Commercial photography is not the easiest genre in photography, as it has to be effective, appealing, and – the hardest part – flawless. I myself am never 100% happy with my shots but I’ll give you some tips that will help you with your work.
1. Good Looking and Brand New
It is important if you want to shoot an object to keep it clean and safe. The best-looking products are the brand new ones. There is a rule which states that a bottle should be sealed if you want to shoot it. Also, a new product shows no scratches, and that will help you in your Photoshop post-production work. Never wear a watch before shooting it, and if you can, don’t touch it without gloves. Sometimes fingerprints are harder to wipe than you might think. Spend time staring at the product before shooting it: analyse how it reacts to light, what kind of light suits best.
2. Prepare the Product
If a portrait involves make-up and perfect clothing, a product also needs to be prepared. Always clean the object you want to shoot. Dust, fingerprints, stains, etc… If the product is new, then your job is easier (even if sometimes you can have bad surprises…). Get rid of the back label of the bottle: it is not the most important one, and it will block the back lighting. Be careful though not to spoil the front label doing that. As I said, use gloves to ensure that the bottle remains clean and stainless. If you shoot a watch, there are some codes that you’ll have to follow: the hands must show 10:09, the second-hand must be set at 12 or around 35. Make sure that the brand is always visible. Pull the crown to stop the hands (you will replace it later in Photoshop).
3. Match the Colours and Atmosphere
If you can, get some information about the product you’re going to shoot. Try to understand the flavours of the beverage: is it smoky? Fruity? Spicy? If you want to create a still life shot with other objects, this is something you’ll have to consider. For a watch, check its functions or its purpose: submarine watch? If you want, add some bubbles, then. If you don’t want that, then try to frame it accordingly.
Sometimes you will have to imply the colour of a product in your shot. Red wine bottles are too opaque, and you will never see the colour of the wine through the bottle. It means that you will have to show it differently, by casting it on the background, for example. Match the colours according to the product: should you use warm tones or cold tones? Grey or black background? Wooden surface or glossy black? To answer these questions, there is only one technique: trials and errors…
4. Light It!
Photography is all about light. Something or someone looks gook because the light is beautiful. In a studio, it is your job to create that light to fit the subject and your style. You don’t need fancy flashes or large softboxes to make a product look good. You need to know how to shape the light you have. I think that soft light and reflected light is better looking than direct light. Scrims and reflectors are key accessories for studio commercial photography. Light should be precisely where you want it to be. Get rid of ambient light (that means that when you release the shutter first, the picture should be pitch black), and build your lighting from zero.
Each light should have a purpose, that is to say each source should light one single part of your image, background or product. Then, where there is a reflection or anything that is not correct, you will know exactly which source you’ll have to adjust to improve your shot. Sometimes, you will have to take two shots and blend them later in Photoshop. When you think you’re done, analyse your lighting by looking at your image on screen. Look at it in separate sections (top left corner, then top right corner, centre, bottom, etc…) to make sure that every single part of your image is lit properly.
This stage is essential. Adjusting the colours is key. Contrasts, dodge and burn, etc., just like a portrait. Maybe you’ll have to reframe the picture or add some elements if you are into advanced Photoshop edition. Sometimes you’ll have to change the background to make your product pop out more. Also, an object might have some flaws: make sure that you get rid of them. It happens sometimes that the label on a bottle is not perfectly horizontal, and you might have to adjust it a little bit.
Curves and colour selection will help you to render the real appearance of the product and its real colours. Shoot raw, of course. Remember, if there is something that could have been fixed while shooting, don’t try to fix that in Photoshop. Shoot again (it means that the set-up and camera should never move until you decide that the picture is finished).
Product photography is all about shaping the light and setting the product. It means that you have to try to get everything right straight from the shot. Always check on a bigger screen what you have done so far, and adjust your lighting accordingly. Submit your work to critics and advice and analyze the pictures you see in magazines. Your eyes have to be trained so you can reproduce what you see, without forgetting to add your personal style. Product photography requires patience: let your style and skills evolve. The pictures I shot a few months ago are nothing like the ones you see here, and maybe in a few months, I’ll say the same about the present pictures.
Thomas Le Bras
I started photography 3 years ago, and I never stopped learning ever since. I am a bit of a stay-at-home guy, so my photography tends to be studio-oriented, which naturally leads me to shoot portraits indoors and products. I really like watches and whisky, which are quite present in my portfolios. I like eating, so don’t be surprised if you stumble across some plates filled with grilled meat.
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