Commercial product photography is rare for me but I’m always pleased when clients call me back. In the spring of 2014, I did a shoot for the website of Curtis Blake Leather. This spring, their assignment was to photograph a new line of wine and beer totes with the idea of having some images for boutique magazine use.
The first step, just like a portrait session, was to meet with the client, learn about the products, what they wanted and propose some ideas. My client wanted to use a setting we’d used before. It suited the products and it would help maintain a consistent look and feel with the existing web content. I proposed some studio setups that would allow me to control the lighting more completely than an outdoor location. We agreed on some approaches and I planned the shoots(s).
While the lighting was very different for the outdoor and indoor setups, some basics were the same.
To get the sharpest possible image, the camera was mounted on a tripod and the shutter triggered remotely. I also used a shutter release with a 2 second delay and MLU ( Mirror Lock Up). The tripod holds the camera still and the remote trigger eliminates vibration by not touching the camera shutter button. When the shutter is tripped, the mirror in a SLR or DSLR flips up, introducing vibration. Locking the mirror up and using a 2 second delay before the shutter fires allows the mirror vibrations to dampen, maximizing sharpness. Mirrorless cameras eliminate this variable.
Outdoors, I used an aperture of f8. Generally 2 or 3 stops from the widest aperture is the sharpest or “sweet spot” of a lens. I didn’t need a wide aperture to isolate the subject from background, everything was in the same plane of focus.
Lighting the outdoor images was a matter of balancing the ambient light with a pair of manual speed lights or hot shoe flashes. Without the flashes, everything would look flatter and the texture of the leather barely seen. With flash, I could establish the modelling and contrast I wanted, to show the product at its best. It was a simple setup with two remotely triggered flashes on light stands, camera left and right. Ambient or daylight was part of the “fill” and the speed lights were “main” or “key”. As always, I moved them and adjusted power to get the direction and ratios I wanted. Instant review on a digital camera is the modern Polaroid test shot and it’s a wonderful tool. While I didn’t make detailed notes of the lighting setup, I did use “snoots” to concentrate the flash output. Using bare flash as a point source gave me the hard light I wanted to match the character of the leather.
Indoors was more complex to setup but simpler to light. Ambient light was a non issue. I set my aperture for f11, ISO 100 and Shutter for 1/160 so if there was no flash, the image was completely dark. The only light that would be recorded would come from the flash. When I had the set built, I put a single gridded light on a boom directly above the setup. Again, I moved it adjusted power to get the directions and ratio I wanted. The grid let me keep the light where I wanted on the product and off the background for the dramatic lighting ratio.
Gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Pentax 17-70/4 lens, Manfrotto 055XProB Tripod, YN-560III Speedlights, YN-560 TX Remote Trigger, Vello Wired Remote, Expoimaging Rogue Flash Grid & Flashbender, Impact Multiboom Light Stand and Reflector Holder, Savage 53″ Seamless Paper, Gaffers Tape
Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro