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Product Photography
© 2006 KenRockwell.com

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Nikon F2AS

Nikon F2AS

Introduction

Ritz Camera

I use Adorama, Amazon, eBay, Ritz, Calumet, J&R and ScanCafe. I can't vouch for ads below.

I never thought much of it, but people ask me how I make product photos look so good.

It's all in the lighting!

Here's how.

See also Studio Strobes and How to Use Studio Lighting.

 

Cleanliness

We'll be shooting small items and see them bigger-than-life on screen. Any dust, schmutz or fingerprints will become obvious.

It's faster to clean the items beforehand than to retouch them in Photoshop.

I always wear nitrile exam gloves to prevent leaving my own fingerprints.

I use fuzzy microfiber towels to suck off any dust or other people's fingerprints. I use these towels on the glass and bodies of everything.

Even brand-new items often need cleaning. I shoot in a class 10,000 clean room and pull the items out of the boxes only after I'm in the clean room and in my bunny suit.

Be as clean or as sloppy as you like. You'll have to balance your investment in cleanliness against the time you'll spend spotting all the dust and dirt later in Photoshop.

 

Background

Use heavy white paper. You can buy it on rolls. I don't.

I grabbed some big flexible sheets of the thin cardboard that served as disposable liners between stacks of toilet paper on the pallets at Price Club (Costco)! My wife thought I was nuts (and still does) for me bringing these home. These sheets are white on one side. I roll them up and carried them out with me. You don't have to go to Costco. Use anything that's white.

I unroll them to use as a white cyc (cyclorama) when shooting. It's easy: put it flat on a table. Put the product on the white sheet. Curve the back of the cardboard up behind the product. I rest the paper on my wife's metal elephant planter that sits on the table. This is easy; it's not nuclear weapons design.

 

Lighting

Forget battery -powered flash. THe only people who suggest that are the camera makers like Canon and Nikon who hope you don't discover real studio strobes, which cost less, work better, and are much easier to set up and use.

You don't have to buy strobes. You can build your own lighting from hot incandescent 500 Watt work lights. It's a pain, but you can build what you need from the hardware store for under $100. Some people make a tent of white stuff and shoot through a hole.

Product Photography Lighting

Basic setup: no product support. (back light is on stand at left.)

Use lots of soft light. I use my Novatron studio strobes and three umbrellas. I bought all this lighting gear for $550 used from my pal Bird Photographer Steve. You usually can get them for less.

Use two umbrellas, one on each side. Keep them close for the most diffuse light. Keep them low to fill in underneath the product otherwise you may get dark shadows. Shadows make it tougher to clip the image away from the white background.

If you have a third light as I do, place it above and slightly behind the subject to light the top of the product. This helps give it shape.

See my Studio Strobe page for more information about these strobes, and my How To Use Studio Strobes page for more on how to use them.

Since I drop out the white background, shadows make Photoshop selections a pain. THerefore I use a piece of glass I (pulled from a dumpster) supported with two pillows to eliminate shadows. Now the object is elevated above more white. A real pro would put the object on opal (frosted) glass lit from below.

Novatron Setup

Product supported on glass for no shadows. (shot of the Nikon 300mm F/2.8 ED-IF setup made with fisheye lens and Hemi plugin)

THis setup shown wasn't very good because the leopard-print and yellow towels kicked yellow and orange onto the product.

I now pull the subject right up to the lights and support the glass with white pillows.

Light is art. Keep moving everything around until it looks great.

 

Camera

Again, this is easy. I use a 105mm macro lens or 70-180mm Macro on a Nikon digital SLR. On Canon use the Canon 100mm Macro.If you have a point-and-shoot digital, zoom it all the way to telephoto if you can get close enough. You want a longer lens because products look weird if you have to get too close.

Nothing is moving, so even an old manual focus macro is great. I prefer at least 105mm to let me get far enough away to let things look natural. The macro lets me get more magnification than I'd ever want: an item less than an inch across can fill your screen!

Products look best when photographed from afar. They look stupid if photographed from only a foot away. Stand back and use a long lens.

I trigger the strobes from an on-camera flash (pointed away from the subject). I explained this at How To Use Studio Strobes.

Best sharpness and depth of field are had around f/22~32, which is what I get from this setup at 250 or 500 W/s. You don't need more power this close. I set the camera to manual exposure and set the exposure by trial and error. The lights don't move, so the exposure stays the same.

I set a white-card white balance, and call it up as a preset each time.

 

Processing

I correct anything that needs it in Photoshop. See How To Use Photoshop.

I resize as needed, and use my standard 141% Smart Sharpen at 0.2 pixels radius with the "Lens Blur" option selected.

I "Save for Web" at 40% quality in JPG and I'm done. If there is any fine lettering in contrasting colors I use 51% quality. (51% is the first setting that doesn't subsample the chroma channel.)

PLUG

If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me write more with a donation.

Thanks for reading!

Ken

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