Taking Your First Steps With Product Photography
From the outside, product photography seems like fairly standard photographic practice. But I recently asked a friend who works for an e-commerce company about how he engages with product photography and it completely changed my mindset. His job is to optimize online stores to encourage potential customers to make a purchase, and for him, the photography of the product plays a huge role in his success rate. He suggested I try a trial shoot, so here’s how I got on.
Concept and Preparations
My first step was to decide what to photograph. I remembered that my friend had done some work for a fashion shoe web store, so I felt he’d have a good understanding of what looked good and would therefore be able to give me some constructive feedback.
I’d also just bought a new pair of trainers which I’d not yet taken out of the box, so it seemed like an obvious choice! I also wanted to work with something contemporary and stylish that would show off my work to any other potential clients.
Having decided to work with this particular pair of trainers, I felt it would be wise to research how they’d been photographed and represented already. Whatever I’d previously seen online had already been enough to convince me to purchase them!
I found a couple of different studio shots, but nothing that really extensively featured the details of the shoe. I was certain that for my shoot, I wanted to comprehensively photograph all features, details, logos and angles of the shoe. After doing my research, it had been made clear that a customer always wants to see as many photos of a product as possible to enable them to make a good purchasing decision.
Location Lighting Set Up
As I have already mentioned, this was a trial shoot for me, and part of this challenge for me was to see whether I could get professional results in a restricted environment, my location of choice was my kitchen table.
A simple affair, a solid wood dining table pushed up against a white wall. The grain of the wood and contrast of the wood against the white adds depth and interest without commanding attention. Simple and stylish.
My kitchen doesn’t welcome a lot of natural light, there is a very small window at the end of the room and a large window along the right hand side, although light is restricted by the building next door. However, the natural light on offer from the window was evenly spread and gave a good base of light.
The artificial light from the ceiling lights did also offer extra help, but there were two problems here, namely the shadows that they cast across the table and also the variation in halogen and old-style bulbs that offered varying temperatures of light that would have been difficult to manage with the white balance, so I couldn’t use those.
The available light was no where near enough in order to achieve professional looking shots, but without a lighting set up at my disposal, I turned to my trusty flashgun to help me out. After some experimentation, I found I could bounce light off the ceiling to adequately light the shoes.
Aiming the flash directly at the shoes wasn’t an option as it case the shoes to cast a shadow, as did bouncing light off the wall to my left, but a large burst of light from the upright flashgun enabled me to get the bright and balanced look that I was after.
I also opted to use a small gold reflector to the left of the camera, which I utilised to pick out detail in the shoes using the available light from the window. The gold also added some nice warmth to the tan suede leather.
For this shoot, I prioritised aperture and set it to f/6.3. I wanted to ensure I had the product sharp and in focus from front to back whilst still being able to slightly blur out the background. As a result of the selected aperture, the shutter speed was set to 1/160 and I set the ISO at 400.
I had the flashgun to fire at +2, and as I always do, I shot in RAW, so that white balance can be adjusted in post.
Having never photographed shoes before, I wanted to try to approach the subject in a natural way and represent them in the best way possible for the consumer, without getting too crazy. I tried a couple of different shooting angles and observed the results to see what felt right.
The higher angle that I worked with first looked fine, but not quite right.
Whereas the lower angle shown here felt a lot more natural and pretty much what I’d expect to see on a shot of shoes.
So once I had my settings, lighting and angles all set, I was ready to start shooting. I began with just one shoe and then worked my way through the details of the shoe, experimenting with angles and lighting in order to ensure I got the shot I was after.
Nice and simple to start with, I made sure I shot the shoe at on a slant, as opposed to square on, in order to add some depth to the image and allow the viewers eye to move across the image.
For some reason, it’s rare to see the reverse side of the shoe, presumably because it won’t be seen as much, but I felt it important to take this shot as it draws attention to details like the blue speckles in the sole that might otherwise have been missed.
This shot required me to raise up the shoe slightly in order to get a flattering angle that showed off the full length of the shoe.
A lot of care and attention has gone into designing this shoe, so it’s only fair that I represent each and every element in my images.
Not a crucial image, but a nice detail that the discerning consumer would like to see.
Again, not something you’d necessarily see, but it all adds to the overall feel of the product.
A special feature that not many shoes have, particularly necessary considering it marks the 25th anniversary of this range of shoe.
It’s harder than it looks to get the lighting right for the insole of a shoe. My first attempt just case a shadow across the area of interest, but after some adjust more the flash angle, I was able to achieve balanced light across the text.
All of these shots were taken under relatively neutral and controlled circumstances, but I tweaked them slightly in post in order for them to look as professional and stylish as possible. As I’d shot in RAW, I used the white balance to add some warmth to the photos, which complimented the tone of the shoe and also the wooden table.
I added a slight vignette to each shot to draw the eye of the viewer to the centre of the image, and I also cropped each image accordingly to ensure that the shoe took up the majority of the frame, rather than having dead space.
The Final Image
So at the end of the whole process, I came away with a shot that I felt gives a good overview of the shoe, showcasing as much detail as possible in one photograph.
I’ve also produced a selection of detail and additional shots that would give the customer a comprehensive understanding of the shoe, all taken on a budget on the kitchen table!
So there you have it, my first product shoot and considering the fairly restricted environment and equipment available, I’m very happy with the standard of the results. Product photography has the potential to be a nice earner for photographers looking to fill the gaps between other shoots.
Your photographs have the potential to encourage a customer to make a purchase, there are hundreds of online stores that require professional standard imagery for their sites. On the face of it, photographing products may not fill you with excitement. However, there’s plenty of challenges that you have to find solutions for. At the same time, product and retail photography is large world, so there's the potential to shoot products other than shoes.