Product photography sunglasses case study
Any business that makes or sells physical products needs photographs of them – not only for promotional use and on packaging but also increasingly to illustrate the products on an e-commerce website. In this post I’ll run through how I go about photographing products for an e-commerce website.
What kind of products can you photograph?
Pretty much anything! I’ve photographed all kinds of products from clocks and watches to bottles of spirits, jewellery, and leather bags and cases. I’ve also created pictures of medical and veterinary equipment, vehicles, and even a 1000-ton crane! For e-commerce however the products are usually fairly small – such as the sunglasses that I’m going to discuss in this blog post.
What are the main requirements for product photography?
At the most basic level, you need to be able to see the product clearly! This may sound obvious, but sometimes clients use a glamorous promotional shot where they really need a photo that’s cleanly lit and shows every detail of the product clearly. This means the lighting needs to be fairly soft and even across the whole product, and everything needs to be in focus. Of course there’s a place for “lifestyle” promotional photos but not usually in an e-commerce context.
I also have to consider how reflective the product is and whether it has a surface texture that needs to be brought out. Shiny objects like clocks, watches, and sunglasses need special care in this respect.
The product also has to be absolutely clean – I always ask my clients to send me brand new products in original packaging if possible, as trade samples that have been handled will not only pick up dust and fingermarks but also very fine scratches that may not be visible to the naked eye, but will absolutely show up in camera! I will also use an air blower to remove any specks of dust from the surface of the product, and if it’s prone to fingermarking I’ll wear white cotton gloves when handling the items. It’s incredible how tiny specks and marks that you can’t see yourself will show up in the photographs!
What’s the best angle to photograph a product from?
Unless I am providing a set of photos of each product from multiple angles, I will normally use a “three-quarter” or “isometric” view – with the camera set slightly to one side and slightly above (as in the example photos of sunglasses below). This will usually show all the key features of the product in one shot.
When I’m photographing a set of similar products (as with these sunglasses) I will mount the camera on a tripod and not move it, so that all the products are shown from the same angle. This is especially important for e-commerce or “catalogue” shots.
What kind of background do you use?
In most cases I use a plain white seamless paper background, draped over a table on which the product sits. The paper has a matt finish so as not to cause undue reflections, and because it’s white it doesn’t modify the colour of the product either (very important). With larger products I use either a very large paper background (up to 2.7 metres wide) or a cloth background.
If the client requests it I can use other colours (most often black or grey) but generally speaking it’s better to drop in coloured backgrounds on the computer if needed, as using a coloured background in the studio can create “colour casts” on the product itself.
Often I will completely remove the physical background from the finished photos (eliminating any shadows cast by the product) so that the product appears to “float” in space, like this:
Lighting for product photography
Every photographer has their own methods for lighting products – there are tons of tutorials on YouTube (some more useful than others!) if you want to know specifics. For most products I want consistent, repeatable lighting where the colour temperature doesn’t change, which means using professional studio flash units. To these I add modifiers such as umbrellas or softboxes to create large even sources of light.
The flash units are placed on stands and angled so as to avoid reflections or “hotspots” appearing on the product.
For “lifestyle” or purely promotional images we may use more directional and dramatic lighting with deep shadows, but for illustrative e-commerce product shots that’s usually the opposite of what’s required.
How do you ensure colour accuracy?
Firstly I always use professional studio flash units that have a specified “colour temperature”, so that each photo I take is lit the same way. And secondly I use a special colour reference chart from X-Rite (now Calibrite) – I include this chart in the first photo I take, and then I can cross-check the colour values when I get it into my editing software to ensure that the colours have been captured correctly – and if needed I use the chart as a reference to adjust the overall colour balance and brightness. Because all the images are shot using the same lighting, I can then apply this correction if necessary to all the images.
I’m going to get a bit technical here, so feel free to skip this bit if you like!
One of the main requirements for a good product photo is that every feature of the product should be clearly visible – and in focus. For reasons (physics!) which I won’t go into here, its almost impossible to get every part of a product from front to back completely sharp when shooting it in close-up. So what I do is use a technique called “focus stacking”. I shoot a series of images of the product, starting with the camera focused on a point nearest the camera, and then moved in steps towards the back. In each image only a small “slice” of the product will be sharp. With the sunglasses shown here I took a sequence of eight photos of each pair of sunglasses.
Then the sequence of photos is loaded into a special software program which analyses each photo, locates the areas that are in focus, and blends those areas into a final composite image where all of the product is sharp! It’s an almost magical process! It’s quite time-consuming but really the only way to get a final shot that’s sharp from front to back, especially with small products.
How much editing do you do to each image?
As little as possible! My client is paying for my time so the quicker and more efficient I can make the whole shoot and edit process, the better. As mentioned above, I aim to eliminate dust and marks at the shooting stage to minimise retouching, and with consistent lighting I should not have to tweak colour or brightness on each photo – normally it’s just one minor set of adjustments that’s applied to the whole set of images. But of course if I do notice any blemishes at the editing stage I will remove them. And finally I will remove the background (if that’s what the client wants).
Final delivery of images
I deliver images to my clients as full-size JPEGs, ready to use. If required I can also produce smaller copies for use online, or in PNG format with a transparent background.
With all that said, here’s a selection of sunglasses product photos from the shoot…