Tips and Tricks for Getting Started in Product Photography

Written by Backdrop Express Photography Team on . Posted in Food & Product Photography, Photography Tips, Studio Photography

knife set in light tent

Building a table-top studio is essential for capturing exceptional still photography for magazine and catalog clientele. Lighting, background choices and equipment are critical components for every situation.

Light Tents

The purpose of using a light tent is to soften the light, creating a photo without distracting shadows. It is often preferable to use three lights, one on each side and one in front of the subject. The front-positioned light source is not always necessary; however, the additional light is useful for eliminating any shadows that the tent/side-light combination does not handle.

When considering a light tent kit, look for products that contain a minimum of two compact fluorescent lamps and reflectors. Some professionals prefer tungsten lights when using an “igloo” style kit with adjustable light stands. Both lamp options are good choices for product shots. Light tents often have Velcro tabs for attaching removable sweeps (photo backdrops).

The camera captures subtle light variations that the naked eye might miss. Taking several test shots with only side lights is the best way to determine if you need to adjust positioning or additional light sources.

Turn off all lights not used in the photo shoot. If you have trouble controlling shadows, look for ambient light coming from windows, directional lights — such as EXIT signs or overhead lighting.

shears on black backdrop

Product Photography and Backdrops

Photographing small objects for commercial purposes normally demands neutral, preferably either black or white photo backdrops. Solid colored table-top backdrops allow photographers to control the lighting and showcase the product without clutter in the background.

There are some exceptions to the rule — such as using chroma key backdrops (blue or green screens) to accommodate composite editing. One example might be dropping an ocean background into a studio shot of a tall glass of iced lemonade. By using table-top techniques such as chroma key screens, photographers can recreate a beachy mood and atmosphere with photo editing software and green screen technology. Solid colored sweeps also produce contrasting or complementary features that draw out the products fine details and accentuate key design elements.

make up set on white backdrop

Props and Other Tools

It is not common to use props in catalog photography; however, some situations call for adding small details that add a touch of elegance, a splash of fun or even product-use information.

Filling a serving dish with steaming clam chowder appeals to natural human emotions (hunger) and is sometimes a better selling point than a just-the-facts photo. However, the determining factor is the intended use of the product photo. Catalog and online stores often prefer simple, stand-alone product shots, whereas a magazine layout editor leans toward a more emotionally captivating photo.

Keeping Good Records

Establishing a photo journal is extremely helpful for many professional and semi-professional photographers.

Recording information about lighting, camera settings and environmental details during a photography session takes the mystery and guess work out of the elements that came together to create the perfect shot. Many digital cameras are programmed to track lens aperture, exposure composition, resolution and many more attributes to help photographers recreate conditions.

table top shooting table

It is also possible to create a manual checklist for each table-top session in your studio. Investing the necessary time to record important data about every photo leads to consistent delivery of high-quality product photos for your clients. Although this is not a complete list for every occasion, the list below covers some basic details to include:

1. Aperture setting

2. Distance from subject

3. Camera and lens details

4. Shutter speed

5. Manual or automatic settings

6. Whether you used a tripod

7. Number of lights and their position

8. Any additional modifications, such as gels, diffusers, light tent, etc.

9. Exposure compensation adjustment values

10. Shutter release — remote, timer, manually triggered

Experience and routinely reviewing these digital and manual records will help you identify personal strengths and weaknesses in your skill and your equipment.

Quick Check List

Understanding the full potential and capabilities of your equipment is instrumental to building a business based on still shots and product-focused photography. The following quick tips provide some clues that will help you create a stellar table-top studio.
  • Read your equipment manuals and documentation thoroughly.
  • The morning sun is the best window light.
  • Take shots as closely as possible.
  • Camera flash rarely produces desired results.
  • Use manual settings and focus whenever possible.

-Backdrop Express Photography Team

Interested in reading more about product photography? Check out 3 Tips to Remember When Shooting Still-Life Photography!

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Comments (2)

  • Michael Atman


    What a great article! Curious to know if you would mind if I included this in the Useful Links section on my site – . We are a developer of Product Photography Software and articles such as this one are helpful for my customers too! Thanks for your consideration


    • Backdrop Express Photography Team


      Hi Michael!

      Thanks for your comment! Please feel free to link to this article on your website resources!

      -Backdrop Express Photography Team


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