PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

Product photography is something necessary in my world.  I own an eco-friendly vintage/retro shop, ELEVEN26, and I literally wear all the hats- including product photographer.  As a designer, I taught myself photography because it’s sort of a requirement, as are many skills you’re not often taught as a designer, but for me product photography became a mission.  So, here are few tips I’ve learned along the way, and I hope they’ll help anyone needing/wanting to dive into product photography.

Natural Light

I love natural light.  If I had my preference it’d be natural light all the way.  Unfortunately, we live in a world of many lights, and sometimes the natural light doesn’t work well.  When there’s a perfectly sunny day, and all the elements come together correctly, I’d much prefer natural light when shooting any type of product.  For those times when the clouds impede the use of natural light, I do have some great recommendations that help me along the way.

Table Top Photo Box

This is a lifesaver for those smaller objects that need a crisp background and some height.  I often use my TTPB when shooting jewelry, kitchen items, and other various smalls.  Instead of having to bring out the big guns (backdrops), I just easily set up my TTPB and I’m ready to go.  I love the ease of this box, and that it just folds up simply into a neat little portfolio.  It also comes with various backdrops (white, black, blue, and red) which for editing are amazing.  I often usually only use the white backdrop, but the others have come in handy for editing.

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Light Ring

I ♥ my light ring.  Do you hear me world!?  I LOVE MY LIGHT RING!  OK, that might be a bit dramatic, but I really do find my light ring to be very helpful.  It’s especially helpful when I’m doing some sort of unconventional shoot where I need a lot of light focused on a particular item.  It helps deliver a nice amount of light (and you can adjust the amount of light, the direction of light, etc) directly to an item.  I often use this when I’m doing a staged shoot where the lighting might not be ideal.  Basically with this you just have to make the call on whether it will deliver good light or not for a specific shoot.  Give it a try, experiment, and be ready to fall (sometimes) in love with the light ring!

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Photography Umbrella

Another lifesaver for me is the umbrella.  The possibilities are endless when it comes to using an umbrella.  They can help soften and diffuse the light when nothing else seems to work.  I often use my umbrella attached to my light stand, but sometimes I play around with direction (and even holding the umbrella in just the right area).  I can’t imagine not having this bad boy on my side, so I would suggest adding it to your photography arsenal.

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Well, I hope this helps all the budding product photographers out there, and gives you some basic direction on what items will help you in your pursuit of product photography.  These items are all great staples for any photography, but I just know for product photography they’ve all save my booty on more than one occassion.  Photography is about playing with the elements, adjusting and fine tuning those elements, and getting the best outcome you desire.

Enjoy!

Sarah McMahon Modern Southerner

Kelly Moore B-Hobo Bag Review

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Kelly Moore Bags are all the rage in the photography world right now. Izzy thinks they're pretty stylish!  Not many companies make stylish and functional camera bags, so why wouldn't they be popular?  Photography is such a "trendy" field to be involved in, so it's nice to have a few options when contemplating your camera bag.  I have been using a medium sized Lowepro bag over the last few years, and I was ready to transition into something a little bit less black and boring.  I still use it for storing extra equipment and for when I need some extra weather protection, but the Kelly Moore B-Hobo bag is now my full-time sidekick when shooting.  I researched bags for weeks before I made my final decision.  Here are some thoughts about the bag if you're contemplating the purchase.

{The Bag} The bag is super cute in terms of the design.  I absolutely love the Turquoise color, and it is semi-consistent with some of my branding.  Honestly, it was one of the reasons I chose the B-Hobo; I hadn't seen any other comparable turquoise bags.  I would say the Turquoise was a little bit darker/greener than I expected, but I have been really happy with it.  The front has a magnetic buckle which is not extremely strong, but does the job to stay closed when you leave the top zipper open.  Also, the bag stands on it's own which is wonderful.  You can tell it's well built in that sense.  There is also an extra strap included, which I anticipate using when I bring this to the next wedding I shoot.  It is light enough to use as a larger purse, but I wouldn't want it to be on my shoulder all day (i.e. walking 10 miles around Paris).  I would say it is extremely useful to use as a daily bag if you won't be on your feet too much.

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{What Fits?} The  B-Hobo has 4 sections for camera equipment, and one section for an Ipad or Tablet.  There are technically 3 dividers which can be easily moved with the built in Velcro system.  I love the purple inside!  You can comfortably fit around 2 lenses (the 70-200 mm is a little tight bit still fits), a flash or water bottle, and your camera body and lens (small lens like a 50 mm).  I don't think there is enough room to fit your battery grip with this particular layout, but if you removed a section I believe you could.  The tablet section is pretty small, meaning there is no way you would get a laptop in there and it was definitely built for tablets.  Overall, if you were shooting a wedding without any external equipment, I think it would do fine if you're not a crazy lens changer.  I stick to the 50 mm prime for most of the day, and use my 70-200 for the ceremony and some portraits, and then take out the Macro and Wide Angle for very few photos.  I would probably switch out the telephoto for the Macro after the ceremony to make everything fit.

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{The Pockets} Excuse the dog hair in the pictures; life of living with a Lab! The bag has a good number of pockets.  You can fit credit cards, memory cards, ChapStick, business cards, and few more smaller items.  I wish the bag had the card wallet pouch that some of the other Kelly Moore bags have because sometimes it feels like you're fishing for memory cards, but if you keep them in one go-to pocket it seems to work fine.  The pockets don't have a ton of room to put any large items in, but it forces you to pack light which is essential for when you're on the go.  I do wish there was a tiny bit more room though because it does kind of feel like I have to squeeze my hand in to get out what I need at times. There is also an extra cell phone pocket on the side, which works well if you have a small cell phone case on.  It is a snug fit, but gets the job done. You could also fit granola bars and some other small snacks in the pocket.

{Conclusion} The bag is overall great.  It does exactly what it is supposed to do, and is not too big and not too small. You can fit pretty much all the camera equipment you need in it for a simple shoot and/or would be a great primary bag for use on a wedding day.  I want more of Kelly's bags, including the Songbird and Libby.  Maybe sometime in the future :).

Shooting in Manual: Breaking the Automatic Bond

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When I first started to get into photography, I only shot in auto mode.  That’s what you do when you are not familiar with the power of your camera.  It’s a time where you start to experiment and get comfortable using a DSLR, and are amazed that you can take these amazing photos with your 18-55 mm kit lens.  The image quality is good, and you start to develop an “eye” for great images.  All photographers go through this stage. Auto mode gives you a real taste of what you can do with your camera, and  when you become addicted to learning as much as you can, that is when you will make the most improvements.  There is no shame in shooting in auto mode; heck I still really like some of my images from those days.  However, when I started to learn how to shoot in Manual mode, the quality of my photos greatly increased (as well as purchasing some higher quality lenses).  Here are the basics of shooting in manual, hopefully, in laymen’s terms.

Nikon-Viewfinder

{Light Meter} This helps you determine what you need to adjust in your manual camera settings in order to have proper exposure (i.e. not too dark, not too light).   If you look into your camera and press the shutter half way down as if you were focusing, these images will appear in your viewfinder.  You want your exposure to be at the “0” mark, or slightly higher or lower by a notch or two.  If it doesn't show up on the scale, you will notice in the viewfinder whether you are way over or under exposed, and will need to make the appropriate adjustments with your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

{Shutter Speed} This determines how long the shutter is open for, which basically equates to how much light you are allowing into the photo.  Long shutter speeds (1/20) are usually only used when you have your camera on a tri-pod and don’t anticipate any movement from the subject. Quick shutter speeds (1/2000) are used for sports photography or where you need to capture something in action. You can also modify how light and dark your photos are.  If your image is overexposed, you can bring your shutter speed down (i.e. 1/2000) which would darken the image, or if it is underexposed you can bring it up (I.e. 1/20) which would allow more light into the picture.  I rarely have my shutter speed that high or low, and normally stay with the 1/160 (minimum to reduce camera shake)-1/800 range;  1/160 for low light or poorly lit areas, and 1/800 for bright, sunny days. However, sometimes you need to max out your shutter if it is really bright outside and you want to keep your depth of field where it is.

{Aperture/F-Stop } This determines how wide open your lens is.  When you buy a lens, there are numbers written on the side with your aperture settings. On the Canon 18-55 mm lens, the aperture is f/3.5-5.6.  This lens is “wide open” at 3.5 where it lets the most light in, and maxed out at 5.6, which keeps light out.  Within these bounds, when you’re “wide open” you can only focus on a small portion of the subject, versus when your at your maximum aperture, you can keep the entire subject in focus.   You want to be at your minimum aperture setting (3.5) when you are shooting in low light and want good Bokeh (blurry background behind your subject), and your maximum when you’re shooting in bright light and are capturing a group photo (so everyone will stay in focus).  This is where the quality of your lens can make a difference, and buying lens with apertures as low as 1.2 is ideal for both artistic and adaptability reasons.

{ISO} Your ISO setting determines how sensitive you want your light sensor to be.  You want a very low ISO setting (100), and only increase it when you have to (Last setting to adjust and only if needed).  If you can’t do much to adjust your shutter speed and aperture, then you may have to resort to using your ISO to properly expose your photo.  When using a lower grade DSLR, you will notice a significant deterioration in your images (noise-aka grainy photos) when you pass the 600-800 ISO mark.  High quality DSLRs, however, can go up to an ISO of  6400+ without showing much noise (around 32000ish is the max I like to go though and prefer not to even go that high).  The Canon 5D Mark III has max ISO settings of 102,400,  where the Canon Rebel T1i has max ISO settings of 12,800.  You can only imagine how much their performance differs in lowlight settings.

{Tip} I recommend shooting in RAW format, which lets you adjust all of those settings manually on your computer after the fact if you messed up the picture a bit.  RAW format basically stores all of the information from the image, instead of compressing it like a JPEG would do. It does take up more memory card storage.

This post doesn’t cover every manual setting, however, it does detail what I would consider to be the most important settings.  You can also manually adjust your white balance, focus points, or shoot in shutter priority or aperture priority mode which can help breakdown the learning curve of adjusting your shutter speed or aperture settings.   I will cover all of these at a later point in time.  This guide should get you started, and through some experimentation with your camera, you will begin to tell a huge difference in your photos.  Just remember, Practice, Practice, Practice!