Product photography (aka commercial photography) is one of the most lucrative areas in the world for those seeking to earn a living through photography. Because of this, it’s extremely competitive, and standing out from the crowd to gain clients is key. But getting started in product or commercial photography can be daunting because there are so many factors at play that must come together to create engaging imagery.
Here, we’ll explain the basics of product photography, highlighting 360-degree photography especially. If you’ve ever visited a website to purchase a product and had the option to scroll through several shots of the product taken from various angles, then you’ll have encountered 360-degree product photography. Simply put, it’s a sequence of photographs that have been taken of a product that rotates on a surface to show the product’s full features. This works especially well for products that have interactive features on more than one side so that potential customers can build a picture in their heads of how the final product looks.
360-degree product photography is a little tricky to get right though, and while there is dedicated equipment to achieve consistent results, we’ll be showing you how to use the MIOPS CAPSULE360 and additional slider and turntable accessories to make the most out of your shooting time. Take a look below at the kit list to see what you’ll need before you get started.
Product Photography Kit List
- Camera or smartphone
- Appropriate lens if using DSLR or mirrorless camera
- Light tent or modifiers
- MIOPS CAPSULE360
- Cable and laptop (if tethering)
Now let’s move through the appropriate steps to set up the camera, lighting, light modifiers, and CAPSULE360 properly to get the best photos (or videos) possible to get reliable 360-degree images.
Setting up the Camera
Product photography, in general, relies on precise camera settings that remain the same to produce consistent results and this is even more important in 360 product photography because the images are often placed in a carousel on a website, meaning the viewer can navigate between images as they lay one atop the other. Therefore, each photo has to have the same exposure, lighting, white balance, etc.
It’s best then to use manual mode to repeatedly shoot with the same settings. An aperture of between f/5.6-f/11 is good to maximize light input to the image sensor but also maintain a reasonable depth of field so the entire product is sharp. ISO should be kept to a minimum (ISO50 or 100) to reduce image noise and shutter speed should fall at the lighting’s sync speed (usually 1/250sec for flash lighting). Continuous lighting setups may require a slower shutter speed in order to capture a well balanced exposure.Lens should be set to correct focus and in manual mode, not autofocus to save on AF hunting.
Balance the Tripod
Set the tripod to an appropriate height by adjusting the length of the legs, then use the in-built spirit level to make sure the tripod legs are level first. If you don’t have one you can purchase a spirit level that fits on the mount thread of the tripod footplate.
Alternatively, you can use a hot shoe spirit level, or use the in-built spirit level on your camera if it has one, but bear in mind this doesn’t take into account the orientation of the tripod head, so rotated products may appear wonky if not correctly aligned. Once the legs are level, put the camera on the tripod head and then make sure the camera is level, too.
Fill It with Light
Continuous lights work great for photographers that want to see exactly what they’ll end up with when they press the shutter release button, but are much less powerful than flash or strobe lighting, and as such, ambient light from windows and room lighting can interfere with the white balance and brightness of shots.
Flash lighting is preferred for product/commercial photography and outputs a much more powerful burst of light. Flash lighting comes in two varieties: flashguns and studio strobes. Both are good for product/commercial photography, but each has their own benefits. Flashguns are much smaller and therefore more portable than studio strobes, and they are often powered by AA batteries (and sometimes rechargeable lithium-ion) so are easy to shoot on location.
However, studio strobes, normally running on mains power, are bigger but much more powerful and are designed to be used constantly throughout the day. They often come with power packs to provide energy for multiple units and are much more expensive.
Modifying the Light for a Professional Finish
Bare light sources such as light bulbs or bare flashguns produce harsh light with sharp shadows and specular highlights. This is not usually very flattering for product photography as it makes it difficult to see what the product looks like in terms of color and texture. Therefore, a modifier must be used to soften and spread the light.
The most common form of light modification for small products is a light tent in which a product is placed. They look like square tents with white, opaque material that diffuses the light. Lights are then placed on the outside of the tent, aiming at the product, and the tent diffuses the light for softer shadows.
This technique can also be replicated through the use of other modifiers such as umbrellas, softboxes, and other variations like a light table. Essentially, anything that softens and spreads the light will work.
Showcasing the Product
Electronic, motorized turntables are dedicated pieces of kit that rotate products for simple 360-degree capture. However, they are often expensive and serve only one purpose. The MIOPS CAPSULE360, on the other hand, is the world’s smallest and most compact motion box which can be paired with the turntable accessory to achieve the same result but it also opens up many more shooting possibilities such as rotating time-lapses, interval ramping, bulb ramping, panoramas, motorized sliding, long exposure or HDR time-lapses, face recognition tracking, star tracking, and more.
Setting up the CAPSULE360 motion box is easy, simply mount the device on a suitable surface and open the mobile app. The MIOPS app will intelligently detect the position and function of the CAPSULE360 and guide you through the setup process.
Not only can you achieve 360-degree photography with the turntable accessory but the CAPSULE360 can also be used with the Capsule Camera Slider which slides the camera back and forth very precisely for ultimate control over tracking shots. The motorized camera slider can also double up for use in a range of other areas such as timelapses, videos, and more.
Let’s say the product you are shooting isn’t designed to remain static and instead, you need to capture it in motion, well the CAPSULE360 tracking feature can track an object on the screen, too. It can even learn custom motion paths that are input by the manual movement the user creates. Both the device and app are user-friendly and the CAPSULE360 is compatible with a wide range of devices such as smartphones, action cams, DSLR, and mirrorless cameras in both stills and video modes.
To Tether or Not to Tether
When shooting product photography, the chances are that you’ll be capturing images in the studio, or at least indoors. Capturing a memory card and then importing the photos to a computer is fine, but it’s faster to tether your camera directly to the computer so that images taken appear immediately within the chosen image editing software.
The benefit of tethering is two-fold: first, it saves time importing photos already taken and second, edit settings can be applied to the first photo in a sequence of images which is then set to automatically apply these edits to subsequent photos, meaning less editing time, too.
The standard way to tether to a computer would be to use a dedicated USB cable to attach between camera and computer, then to use appropriate image editing software that allows for tethered capture. Be sure to check the camera’s manual to ensure it’s capable of tethering capture before purchasing.
Blog Credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes
Jason Parnell-Brookes is an Internationally award-winning photographer, educator and writer. He won Gold in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014. Jason is a qualified teacher, Masters graduate and works with many high profile international clients. Further information can be found in his website www.jasonpb.com.
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