Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Product Photography (not quite) 101

For the past few days, Chateau Ricardipus, or at least a very small part of it on and around the dining table, has been transformed into an ad hoc photo studio and marketing operation. In her role as co-chair of our school's Parent Council, Mrs. Ricardipus is spearheading a Spell-a-thon and associated prize draw. The dining room has been taken over with Justin Bieber paraphernalia a-plenty, as well as various toys, gift certificates, and whatnot. Perhaps rashly, I volunteered to take photos of the prizes, to be reproduced at small size to go on ballot boxes, and also as 8 x 10-inch promo posters.

Rashly, I say, because I have this much experience at photographing products:


My Ferrari
A really terrible previous attempt.

Never mind - fresh from reading Michael Freeman's Top Digital Photography Tips, I transformed the dining room table into a veritable homonculous of a studio setup. Developing through a few iterations, the final version involved a base and backing of white foamcore, a gently bent piece of bog-standard printer paper as a background, a mirror underneath and a couple of cookie boxes to hold the whole thing up. Side lighting came from a couple of Ikea gooseneck lamps, an el cheapo $25 off-camera flash, a desk lamp, some sunlight through a window, and the pop-up flash on my Nikon D5000. Sheets of white tissue paper diffused the sidelighting.

Predictably, the results looked - well, pretty amateur. The mess of colour temperatures from the natural light, the incandescent lamps and two totally different flashes really messed things up, and there were ugly shadows everywhere, although I got some workable results. This photo, of my newest lens, will give you some idea:

AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G
Not too bad, but covered in different coloured reflections, and that shadow is U.G.L.Y.

Fortunately, a couple of Flickr contacts had some good suggestions. Charles suggested this video tutorial - which as well as being amusing, made me feel a little better, since one of the two approaches to budget product shooting involved, you guessed it, two Ikea gooseneck lamps(!). Brian, on the other hand, pointed me at this excellent setup he built, out of a cardboard box, and, wait for it, white tissue paper and desk lamps, among other things. Both of these guys take very nice photos - so I felt a little better.

The next day, I found myself with one more prize to photograph - an iPod nano, in devilishly white, shiny, dust-prone and reflective packaging. Taking further hints from the incomparable Ken Rockwell, particularly on using a glass base to make the shadows "fall" out of shot, I quickly whipped up a new setup, which you can see here, bolting my D5000 on to the trusty old Velbon tripod, setting everything up in front of a mirror and using some handy drawers for the Ikea clip lamps.

Ready, set...

"Battery exhausted."

Yes, I knew it had been running down the previous evening, and no, I hadn't stopped to charge it. All that live view on the LCD screen to frame the shot had finished it off. Do I have a spare battery? Heck no. But at this point, I was bound and determined to get the shot - and so whipped out Mrs. Ricardipus's trusty Sony DSC-R1, and in a fit of supreme laziness, hand-held it more or less next to where the D5000 was sitting on the tripod. And took what turned out to be, I think, a rather nice photo, even if its graininess does show up just how badly the Sony does in low light with the sensitivity turned up to even ISO 400.

Test shot - iPod nano

Of course, by the time I took this shot, let alone edited it, she'd already found a perfectly good promotional photo, made up the poster, and printed it. But darn it, I got the shot, and that's what really counts, isn't it?


Elementalview said...

I think your final setup is very well done. And considering that you're handicapped by working with mix light sources (sort of like batting left when you're a righty), the result has a very professional look to it.
Just a couple of suggestions. If you're doing this sort of photography more than twice, a dome tent is a good investment. Pays for itself in no time at all. Also a hood on the lens reduces flare (esp if the front element is right up there at the front of the lens) and maintains decent contrast.

Ricardipus said...

Thanks - advice much appreciated. A tent would definitely have helped. And the hood tip is something I didn't know and would never have guessed (hm, now that I think about it, I don't have one for the lens on the camera in the picture).

WrathofDawn said...

It is a LOVELY shot.

Ricardipus said...

Thank you my dear. iPods really are quite photogenic things, if fiddly and fussy to use. :)

Aled Hughes said...

I like the iPod shot (even though I have no idea what it is and I'm too old and silly to find out or want to). I once had a really nice Canon camera with lots of attachments. I also got shadows on everything. Every photo I took of people made them look like the N Korean leader as there was a shadow above ther head.... My Brownie Box never did that...