A question came up recently in one of the Facebook groups I am in. It involved getting brighter, whiter, product photos to post on Instagram when using minimal equipment. I jumped at the chance to try and help with this. After all, it is what I do and what I love! I’m going to share a few tips that I think will help you regardless of the camera you are using for your product photos. I’ve made no edits to the photos below aside from resizing them for the web.
- She shoots is with a DSLR (yay!)
- She is using auto mode
- She uses no flash (yay again!)
If I remember correctly, she also shoots by a window. For the purpose of this tutorial, I am going to shoot just like she is and I will use a blanket as my product. If she doesn’t happen to be near a window, I’d encourage her to do so 😉
First things first, she would like to achieve a white background. I am going to setup a couple of foam boards by a sliding door. I have one setup on the floor and one setup behind in case I’d like to take different angles of my blanket. Notice I am using foam board, not poster board. Foam board is not only more durable, but it has a matte finish. Poster board can be very glossy which is going to give you a distracting glare in your image.
My first shot – I have my poster boards setup and all my overhead lighting is on. This is a bit of a miss. You can see harsh shadows to the left of my blanket as well as strange shadows being cast onto the blanket. This is from me! Since I have overhead lights on, I am creating some of those ghastly shadows you are seeing!
My second shot – I have turned off the overhead lighting so I’m strictly utilizing the light coming in from the window. Well, my funny body shadows are gone, but now the image is darker and it’s almost like the shadow to the left, underneath, is more noticeable. At least the color is evening out.
My third shot – Here I will setup a bit differently. I am going to add a third foam board to the mix and place it directly across from my window.
This will act as a reflector and bounce some of the light into the shadowy area of my blanket. This is better! Notice there is still of course a shadow, but it’s less harsh, and the left side of my blanket more evenly matches the right.
Now, if you noticed above in what I know about the seller, the DSLR and no flash received a “yay” from me. Using auto mode did not receive a yay. So here is where I challenge you to get a little crazy! I want you to get out of auto mode if you have a DSLR, even if it is in tiny little baby steps. I am going to help you with two simple little tricks, OK? Sound good? You can do it, I know you can!
My images improved a lot after I made the few changes above, but I am still noticing some problems. The first thing is, my blanket color is not showing up accurately and my background looks a little bit gray/blue. The blanket is more of a rusty-plumy-brown (it’s a strange color to be honest.) To me it looks more like a grayish-plum, with almost silvery tones in it? Eek, this is not right and with product photography, you want to try and be as accurate as possible. There are a couple of things going on here. One problem is a setting called white balance, it’s how the camera interprets how warm or cool the lighting is. In auto-mode, I cannot even see what my camera thinks the white balance should be. It just says Auto. The other problem is the camera tries it’s best to give you the correct exposure. With so much white, the camera thinks it will blow-out the image if it makes the white, white. So, it interprets it as a gray to try and give you an evenly exposed image. In this case unfortunately, it fails and gives us an under exposed image.
So, here is where you can get crazy while still playing it safe. If you look at any of your Auto mode photos, you will see the basic settings your camera used. I want you to pay attention to the Aperture (F-stop) and the Shutter speed, this will hopefully be a number 1/something else. On my camera, this is what it looks like.
I took this from the best photo I had so far. The camera used 1/100th of a second shutter speed & F5 for the aperture. This gives you a perfect starting point to setup a manual mode shot. All cameras are different, so I cannot tell you exactly how to set your camera to manual, set the shutter, and aperture. Check your user guide, it will probably even be in the “Quick Getting Started” guide most cameras come with. Set the shutter and aperture to match your settings. You’ll also notice it says WB AUTO. This is what I want you to change. I lucked out actually, I got a nicely overcast day to work on this. This created a soft, even light so I didn’t have to struggle to much with my settings. I changed my white balance setting to Cloudy, again, check your manual to see where to change this, but that’s the only change I want you to make from where you were before.
Here is the result, voila, I am seeing that rusty-plum color I told you the blanket was and my background is not as gray.
In this case I didn’t have to change much in the way of exposure, simply tweaking how my camera interpreted the light did the trick!
I won’t get into playing with other settings here today, but I’d be happy to do so if you would find it helpful. Just leave a comment below if you have specific questions!
Bonus tip – wear a white shirt. You essentially make yourself into another reflector and bounce that nice white light from your boards, back onto your product. Black takes away light and bolder colors on, or around you, can create strange color casts, so keep that in mind too when you are doing your next product shoot!!
Good luck & I’d love to hear if this works out for you!