Or, with no budget…
I have been getting a few questions about techniques in the blog lately. A common question, to paraphrase is: “Rikk, I don’t have all that fancy gear. How can I …?” So today, I accepted a self-challenge. With no items other than those found in an office environment, and my son’s $ 149.00 point-n-shoot digital camera, create a passable product shot. To make things tougher on myself, I did it in my typical office environment which includes:
- Shady side of the building
- Fluorescent lighting
- Twenty minutes to get it done
I chose these criteria because the web developer or presentation professional often has only a few minutes to incorporate the latest widget into the bosses’ presentation or the new web catalog.
Today’s Camera Choice
I used my son’s Canon A550 to accomplish today’s task. It has a macro setting that I used for the picture. I also set the camera to manual, ISO 400 and the flash to ‘on’ for the image today. These settings were arrived at by trial and error after a few test shots of my subject. Another thing I did was to zoom the camera out to its telephoto setting to minimize perspective issues and control my flash-to-subject distance.
Home-made Diffuser using Transparent Tape
The flash was a little hot on the cellophane window on the box and the background so I needed to soften it up a bit. Using only objects in the office, I tried a couple of experimental items before settling on a double layer of transparent tape. I made a little diffuser over the on-board flash.
I found a piece of 13×19 inch inkjet paper to use as a glossy background. I used a second sheet of paper as a reflector to brighten up the side opposite my office window. 11×17 Copier paper would work just as well if you are in an ink-jet-free office. I placed the background on my wine rack (yes, I have a wine rack in my office) and set up the shot.
The resulting exposure created a 7.1 MP JPG for me to take into my image editing program and prep for use in a web page. I rather liked the reflection from the shiny paper but knew that I would be sacrificing it in the editing process. I also had a little bit of background shadow with which to deal. A soft shadow, true-but one that needed removing none-the-less.
Having a box with nice square edges made the masking easy and after plucking it off my background, adding a color to match my web’s color scheme, giving it a fountain fill for visual interest, and adding a modest shadow for grounding I ended up with a very passable image.
I left a little room for some words across the bottom of the picture but other than the copy, this image is ready to go. Elapsed time from putting my hands on the product to finished image ready for insertion into a web page or presentation was 18 minutes and 15 seconds. (Yes, I did stop-watch myself)
DSLR with Soft Box
Compare this with an image shot yesterday using a Canon 40D and a soft box. This image has not been to an image editor yet but you can see that the budget shot, at this size, is very comparable. The shadow created by the on-camera flash is the largest detractor to the budget shot. But, compare it with the image the client supplied from their old web site and you will see worlds of difference.
Original Product Shot Provided
Final analysis: Assuming I had an inexpensive digital camera available-less than 10 cents. I used two sheets of paper which could be returned to their source and reused, two inches of transparent tape that had to be discarded and 1/100 of the rated use of a set of AA batteries.
For low-resolution use such as a PowerPoint™ presentation or a web site, it is possible to provide a quality product image using a simple digital camera and no lighting equipment.
This doesn’t replace professional product photography but on a tight deadline and no budget it will get the salesman out the door or the product on-line.
Rikk Flohr © 2008