Product shots are essential to visual advertising, and they’re just as fun as they are rewarding.
Product shots are among the most purely creative projects in visual production. You can throw on some music, take your time, pay close attention to detail, and hone your craft. There are no actors or models to wrangle and, typically, no strict timelines to contend with.
Whether you’re working on photos or video commercials, shooting product shots is pure imagination. You can dream up pretty much any solution to the problems you encounter, and you can create whatever visual world for your product that you want.
As you can see, with a few things laying around the house (or at your local home improvement or hobby store), you can create all kinds of different looks and tones.
While product shots can be a bit complicated at times, if you follow three basic principles, you’ll usually end up with a good result.
Consider The Product Material
The product material is going to dictate just about everything — from the set you’re going to build to the way you’re going to light it.
Some products are shiny, some are translucent, and some are completely flat. While the difference between two products may be a small lighting tweak, there are no two products that you can light entirely the same.
For instance, and perhaps most importantly, you cannot shine lights directly at translucent or fully reflective material. The object will not appear lit. This is because the light is either passing through or bouncing straight off. In this case, what you need to do is light to create reflections on your product.
What this usually means is placing some sort of large bounce or diffusion material in a position where the material of the product will register as a “lit area” on the product.
Think of a car commercial. You can’t shine a light at a shiny black car — it would just bounce right off. However, you could light a shiny white car just fine.
Surfaces and Sets
In many ways, the surface is as important as the product. It’s what’s going to really define the product in the scene, and it sets the overall tone of the commercial or advertisement. If your surface is a gray and shiny surface, then the product will seem classy. If you shoot product shots of a watch in a jungle, people are going to think your watch is made for outdoor jungle enthusiasts.
In most cases, a shiny surface will yield an effective result. It adds a bit more visual interest to the shot — and a bit of subtle production value. Regardless of the material itself, or how shiny it is, you want to put a lot of serious thought into the surface. Making something custom will always yield the most impressive result.
With the tea commercial, for example, we went into the nearest dumpster and found some old wood. This way, we could create an authentic-looking picnic table-style surface for our “backyard” scene. A bit of stain, a little polyurethane, and some sawing yielded a believable (and shiny) weathered wood surface for our beverage.
Make It Look Interesting
With product shots, it’s important to remember that you’re dealing with a still object. Now, this may sound like it’s not an issue for photography, but the same concern still applies.
Most of the time, it won’t be enough to just build a nice set, light it right, and call it a done deal. You need to find some way to make it special — whether that means an interesting filter, something in front of the lens, or (for video purposes) an interesting way of adding movement to your shot.
In the perfume example, a prism and a common glass in front of the lens on a rotating turntable created some interesting movement and light hits in the foreground.
For the perfume commercial, that little bit of movement helped create interesting and intriguing transitions for the commercial, while still retaining a classy fashion feel.
In the flashlight commercial, that same turntable added movement to the product itself, so in the edit, it was possible to add speed ramps and create a lot of excitement around the product. This also created many interesting reflections and flares on the metal diamond plate surface.
With beverage commercials, one of the more obvious approaches is to pour the beverage and film it. This makes the drink seem very appealing. You can see the bubbles; you can see the liquid cascading over the refreshing ice. It’s the easiest way to add dynamic movement to these types of shots.
Use filters, use foreground elements, and use interesting lighting tricks to make your product shot more than just a bottle or an object sitting on a table.
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