Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Basic Product Styling & Photography

This is one of those better-late-than-never posts. It occurred to me recently that I never posted the example photos from the presentation that stylist Lara Hutton and I shared last year at Etsy Success Sydney. The aim of these photos was to demonstrate how you can take a great product photo in a simple and straightforward way. We used an everyday home-like setting, some easy-to-find props, soft natural light and basic camera settings (adjusted according to the changing levels of light).

For our product we selected beautiful ceramics from Lara's own range of LH Objects. Lara also brought along her kit of trusty props and backgrounds. All images were shot in my hotel room on a table pushed up against the window. I was squashed in the gap between the table and the wall. The weather was rainy and overcast, which provided a perfectly softened light through the window. I shot three photos of each product: 1. Appealing, 2. Less Appealing, and 3. Setup. I used the same straight-on angle for the 'appealing' and 'less appealing' photos to keep one thing consistent and show the changes to the background and styling. We had little time to shoot and limited space in our presentation, so we shot only one 'appealing' photo per product. (Normally, of course, you would shoot several, including close-up detail shots.)

Today I'm going to share with you all of the photos and some of the thoughts that Lara and I had about them on the day. I hope that this is helpful to crafters out there who didn't get to come along to our workshop at the event, but who want to get started with, or learn more about, the basics product styling and photography.

We started with a delicate little Mushroom. Lara styled the shot with a slim rectangular cutting board and a white semi-transparent paper garland. The background is a piece of card in a soft mint green colour and the base is textured white wallpaper. The shot works well because it's simple and the product is the focus, and the styling elements compliment the look and feel of the product. In addition, the soft lighting creates soft shadows and a gentle feel to the image overall. Looking back, I probably should have used a smaller aperture to gain greater depth of field to show the little dots on the stem in clearer focus. (To compensate for the smaller aperture - a less wide open lens - I could have increased the ISO or decreased the shutter speed.) Camera settings: shutter 1/100 sec, aperture f/4.0, and ISO 200.
The 'less appealing' photo is really all about the angle from which I shot the Mushroom and the framing. I wanted to show how this angle doesn't work for this product As the viewer, we're not really sure what the product is; this angle makes the Mushroom look more like a bowl. Detail is lost, too; we can no longer see the lovely little dots detail on the underside and the stem. Aside from this, the positioning of the Mushroom, or its framing, is too high and this draws our attention to the front point of the cutting board. Then, our attention diverts to the seam of the background and base, and then the dark triangle of the table where the white wallpaper base runs out. This angle with a tighter crop (to avoid those distractions) would no doubt work nicely for a detail shot of a different product, but here, it doesn't work. Camera settings: shutter 1/100 sec, aperture f/4.0, and ISO 200.
Here's the setup. Notice the window, table, roll of wallpaper, card background, and one of Lara's other props - a wooden crate - being used to hold it all together.
We then moved on to Banded Bowls. Lara introduced the wooden crates (cheaply sourced from eBay) that she had painted white. One crate became the background and the other as a prop to add height, texture and interest, along with a vase and twig set back in the frame. Here, Lara introduced her 'style in threes' tip. Camera settings: shutter 1/40 sec, aperture f/5.6, and ISO 320.
For the less appealing shot, I turned the camera setting to automatic (from manual) with on-camera flash. You can see that with the effect of the undiffused on-camera flash the image is too dark with harsh shadows and the ceramics don't look as natural or as beautiful as they really are. The twig is blurry and there's also a shadow at the bottom of the image where the flash has caught the lens hood. (If you don't use a lens hood, this can also happen if your finger moves in front of the flash.) Look closely at the far rim of the bowl on the left and you can see two small reflections caused by the flash. If the outside of the bowl was also glazed and shiny, this effect would be more obvious. The same applies to any other shiny product and undiffused on-camera flash. This reflection/glare is a common problem with the combination of the automatic setting and harsh on-camera flash. The rear of the scene is dark because the harsh undiffused on-camera flash blasts the objects in its direct path and then drops off behind them. Camera settings: shutter 1/60 sec, aperture f/4.0, and ISO 400 plus flash.
The setup for this shot is very similar to the Mushroom with the wallpaper base. Notice that it's the underside of each crate that Lara is using here.
Lastly, we used these adorable Feather vases. We changed the background to a sheet of thin plywood. Lara stuck three white paper circles to the plywood. This time, a round cutting board acted as another base to raise up the two smaller vases. Another thing to note about the props in general is that they are all in the style and tone of Lara's ceramics, and, therefore, nothing looks out of place. Certain props, perhaps those brightly coloured, patterned, or high-shine, would have been out of place with these muted and sophisticated ceramics. Notice again the grouping of threes: the vases and the circles. Camera settings: shutter 1/40 sec, aperture f/5.6, and ISO 200.
The less appealing shot here isn't as bad as the other two and the reasons for it mightn't be obvious at first. There are too many props - a fourth circle, some shells, a twig and a paper decoration - to demonstrate how even coordinating and lovely props can still be too much. They're too much because they distract the viewer from the product. I've also cropped the shot more widely, which makes the vases seem smaller or further away and less the focus of the shot. Camera settings: shutter 1/40 sec, aperture f/5.6, and ISO 200.
The setup is, once again, almost the same as before, however, there is a helpful message here: One basic setup template, which can be moved around your home/studio depending on the availability of light, can generate many different results. In these three examples we kept it very simple and stuck with the same aesthetic to be in line with the LH Objects brand, but you could use a whole host of different backgrounds and bases to find what most suits your product, or just to play around with them. If you work with small products, you can create a smaller setup template, and vice versa for large products by using big sheets of plywood, MDF, fabric or paper.
Take a look at the Etsy Blog for the video of the event plus more tips.


Krystal said...

definitely sending this to my friend who will be doing some food photography for her website!

Anonymous said...

Great photos!!!

willowday said...

I'm so very happy to find you and find this incredibly interesting. Thank you for these tips!

Heidi Adnum said...

Krystal - excellent, great to hear, thanks for forwarding it on.

Anon + Gina - thank you!