When businesses, from one-employee garage shops to large corporations, want to publicize something, they often rely on photographs. Often, though, the photos look awful. I have seen a yellow-colored product photographed against a yellow background, products covered with shadows that obscure details, devices photographed with no dimensional reference (ruler, coin, and so on), and items photographed on a reflective surface. Perhaps in the latter case, the company thought people would like a mirror image of the product, too.
A photograph can make or break a new product introduction or a business proposal, but people continue to underappreciate the need for good images. An interesting book, Tabletop Photography by Cyrill Harnischmacher, will help people with little photography experience, as well as photographic experts, learn how to create good product images. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a good photo must have a value many times that number. Photographs can show things a 3D CAD drawing, schematic diagram, or code listing cannot. This book will help you quickly improve your photography skills. And low-cost digital cameras and equipment make experimentation easy and fast.
Harnischmacher starts with basic topics such as lights, lenses, flash units, and camera control. The first major section covers lights and lighting techniques, and many photos show the effects of backlights, indirect lighting, and tools such as soft boxes and strip lights that help "shape" light.
Readers quickly understand how they can assemble a small "studio," often set up temporarily along a wall or in a corner of a room. Basic equipment and good lights do not cost a fortune, and people can make some of their own photo apparatus. You can use two lamps with silver umbrella reflectors and a bright halogen desk light for many types of product photos.
One section of the book describes -- and shows -- do-it-yourself accessories. Typical studio accessories include close-up lenses, a tripod with a firm base, miscellaneous clips, and different background materials. When you need a special background, look for colored foamcore boards at arts-and-craft shops, fabric remnants at sewing and quilting stores, and ceiling and floor tiles at hardware and building-supply stores. Most cost only a few dollars and give you many surface types to experiment with.
The photos in Harnischmacher's book show diagrams of ways to place and light items, including a violin, pocket watch, cellphone, plants, high-tech microphone, and so on. The resulting photos show how lighting affects overall image presentation -- from good to bad. The author stresses the need to spend time working with your subject and trying different lighting techniques. Today, digital photography lets people experiment and see instant results. No more waiting for image proofs.
In addition to the tips and techniques in Tabletop Photography, here are a few of my own tips that could help you take better photos:
- If you use photo lamps, always have a spare bulb or two on hand. You'll need it on a Sunday night when you must have photos by Monday morning.
- Use a polarizing filter to remove reflections from nonmetallic surfaces. Krylon sells a dulling spray (#1310) that will temporarily dull a shiny surface. It easily wipes off nonporous surfaces.
- If you photograph small items and can't eliminate shadows, light the product from below. Place items on a sheet of matte-finish milky plastic or frosted glass -- frosted-side up -- and light from below.
- You can diffuse light with a piece of tissue paper.
- Check your camera's specifications to ensure you can take photos with incandescent lamps. If you use a digital camera without an incandescent lamp setting, photos might have a yellow tint.
- Always use a firm tripod. A flimsy tripod can cause images to blur. Even on a tripod I use my camera's timer. I focus, press the shutter button, and then take my hands off the camera. Any shaking ends before the camera shoots the image.
- If you plan to do outdoor photography, use an ultraviolet-blocking filter.
Visit our Product Showcase and see whose product may have fallen victim to bad photography.