Pho­to: www.pxhere.com

Do you think there is noth­ing sim­pler and more bor­ing than prod­uct pho­tog­ra­phy? Pho­tog­ra­phers who deal with it are unlike­ly to con­vince you — why do they need com­peti­tors? Pros of prod­uct pho­tog­ra­phy know that this is not only a “cat­a­log” on a white back­ground, but a whole won­der­ful world! If you want to dive into it, then read about every­thing you need to start in prod­uct pho­tog­ra­phy (as well as a few cre­ative life hacks) in this arti­cle.

Minimum set for subject shooting


The best one to start with is the one you already have, so we won’t go into detail on it. In addi­tion, there are no spe­cial require­ments for a cam­era for sub­ject pho­tog­ra­phy. It all depends on what exact­ly you plan to shoot for. Even a smart­phone with a good cam­era is enough for an online cat­a­log. If you’re going to be print­ing large prints or send­ing them to mag­a­zines, it’s best to get a sep­a­rate high-res­o­lu­tion cam­era. This is exact­ly the case when addi­tion­al megapix­els can come in handy.


The best option is a tele­pho­to macro lens (with an equiv­a­lent focal length of 60mm, prefer­ably around 100mm). For exam­ple, the Sig­ma 105mm f/2.8 Macro will do a good job with many tasks. As an addi­tion­al, you can use a slight­ly wider-angle lens. But it enhances the per­spec­tive by dis­tort­ing the frame at the edges, which is why it is not very good for prod­uct pho­tog­ra­phy. Stan­dard 18–55mm zoom lens­es can be used at the far end of focal lengths. Of course, more ver­sa­tile (and more expen­sive) zooms will work, such as the Sig­ma AF 24–105mm f/4.

Try flip­ping your every­day lens by attach­ing it to the cam­era back­wards through the revers­ing ring for a macro effect.


Once you have your cam­era and lens, the next step is to pur­chase a tri­pod. Here, too, you don’t need to be espe­cial­ly smart, because all you essen­tial­ly need is sta­bi­liza­tion. Thanks to a tri­pod, you can shoot with a slow­er shut­ter speed, escap­ing from the shake. You do not need its spe­cial com­pact­ness (unless you are very lim­it­ed in space), light­ness or fast assem­bly and dis­as­sem­bly mech­a­nisms. Not bad when the tri­pod is equipped with a cen­tral col­umn (to shoot from above).

With a tri­pod, you can work with the com­po­si­tion more pre­cise­ly than with con­ven­tion­al hand­held shoot­ing, as well as move objects, always main­tain­ing the desired angle.

Con­ve­nient cam­era tilt adjust­ment makes the Fal­con Eyes RED LINE Pro-415 3D4 a par­tic­u­lar­ly good option for the sub­ject. Pho­to: fotosklad.ru

For exam­ple, using the Fal­con Eyes RED LINE Pro-415 3D4 tri­pod with a 3D head, it is con­ve­nient to adjust the cam­era tilt, choos­ing the right shoot­ing angle. Also in the mod­el is adjustable cen­tral rod, which is use­ful when shoot­ing from top to bot­tom.


An impor­tant part of prod­uct pho­tog­ra­phy is prop­er light­ing. One of the main require­ments here (espe­cial­ly for “cat­a­log” shoot­ing) is the min­i­miza­tion of shad­ows, in par­tic­u­lar under the sub­ject. For­get about shoot­ing with your usu­al over­head light­ing: you will have a lot of unnec­es­sary shad­ows, prob­lems with white bal­ance and col­or repro­duc­tion.

If you are on a tight bud­get, you can start shoot­ing using nat­ur­al light from a win­dow. Of course, it is unpre­dictable, it is impos­si­ble to con­trol it, in gen­er­al it is not suit­able for con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing “on stream”. But with nat­ur­al light, you can take great pho­tos. It is espe­cial­ly good if the win­dow faces north or in your city the weath­er is often cloudy. Then you will get a beau­ti­ful dif­fused light. If the light from the win­dow is too harsh, cov­er the win­dow with tulle, not very thick white cloth or a sheet of paper. Do the shad­ows still stand out? Place white sheets on both sides of the object: the paper will reflect the light, soft­en­ing it. The same trick can be done with a reflec­tor.

Win­dow light is good for cre­atives, but it lacks pre­dictabil­i­ty and con­sis­ten­cy for com­mer­cial “cat­a­log” pho­tog­ra­phy. Pho­to: Steve­g­iovin­co / commons.wikimedia.org

If you plan to shoot “on a stream” or you just shoot often enough, then buy­ing a stu­dio light will be a smart invest­ment and save time and effort (which you will not spend dur­ing pro­cess­ing or wait­ing for the right light).

There are two main options for stu­dio light­ing: pulsed and con­stant light.

The pulsed light (these are mono­light stu­dio flash­es famil­iar to many pho­tog­ra­phers) is pow­er­ful enough to shoot with a small­er aper­ture of the lens — so that the entire sub­ject in the frame remains uni­form­ly sharp. It’s good if the flash has a pilot light, with which it is much more con­ve­nient to expose a light pat­tern. For prod­uct pho­tog­ra­phy, the Ray­lab Axio 300 monoblock is excel­lent: mod­er­ate­ly pow­er­ful, equipped with a pilot light and a uni­ver­sal Bowens S mount for var­i­ous mod­el­ing attach­ments. It is worth get­ting a lamp with a fast recharge if you are going to freeze some­thing in the frame. This is more often required for food pho­tog­ra­phy, when you need, for exam­ple, to cap­ture spices on food. The Ray­lab Rossa RS-400 monoblock is equipped with a super-fast recy­cle time of 0.1 to 0.9 sec­onds.

You will also need a stand with the monoblock, with which you can adjust its posi­tion and height.

The Ray­lab Rossa RS-400 is a pow­er­ful illu­mi­na­tor suit­able for com­mer­cial prod­uct pho­tog­ra­phy. Pho­to: raylab.ru

A more com­pact alter­na­tive to a large monoblock can be an on-cam­era flash with a syn­chro­niz­er — you can hold it in your hand at the right angle. This is not very con­ve­nient, but you can always take such a flash with you on loca­tion shoot­ing.

Con­stant light is bet­ter for begin­ners: you will imme­di­ate­ly see your light pat­tern. And if you still plan to shoot videos, then con­stant light is the only alter­na­tive. How­ev­er, for the same cost, you will get a much less pow­er­ful source com­pared to pulsed light. (fol­low the links — more details about the choice of con­stant and pulsed light).

By them­selves, stu­dio lights pro­duce too harsh light, so they are usu­al­ly used with mod­i­fiers. Mod­i­fi­er attach­ments make the light­ing soft­er, min­i­miz­ing the amount of harsh shad­ows. For sub­ject shoot­ing, soft­box­es or strip­box­es are usu­al­ly used (these are soft­box­es with a nar­row­er pro­file). The larg­er the soft­box, the more for­giv­ing it is (you get soft­er light­ing, sim­i­lar to light from a win­dow).

The Ray­lab SPG6090 soft­box has a fair­ly ver­sa­tile size that on the one hand will give you the right ambi­ent light and on the oth­er hand it does­n’t take up too much space in your home stu­dio. Hon­ey­combs are includ­ed in the kit to get a more direc­tion­al light out­put.

You can also attach a mini soft­box to the on-cam­era flash. In extreme cas­es, you can get by with a sim­ple sheet of paper, plac­ing it between the source and the object.

Anoth­er impor­tant acces­so­ry for a prod­uct pho­tog­ra­ph­er is a reflec­tor. He plus the illu­mi­na­tor is a cheap and angry com­bi­na­tion. With a reflec­tor, you can get by with the only source of light. The 5 in 1 reflec­tor is ver­sa­tile: not only will you have white, but you will also have oth­er col­or options to help make the pic­ture more con­trast (sil­ver) or add a warmer hue (gold). The white reflec­tor can be replaced with paper or foam sheet, and the sil­ver reflec­tor with foil.

Life hack: for work­ing with small items, foil lids of con­tain­ers from food deliv­ery from restau­rants are suit­able.

More advanced users will need a frost frame. This is such a design with a can­vas stretched over it that scat­ters light. It cre­ates a very large area of ​​soft light, sim­i­lar to nat­ur­al light on an over­cast day. Such light is inter­est­ing­ly reflect­ed in dif­fer­ent glare sur­faces, which is impor­tant, for exam­ple, when shoot­ing glass, watch­es, and glass­es.

If you want to add a lit­tle cre­ativ­i­ty to your pho­tog­ra­phy, you can use col­ored gel fil­ters with lamps.

The shoot place

Depend­ing on whether you need a clas­sic white back­ground for the cat­a­log or some more inter­est­ing back­ground, you need to select the sur­face for shoot­ing. Let’s look at the first option first.

For a per­fect white back­ground, a spe­cial object table is best suit­ed. Its main dif­fer­ence from the usu­al one is that the sur­face on which you will put the object is a huge dif­fuser. Accord­ing­ly, you can high­light the object not only from above, but also from below, which will cre­ate an almost shad­ow­less draw­ing. Ray­lab’s sub­ject pho­to table folds con­ve­nient­ly (this is espe­cial­ly impor­tant for a home stu­dio) and is suit­able for objects up to 5 kg, that is, you can shoot almost any prod­uct for a cat­a­log.

A small life hack: instead of an illu­mi­na­tor, you can put an ordi­nary mir­ror under the pho­to table. Pho­to: moneymakerphotography.com

An even eas­i­er-to-han­dle option is a lightcube. This is a frame in the form of a cube, cov­ered with a scat­ter­ing or reflec­tive mate­r­i­al, where the sub­ject is placed. In such a box, it is even­ly illu­mi­nat­ed with soft light, and as a result, you also get an almost shad­ow­less draw­ing. Lightcube Ray­lab LT001 is equipped with a built-in LED back­light — it turns out a ready-made mini-stu­dio for prod­uct pho­tog­ra­phy.

In gen­er­al, all these spe­cial devices can be replaced by a table cov­ered with a white cloth or a pho­to­phone. But in this ver­sion, even with well-set light­ing, you will have to slight­ly cor­rect the pic­ture in the pho­to edi­tor to remove the shad­ows.

If a uni­form white back­ground is not required, then almost any flat sur­face is suit­able for shoot­ing. To make the pic­ture more inter­est­ing, you can use var­i­ous tex­tured objects on which you can put your sub­ject. For exam­ple, met­al things look advan­ta­geous on stone and wood­en sur­faces. You can exper­i­ment with var­i­ous col­ored fab­rics, as well as make a back­ground with your own hands: take a large piece of draw­ing paper and paint over it the way you want. How­ev­er, when work­ing with a mul­ti-col­ored back­ground, it is impor­tant to ensure that it does not dis­tract the view­er’s atten­tion from the main sub­ject.

Tex­tured wood and smooth sur­faces of the teapot and bowl are the per­fect com­bi­na­tion. Pho­to: www.pxhere.com

Lighting schemes

In case you do not use a lightcube with built-in lamps, you need to cor­rect­ly set the light­ing your­self. Depend­ing on your tasks, you can use one or more light sources.

One light source

Shad­ows should­n’t be too hard, but if it’s not a “cat­a­log” shot against a white back­ground, shad­ows on and under the sub­ject are quite for­giv­able (some­times they even give the pho­to a spe­cial char­ac­ter). The only source of illu­mi­na­tion in this case is the norm.

If you are using light from a win­dow, you need to place the object on the table and deter­mine by eye the best loca­tion for the most ben­e­fi­cial light pat­tern. This requires a tri­pod and a slow shut­ter speed.

With on-cam­era flash, you can use faster shut­ter speeds. Here you also choose by eye the appro­pri­ate angle for high­light­ing (usu­al­ly from above and slight­ly to the side), or bet­ter, sev­er­al at once, so that lat­er you can choose the most inter­est­ing option. At the same time, con­nect the flash through the syn­chro­niz­er and hold it with your free hand at the desired angle.

If you’re shoot­ing with a soft­box, posi­tion it to the side and slight­ly above your sub­ject. To soft­en shad­ows from a sin­gle source, place a white reflec­tor on the oppo­site side of the light (or win­dow). For a more con­trast­ing pic­ture, take a sil­ver reflec­tor. The scheme was cre­at­ed by the author using lightingdiagrams.com
Anoth­er option for using a sin­gle light source is to place it behind the sub­ject (back­light­ing). The vol­ume of the object is so well con­veyed, but then its front part will be very dark­ened — save your­self with a reflec­tor. The scheme was cre­at­ed by the author using lightingdiagrams.com
An inter­est­ing option would also be shoot­ing from top to bot­tom: here the cam­era is locat­ed above the object. The scheme was cre­at­ed by the author using lightingdiagrams.com

Two light sources

If you have two light sources, for exam­ple two soft­box­es, then you can replace the reflec­tor in the pre­vi­ous dia­grams with a sec­ond light. Then two sources will be locat­ed on the sides of the cam­era.

Scheme with two light sources. In this case, one will be the key (draw­ing), and the sec­ond, a lit­tle less pow­er­ful, will fill. The scheme was cre­at­ed by the author using lightingdiagrams.com

You can also place one of the sources high­er above the object, almost on top, but in this case you will need a spe­cial crane stand.

Three light sources

In this case, you have sev­er­al options for improv­ing the pre­vi­ous cir­cuit. The third illu­mi­na­tor can be attached to the object, you get back­light. Or you can high­light the back­ground with it — this will be a back­ground light that will help cre­ate more con­trast between the object and the back­ground.

Back­light option. The scheme was cre­at­ed by the author using lightingdiagrams.com

When work­ing with the stage, place a third lamp under it or behind it so that it illu­mi­nates the object from the bot­tom up. The only dif­fi­cul­ty in this case is to set the white bal­ance cor­rect­ly.

At the train­ing stage, set each light source sep­a­rate­ly. First, put the main one and see how the light works only with it. Then add a reflec­tor or a sec­ond light — eval­u­ate what has changed. And so on. Also write down your light­ing schemes (loca­tion, pow­er). This is espe­cial­ly use­ful if you are shoot­ing for cat­a­logs, that is, when you need to con­stant­ly repro­duce the same light pat­tern. It’s eas­i­er to write every­thing down than to spend a lot of time try­ing to repeat the desired set­up.

Life hacks for product photography

See­ing your pho­to­graph as a still life paint­ing will allow you to find inter­est­ing cre­ative solu­tions in com­po­si­tion and light­ing. Pho­to: pixabay.com
  • Shoot with a mon­i­tor con­nect­ed. On the dis­play of the cam­era, every­thing can be fine, but you just can’t make out minor flaws: some­thing didn’t get into focus, some­thing didn’t come out right. As a result, you will either spend a lot of extra time on retouch­ing, or you will have to reshoot again.
  • Shoot in RAW for­mat. If you’re a begin­ner, there’s a good chance you still shoot in JPEGs. How­ev­er, the RAW for­mat opens up huge oppor­tu­ni­ties for post-pro­cess­ing the image and will help to avoid many “jambs”.
  • Pre­pare the sub­ject for shoot­ing — blow off dust, remove small impu­ri­ties. If there are ugly scratch­es on the sub­ject that would be dif­fi­cult to remove in a pho­to edi­tor, try to posi­tion the sub­ject so that they are less notice­able.
  • Props for artis­tic prod­uct pho­tog­ra­phy can be found any­where. Be cre­ative and treat the pic­ture as an ana­logue of the still lifes of the great painters of the past: use grand­moth­er’s crys­tal, nap­kins with embroi­dery or lace, dry and fresh flow­ers.
  • Take the risk of step­ping out­side the stu­dio. Moss in the for­est or asphalt on the street can be an ide­al back­drop for a vari­ety of objects (but do not for­get about com­pe­tent work with light­ing).
  • Try shoot­ing on vel­vet. Not on vel­veteen or velor, but on nat­ur­al vel­vet — black, blue or red). Yes, it is very expen­sive, but if you sud­den­ly find it, you will not regret it. Vel­vet absorbs light, so you can place an item in direct sun­light with­out any shad­ow on the vel­vet itself. (We admit, we spied this life hack from the Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­ph­er Han­nah Con­can­non.)
  • Don’t be afraid to exper­i­ment! This applies, rather, to artis­tic prod­uct pho­tog­ra­phy, but some­times an inter­est­ing solu­tion is also suit­able for a “cat­a­log”. For exam­ple, you can hang an object on a fish­ing line, and then remove it in a pho­to edi­tor, thus cre­at­ing the effect as if the object is float­ing in the air.


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