Product photography, as its name suggests, is taking photographs of everyday objects. It is often commonly referred to as still life photography. From fruit to glasses to electronics to cutlery, there are a million and one products that product photographers can take images of. Because of the amount of possibilities available to every photographer product photography provides a good opportunity to get to know your digital camera and lenses and how they operate. It also provides an opportunity to experiment and put your photographic equipment through its paces to see what it can really do. In addition to this, product photography provides an opportunity to learn so many disciplines required in all photography such as how to use manual focus, how to compose subjects for the most pleasing image and how to light different types of products amongst many other things.
Like all photography disciplines there are specific items of photographic equipment and accessories that will help the product photographer get the best results possible, but with so much equipment available what is best? Walk in to any camera shop or look on any photography website and there will be hundreds if not thousands of different products available. Buying the right photographic equipment can be a bit of a mind field and there is the real chance of wasting a lot of money on photographic equipment that is of no use in product photography. However, listed below are items that all product photographers should have in their kit bag.
1) A camera with live view features
A camera with a live view feature allows the image to be projected on the LCD back plate of the camera. Having the ability to see the image on the back of the camera gives the product photographer more control of how compose and frame the subject for the best image. If the camera has the ability to show grid lines the product photographer gains even more control as the rule of thirds can be accurately followed to improve the composition even more.
One of the best things about the live view feature is that it allows the photographer to zoom in and check that every part of the subject is in sharp focus before the shutter is pressed.
2) A macro lens
Arguably, any lens can be used for product photography. From a standard kit lens to a 50mm lens to a tele zoom lens, all can be used to take photographs of products. However, the lens of choice has to be a macro lens, such as the Canon EF100mm f/2.8.
A dedicated macro lens will enable the product photographer to get right up close and personal to the products and show some detail by isolating specific parts of the subject. Alternatively, the focusing distance of a macro lens can be set to infinity which allows the photographer to step back and take images of the whole subject. A macro lens is very versatile.
Dedicated macro lenses are usually prime lenses, with amazing optical performance that is capable of producing exceptionally sharp images. The image quality of macro lenses are another reason to use them in product photography.
3) A cable shutter release
The action of pressing the shutter button can create camera shake, which will lead to blurry pictures. No matter how delicate the product photographer is, or how gently the shutter button is depressed there is a chance of camera shake. The easiest way to overcome this is to have a remote shutter release. The remote shutter release can be wired or wireless and since both types do the same thing it really makes no difference which one is used.
Before I bought a remote shutter release I was a bit worried about how much I would actually use it. However, I have to say that I use my cable release all the time and it is not only good for product photography but also for landscape photography.
4) A tripod
When taking photographs of products the main objective is to get the whole object in tack sharp focus across the frame, which requires a great depth of field. In order to get a good depth of field a narrow aperture is required, which in turn will result in slower shutter speeds to ensure the subject is correctly exposed.
At slower shutter speeds the chances of camera shake increases, which will lead to blurry images. In order to get tack sharp images with narrow apertures and slow shutter speeds a sturdy support is needed, such as a good quality tripod. Other forms of support can be used but the tripod is by far the best way of getting the support needed to eliminate camera shake.
5) A flashgun
Product photography is often done indoors where light levels can be hit or miss. In order to ensure you have access to good quality light that you can control. A flashgun, such as a Canon speedlite or a Nikon SB, is a must have piece of photographic equipment.
Here we have the Canon 430EX11, which is an absolutely outstanding external flash gun. An alternative to a standard flash gun is a ringflash, such as the Marumi ringflash, which offers more even lighting although it is not as powerful.
6) A lighting system
A good photography lighting system goes hand in hand with a dedicated flashgun. It makes no difference whether the photography lighting system is continuous or consists of an arrangement of strobes or flashguns, it is important to have access to good quality and controllable light.
There are many different schools of thought over studio lighting kits and which is best. The argument over whether continuous lighting or strobe lighting is a long one and one that will never be resolved. Some product photographers love strobes whereas others prefer continuous lamps. In reality, it makes no difference as long as you have a light source and have the skills, knowledge and technique to be able to manipulate it the way you want to get the types of images you desire.
7) A light tent
A light tent is an enclosure consisting of a wire frame covered by a thin translucent material that diffuses harsh light. A light tent is easy to set up and use, as explained in this article. A light tent makes it easy for the photographer to isolate the subject on a pure white background, which is often favoured in product photography. In addition, the material helps prevent unwanted hot spots, reflections and glares when photographing shiny subjects.
It is possible to get a pure white background without a light tent, although it is more challenging. Because of this, a light tent isn’t an essential piece of kit, however it is very useful and will help control light and shadows.
There are many other photographic accessories available for product photography, such as wireless radio triggers, photography backdrops, photography backgrounds, reflectors, diffusers etc. however, by simply having the items listed above every product photographer will have more than enough photographic equipment to be able to take some exceptional images. The trick is to go out and use the photographic equipment and practice, practice, practice and then practice some more.