Let’s Learn Product Photography Together

Photo by Scott Bourne

(NOTE: This is a long post, just wanted to warn you. But heck, you aren’t going anywhere so why not read it?)

Okay, I am sitting here in my home studio, running out of things to photograph. As a bird photographer, I heavily rely on travel to distant places to match up with avian migration patterns, breeding behavior, etc.

Thanks to the coronavirus, I am one of hundreds of millions around the world under a stay-at-home order. So no travel for me.

Washington state was hard hit very early in the outbreak and thankfully our governor got ahead of it and ordered all non-essential businesses to shutter. He closed schools and basically said, stay home unless you are going to a doctor, a pharmacy or to get food. This has led to a flattening of the curve and hopefully we will be one of the first to get back to normal since we were one of the first to quarantine. But in the mean time, like you, I am stuck at home.

Since the only birds who frequent my home with any regularity here on the Kitsap Peninsula are hummingbirds, I’ll be photographing hummingbirds. Mind you, I enjoy photographing hummingbirds but where I live, we see only two different species during the year. (Anna’s Hummingbird which is a full-time resident, and Rufous hummingbird which is a summer visitor while migrating.) Compared to the seven or eight species I commonly see in Arizona, this leaves me wanting more.

So, I have decided to build out a corner of my home studio as a product studio so I can do both lay-flat and standard product shots. This will keep my photographic mind busy for a while and for that I am grateful.

The problem is, I don’t have much experience as a product photographer and prior to this month, no experience doing serious lay-flat work. I have been thinking back, and I can name all five times I was paid during my career to do product shots. They were mostly years ago before I specialized in birds, and none of them were remarkable.

I am essentially starting from scratch here but I want to become a competent product/lay-flat photographer.

Photo by Scott Bourne

Fortunately, light is light and composition is composition. That means I have a leg-up on someone who is just starting out in photography because they need to learn those things first. I have that covered. But from there on, I am just a newbie.

If you’ve read this far, you may have a hint of what’s coming. I want to invite you to learn product photography with me. Perhaps even YOU teach ME! I have a constant, unquenchable thirst, for knowledge and am always happy to learn something new. Over the course of my time behind the lens, I’ve managed to learn how to teach photography. This came to me as a happy accident. I know that if I know one more thing than my student, I can be a successful teacher. That means I can start this journey with some basic advice that relates to things like light, shadow, composition, gear, etc.

I’ve spent the last three weeks doing some test shots and building the studio. If you want to tag along and leave comments on my posts, that would be great. If you have suggestions for products I should photograph or tricks that you personally have learned, even better.

Since I don’t ever do anything half-way, I have spent way too much money on gear already. I will share my experiences here and I do not expect any of you reading this to do the same. I just cannot help myself. (Two very dangerous things have happened since I have been stuck at home. I started cooking and I figured out that the UPS guy is still considered an “essential” employee while we’re on lockdown. He’s been visiting my house about three times a week lately!)

Photo by Scott Bourne

You can do product photography with very little in the way of props. A white or black piece of paper and a window light or even a Home Depot garage lamp will do wonders. I’m not that creative and I get many idea from the gear and the backdrops I buy. Your mileage may vary.

My first serious shots appear with this post. I photographed Olympus glass, both as lay-flat and a straight on, eye-level shot. I wanted super skinny depth-of-field on the eye-level shot, so I got as close as I could and opened up. I added a little help in post. I just wanted the name OLYMPUS to be sharp.

I have also attached a picture of my little product studio. Below you will find a list of my gear.

Before I close, I will offer the first tip I’ve learned and it’s an important one. Before photographing products or food make sure that the background is clean and free of dust and lint. Also make sure that the subject is free of dust and lint. I don’t used compressed air because it’s bad for the environment and it’s possible it will leave stains from the accelerants used in the process. Instead I bought a Compucleaner 2.0 High Pressure Air Duster and I use it all the time on all my electronics, cameras, computers and now product photography.

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So next steps? What should I photograph? What tricks or tips have you picked up doing this kind of photography? Let me know.


Photo by Scott Bourne

Product/Lay-Flat Studio Gear List

NOTE: Some of this stuff I had laying around and some of it I only recently acquired. I have actually tried some other gear that I didn’t think worked so well and am only listing here the things I actually have been using.

CAMERAS/LENSES

I happen to be an Olympus Visionary and I use a combination of Olympus OM-D cameras, including the OM-D E-M1X and the OM-D E-M1MKIII along with the M.Zuiko prime lenses which include the 17mm f/1.2, the 25mm f/1.2 and the 45mm f/1.2 Pro Lenses along with the 60mm Macro, and the 12-100 f/4 IS Pro Lens. I own more lenses than I list here but these are the lenses I use most often in my product/lay-flat studio. (NOTE: The Olympus OM-D cameras use Micro Four Thirds sensors so double the focal length of the lenses I list to get the equivalent focal length, i.e., 25mm has same field of view of a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera, the 45mm lens has the EFL of the 90mm full-frame lens, etc.

LIGHTS

Intellytech Pocket Cannon Fresnel Lens Kit (Two Lights)

This kit is impressive. The lights themselves are probably the sturdiest lights I have ever seen from any manufacturer. Literally built like a tank. I use these two lights for creative applications, mostly when I want to put light on a specific spot or make it a certain color.

Dracast S-Series LED500 Plus Daylight LED 3-Light Kit with NP-F Battery Plates
Three flat-panel LED displays that come with diffusion and barn doors and three light stands.

CAMERA SUPPORTS

Robus RC-5570 Vantage Series 3
This is a beefy tripod that can handle anything I throw at it. I use this for stills work.

Magnus REX VT-6000 2-Stage Video Tripod. This is my video tripod and it’s great because it’s affordable and has a fluid head.

Platypod Ultra
Replaces a tripod in many situations and can be rigged to go or hang just about anywhere

Edelkrone FlexTILT Head 2 Pan/Tilt Camera Head
Good for lay-flat photography and also good for video

Benro B2 Double Action Ball Head
An affordable ball head for holding the camera on a tripod.

Glide Gear OH 75 Overhead Portable Pole Rig
This mounts to an old backdrop stand I had laying around and it allows me to hang not only the camera directly overhead of the shooting table, but it allows me to mount mic, lights, monitors, etc. Since I am using this for my new video setup (making unboxing videos) the extra functionality helps a lot.

Edelkrone SliderONE v2
I use this slider when making videos at the product table.

LIGHT SUPPORTS

Matthews 40 Inch Century Stand with Sliding Leg, Grip Head, Arm, Plus Knuckles (2)
Hold lights, reflectors, scrims, whatever you can think of – probably nicer and sturdier than what I need but I already had them so I started using them.

MONITOR

Lilliput A7S 7″ Full HD Monitor w/ 4K Support

When I shoot video on the lay-flat studio I use this monitor just to get a better view of the scene – at seven inches it offers better viewing angles and it’s not expensive. I hang it from the lay-flat cross bar.

BACKGROUNDS

Replica Surfaces 2×2′ Hyper-realistic photography backgrounds (https://www.replicasurfaces.com)

I have:

Seafoam
Beechwood
Slate
Sandstone
White Marble
Weathered Wood
Cement
Shiplap
Vintage Wood
Butcher’s Block

Have the Replica Surfaces mounts that allow two of these to be hooked together to form a background and a lay-flat surface that go together.

MISC

Watson AC Power Extension Cords (2)
C-47 Production Clips (Black – 24 pack)

Oben 3/8″-16 to 1/4″-20 Reducer Bushings (2)
Helps adapt different size tripod/ballhead/tripod mounts

Trademark Home Folding Stool – Heavy Duty 18-Inch Collapsible Padded Round Stool (Trademark Home Folding Stool – Heavy Duty 18-Inch Collapsible Padded Round Stool)
It helps to be able to sit down sometimes

Cardboard Folding Reflector Black Silver White (Can add a fill light or even be used as a scrim)

I also have numerous props I purchased on Amazon (Things like rocks, wood, sticks, fake diamonds, etc,) a couple of white balancing tools, an old computer desk (4′ by 2.5′ draped with a black cloth,) camera and lens plates, and misc STUFF that I won’t bother to list but I am sure most of you have a lot of the same stuff.


Picture Methods has partnered with Hunt’s Photo & Video to bring you the best gear at a competitive price and backed by personal service. Call Alan Samiljan at 781-462-2383 or Noah Buchanan at 781.462.2356. If you cannot reach either one try Gary Farber at 781-462-2332. You will ALWAYS get the best prices if you call the store v. Using the web site. You can also email Noah at: nbuchanan@huntsphoto.com or Alan at alansamhunts@gmail.com or Gary at: gfarber@huntsphoto.com. Hunt’s has been around a long time and you can trust them. Make sure to mention that Scott Bourne sent you. That will get you the best deal.