How I create an excellent product photograph

When I look at a product I take a good look at it’s surface texture. Is it reflective or dull? Smooth or textured? Any transparency in the product? How does light reflect off the product? I look at it’s shape. Does it have defined edges or sleak curves? Are the colors bright or muted? Most products will have some combination of these characteristics.

It’s then important listen and ask the client what is important to them about the product. What features do they want to emphasize and highlight? Conversely, is there perhaps something they want to not emphasize about the product? Is there an important feature of the product that should be showcased? Also, how will the image be used? Is the purpose of the image to provide an pleasing informational image that aims to represent accurately what the product looks like, or is it to create a dramatic advertising image to capture a viewer’s attention?  

I then assimilate all this information and device a plan. I determine the camera angle based on what we would like to see in the image. I typically start with the main light, the key light in photography terms, and place it in a spot that will give the lighting a nice direction. Other times, when I have a particularly challenging surface to work out, I will begin with a few lighting techniques to see what will look best.

Once I have the first light placed I will add a second light as needed. This light will fill in the opposite side of the main light. The intensity of this light will vary depending on how much contrast is desired in the photo. Depending on the purpose of image, it might be very dramatic or more natural appearing light. Additional lights are added to create interest, separation from background or to enhance an area of the product.  

Considering again the surface of the product, all the lights have the option of either being a hard light that will emphasize texture and shape, or a broad light that will give a softer feel. If the surface is reflective, then a gradated light might be nice in which the light is brighter on one side of the reflective surface then falls off darker as it moves across.  Reflective surfaces can vary between being mirror like to dullish metal. With a mirrored surface I avoid seeing a hard reflection of the light but that is not the case with dullish metal where a touch of hard reflection can give the surface some life. Also worth noting is the background may reflect into the product and should be chosen and lit accordingly.  

Note that there are several consideration at play here, the camera angle, the quality and angle of the light, the shape of the product, the features of the product, and the purpose of the photo. It’s important to keep reviewing all decisions and revise as needed.    

 

Gradated lighting works best for a highly reflective product. The transition from highlight to shadow shows the shape of the object.

Gradated lighting works best for a highly reflective product. The transition from highlight to shadow shows the shape of the object.

A client for men's apparel wanted to show some texture in the fabric so soft directional lighting was applied. This gives detail and pleasing shadows.

A client for men's apparel wanted to show some texture in the fabric so soft directional lighting was applied. This gives detail and pleasing shadows.

A good product photo is achieved through control and knowledge of lighting. A photographer must know what quality of light is best and the appropriate direction for the light..