Apartment Photo Studio
Designing products, programming CNC routers, and sanding complex curves is a lot of work. When everything is said and done, I have some nice work that I am proud of. “I made something! I’m done! Time for a beer!”
As it turns out, I’m not done yet, but at least I can have a beer as I transform my living room in to a photo studio.
The first step to getting a decent photo setup is your backdrop. I use some nice big illustration board I found at my local art supply store. I put one sheet on my coffee table and hang the other sheet as a backdrop from my dining room chairs and some planks of wood. I leave a gap in between the bottom sheet and the backdrop. This gives me a horizon line in the background of the images. You can also get a long sheet of white Formica if you want the seamless, curved cyclorama look, but that’s pretty expensive.
The next step is to light your scene. Try to reduce ambient light as much as possible, so close the shades and turn off the lights. Then add your own lighting. I use some cheap construction light fixtures from the hardware store with some 300W bulbs in them. The hardest part of the whole process is figuring out where to point your lights. Sometimes pointing them right at the scene works, other times I have to bounce light off the ceiling or use a thin piece of printer paper to diffuse the light.
One trick I discovered recently is to tape a piece of heavyweight paper along the rim of one of the lights. This lets me control diffuse light a little better.
Camera, Lens & Tripod
If you want to take good pictures you’re going to need a halfway decent camera. At the very least it should have full manual controls and be able to shoot in raw. I use a Canon T2i, which gives me awesome images and very respectable HD video. You’re also going to want a zoom lens. Wide angle lenses are nice for some things, but they distort the look of product shots. For example, furniture is shot with a lens length around 200mm. This closely replicates the perspective we see with our eyes, and makes the product look more natural. Shooting at 200+ mm is not possible in my small living room, so I just used the longest lens length I could with the space I had.
You are also going to need a decent tripod. you’re going to spend plenty of time adjusting the product and the lighting and the camera settings, so the last thing you want to do is have to re-frame your shots every time you make an adjustment.
Frame, shoot, adjust, repeat. This isn’t a post about how to use a camera and it’s challenging to give any straightforward advice other than to experiment and take lots of pictures. I might take 10 shots of one view of a product, and take 10 different views. From this I may pull out 5 images that I’ll actually use.
One tip when shooting on a white background is to make sure your product is properly exposed. You’re camera’s exposure meter is going to go haywire with all the bright white in the scene, so you have to rely on what you think looks good. Remember, if you’re shooting in RAW there’s plenty of dynamic range in the files for you to save yourself from some pretty big mistakes in post. If you’re unsure about the exposure, aim for slightly underexposed. It’s easier to rescue detail from underexposed raw files than it is to deal with a blown out image. You can always go for that overexposed look in post, just give yourself some flexibility.
Aside from lighting, post is the next most challenging part of my process. It’s also another thing that would take ages to explain properly. I use Lightroom for the most part and Photoshop when I need extra horsepower. Lightroom makes it easy to organize your shoot and short through your pile of pictures to find the best ones.
If you got your exposure right on the camera there’s not much to do aside from adjusting your white balance and making other minor adjustments. My most common tool is using the adjustment brush to mask the background. This lets me bump the exposure and decrease saturation of the background only. This gives a nice pure-white look to the background and allows me to compensate for any lighting mistakes I made (unsightly shadows, mostly).