Product photography is a fun and rewarding way to make a living as a photographer. For the past year, I’ve had the privilege of taking product photos for a new survival gear website. Since this project has ended, I would like to share with you some things that I’ve learned. If you’re thinking about venturing into this branch of photography, there’s a lot to learn – especially when it comes to the types of equipment you’ll need. To that end, I’ve laid out the essentials that you’ll need to get started!
The right lighting is of primary importance. If you’ve studied product images extensively, you’ll have noticed that for the most part, there are very few shadows. While you can accomplish this type of lighting with strobes, it’s far easier if you have continuous lighting.
That’s where studio lighting comes in. These large continuous light sources are normally mounted on stands, and they can be powered by either wall outlets or battery packs if you require portability. Make sure that you have at least two – preferably three or four – studio lights so that you can ensure that the products you shoot are perfectly lit.
No matter what light source you choose, you’ll need umbrellas. There are several types to choose from, including shoot-through umbrellas, bounce umbrellas, and reflective metallic umbrellas. You can also find all-in-one umbrellas that have a removable backing so that you can use them to bounce or diffuse lighting.
Shoot-through umbrellas are most common, and some would argue that they’re the most useful. Position these umbrellas over your light source to distribute light more evenly and soften harsh shadows.
Bounce umbrellas come in two varieties: white with black backing and reflective metallic colors. These umbrellas tend to spread light over a larger area, which makes them useful when you’re shooting something large. Choose a white umbrella with black backing when you don’t want to modify the color of your studio lighting or use metallic umbrellas to alter the lighting colors as necessary.
Backdrops are necessary to create a smooth, uniform background that doesn’t distract from the product you’re shooting. The first decision you’ll need to make is whether you want a wall-mounted backdrop or a stand-alone backdrop frame. Wall-mounted backdrops are much stronger, but they lack the portability of backdrop frames.
You’ll also need to decide whether you want to use fabric or paper backdrops. Paper isn’t reusable and if you aren’t careful, it will wrinkle or tear. However, the advantage is that you don’t need to clean paper – when it’s covered in footprints or scuff marks, simply throw it away and hang up a new sheet.
Lightboxes are another essential tool. These fabric-covered boxes are useful for smaller items like jewelry, gadgets or even food, and they fill two roles. The inside of the lightbox serves as a smooth backdrop, while the fabric-lined outside softens your light sources.
These four tools will get you started, but there are many more helpful tools that help you arrange the products you’re shooting, modify the light or achieve other effects. Next time, we’ll take a look at some of these tools and how they can help you improve your product photos.