The massive explosion of products for sale or featured online has created a huge market for good product photography. It’s a fact that good product photographs SELL products.
Who needs good product photographs? The list is endless. Online auction shops and listings, Etsy and Artfire crafters and artisans, all sorts of online retailers, blog authors, web developers, web designers, photo libraries, micro-stock libraries and the list goes on.
Let’s firstly get some myths out of the way.
If you find this blog post helpful or know some folks who would, please feel free to share with your network using the share panel on the left hand side or the extended share panel at the end. If English is not your first language there is also a translate button at the end. Much appreciated.
MYTH 1 – I need a high spec camera with mega megapixels – Not true.
- A 10″ x 8″ online image (which is a BIG image) will be displayed at 72 dpi, the web default resolution. This is the equivalent of a 0.4 megapixel camera sensor. You just don’t get camera sensors that small these days so whatever device you are using, megapixels should not be an issue for image quality.
MYTH 2 – I need expensive lights, a degree in photography and a large studio – Not true.
- You can shoot product photography with any light source from candle light to daylight and anything in between thanks to a digital cameras custom white balance feature. Setting your camera to custom white balance is a breeze and all it takes to learn is reading one brief instruction within your cameras manual. No expensive lights required.
- Digital product photography is so easy to learn through a few simple steps as you can see and learn from your results immediately.
- Unless you are shooting large products like furniture and cars you don’t need a big studio. The Modahaus Table Top Studio range accommodates a large range of products and rewards you with stunning results straight out the sturdy flat-pack utility bag.
ANYONE FOR TOAST?
Let’s get down to some product photos and our first subject is a Bodum Toaster shot on the Modahaus Studio Pro 600 using the opaque white backdrop. I could have easily used daylight but I can’t rely on consistent light round these parts 😉 so I’ve chosen to use daylight balanced studio lights so we have a consistent light source for a fair comparison between each of our chosen image capture devices (cameras). I’ve also been careful not to use digital zoom on any of the devices as this would degrade image quality but it does mean the wide angle of the Apple devices are a bit extreme for the subject so please don’t judge results on composition. Now, switch on the kettle and crank up Bob Marley and the Wailers on the sound system as we’ll shortly be Jamming with some toast and coffee whilst we evaluate the results.
The iPad 2 has the lowest resolution camera at 0.7 megapixels (mp) which if we reproduced this image at full size on this web page it would be a whopping 13″ x 9″ – see what I mean about megapixels. I used my trusty Camera+ App with the iPad 2 which allows me to tap the screen to set exposure (effectively a spot meter) and tap screen to lock white balance if I needed to. A couple of very useful features and it’s produced by the aptly named Taptaptap company. The iPad 2 is a bit unwieldy as a camera and I had to support it hand held whilst steadying against a stool however the large screen image can be very useful for immediately evaluating the image. At full size the image is a bit mushy in texture but at this size there’s no evidence of that.
Next up is the Android HTC Wildfire S with a 5 mp camera. Again I had to support this hand held whilst steadying against a stool to avoid any camera movement. I’m awaiting delivery of my Infinite Loop which promises to be a great support device for tablets and Smartphones and would have been very useful here. A camera support in product photography not only steadies your camera but also allows fine tuning of composition. I couldn’t find any way of spot metering with the HTC so the initial result was a bit dark as it was no doubt metering on the white background as well as the toaster. There may be an Android app that allows you to spot meter but I had no means of obtaining this as the Android was borrowed. I therefore allowed some image exposure and saturation adjustment on the HTC image. All other images have just been cropped down so they are all the same display size with no image adjustment. The lens on the HTC Wildfire is closer to a standard lens focal length so has a better aspect for product photography than the iPad 2 unless you used the iPad’s digital zoom.
Next we have the 5 mp iPhone 4 again using the Camera+ App. On the iPhone 4 Camera+ allows you to select the focus point as well as the exposure and white balance points which can be very useful. There are also numerous iPhone 4 supports available and I used my Glif support on this occasion which allows you to mount the iPhone on any standard tripod. There is also the useful self timer in Camera+ to stop camera shake.
Now we step up a level to a 7.1 mp compact camera, the Canon Powershot A710 IS. It’s not so much the greater number of pixels that takes us up a level here, but more the options on image exposure. As well as spot metering, custom white balance, selective focus point you can also select aperture and shutter speed combinations which in turn allows you to control depth of focus. i.e. how much of the image is in sharp focus from front to back. This is evident in the nobbly bits down the side of the toaster. In this shot I selected f6.3 which seems to have given sufficient depth of focus. Another feature a camera at this level offers is controlling the ISO speed which helps in retaining fine detail. The A710 also comes with an optical zoom lens with macro option. By selecting the appropriate focal length we now have a better perspective of the toaster and can see the tapered shape which is more authentic to real life. No loss in image quality when using optical zoom.
And our last image capture device is the 21 mp Canon EOS 5D MKII which takes us to the DSLR level. It is a very high spec DSLR so a bit of a sledgehammer to crack a nut in this instance. I used the same basic image controls as the A710 and as expected the perspective is good and I’d say is closest to the real colour of the toaster. I shot in RAW and converted directly to Jpeg so no image sharpening has been applied whereas all the above will have had image sharpening applied in camera as default which might level the playing field a tiny bit.
So now let’s look a bit closer shooting some macro product photography and using the very compact Modahaus Desktop Studio 216. Here I’m using the opaque white backdrop topped with the translucent blue backdrop, topped with the red translucent backdrop which gives us a nice deep red. I then popped on the translucent white backdrop to form a light tunnel. This helps diffuse and even out the light and is also important to give clean uncluttered reflections in reflective subjects. The subject I’ve chosen is a silver bangle with a silver leaf which I’m told was formed by dipping a real leaf in molten silver – certainly looks like it! Historically, when shooting bling I’d crank up Puff Daddy on the sound system but iTunes has instinctively chosen some opera with Maria Callas belting out her Arias which somehow seems appropriate as we are now moving from toasters to a more upper crust subject matter. The lights I’ve now chosen are a cheap poundshop/dollarshop table lamp and a cheap stand lamp from Ikea, each with matching 60 watt halogen spot bulbs. That deep red colour reminds me to open the Barolo and let it breath a while.
This exercise was primarily to test how each device handled custom white balance (CWB). The iPhone 4 and the iPad 2 had the advantage of the simple tap setting of CWB feature in Camera+. The poor Android HTC Wildfire S had no means of setting CWB. Apologies to Android owners if an App exists to enable CWB. If so please let me know. The second element of the test was to see how easily they handled close macro focus. Both the iPhone 4 and the Ipad 2 couldn’t lock focus at close crop distance so I had to pull out before they locked focus. This meant cropping off a large part of the frame which the iPhone 4 handled well but the lower resolution iPad 2 is now starting to show it’s mushy tendencies at this level of cropping in. Although the Android has a clear colour cast (due to no CWB) it handled close macro focus no problem so the inherent detail is still there in abundance. The Canon Powershot had difficulty locking focus if any zoom factor was used with macro selected hence I had to go in so close. It would have probably done better without macro selected. It does however indicate it would be very useful for shooting rings. As expected the Canon 5D MkII sat smugly on it’s tripod snootily looking down it’s macro lens at the other contenders. We tried to trip it up by leaving it on evaluative metering but when you are shooting products on Modahaus kit using coloured backdrops, exposure is usually bang on.
CUPCAKES – EXCEEDINGLY UPPER CRUST!
One of the many good things about the Modahaus table top studios is they are totally food safe meaning you can shoot your cake and eat it!
Incidently, did you know that carrot cake counts as one of your five a day fruit and veg recommended for a healthy balanced diet so five pieces of carrot cake a day is good for you! YAY! Not true I’m afraid – sorry, I just made that up. There is etiquette that should be observed in consuming cupcakes and similarly etiquette is involved in product photography and we will observe none of it here. We’re shooting from the hip with no tripod, no custom white balance, no spot metering, no fancy lights, no structured tests – just fast and loose. Crank up the Rolling Stones on the sounds system – (She’s a Rainbow seems appropriate as it has an upper crust string section as well as rock and roll) switch on the kettle for the coffee and cupcakes feast. Let’s use the Modahaus Studio Pro 400 with some bright overcast daylight and some of the fruity coloured backdrops and see what we can do in 4 mins 11 secs.
The images above are all straight out the camera using daylight and have only been resized down to fit page. In order of appearance 1) Powershot A710, 2) iPhone 4, 3) Powershot, 4) Powershot, 5) iPad 2, 6) Android HTC Wildfire S. They were all shot within the 4 mins 11 secs with the exception of the HTC only because it went walkabouts doing it’s other job as a phone. (and it missed the real cupcakes). Changing and mixing backdrops with the Modahaus system takes seconds and if there are any spillage incidents (and there were) the advanced polymer of the wipe clean backdrops is resistant to oils, grease, alcohols, cupcake icing and readily accepts and releases prop wax, blue tacky stuff and gaffer tape. Many thanks to Liggy’s Cake Company for the delicious cupcakes.
There has been a sea change in how we create, use and share images in recent years and many images are destined to exist purely online where resolution requirements are far less demanding than in print reproduction for example. The smallest sensor we worked with here was the iPad 2 with a mere 0.7 mp and I hope you’ll agree, some of the results the iPad 2 managed are a lot better than many product images frequently seen online. The iPad 2 has the largest screen which is very useful when post processing in apps such as Snapseed, Filterstorm Pro or Camera+ which currently costs a mere 99 cents US or £0.59p. A lot cheaper and more user friendly than Photoshop if you’re new to image processing.
The iPhone 4 and Android HTC Wildfire S were equally matched on sensor size at 5 mp. The HTC had a better focal length than the iPhone 4 for product photography as the iPhone 4 is a bit too wide angle and the HTC handled closer macro than the iPhone. The HTC didn’t have custom white balance or spot metering options but there may well be Android apps that exist for these features – sorry I didn’t have access to Android apps to check. The iPhone 4 benefits from the availability of a lot more 3rd party Apps and hardware such as tripod mounts than the Android device. The HTC jealously took this image of the Akai Synthstation 25 which if you look closely you might see the small keyboard above the large keyboard is actually an iPhone 4 loaded with the Synthstation App.
I chose to use the Canon Powershot A710 IS as the ‘compact camera level’ device primarily as it is a good example on how little you need to spend on a camera for good product photography. I bought this 5 year old camera second hand for £35 or $58 and I think it held its own against its big brother the expensive Canon 5D MKII. Megapixels are more important when the final image use may be in print or for submission to a photo library or micro-stock library so a DSLR or higher spec compact camera is recommended in these cases.
I’ve hopefully provided some guidance in achieving better product photography across a range of devices and the importance of a smooth wrinkle free background system. I’ve only touched on the many features the Modahaus system has to offer and have shown how easy it is to achieve clean white backgrounds and smooth multi coloured backgrounds. The unique translucent coloured backdrops offer amazing creative opportunities to add drama and presence to your product or still life images and these are bundled FREE for a limited period with each size of of the Modahaus Table Top Studios.
Checkout Steady Stand/Tabletop Studio bundles and save 15% on individual product prices. And remember we also offer Free Shipping Worldwide!