Still Life and Product Photography
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Firstly I will get the expression "product photography", as apposed to "still life photography" over and done with, it seems to mean placing object after object on a white background and shooting with no shadows using some sort of tent to diffuse the light. As the subject doesn’t move it can only be a still life. So I will not be referring to "product photography" again.
Before we get too deep in to this lesson, please note I have a little project video available called Photographing a Bottle And Glass. This is ideal for a beginner and required little in terms of equipment. Read on for a more general lesson in still life photography.
"still life" is photographing one or more articles with the best light to show either the subject or subjects to their best advantage or in an artistic manner. Note the word ‘best’, so get rid of those tents and domes. As every subject has a different shape it will require lighting in a different way to show it’s beauty and shape maybe even in some cases hiding it’s ugliness and shape.
So we must be able to control the light as best as possible. One of the top food photographers in London will use no softbox and no flash, just a very simple setup with two lights and a 250 watt mini spot. By making small changes to the position of these lights and by using reflectors he was able to change the atmosphere of an image very quickly.
The idea for small setups is a reflector over the top of the subject with a light source shining onto it but not directly to the subject or the background. This will give a soft light over the whole image. Now by bringing another light from the side that can be softened with tracing paper (the further from the light the softer it becomes) will give you a nice basic light setup with a diffused shadow. Don’t forget if the subject has text always light from the left as we read left to right.
Another pretty standard set up for still life photography is a flat tabletop with a vertical background behind leaving a space of about one meter between the two. The subject would be lit as usual and the background from underneath the table creating a halo effect on the background.
The picture above was shot on a white Perspex background lit from behind, with a small spot covered with a yellow gel, it is important in this situation to avoid the maximum of front light falling on the Perspex if your camera allows you to double expose shoot the bottle first with a black sheet over the background then shoot the background without the sheet and all lights turned off, except the back light.