Product Photography: 1 Product, 3 Styles

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Lately my brother is into making beer, and he’s getting pretty good at it. My favorite so far is his brown ale and I welcome it anytime I can get it. Recently he gave me several new bottles (this time an IPA) and I decided to take on a little self challenge. I set up the bottles, backgrounds, and lighting to create three different styled photographs. I wanted to create something different but for the same product, my brother’s beer.
 
 
When shooting product photography, you need to consider your brand’s style and how the photography will relate to the rest of your visual branding. You’ll also need to consider your ideal client and products. Knowing these things will help you narrow down what style you should use. So I set up three different styles for one product. I’ll take you through the lighting and set up for each.
 

White Background – Simple and Clean

 
Here is a standard product shot you see on sites like Amazon, Ebay, or other major retailer. It is simple, clean, and shows the product well, no matter what it is. I love this style of shot with glass or reflective products because it shows them off well. If it’s used on a website that is simple and clean it looks particularly great. Many of my clients use this style in combination with lifestyle shots. 
 
 

 

Lighting

 

For white background shots, I don’t want shadows so I use light that surrounds the product. This includes front light and light bounced off my white ceiling. There are times I also include lights coming from both sides. Before I started using lights, I set up this style next to two big windows that have sheer white curtains on them. There is also another window that provides front light. Then I would set up a reflector on the opposite side of the 2 big windows. For this style you want to create many lighting sources to decrease shadows. Make sure the light comes in or reflects from many directions to reduce shadows.

 

Background

 
For white background shots, I use a white vinyl backdrop that creates a reflection. If I don’t want the reflection, I use the opposite side of the vinyl which is not shiny. Before I got the vinyl backdrop, I created the reflection in post production and used white foam core board or white muslin.
 

Processing

 
In processing there is usually very little to do. I make sure white balance is good but I use a grey card so it typically is. Since I expose to the right to avoid shadows and noise there is little other processing needed. I may bump up the whites to get a brighter white effect on the background. Then I sometimes increase the clarity and contrast a little. Sometimes I use the tone curve to create the contrast I need with a simple, small S curve. I also sharpen as needed.
 

Rustic White

 
This is another brighter style that avoids shadows. I added a different background and props to make it a lifestyle shot.
 

 

Lighting

 
For this bright lifestyle shot, I avoided shadows again but I used a different lighting style. I used backlight to create a bright background, then I reflected it onto the front of the product. I used the 2 big windows in my studio with the sheer white curtains pulled to create a more diffuse light. I shot this in the afternoon when the sun was on the other side (these are eastern facing windows). I allowed light to enter from the northern facing window because it is smaller and didn’t produce so much light that it cast noticeable shadows.
 

Background

 
So the 2 big windows are my background, and a makeshift table top I created. The props I used are a big metal tub, the bottles, and some crushed almonds and red pepper to look like grains. (I was lazy and didn’t want to go out in search of grains).

 

Processing

 
For this style of shot I didn’t do much because my lighting and white balance were good. I did tone down the green in the background with a desaturated brush because I thought it distracting. I added a little clarity, contrast, and sharpening. I used a softer processing style with a slightly desaturated look to achieve a more rustic feel.
 

Dark, Quiet Rustic

 
Sometimes this style of shot can become moody or dramatic easily but it all depends on if you use hard light or soft light and your exposure. For this style I only wanted to create a quietness but more masculine rustic feel to the photo. 
 

Lighting

 
To create a darker style I used a single light source coming from one side. I don’t use reflectors. For this shot I blocked out the light enough from both windows so the light only streamed through half of one window (lengthwise). I blocked out the light with black posterboard from the northern facing window. I also closed the door to my studio so no light entered through it. For this style of photo, you need to shape the light and where it lands.

 

Background

 
I used tiles that look like dark wood planks, a black foam core board, and a burlap sack and white napkin. Rather simple set up.
 

 

A Word About White Balance
 
When shooting for product photography, always try to create a custom white balance. You have the time and it’s easier to deal with while shooting than in post processing. You can do this by dialing in Kelvin, or use a grey card or expo disc. If you can’t dial in Kelvin or don’t have a grey card or expo disc, use several pieces of white paper piled together and get a custom read from that. You can read more about white balance here.