by mike stern
Words from the photographer
One of my best and most successful customers has always said that he wants the pictures of his various yarn craft products to look so appealing that people will want to reach into their pockets and take out money to buy them. This sound philosophy has led to the sale of literally millions of his mail order kits through full-page, four color display ads in such major magazines as Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal. He would look at the layout of a display ad or catalog and say, "Do you see these layouts . . they're going to put a lot of money in my bank account."
Good product photographs require a lot more than just pointing a camera at the product and clicking the shutter. Careful consideration must be given to the angle at which the items are shot, the selection of props and backgrounds, as well as the lighting technique used. In many instances, ninety percent of achieving a good product photograph depends upon the lighting. There's an old axiom that says "in advertising, you're selling the sizzle and not the steak". Such sayings have been around for years because more often than not, they're true. This principle certainly applies here because effective product photography brings out the personality and image of a product.
There are several "tricks of the trade" that a photographer can use to enhance the look of a product, allowing it to have its original appearance. Specifically, glazed (honey dipped) donuts don't photograph very well under studio lighting, so a thin coating of vaseline applied evenly over these donuts will give them that nice sheen that they have at the local donut shop. The vegetables in vegetable soup sink to the bottom of the bowl and only the broth shows in the picture. By putting marbles in the bowl before pouring in the soup, the vegetables sit on top of the marbles and now can be seen on the surface of the soup. Steam coming out of hot liquids such as coffee or soup won't show under bright studio lights. This problem is avoided by blowing cigar smoke through a straw and onto the surface of the liquid, as smoke shows up much better than steam. As the smoke dissipates, resembling steam, the picture is taken. Sometimes more than one try is required to achieve the right steam effect.
Every product shot poses one or more "problems" to the photographer, who must rely on many skills in order to come up with the solution. Some photo layouts that are rather plain and uninteresting call for special lighting techniques such as double or triple exposures in order to give the photo a dynamic look. Art Directors from advertising agencies who often supervise photo shoots for their clients like to see a product photographer using multiple exposures. Caution must always be taken, however, so special lighting effects don't overpower the product. While the lighting stands the product out from the background and adds overall attractiveness to the shot, the product is always the "star"!
In conclusion, no two product layouts are ever exactly the same and therefor require different photographic solutions in each case. This is part of what makes this field so dynamic, challenging, interesting and above all rewarding!