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In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.
Product photography is a very specialized form of shooting, and I'll be honest, it's not one I've ever been interested in. But, oddly enough, in this era of the internet and eBay, suddenly I have a need for product photography. And so, I have Konrad Eek. >> Thank you very much. >> Product photographer. Konrad. >> Good to see you, man. >> Konrad, I often have things that I need to put on Craigslist or eBay or something like that. I really don't want to learn to be a product photographer, but I would like to get some better shots of my stuff. What can I do? >> I would suggest hiring me at an exorbitant rate to do the photography for you.
How can I do it myself? >> Oh, cheaply. One of the simplest ways to do product photography without investing much money at all is to take advantage of the soft light in open shade. We found an area here where we're shielded from the direct sun and if you'll look, the sunlight is direct, it throws hard shadows, it obscures things as well as illuminating them. Where when we work here in open shade, if you look this, this wonderful, soft light. Ben, you look ten years younger. >> Aw, thank you Konrad! >> I'll put myself on Craigslist.
>> Yeah Well, I don't know if that would work. What I'd like to do is show you a way to set up a simple little lighting system to isolate. What you're trying to light from the surrounding environment and also create sort of a neutral toned zone in the outdoor shade so that you can get pretty clean color reproduction on whatever it is you're trying to post for e bay or you could even use the same method to take photographs of of objects you own for insurance Purposes, documentation like that, it will work just as well for.
>> Now we're in this wonderful amphitheater here, but most people are going to be able to find this exact type of shade on the north side of their house. >> Exactly right. The one thing you do want to look for is things that create a great deal of color pollution, you know, if you have. >> Like a lawn. >> Yeah, like a lawn. Or if you've got a great big green tree that the sun is striking, that may bounce different colored light back into the scene. So the area that I use,at my house it's in the side yard. I typically will set this up actually on one of my trashcans, and I've got a weather grey fence that bounces in pretty neutral light around it, so it works at a good shooting environment for me.
>> And you may, you may need to actually, the, the problem is your eye is correcting color all the time, so you may not. Be able to look at a, at a particular location and see that it's got green light in it unless you have a very practiced eye. So actually look in the surrounding area and see if you see anything that might be leading to a color cast in your image. >> Very good point. For the background what I've done, I've gone down to the local art supply store, and I've bought a sheet of foam core. The standard size sheet is 32 by 40 inches and that's really plenty, space for most anything you'll need to shoot.
This particular sheet I got is white on the front and then it's black on the back. The black may come in handy for other purposes and the price is about the same. If you've not worked with form core before, what it is, is it's two layers of light card stock. On each side, separated by a layer of foam. The advantage of this is it makes it extremely rigid it's not an expensive material at all. You should be able to find a sheet for under $10 at your local art supply place. And what I did is in the back, I took a razor knife and a straight-edge and I put a score A little bit over halfway down, and what I'm going to do is just bend it along that score and it creates a hinge.
By only cutting through the back side I've got a piece, and then I'm just going to lay it on the table out here and clamp it in place with a little A clamp just because if you don't want the wind to catch this and blow your product off if you're working on a windy day. You might want to secure both sides, but now I've got a stable shooting environment. You want this angle to be probably about 45 degrees will work well. The, the softer the angle is the less obvious the seam is going to be here and then just for the demonstration we've picked a, a little speaker set.
And the key in aligning product is you've gotta kind of look and think about what features you want to show off. Obviously, we want this in it's open or operating position so you can see it is a dock for the iPod, we do want to be able to, we want to take an angle where we'll be able to see the little power connection there. It also has a small remote control so we want to feature that as well. Typical angle, and this is where you can help yourself, if you go through the catalogs and look you'll usually see items displayed at a three quarter angle. Gives a sense of dimension and depth, also helps tell more of the story of the product.
So what I'm going to do is put this at about a three quarter angle here. I'm just going to lean the little remote up against the front edge, and the other thing I'm being careful to do is make sure all of the branding items show. In Motion is right there, the Altec Lansing brand is right here. You see that again on the remote. So all of those things are visible to you. And the other thing too, if you look at this you can see just as you observe it on camera there, how soft the light is. You can see the little speakers behind the grill. The even illumination.
And the one thing that helps is this white background actually kicks forward neutral light so you kind of create a, a tone neutral environment to do the photography. >> I know there are reflective surfaces on this glossy black part. Do I care what the nature of the reflection is? >> You can take control of that and part of it is you need to select an angle. Where we are, up high looking down on it, we're seeing the reflection of the white board right here. As you go lower It will start to reflect the environment around you. Exactly.
And that's something you have to make a decision, a simple fix for that is to get another piece of foam core and put a white card in front. And it's just a question of how far you want to take it. >> Is my goal here to eliminate reflection or do I want some in there to show the nature of that surface? That's kind of suggestive, subjective based on the product. In this case, you know, you've got this clean, polished, electronic piece and I think eliminating the reflection is probably the best thing. And so the, the simplest way to do it, if we use the board we already have in front and just move this farther back.
What that does is it leaves more white space in front of it. So I've got more clean area, and you can see how I can get a little bit farther down now without running into seeing the surrounding environment. >> Okay. >> Okay. So what I'll do now is take the camera, and whenever, whenever I'm shooting product, I always like to shoot in a normal to modest telephoto range. You want to avoid using a wide angle. Setting because you may get distortion, and you may not give a true representation of the product. >> Normal being the equivalent of a 50 millimeter lens. >> Exactly. >> So probably like a 50 to 70, or 80.
>> That's the range I like to work in, and if you've, you know, DX or FX chip that'll vary a little bit. >> Right >> But, you know, whatever is, is normal. The slight telephoto for your camera. Think of it almost like your, the same decisions you're making where you're doing portrait photography. It's quite similar. >> You're just trying to prevent geometric distortion of the. >> Exactly and the big thing is sometimes the wide angle will start to curve things. You'll get that your key stoning is really exaggerated and so i'm going to take an angle where I can try to fill in as much of the front with the, With the white re, white reflecting into the glossy black areas, I want to be able to once again see all the controls here we have.
I'm in program mode and I'm just going to trust my camera's light meter. I'm going to fill the frame. Okay, so I've taken one frame at what the recommended exposure is by the light. And I'm going to go ahead and bracket that just so when I get on the computer, if that's not perfect, I've got a couple other choices. And if you've not shot a bracket before. Essentially what you're doing is taking one exposure the way the camera tells you to. One that's overexposed by a stop and one that is underexposed by a stop. >> So this is a black object.
So typically my meter is going to render this a little bit lighter gray. So that's another reason to bracket. It's not just about overall elimination but to get the actual tones of the object Where they need to be. >> Exactly right. And, and the thing about defining black, you know, in, in, you want it to read as black, but it won't necessarily be the blackest black that the screen can reproduce because you want legibility in the product. >> Now, also, aren't you a little worried about depth of field? I want to be sure that everything's in focus and since we're at an angle. There could be some falloff.
>> There could be falloff when I was shooting I double checked in program mode and I was pulling F56 and I just, my bracket was shutter speed rather than aperture and at F56 it should pull sharp all the way through. If you're not sure you can get backup there focus and use your depth to field preview indicator. To double check focus. And sometimes on objects, you won't be able to carry depth of field through all of it, and if that's the case, I always make sure that the sharpest area of focus is on the features that I'm trying to sell.
>> Okay. >> So when I auto focused on this, rather than auto focusing on the center Out of focus on this corner here which brings the remote control into sharp focus as well as all the labeling controls here. That way if we do get a little soft on that back edge, it's not a deal breaker. >> And if you did want fold up the field, you could lock down on a tripod, close your aperture down and take a very long exposure to get that. >> Exactly, exactly. >> Right. Great let's go inside and take a look. I would expect we want to leave this set up in case, it turns out we don't, we don't like our. >> Assuming the neighborhood is safe.
>> Okay, alright I think we're pretty good. I hear nothing but wildlife around. >> Okay. >> Let's go see what we got.
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