Andrew Gibson: How to Use the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport to Obtain Perfect Color.

PICTURE 4

Set the exposure

As for my camera, I have one of my custom buttons pre-programmed and ready to go, I simply switch to C2 and I am shooting in seconds. My C2 settings are fixed for Manual Mode at f/16 and 1/6th of a second, highlight detection on, and a square crop. This will get me very close with my studio setup. If I need a little more blowout on my white table I slow my shutter speed, or alternatively if any clipped whites creep into my product I can increase the shutter speed.

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I also find that manual focus is much faster in this situation. Focus hunt happens a lot during shoots and it eats time quickly when you are shooting 20+ products with 4+ angles per part. With a quick flick of a button on the back of my camera, I can enter Live View mode, zoom in, and get the exact focus that I would like. I shoot with highlight detection on so that when the image comes up for review anything that is clipped will flash black.

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From there I am able to determine if I obtained a proper exposure. The histogram doesn’t help very much here as it is always going to be spiked to the right because I am purposely blowing out the background. I have also set my camera to crop the image to a square as this tends to be the only format my customers want for this style of photography.

Make a raised platform

A big tip that I can share with you is to use a raised platform. The reason you need a raised platform is because when an object gets placed directly on the table surface it tends to add a glaring highlight to the bottom of the product. The tabletop and the highlight are so close in terms of power it becomes difficult to blow out your table and keep the highlight on the bottom of your product from clipping. I have a super easy solution to get around this dilemma. What I did was take two boxes, stack them on top of each other, and then wrapped both in regular old white printer paper.

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PICTURE 9

If you leave them unwrapped then you will have black strips reflecting in your product. The next thing I did was get a sheet of clear acrylic from Lowes. It is a quarter inch thick, and is 18×24″. It cost me around $20. I place this acrylic on top of the wrapped boxes which raises the shooting surface by seven inches.

PICTURE 10

What this does is allow the table to blow out, but because of light falloff it prohibits the product from being overly lit on the bottom and clipping the highlight. While I was at it I wrapped two smaller boxes of different sizes in white paper as well. I use these quite often to bounce light back into the shadows.

PICTURE 11

Ready to place the subject

Now that we have gone over power settings for the lights, the configuration of my camera, and some tips on knocking down blown highlights by raising the surface, let’s set up an actual shoot. We will ease into it and start with something that doesn’t give you a whole lot to think about. Let’s do a regular coffee mug.

I placed the mug directly in the middle of the acrylic. The overhead light is directly over the mug aimed down. The other TD6 is at 90 degrees, hitting the mug from camera right.

PICTURE 12

Picture-13b

The resulting image is 95% ready to go online almost straight out of the camera. There are a few things you might want to obsess over, like adding more white reflection and narrowing the dark gap. But honestly, it’s ready to go as is. I did say this was an easy subject so let’s move onto something a bit harder, shall we?

Let’s try a harder subject

The next thing we will attempt is something that gives plenty of photographers fits; a white subject on a white background. Well, because we have a blown out table top and we are controlling the amount of light that the tabletop is introducing to our subject, it actually isn’t difficult to get great results.

Let’s start with the same lighting. Light from directly above, and one more light at 90 degrees to camera right. Straight out of camera we can see we did a pretty good job.

Picture-14b

There is no major clipping going on the subject yet the background is completely white. There is not a lot of shape and dimension to the item, however. So let’s move the right light so that instead of 90 degrees it is 45 degrees. Now the light will hit the product on the front of this USB hub. Bingo.

Picture-15

We now have highlights on the leading edges which helps give it shape and dimension. It’s very close, but we can still do a little better. Let’s add one of those white wrapped boxes we made earlier to the shadow side and bounce some of our key light back into the product.

PICTURE 16

Picture-17b

Now what we get is just a subtle fill in the shadow and that just about does it for this product. Yes, we could obsess further over some other details and finesse it some more, but remember this is a speed table. We are trying to get products on and off the table quickly. This image would pass for all of my clients.

Shooting reflective surfaces

For our final demonstration let’s do a reflective surface. Leaving the lights exactly the same as the previous shot (again because this is about speed) I will remove the white box that is acting as a fill and shoot this RCA adapter.

PICTURE-18b

Again right out of camera it is pretty good. You can see some red reflecting on the shadow side in the lower left which is coming from a red bag out of frame, and there is a really dark strip running down the left/center side. Let’s clean those two things up and try again. I will remove the red bag from out of the frame and put the smaller white box fairly close to the adapter.

PICTURE 19

picture-20b

With just those two changes it has made a large difference in the shot. Let’s try and clean this up a tad more. The reason there is a black line is because it is reflecting the much darker room behind the camera. Using the angle of incidence I will use my large white box just below my lens and throw light back into the subject.

PICTURE 21

picture-22b

There we go! A perfectly acceptable image for an online catalog. The RCA adapter is cleanly lit, no harsh black lines, a fully white background and it is already squared because of our camera settings. This image is ready to go.

Read more info about shooting reflective surfaces here.

Summary

The reason I built this system is for speed. If you are trying to knock out 100 products a day, with this system you could absolutely do it. I know because I have done it.

Of course, there is the third and final part of the process and that is editing using your favorite software.

I use Lightroom, and it will really going up your product photography game. You need it to catalog all of your client’s images, keep track of the part numbers, export to their specification and clean up shoot errors using very little time.

Please share your questions and comments in the space below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Jacob Macias lives and works in Northern California. He specializes in real estate and product photography. In his spare time he develops a travel photography site BackflipPhoto.com, that introduces travel photography to the masses. You can see more of his professional work at ShotByJacob.com and by following him on Instagram

  • Aankhen

    Some great tips in here, particularly the boxes to bounce light and raise the product.

  • jhon anthony Ortega

    Hello can you make a tutorial about if the products is pack with transparent plastic like when you capture usb cable still in pack

  • Clarke Warren

    Just reflect Black into the plastic

  • Jhon,
    That is a great idea. I have part three of this series to write, but after that I can do a little mini series on clear object. I will be sure to include packaged shots and how to handle them. Thanks for reading, and for the suggestion.

  • Aankhen,
    Those boxes have really helped me out a lot in product shots. They stay where I put them, and bounce light very well. The pull black reflections out of products and have overall been a tremendous help. Thanks for reading.

  • Michael Atman

    This is awesome! VERY nice write up Jacob. We are a developer of product photography automation software (www.iconasys.com) and often have customers ask about lighting techniques. We will be sure to include this article in our helpful tips for customers. Please feel free to reach out to me if there is any opportunity for you to review our Shutter Stream Product Photography Software.

  • jhon anthony Ortega

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4acd5a6c0fd05f10f129c6b5ebb9cd69096478125495eaa8a5db70705c89763e.jpg Thanks to you, It is more help to me I am begginer in product photography, I have a chinese client right now, I thought it was easy but it is not like event photography. I attached an example, for me it is not perfect I cut it in photoshop then I put it in white background which make me more time of work

  • wayward

    very informative…thanks for writing this up. I am just getting ready to setup to try and do this. Your tips are going to save me a lot of headaches.

  • JacobMacias

    Wayward, thanks for reading the article. Be sure to check back in the next coming weeks I am going to give a lot more tips that involve my Lightroom workflow that will really tie everything together.

  • Wayward, thanks for reading the article. Be sure to check back in the
    next coming weeks I am going to give a lot more tips that involve my
    Lightroom workflow that will really tie everything together.

  • mdtinoz

    Really enjoyed this article as I’m always wanting to improve my eBay pictures!

  • I’m glad you read it and you got some tips out of it. This whole setup is really ideal for eBay photos.

  • i want to have for my product,
    http://tenda2life.com

  • ???? ????

    Really thanks alot for this great informative tips . simple style explained especially for Beginners like me . as i have some something needs more explain :
    ( I have also set my camera to crop the image to a square as this tends to be the only format my customers want for this style of photography ). thanks again.

  • I have preset my camera to output images in a square crop only. I do this because it saves me a step in post processing. Since my customers all want square crops this makes sense for my workflow.

    I can put pretty large objects into my setup without having the back of the acrylic ever make its appearance, you can help control this by shooting at a 45 degree angle or higher on your subject. For the times that it does happen to show up, a quick exposure boost brush in lightroom will make it look like it never existed. It is important to note that you do not want that line running through your product. That will be in my next tutorial.

    I gave an example of a reflective surface as my last subject in this tutorial. the concepts are the exact same no matter its reflective quality.

  • ???? ????

    thanks alot

  • Mary.D Hamdan

    Much Appreciate! Very Helpful Article.

  • That was the Best Way Describe hare how to make Prefect Product Photography. Product Photography will Improve your Online sale and Reputation if you hire professional Photographer.

  • mkpier

    Great article. I’m new to product photography and I’ve used your article to create a very similar shooting table setup, except I’m using strobes, because that’s what I already owned. Question, how do I get rid of the reflection of the product in the clear acrylic? I am able to get the background to go completely white, but the reflection remains. If I keep increasing the light the reflection starts to disappear, but the subject get way too hot.

  • You have a few options. The first and cheapest option is to eliminate glare by changing your angle of incidence it’s the way that your lights hit your acrylic. You can see an article about that here https://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-photograph-reflective-surfaces/ the next option is purchasing polarized gels and add them in front of your strobes then add a circular polarizer to the front of your lens and rotate both until you eliminate reflection.

  • mkpier

    Thanks for the reply!

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