Although you don’t need to be a professional photographer to take excellent product photos, it’s still very important that you’ve mastered the basics in order to effectively display your items online.
One of the first steps in this process is understanding the different settings on your camera, and how each will be applied towards capturing an image that’s true to life. In this tutorial we’ll be going over the essential settings based on what they do, and how to adjust them to produce the best possible results. Let’s get started!
For this tutorial I will be using my Canon 6D in Manual (M) mode. As long as your camera has the ability to shoot with manual settings pay no attention to the brand or model, it should work just fine!
Selecting the Camera Mode
Although some websites may tell you it’s ok to shoot in Aperture Priority (AV for Canon), we highly recommend sticking with Manual Mode (M) to maintain complete control. AV Mode allows the camera to choose the Shutter Speed, which may change the exposure of your photos depending on the products you’re shooting and where you meter.
Consistency is very important when it comes to how your photos look in your online store. Make sure you’re also shooting from a tripod as it will eliminate any camera shake, allow you to accurately focus, and shoot longer exposures if your camera cannot handle high ISO.
In your camera’s menu options you’ll find a tab labeled ‘Image Quality’.
Here you will select RAW, and if given the option, select S[RAW], which stands for small.
Shooting in RAW will greatly improve your ability to edit the photo later, as this file format is equivalent to an unprocessed digital negative. Again, many websites may tell you to shoot in the largest image format possible, but Image Size is not the same as Image Quality. Since your product photos are going online, you don’t need to waste space on your computer with unnecessary megapixels.
Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO
Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO are the three functions working collaboratively to create the exposure of your photographs.
By using the meter built into your camera, you’re going to adjust each of the three settings so that the exposure dial reads directly in the center of the meter’s bracket. (see below)
Tip – If you’re using a white background, the meter can appear in the center at 0, but the photo may still look underexposed. If this is the case adjust accordingly.
Beyond creating the exposure, these settings will also greatly affect the look of your photos as well.
Aperture is the opening in every lens that determines how much light can pass through while the shutter is open. In addition to letting in light, aperture is what gives your photos DOF (Depth of Field), which is crucial to product photography as you want your items to be completely in focus. The exception to this rule would be if you wanted to draw attention to a particular aspect of the product, you would increase the aperture to have the focus fall off and blur around one focal point.
When shooting your first products, we advise shooting at F/16 so the entire item will be in focus. Every lens is given an F/Stop rating, and each time you decrease an F/Stop you are cutting the amount of light you let in by half. Therefore, shooting at F/16 will let very little light in which is why you want to be shooting with a tripod.
Just as it sounds, shutter speed is how fast the camera opens and closes while letting in light. Shutter speed is the most important setting for capturing motion, even if your subject is sitting still.
Speeds below 1/60th of a second become too slow to take photos hand-held, and without a tripod are likely to blur. Notice in the picture below that the shutter speed was 0.3” once the aperture closed off to F/16, which would have been impossible to capture by hand.
However, since we are using a tripod, the only aspect you really have to worry about with shutter speed is selecting one that will let the appropriate amount of light in.
For those of you who don’t yet have a tripod, or prefer shooting hand-held, you can get away with an aperture of F/16 by increasing your ISO which we will discuss next.
DRIVE MODE TIP
Camera shake can occur even when you’re shooting with a tripod. To avoid this, set a 2 second timer on your camera so once you press the trigger, the camera has time to sit completely still.
ISO, although very important to photography, is usually considered last when adjusting your settings for the exposure. It is the digital equivalent to film speed, and can help properly expose your photo when aperture and shutter speed aren’t enough.
Basically, ISO increases the camera’s sensitivity to light, which can be incredibly helpful in darker situations.
The downside to ISO, is that eventually (depending on your camera body) the photo will start showing noise in parts of the photo where the camera is straining to pull light. Most camera bodies can shoot up to 800 ISO without creating any unattractive noise in the photo. However, this is something you want to pay close attention to as the clarity of your photos online is very important.
Below you will see the photo with 400 ISO has no noise whatsoever, while the photo shot at 6400 is very grainy and unattractive.
When shooting on a tripod there should be no need to push your ISO beyond 200-400 so that your images stay nice and crisp!
White balance is another very important setting you want to get right so the colors in your photo look accurate. If you look at the photo below you can see how different light temperatures can affect how shoppers perceive your product.
Unless you’re absolutely certain you can read the temperature of your lights, it’s best to stick with the AWB (Auto White Balance) setting.
Notice in the photo above that the AWB setting was able to accurately capture the color of the sunglasses, compared to Tungsten and Fluorescent which changed the color entirely. Sometimes the color is relatively close, like the cloudy setting, but if you don’t notice this while shooting you may have problems when your product arrives to a customer looking different than they had expected.
To set your WB, look under your Menu settings, and select White Balance
Within this tab you’ll find all the options for balancing the color temperature of your photos. Over time you’ll be able to experiment and use the other options, but for now AWB does a great job.
Now that we have everything we need to capture the proper exposure, file format and white balance, it’s very important that your camera is also set to capture the product in focus. Most people are going to want to shoot with Auto-Focus as taking a lot of shots manually can strain your vision and the focus may become inaccurate.
To do so, make sure the lens you’re shooting with is set to auto.
You’re Ready To Shoot!
Now that you can grasp the basic settings for capturing your products effectively, it’s time to head into your home studio and begin experimenting. While you may make minor adjustments to suit the needs of your inventory, these guidelines are always going to be where you want to start.
If you have any questions along the way, feel free to leave them in the comments below!