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Product Photography

author-gravatar TheWoodKnight Jun 15, 2016

Product photography tips specifically aimed at woodworking/turning

This is what we're going to start with, a plywood pen (Sierra) with a CA (cyanoacrylate, aka super glue) finish, polished to 12,000 grit (micromesh then Brasso). The actual subject isn't important, but this tells you what it is, and how glossy it is. Glossy means dealing with reflections/etc.

This shot is taken with my Moto G (3rd edition), in the workshop on a piece of paper. The motog doesn't have a great camera, and the lighting in the workshop is OK (great for video/working in)

We can step it up a notch by taking it inside to my temporary 'studio'. I've got two inexpensive video lights setup, aimed at the pen to  provide more even lighting. I'm also using a thick vinyl backdrop (grey), but fabric or photography backdrop paper are good alternatives. I only have the vinyl backdrop for durability so I can put furniture on it.

These are the video lights - they take a single gigantic CFL globe (5500K temperature, we'll need this for later). 3 lights + stands + softboxes set me back about $100AUD, so if you're in the US I'm sure they'll be even cheaper. 

Any lights will do - high CRI LEDs would be better than these cheap CFLs, and if you don't have a lightbox just put some wax paper over them. We're looking for diffused lighting.

And the results. I'm still using the moto g - it has no RAW capabilities or even manual mode (Motorola haven't created Camera2 API drivers for Android!)

Lets switch it up and use a real camera! I use a Canon EOS 750D, though any dSLR, interchangeable lens camera, or even high end point and shoots will give you great results. 

For a lens, I'm using Sigmas 105mm f/2.8 EX DG macro lens. I like telephoto/macro lenses for these types of shots, and I love using primes for their colour reproduction.

The settings for this shot are 1/50s f/2.8 ISO400. Notice how only the very end of the cap is in focus? That's because of the f-stop (2.8) creates a very shallow depth of field.

Also note I'm shooting in RAW mode. This gives the most control with photo editing later

When we bump the settings up to 1/50s f/4.0 ISO800, more of the pen is in focus. The ISO had to be bumped to maintain brightness.

And if we bump up the settings again to 1/5s f/13 ISO 800, the entire pen is in focus. This will vary from subject to subject, and how you lay out the items, but "slow" aperture settings with longer exposures are generally the key for product shots. Note, you'll have to use a tripod at this point

On just a straight background, items can look a little bland. You don't want to go overboard with things that are too busy, and choosing something "thematically correct" can enhance the look. In this case a small notepad. If you were making bottle openers or stoppers, consider some corks or wine bottles.

Playing with the location of the lights a little, this is the final shot we end up with. While its not ideal, I prefer the even gloss highlight along the length of the pen to the previous shot, which only had it in sections - the uniformity appeals to me. At this stage, it's unedited, straight from the camera and this is where we need to switch to software to tweak everything off the camera.

I use Adobe Lightroom, but chances are your camera came with some software that will do at least basic photo import and editing. Being a RAW file means that we have a lot more settings to play with than a straight JPEG, as there is simply more data stored (even if you can't "see" the data).

These are all the "before" settings.

Primarily I adjusted the white balance (to 5000, not 5500), adjusted exposure a little, and tweaked the whites. 

Finally, the lens correction setting helps remove any lens distortion, and setting the mode to "camera portrait" - at least on my camera, produces more accurate colours

And the final result.

A few things to note - this may appear under or over saturated depending on your browser, monitor, etc. There are lots of variables to play with here (embedded colour profiles, which profile, etc) and thats outside the scope of this tutorial.

I'm not a professional photographer (that much should be clear!) but this is a much more attractive photo - and much more "sellable" than the initial shot in the garage. Once you find a setup that works for you, "time to shot" is reduced to a minute or so. Well worth it to show off the work you've just spent 10+ hours on.

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