Secrets of taking good photos: Products, continued

Photography expert Tom Langford gives some additional advice on how to make your product look professional.

Camera 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Camera 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
There are far too many boring, badly taken shots of products on websites, fliers, brochures and catalogs. Small businesses often don't appreciate the fact that branding is an essential marketing tool and that low quality photographs in their promotions suggest they offer a low quality product and service.
Taking high-quality shots of a single small object using only natural light, a few sheets of white paper and a little computer editing can be easy. Extra techniques may be needed in order to shoot a small group of objects.
The micro studio
The set-up will use a table placed about two meters from a large window facing northward to give soft diffuse light. Use a compact camera or SLR but you'll need to use a small aperture, such as F8, or F11, to make sure that all items in the group are in focus and appear sharp. Look in the camera manual for Aperture Priority mode to see how to set the aperture.
The micro studio consists of just a few sheets of white paper to act as a background and to reflect light from each side to minimize the shadows. The micro studio needs to be at an angle to the window so that the shadow does not fall across it.
The main work in shooting several objects together is making a pleasant arrangement. There are two principle approaches: Horizontal, linear arrangements are usually shot from the front using the longer end of a zoom lens, as shown below:
The left side of the light-colored bottle is blending into the background and needs to be darkened. In the shot below a black TV remote was placed to darken down the bottle. This would, of course, be cropped out of the final shot.
The second type of arrangement is the dynamic approach: This is usually shot from a higher angle to the side of the group. Use the wide-angle end of the zoom to emphasize the perspective. In the example below a small ball of flexible white plastic adhesive was placed under each object to further exaggerate the perspective. This gives the group a sense of movement and is much appreciated by magazine editors to liven up the page:
The light-colored bottle is again blending into the background so you can use something similar to the black TV remote to darken it down again. In the final shot below the camera has been tilted slightly to emphasize the sense of movement.
As a finishing touch I have also lightened both the background and certain areas of the items. I did this by opening the picture in Photoshop and using Curves Adjustment Layers to lighten the image. Adjustment layers have layer masks that are used to apply this adjustment selectively. This may sound complicated but is simple to do and there are many tutorials on the Internet.
Small businesses on a limited budget can use these simple methods to improve the quality of their product shots and enhance the look of their websites and publicity.
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 Tom Langford is an Event and Commercial photographer, website designer, and professional retoucher. He teaches photography courses for beginners and improvers. Details at: and