Product photography may not seem like the most exciting line of work but it's a form that society most definitely needs. From internet auction sites to advertising billboards - product photography features on them all. A photograph can help you sell your old junk on the internet or it can make a company millions of pounds and the key to this is the perfect picture. Product photography can be hard. You have to know how to position the product and light it to make it look its best. One man that knows how to do this is Jonathan Beer. He's the FEP European commercial photographer of the year and here he shares some of his tips for perfect product photography.
Jonathan Beer is a Manchester based photographer who specialises in product and still life photography. His website says he's a photographer with an obsession for detail and a pursuit of quality that surpasses the norm which makes him the perfect man to teach us about product photography.
"I take pride in my work. I spend around 6 hours on one shot and usually do one product a day. It's about taking you're time and getting everything right. I probably spend the same amount of time on an iron as a car photographer does on a car," said Jonathan.
You don't have to replicate his shooting patterns if you're only photographing products to sell on an internet site. But paying attention to the way he lights products would be a good idea.
"You need to pay attention to lighting," explained Jonathan. "I put every ounce of knowledge I have about lighting into what I do."
Soft lighting is best for product photography and Jonathan creates this in a studio.
"The lighting is completely unique and set-up for that product. If I'm shooting more than one product in a day I will take down all the lights for each separate product and start from scratch. By doing this I can set the lights exactly how they need to be and achieve the best results."
Jonathan uses eight to ten flash heads on one product and he sets them all to do a particular job. He prefers this to using harsh large lights and reflectors as he has more control over the smaller lights. All the flashes are also placed very close to the product and are set to work to a tenth of a stop.
"Everything has to be balanced up perfectly," said Jonathan.
If you don't have access to a studio a photo light tent can be used instead. They let you create your own portable, table-top lighting studio at home. Camera flash can be too harsh for product photography and a light tent can help soften the light and reduce shadows and reflections.
Jonathan believes the best way to photograph the product is by starting with it as a whole object and finishing with little bits of detail such as buttons.
"I always do the main shots first then focus on the detail because if the lighting is right for the whole product it will work for the detail too."
A tripod is a tool a product photographer shouldn't be with out. Motion blur isn't a good look for an iron so using a good tripod to keep the camera steady is a must.
"If the product looks like it's tilting the eye will pick it up," explained Jonathan.
When selling products the way it looks is the key and angle is all important for this. You need to show the products best side and all the features it has to make it unique.
"There isn't one particular angle to shoot all products at. You have to focus on the product you want to sell and see how it can look its best. Hair-dryers for example can have special nozzles or cool buttons," said Jonathan. "If you focus on what you think are the main selling points then the angles become obvious."
If you're shooting commercially then the brand manager or designer will usually tell you how to angle the product but if you're working on your own you can always get inspiration from magazines and adverts.
"The angle of the product is usually dictated by what's normal for the market. Irons are always photographed with the nose/front pointing to the left slightly, that is unless they have a unique selling point."
Another great tip is to clean the product - you wont sell anything that looks like you dragged it out from under the stairs.
"Remember to pay real attention to detail and really look at what you're doing," suggested Jonathan.
He also believes that some product photographers make the wrong choices when it comes to lenses: "Many people use lenses that are too wide and it can make the photograph look poor. If you pull back slightly the product will look ten times better."
No matter how much attention you pay to angle and lighting the image may not turn out how you imagined and editing software will often be needed.
You can crop, sharpen, change the exposure and do anything else you want to do at the click of a mouse button.
"Post-production work is usually a must for this sort of work. I usually have quite a lot of work to do after I have taken the photograph as I'm usually working with prototypes. The prototypes leave the image looking a little rough and often the colour of the products and the texture will need altering."
Sometimes the products Jonathan works with are so bad he shoots them in black and white and colours them by hand after. But unless you're photographing prototypes I'm sure you wont have this problem.
"Just remember that everything is geared towards getting the best picture possible. I use the lowest ISO, the best lenses I can find and I ensure the exposure is perfect before I take the shot. Remember you're trying to sell a product you have to make it look perfect."
Visit Jonathan Beer to see more of his work.