I always find it baffling when browsing eBay or even sometimes a “proper” eCommerce website and I find photography that doesn’t sell the product it is advertising. There really is no excuse for noisy, blurry product photos in my opinion.
But then I would say that, I’m a photographer, it’s easy for me to take good product pictures with my fancy expensive cameras, lighting and whatnot. Well, I’m not going to lie, all that gear does make it easy… But the trick is not having the gear, it’s knowing what to do with it! And actually, a good photographer – as the adage goes – can take good a photo with almost any camera and related equipment.
Whilst modesty prevents me from proclaiming my greatness a photographer, my chosen career path as a photographer (before the inception of F8) should, at very least, say something about my technical ability. And that technical ability allows me to take a good photo – including fairly technical photos such as product images – with pretty much any camera; the iPhone camera included.
But not only can I perform this feat of near miracle, I’m going to show you how! But do not fear – believe it or not – it’s actually a very simple thing to do when you know how!
Alongside an iPhone (or quite possibly any other type of smart phone) you will need this seemingly disparate collection of mostly household things.
- A sheet of white paper
- Blob of blu-tak
- A large book, preferably white
- A cloth, preferably black
- A set of earphones (with volume control)
- A mini camera tripod
- Tripod clamp for iPhone
Step 1 – Location
A table in the corner of a room by a window that lets in a reasonable amount of light. Preferably out of direct line of the sun – I’ll show you why sunlight is a pain in a moment
Step 2 – The infinity curve
If you have ever seen inside a photography studio you may have seen a large roll of paper hanging down from a bracket thus creating a curve down to the floor. This curve of paper creates a seamless edge from wall to floor. It is this that allows a photographer to take photos of a subject that appear to be in front of an infinite background i.e. an “Infinity curve”.
To achieve this is the comfort of you own home, simply blu-tak one edge of the paper to the wall and one to the table to create your mini photography studio.
Step 3 – Setting up the shot.
Firstly you will need to place your product into your mini studio. Ideally at an angle so it faces the light coming through the window. Don’t forget to give it a wipe with the cloth to remove any dust or bits of fluff.
Next, set up your mini-tripod/camera support and phone bracket.
My set up is actually made of a camera support intended for suction-cup-attachment of a camera to the outside of a car. I use it because it is very stable and allows me to position the camera close to the surface of the table without tripod legs getting in the way. The bracket is part of a iPhone steady cam kit I got off eBay, nothing particularly special, it just happens to be the only thing I have big enough for the iPhone 6 plus.
There are a lot of options for iPhone supports out there, this Joby looks to be pretty good, but to be honest, in these circumstances, even a large blob of blu-tak would work just fine.
You will want to make sure that the iPhone is facing the front of the product, but doesn’t block the direction of the light or cause any strong shadows on the subject.
Step 4 – Framing.
You will notice I have set the iPhone to take a square photo, there are a few reasons for that. The first is that most websites, eBay, eCommerce shops etc. are geared up for square photos. So take the photo square and you won’t have to crop it later.
Secondly, the lens on the iPhone is a 28mm equivalent lens i.e. a wide angle lens. In short, this means that if you fill the frame with your product it will look distorted, unnatural and the wrong shape. Since product photography is (in this case at least) about showing the product as close to real life as possible, we don’t want it appearing distorted. Cropping the frame in camera to square and only framing within this square will prevent the distorted look from happening.
Step 5 – Taking the photo.
Give your product a final wipe to clean any remaining dust or fluff off it (I didn’t do a very good job of this – must try harder!).
Attach the headphones to the camera.
I can almost hear your exclamations of confusion at this – No I haven’t gone mad, and I’m not going to suggest that listening to music helps your creativity (though I wouldn’t rule it out).
The headphone cable of a pair of iPhone headphones actually doubles up as – what in the world of photography – we call a “cable release”. In short, press the volume up button when in the native camera app and it will take a photo without you having to actually touch the camera. This is a good thing, as it completely removes any possibility of introducing camera shake, which is one of the key issues in crappy iPhone photos.
Step 6 – Take a photo.
Once you have set yourself up, it is time take a photo.
One of the keys to good photography is harnessing or controlling the light. At first glance the above photo might look ok. But if you look at the front of the viewfinder – the bit above the lens cover – you will see a reflection. Now admittedly, in this case, the reflection isn’t actually that detrimental to the image, but reflections like this one can cause serious problems. I’ve seen even professionally taken photos where it is easy to see window shapes or even sometimes photographers faces reflected in surfaces. Not good enough; especially when it is such an easy problem to solve.
The solution is to block – not all – but some of the light that is reflecting off the subject, more specifically the light reflecting off the reflective problem part of the subject. And that is where my big white book comes in handy. It’s white because any other colour might introduce coloured reflections in the image. If you dont have a white book, try blutacking a piece of white copy paper to the front cover.
Or if white causes bright reflections where a dark one works better, you can drape your black cloth over your book.
Hey presto, reflections gone.
Before I come to the next step of this guide, I mentioned at the beginning of the post about avoiding direct sunlight. The reason for this can be seen in the photo below. On a cloudy day, the clouds act as a large diffuser of the light. This softens it to create an even, less harsh light. Direct sunlight has the potential to cause all sorts of issues, one of which I have demonstrated below.
Step 7 – Detail shots
Another frustration when looking at a product on ebay or a website is when I can’t see the product I am looking at from any other angle, or can’t see an important detail of it.
This is where the camera and shutter release really come in handy. With one hand on the shutter/volume up button, the subject can be held closer to the camera with the other. Paying close attention to keeping fingers out of the shot, move the subject around in the frame until the important detail is well framed.
Since I was using both hands, I had Alex lean over my shoulder to capture me in action. Here you can see me taking a second detail shot.
Now you might be thinking that these photos – whilst ok – look a little bit dark …. And you would be right! But I haven’t finished with them yet!
In my next tutorial I will show you how to brighten them up and get them ready for for ebay or your eCommerce shop using nothing more than the camera software that now comes as standard on the iPhone! I will show you how to turn that slightly dark photo into a brighter, but still accurate photo like this:
You can find that tutorial – iPhone Studio Photo Processing using the Native “Camera” App – here
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All sound like too much hard work? Well don’t forget, here at F8 we do this “properly” with “proper” equipment and get results that really show of your products in the best possible light. You can find examples of our product photography along side examples of other photography services we offer here, and if you would like to talk to us about what we can offer you, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch!