Product photography can be a challenging but lucrative niche. But, it’s important to understand how to get the best product images that really accentuate the product you’re shooting while at the same time portraying it accurately.
There are a number of tricks the professionals use to really highlight product features, but they will tell you that it’s the camera settings that really make the difference.
Product Photography Camera Settings
In this post, we’ll talk about the 9 best camera settings for product photography, and also take a look at the gear you’ll need to properly photograph any product.
#1: Using Manual Mode
Do you know why you should always use manual mode? Shooting in manual mode is one of the fastest ways to improve your photography. It will allow you to set your preferred aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, the three settings known as the ‘exposure triangle.’
These settings allow you to control how dark or light your image is. When you set the camera to automatic mode, the camera makes that decision for you, and though you might think it is more convenient, it rarely gives you the perfect exposure. Rather, it gives you the camera’s best guess, and that’s why it’s better to shoot in manual mode if you want to get those settings just right.
#2: Shoot in Raw
The raw format is uncompressed and it doesn’t have any automatic adjustments. A raw file is processed at the highest image size possible in accordance with the size of your camera’s sensor.
It’s important to shoot in raw, because most of the time, you’ll be doing some post-production processing, and the raw format gives you the most flexibility with that. You can retouch the photo without losing any of the data, and it gives you a much broader spectrum of color, which is crucial for your images when they go to print.
Raw files are large, sometimes 20 MB or more, but they give you the highest quality. Just make sure you have large memory cards to accommodate the size of the images.
ISO stands for International Standards Organization, and it regulates the sensitivity of your camera sensor to the available light. When the number is low, it’s less sensitive, and that means you’ll need more time (i.e., a longer shutter speed) to take the shot. If you’re shooting in low light or you want to use a faster shutter speed, you’ll need to increase the ISO, but if you go too high, your images will have a lot of noise–that means they’ll have a grainy appearance.
ISO settings reflect split seconds and typically vary from 100 to 3200. ISO 100 means a full second, while ISO 3200 means 1/32 of a second. For product photography, you’ll want to use the lowest ISO setting possible. So, you should set up your scene, and then begin with the lowest ISO and gradually increase it until the product is properly lit.
If you’re working with direct natural light, an ISO setting of 200 – 800 will likely work well. The higher your ISO setting, the faster your shutter speed, which will help you compensate for narrow apertures (f/5.6 and higher) and avoid noise–that grainy appearance–in the image. But, with optimal lighting conditions, an ISO of 50 – 400 will work well until around 4 o’clock in the afternoon. After that, the lower light conditions may force you to use a higher ISO setting. Of course, if you’re working with artificial light, that will change the ISO requirements, giving you more control over the settings.
The aperture is the opening in your camera that allows light in. The wider the aperture, the greater the amount of light that comes in, and the narrower the aperture, the less amount of light allowed in. It functions similarly to the pupil of your eye.
The size of the aperture opening is measured in f-stops. And, the smaller the number, the larger the aperture. So, f/1.8 is a larger aperture opening than f/11, and that means more light is getting with f/1.8 than with f/11. Furthermore, the aperture is linked to the depth of field. Depth of field refers to the area of the scene that is well-focused.
A shallow depth of field means that a small area is in focus. For example, the subject might be in focus, but the background is blurred. You see this frequently in portraits. A deep depth of field means that a larger area of the scene is in focus. This is something seen in landscape photography.
The relationship of depth of field to aperture is that a narrower aperture opening (a higher f-stop number) will produce a deeper depth of field. A wider aperture (smaller f-stop number) will produce a shallower depth of field.. A wide aperture (small f-stop number) and shallow depth of field will mean that there is likely to be some blur in the image, usually the background. A narrow aperture (larger f-stop number) and deeper depth of field will capture more of the scene in focus.
For product photography, if you have a white or plain background, you can usually use anywhere from f/4.5 to f/7.1 for your aperture setting. This will enable you to isolate the subject and have it in sharp focus so that the product details are clear. If you’re in a situation where you don’t have a plain background and you’ll need to isolate the subject from the surrounding elements, then a wider aperture (f/2.8 or lower) will help blur everything that’s not within the area you focused on.
The aperture setting is also related to shutter speed and ISO. If you have a higher f-stop (narrower aperture), that means not as much light is entering the camera, and you’ll have to compensate for that with a slower shutter speed and higher ISO in order to maintain the same brightness in the image.
#5: Shutter Speed
Shutter speed indicates how fast the shutter opens and closes. The value is represented in ‘stops’ of light and measured in fractions of a second. Higher shutter speeds can help to freeze a subject while slower shutter speeds can result in motion blur.
With product photography, you’re typically not dealing with motion, so you can use a lower shutter speed. This is helpful since you’re usually using a narrower aperture setting (higher f-stop number), which results in less light entering the camera. If you have less light, you’ll need a slower shutter speed to get a sharp image. But, with a lower shutter speed, you’ll definitely want to use your tripod and also a shutter release cable, since even the slight vibration caused by pressing the shutter could create camera shake.
#6: White Balance
To ensure that the whites and colors in your product photos are rendered correctly, you’ll need to set the white balance. This will help to avoid color casts in the white areas of your photos and that the colors in the photo are true to what you eyes see. For example, with product photos shot in natural light, you can get a blue hue to the white areas.
There are a couple of ways you can adjust the white balance. Many cameras have an “Auto” white balance setting, and that often works fine. The camera examines the scene and chooses a color temperature it thinks will work best. But, your camera can get confused if the scene doesn’t contain colors that are white or close to white, if the scene contains one color, or if the scene is illuminated by multiple light sources with different color temperatures. In those cases, you’ll need to adjust the white balance.
One way you can adjust it yourself is to select a white balance preset. Your camera will have preset white balance settings for, for example, incandescent lighting (usually represented by a lightbulb icon), fluorescent lighting (a fluorescent tube icon), daylight (sun icon), flash (jagged arrow icon), cloudy (a cloud icon), and shade (a house icon with a shade on one side). These presets can be found in your camera’s menus system and they’re usually designed by a dedicated button labeled “WB.” These presets typically work well, unless you have a complex lighting scenario with multiple sources. Then, you’ll have to adjust the white balance manually.
To set the white balance manually, you’ll usually take a picture of something white or mid-gray in the same light that is illuminating your product. Then, you simply tell the camera to use that image to set the white balance. You do that by choosing “Custom WB” from the menu and pressing the set button. Then when the camera shows you the last photo you took, select that by pressing “SET.”
#7: Automatic Full Focus
Since we’ve just said to use manual mode, this might seem counter-intuitive, but this setting is best for product photography. The reason is that manual focus can be touchy–if you’re off by just a fraction, it can really mess up the focus in your product photos. And, for product photography, you want everything to be in sharp focus so you can portray the product accurately to the consumer. By using automatic focus, you can have your camera lock focus on the subject, and that will result in sharp product photos.
#8: No Flash
If you have to use artificial for the product, then you’ll want a continuous light rather than a flash. Flash lighting introduces certain challenges for exposure–it often creates uneven and hard lighting on the product. If it’s absolutely a must and you know what you’re doing, it should be off-camera flash equipment rather than the on-camera flash. If you can avoid using a flash, that’s best.
#9: Zoom In
Cameras usually have two zoom choices: optical and digital. Avoid using the digital zoom because it’s really just creating a zoom effect by cropping the image, and that results in a lower image quality. When using the optical zoom, zoom in as far as you can without going digital. A longer zoom removes distortion caused by a wide angle lens. This can be a common issue for some camera lenses and particularly for smartphone lenses, which are typically very wide.
These nine camera settings for product photography will help you take your product photography to the next level by helping you capture great product images. Using the appropriate exposure settings–aperture, ISO, and shutter speed–shooting in raw, using manual mode, choosing automatic focus, bypassing a flash, and zooming in will help you illuminate, in sharp detail, the product you’re shooting.
How to avoid glare on products?
Glare results from light hitting a reflective surface, like sunglasses or jewelry. It can also be caused by windows. To reduce glare in your images, make sure your studio has white walls, use a continuous light source, and use a diffuser that spreads the light out across a surface. You can also change the angle so that your camera is further away from the angle of reflection. And, if your background is not white, you can move the product further away from the background. All of these tips will help reduce glare.
How to avoid blurring products?
There are several considerations for avoiding blurry products in your images. The first is to avoid any camera shake by using a tripod and a shutter release cable. Even minimal movement can blur the image. The other is to make sure your f-stop or aperture setting is appropriate for the lighting conditions. A higher f-stop number (narrower aperture) creates a deeper depth of field and that brings more of the scene into focus.
How to get the best light for taking product photos?
Natural light for product photography lighting is one option, but of course you have less control over it. If you’re using light from a window, try using a diffuser like muslin cloth to make it less harsh and have it illuminate the product evenly. If you’re using artificial light, you’ll want two softbox light setups. You’ll use one as your key light and the second will be used a fill light. You can also use bounce cards to direct the light into areas of deeper shadows.
Product Photography Gear
For product photography, you’ll want the following gear to get the best images:
- Camera and lens–of course, but it doesn’t have to be a top of the line product photography camera. It’s even possible to get good product photography images with your smartphone. Your camera should, however, have the ability to shoot in manual mode, and you’ll want a lens that can zoom in on the product. The Nikon D7200 and the Canon EOS Rebel T7i are two popular cameras for product photography.
- Tripod–With product photography, you’ll be setting your camera to a small aperture in order to have a greater depth of field. It’s the width of the depth of field that defines the area of focus, but a small aperture requires a slower shutter speed to allow more light in, and a slow shutter speed makes it hard for you to get good images of your product if you’re holding the camera in your hand. Therefore, you’ll need a tripod to help you avoid camera shake when using a slower shutter speed. Luckily, you don’t have to spend a lot of money for that. You can buy a good tripod for under $30.
- White background–with product photography you really want the focus to be on the product and not anything in the background. Therefore, most of the time, you’ll want a white background. You can create a white background very easily. You can go to your local drugstore and buy a poster board, you can use a paper “sweep” as the background is called, or you can buy a sweep from Amazon. It’s inexpensive and you’ll use it often.
- White bounce cards–these are essential for product photography, and can be made of foam board. That will work fine to reflect light into areas of deep shadows. You may need to arrange several around your product so that the lighting appears even.
- Table–a 24 to 27 inch wide folding table works best for setting up your product photography scene.
- Tape–you’ll want this to secure your sweep. You could also use clamps, but tape can come in handy for other reasons, such as securing your product how you want it in the scene.
- Room with a window–if you’ve got a window, that gives you the flexibility of using the natural light, and you can use muslin cloth to diffuse the light coming in to it illuminates your product with soft, even light.
By procuring the right gear, including a tripod, a white sweep, a table, some tape, white bounce cards, and the right room with a window for natural lighting, you’ll be taking great product images for your clients. You’ll capture clear images that accurately portray the product to potential customers. And, that will impress your client. It will help you quickly get ahead in the lucrative field of product photography.