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Tips
for
your product shots

We've talked a lot about telling your story, and creative approaches to making images. Everything we've covered so far will help you grow a following around what you do, and you'll find inspiration (I hope!) in the everyday act of creating things.

At some point, though, you'll have to come back to Earth a little, and spend some time taking at least one photograph of each of the kinds of things that you make.

This is an area that's fraught with frustration. So today's exercise is to try to take a small set of things that you've created and to come up with a consistent series of images that you can share of them.

Consistency

If you have an Etsy store, a website, an online shop, or anywhere else online where you list your creations, I'd like you to go and look at it. Now that you've been practising your photography these past few weeks, I'm hoping you've become a bit more aware of the kinds of factors that make up a good image.

With a "listing" page, though, one of the huge things to bear in mind is consistency between the images that a visitor sees. It can be really distracting looking at a series of products, but whilst the background is shared between them, its colour changes from image to image. Or perhaps the perspective is subtly different, or the lighting conditions have changed.

All of these can make you look less professional, and that can translate into a lack of confidence from the visitor to your website, shop, or Etsy store.

A checklist

To get your images all looking consistent can take lots of pracise. It's actually a lot harder than it looks!

First up, we've talked about white balance. It's important when taking product shots to get your white balance fixed, so that it doesn't change from image to image. If you have a grey card or a white piece of paper, set your camera to "custom white balance" and set it to the image you take of that grey card or paper. Make sure to fill the viewfinder with the card or paper so that it is set right.

There's often confusion about what "white balance" means. It's not about how bright or dark something is, it's that if you take images in sunlight, versus an electric bulb, the images can vary between looking quite blue and quite yellow. White balance does what your eye does all the time, and adjusts for the type of light you have around you to make it look natural.

Often, just doing this one thing can make your images look consistent!

Fix your setup

A lot of people would opt for a soft box for shooting product photos. I'm actually not that convinced. If you can find a nice wall, or background that you can consistently light well, then the fact you have a bit of personality in there can make your images look very different to those standard "Amazon listing" style images! Experiment to see what you find works for you.

Whatever you do, make sure you've got a consistent setup. It'll probably involve a tripod. Fix your camera in place and make sure you're shooting everything with the same focal length (or zoom) and aperture. I find when I'm doing this, that I try a bunch of different settings until one works well, and then I lock that down so that the camera is on aperture priortiy mode with the settings I've worked out. Make a note! Write everything down so that you can save yourself time if you have to break it all down and set it up again at some point.

If you have some washi tape, put some on the floor exactly where you had the tripod, and mark out the place where you have your products. If you do this, you can keep coming back on multiple sessions!

Long exposure, long distance

If you look at a lot of product shots, the ones that magazines often like, they're often taken at quite a distance from the subject. That flattens out the subject's appearance and it seems to make more sense when in a magazine format. Have a look through some magazines and you'll see what I mean. Products are often shot a lot further away than you think!

Another strange thing, is that most people's product images will be taken with a lot of flash. We're not going to solve that in this course, because flash is a hard subject to grasp. Often background whites are a real problem, and unless you are using a flash or lights they can come out quite grey.

If you are trying to get a lot of your subject in focus, you can end up with a lot of camera shake blur. Experiment with setting your camera to expose for a little longer than usual to get past that. If your camera offers a "remote trigger" then order one online so you can take a photo without touching the camera – you might be surprised with the results!

Histograms

When you are taking an image, your camera will adjust exposure automatically to get what it's seeing to be roughly well exposed. The problem comes when you have smaller or larger items, because the camera will see some images as darker or lighrer than others. And then you end up with your background appearing lighter and darker too, which can make your page look unprofessional.

A good way to get past this is turn on your "info" mode when you're taking the first image of a series. In that mode you'll get a histogram option. It's a really useful tool! It's a graph of the number of pixels in your image that have the same level of brightness. Try to get that mode turned on on your camera, and take an image. If you're under-exposed, you'll see lots of high bars at the left, and if you're over exposed you'll see a big spike all the way at the right of the chart.

That's what you want to avoid in your product photos. When you over-expose an image on a digital camera, then areas that are just-about white turn into blobs of over-exposed white. It's called being "blown out" and on some cameras you can turn on another feature to check if you've got any over-exposed areas by making them flash or change colour. Have a look in your manual for "Highlight Alert".

Ideally your histogram for a product photo should always have a smooth curve towards the left and right, so that there aren't any over-exposed or under-exposed areas that will mean a magazine won't print your image.

Do the best you can, then get help!

If you're doing product photos, have a RAW option on your camera and have enough room to store your photos, that's probably the best option. By shooting in RAW mode, you get the option to edit a little more after taking the image, because there's often a lot more information captured by the camera than with JPEG mode.

It's also a good idea if you want to get someone else to help you after you've taken the images. Services like Mr. Clipping will take your images from you and do a little work to make them consistent and look great.

Life is short, so personally I think if you're just starting out to use an editing company to do a lot of the work for you.

Today's feedback experiment

Imagine you are trying to take a series of images of your products. Maybe an entire range for your website. Or several images of the same object.

Try to bear in mind what we've talked about in this lesson and take a careful look at your images. Are the whites the same tone? Do some images look darker than others? Have you got a consistent look to the images?

If you would like to share your images in the Facebook and ask your fellow students for feedback in return for giving feedback to them, that would be wonderful.

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