A picture is worth a thousand words.
In marketing, a picture, specifically, a good product photograph
is worth a thousand sales. Great photos sell more products
– attracting shoppers to the store, persuading buyers
to order from the catalog, and enticing web-surfers to place
Most forms of product promotion –
catalogs, magazine and newspaper advertising, point-of-purchase
displays, packaging, and e-commerce websites – all start
with a photograph. Many elements help create an effective
product photograph – composition, lighting, camera system,
photographic technique, post-processing, and of course, creativity.
A professional product photographer successfully combines
all of these facets to produce a superior image for the client.
Composition Planning and composing the
shot is the first step in producing a good image. Into what
environment should the product be placed? How should the product
be positioned? What accoutrements should be included in the
composition to compliment the product and help enhance the
marketing message? The composition is often dictated by the
product and marketer’s message.
Product photography generally falls into
two composition categories. Basic composition isolates the
product from its surroundings, displaying it clearly and accurately
to the viewer, without the distraction of props or elaborate
backgrounds. Conversely, promotional photography, often used
for print advertising, usually involves more complex composition.
Staging and propping creates a particular mood, evoking desired
emotions in the buyer.
According to many sources, the word photography
comes from the Greek words meaning painting with light. Lighting
also plays a critical role in creating an effective photograph
A variety of lighting systems are commonly
used by product photographers, including Tungsten, Halogen,
Fluorescent, and Metal Halide Iodide (HMI). Each has different
characteristics and capabilities.
Lighting has a dramatic impact on the overall
look and feel of an image. It can be hard and dramatic, soft
and delicate, clean and clinical, or it can produce a color
cast used to enhance the mood of the image. The type of product
and desired marketing message dictate the type of lighting
system and light techniques.
Good basic product lighting should bring
out details in the shadows, hold the subtle details of the
highlights, maintain smooth tonal gradations through the midtones,
and ensure overall color accuracy. Good lighting helps produce
a clear, detailed, accurate rendition of the product. Professional
lighting can overcome the limitations imposed by less than
optimal camera equipment.
The camera system includes the camera body,
lenses, and either a digital or film-based camera back. There
are a variety of camera systems available to product photographers.
Like lighting, the product and composition best dictate the
Three primary camera formats used are by
modern photographers – small format, medium format,
and large format (view camera). Small format SLR/DSLR cameras
are generally used for less critical image capture such as
for websites or for fast moving action shots of products in
use. Medium format cameras are frequently used for shooting
on location, capturing products in their environment, or on
a live model. Medium format balances portability with relatively
high-quality. Large format systems are usually found in the
photo studio. Though not easily transportable, large format
cameras are capable of capturing a high level of detail and
have the advantages of movements (tilts, swings, shifts, and
rise/fall). These movements allow view cameras to eliminate
convergence, and optimize depth of field and plane of focus,
among other things.
Camera lenses come in all shapes and sizes,
and vary in capabilities. Macro lenses capture the minute
details of smaller items such as jewelry. Standard length
lenses work well for average sized items such as electronics
and food. Wider format lenses are useful for capturing large
products and environments, such as automobiles or furniture.
Unlike smaller format SLR camera bodies
with integrated CCD or CMOS chips, medium and large format
systems use removable, interchangeable camera backs. Digital
backs have almost entirely replaced film for product photography.
Digital camera backs vary in technology, ease of portability,
image capture size, and speed. A good camera system matches
the camera body, lenses, and back, to optimize image quality.
A diamond ring, a sports car, a food product,
a piece of fine furniture – each product requires a
particular photographic technique to capture a successful
image. Through trial and error, photographers develop a system
of product preparation, studio configuration, image composition,
lighting, and camera equipment to achieve consistently great
results. Photographic techniques are often so particular that
many photographers specialize in one particular type of product,
such as jewelry, furniture, or automobiles.
Small products such as jewelry require
experience with macro photography to capture the up-close
details. Photographers must be meticulous, maintaining a clean
work environment and eliminating the smallest flaws, which
the macro lens will amplify. Photographing jewelry also requires
a familiarity with the challenges of controlling the appearance
of highly reflective materials, such as metallic and glass
Photographing furniture often requires
creating an entire room scene, propped with numerous complimentary
accessories. Studios must have large spaces with seamless
backgrounds, access to loading docks, and available labor
to construct sets and arrange products. Their lighting must
be capable of evenly illuminating a large space. Furniture
photographers use cameras with wide-angle lenses and digital
backs capable of capturing a very large file size. Studios
specializing in furniture often employ an interior designer
to assist in set construction and accessorizing.
A food stylist is often employed for photographing
food products. Many specialized techniques are used to make
the food look more appealing. Since speed is of the essence
to photograph the food while it is still fresh, many professional
food photographers have complete cooking and food prep areas
in their studios. Good food photography tantalizes our senses
of taste and smell.
Without Creativity, even the best products,
captured using the finest lighting, camera equipment, and
photographic techniques, will not convey the marketer’s
message to the target audience. Photographers draw on their
creativity to uniquely bring together the lighting, image
composition, depth of field, focus, and angle of view to create
an effective product shot. Photographers develop a distinct
creative photographic style by which they become recognized.
They orchestrate a visual synergy of product, background,
props, and lighting. They choose just the right angle and
select the best depth of field and focal point to pop the
product off the page.
Photographers are artists, creatively using
subject matter, light and composition, similar to a painter,
to produce a picture worth a thousand words – and sales.
Composition – The
combining of distinct parts or elements to form a whole. The
spatial property resulting from the arrangement of parts in
relation to each other and to the whole. (Source: www.dictionary.com)
CMOS – Short for
complementary metal oxide semiconductor. Pronounced see-moss,
CMOS is a widely used type of semiconductor. (Source: www.webopedia.com)
Digital Camera Back –
A self-contained unit enclosing an electronic sensor to record
the image as a piece of electronic data rather than as chemical
changes on film. There are two main types of sensors, charge-coupled
device (CCD) and CMOS semiconductor. (Source: www.answers.com)
Macro Photography –
Photographing objects at extreme close-ups with magnification
ratios ranging from about 1:1 to about 10:1. (Source: www.macrophotography.org)
Marketing – In economics,
the flow of goods and services from producer to consumer.
In popular usage it is defined as the distribution and sale
of goods. (Source: The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia)
SLR or DSLR – SLR
(Single Lens Reflex) or DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex).
A camera that uses the same lens for viewing and shooting.
A mirror reflects the image from the lens to the viewfinder.
When the shutter button is pressed, the mirror flips out of
the way and the shutter opens to expose the film or image
sensor. (Source: www.answers.com)
View Camera – A
light-tight assembly comprised of a flexible mid-section,
or bellows, attached to a device that holds a film sheet,
photo plate, or digital camera back at one end (the rear standard)
and a similar one that holds the lens at the other end (the
front standard). Sizes are typically standardized to large
film formats (in inches): 4x5, 5x7, 4x10, 5x12, 8x10, 11x14,
7x17, 8x20, 12x20, 20x24, and 30x40.
There are many resources available to further
your knowledge of product photography. Our recommendations
Gary Stafford is the
President of Lazer Incorporated. As a premier graphic communications
provider, Lazer specializes in digital imaging, design and
mechanical layout, electronic prepress, catalog and packaging
development, Digital Asset Management (DAM) and service,
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