10 Hacks for Tabletop Product Photography

April 24, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Let’s face it, the Internet and Social Media platforms are here to stay.  If once I couldn’t imagine it becoming such a huge part of my life, I no longer make that mistake.  Now, in fact, I can’t imagine what I ever did without it.

 

As a result of the vast archives of knowledge now readily available to you on any number of devices, we are moving toward a DIY world...and sometimes reality just tells you that you can’t afford to hire someone to do something for you, as much as you’d like to.

 

This applies even more so to the budding entrepreneur or self-employed individual.  Shoestring budgets are the norm, not the exception.

 

What are you to do if you need photos for your new website or on-line advertisement but can’t afford to pay a professional photographer?  I could say something pithy like, “You can’t afford NOT to use a professional!”  But I’ve been there, and I know that it can be a matter of choosing between doing it yourself or not having it at all.

 

So here are 10 tips for great tabletop product photography:

 

  1. You NEED good lighting.  Period.  This doesn’t mean professional-level lights or off-camera flash units. But it all starts with good light; without it, your pictures will look flat, or the fine features of your product will disappear within too many highlights or too few shadow details.  Ambient light from a window can be some of your prettiest light.  Don’t be afraid to move the light source (if you can) closer to or further from your product; add a small lamp to the area, but look for light bulbs that imitate natural light if possible.

  2. If lighting is Queen, then focus is King!  Creative focus is used by professionals to make an image jump from just a picture to...art.  But at a minimum, you want to de-clutter backgrounds and do some Border Patrol.  What is Border Patrol?  It means looking all around the area that will be in focus or visible within your image and ensuring that you have eliminated all distracting elements,such as bright spots or alien things poking into the corner of your image “frame,” etc.

  3. Deal with glare and shadows:  there are easy ways to overcome these common problems.  A diffuser is positioned between your subject and the light source; it softens the light and eliminates any hot spots of glare.  A bounce source is just the opposite: it gathers the light and redirects it at parts of your subject.  They are generally very inexpensive to purchase and will make a world of difference in the quality of your image.

  4. Many household items can be used instead of commercial products.  A $4.00 semi-sheer shower curtain from the Dollar Store can be used to diffuse light that is causing a glare on your shiny product.  Clothespins and binder clips can hold things in place as well as those beautiful clamps that you can buy from photography vendors.  A reflector can be made out of covering a piece of cardboard with foil, or holding a white 8.5x11 sheet of paper up to “throw” or “bounce” the light from point A to point B.

  5. Consider investing in a tabletop light tent.  Not only are they relatively inexpensive, they will bounce the light from all angles and provide a lovely solid background (and you can quickly and easily change backgrounds instantly with one of these),  They fold up for easy storage and are very lightweight.  If you are planning to do lots of images, do yourself a favor and get one of these.  They are sold on Amazon, Hunt’s Photo & Video, B&H Photography, so you have lots of choice.

  6. Use a basic panel of complementary colors.  I love colors as much as the next person, but the best images don’t have competing colors.  If you have a color wheel, you can pick complementary colors in setting up your image.  If not, look for combinations that feel pleasing to you when you look at them.  There’s nothing wrong with black and white, but I have found that a three-color palette works well.

  7. Fill the frame.  The subject will look more pleasing if it fills the frame of your picture without touching the edges or frame of your image.  You can shoot wider and crop as necessary, which will give you different options--keep the original intact and crop from a duplication of the original image, so that you can compare a landscape orientation versus a portrait orientation.

  8. Use depth of field creatively.  If you don’t know what that is, it means keep your background soft, but keep your foreground and subject sharp.  Blurry foregrounds are uncomfortable for viewers.  Soft backgrounds are pleasing.  Most cameras have a way to adjust this feature, even Smartphones.

  9. Set your product up in a way that brings it to life.  If you are displaying a piece of jewelry, use a mannequin or model to display your product at its best.  Rather than taking a one-dimension image, think of a way to give your product dimension, size comparison, etc.  You’ve probably seen the image that shows a product next to a dime or quarter?  That gives you an idea of the product’s actual size.  Don’t make your viewers guess.  Use a beautiful piece of glassware, a stunning piece of quartz, or other object to display your product in an interesting and appealing way.

  10. Use a tripod or other stabilizer!!  The Gorilla Pod is a small, flexible three-legged gadget that will wrap around a fence rail, a chair rail, a tree branch or other object to hold your light-weight camera or Smartphone.


My last bit of advice is:  Know when to invest in a professional; a picture is worth a thousand words and the best pictures will bring the most sales.  So know when to throw in the towel and leave the professional images to the professional photographers.


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