A Nest for All Seasons A Nest for All Seasons: How to Think Product Shot Instead of Snapshot with your Digital Camera

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06 March 2012

How to Think Product Shot Instead of Snapshot with your Digital Camera

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This is as simple as it gets with photography.  Simply changing the angle can make or break a shot.  For example, I wanted a product shot of a simple stack of peat pots.  I placed them on the window sill in the shed, set the aperture to f/1.8, the ISO to 400 and the exposure compensation to +.07.   I was in Ap Priority (aperture priority) mode so the shutter speed set automatically for me.  I use this mode unless I am in a difficult situation like a wedding reception in the dark with lots of lights everywhere confusing the camera. 

Let me break that down for you a bit:

f/ 1.8  This is as low an aperture as I can get with my 50mm lens.  I use it ALL the time.  The photos are crisp, but creamy in the background.  This aperture is great for product shots, but can sometimes be bad for photos with many people.  If you are having problems getting everyone in focus in a family shot, raise the aperture. Learn more about aperture HERE!

ISO 400 I keep my ISO as low as possible, but crank it up in low light situations.  This particular shot is an inside shot, but gets good indirect light from the window.  If I set the ISO to 100 or 200, my shutter slowed down.  If I set the ISO any higher, it does not significantly speed up the shutter and can start producing "grainy" photos.   Learn more about ISO HERE!

+ .07 Exposure Compensation  I use this setting to keep the photos lighter and brighter than they naturally are.  Setting the exposure compensation to +.07 balances out the back lighting in this particular shot.  I typically keep my exposure compensation at +.03 - +.07 indoors for product shots and at 0 or lower for outdoor shots so I don't blow out (overexpose) the detail of the subject.  Learn more about Exposure Compensation HERE!

This is the photo from a few inches away, slightly angled above the pots.  It looks more like a generic snapshot than a true product shot.

The solution?

1.  Get closer to the subject until the subject properly fills the frame.
Manually move yourself closer to the subject instead of turning a zoom lens to zoom in.  The angle completely changes, not just how "big" the object looks in the photo.

2.  Angle higher so the stack looks taller.
Looking down onto the stack makes the simple little peat pots look a bit more imposing.  Taking a shot from this angle fills the foreground of the photo and with the 1.8 aperture, this angle allows the bottom of the stack to blur out. 

3.  Change the orientation to portrait, rather than landscape.  (vertical vs. horizontal)
Since the stack itself if vertically oriented, it makes sense to take a portrait instead of landscape photo so that the product fills the shot.  If I needed a landscape photograph, I would have changed the arrangement of the pots -- perhaps 3 stacks of various heights set against the corner of the windowsill.

You don't always have to change your settings to improve your photos!  In fact, my settings stay the same when I am in one location taking multiple product shots. 

Much of the advice given (and taken) about photography is from wedding and family portrait photographers.  In a photoshoot situation, you are often changing locations and light needs change dramatically -- thus the need for changing settings constantly.  However, if you are in your home, taking photos at approximately the same time of the day  (read; NAPTIME) in the same spot, your settings can stay fairly stable.

Certainly you should experiment, but do not feel like you MUST change settings all the time to get better photographs.  Often, changing the angle and orientation can TOTALLY change and fix the photo.

I know this information is old hat for many of you and I know that many of you feel like all the talk about settings went right over your head.  Please feel free to ask questions an give your suggestions in the comments!  (If you feel like your question is stupid -- and of course NO questions are stupid -- you can certainly just email them to allenaimphotographyanddesign@yahoo.com

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Since many of you have asked for more gear recommendations, here goes!

1.                           2.                                3.

Want the best camera ever?  Sorry -- I can't help you.  I CAN however tell you what got ME started!
I started out on a D40 (camera 3), currently shoot with a D7000 (camera 2) and recommend the D3000 (camera 1).
Whatever you do, save your money you had set aside for that Nikon Coolpix or Canon Powershot and buy a used DSLR.  Trust me.

...oh and PS -- these tips work JUST as well for a manual camera as they do for digital cameras...


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