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Making Good Catalog Product Photography

If you can't hire us at G2 Catalog Design Company or any other product photography shop to do your catalog photography then the following tips will help you get started doing your own product photography.

Get a good digital camera

To help ensure your success in doing your own product photography you will need a good camera. We suggest a digital camera for convenience, control and long-term cost savings. However, most consumer digital cameras should be avoided. Foremost look for a camera with a broad lens with multipoint focus. Most consumer cameras have a tiny 1/3" to 1/2" wide lens. Choose a camera with a broad glass lens and a focal length that covers the 80mm range. Secondarily get a camera with 5-plus megapixel resolution. A 2 megapixel camera is be fine for many common page product photographs with tight cropping but is inadequate for images larger than 3" square. Ideally choose a good SLR digital camera with removable lenses. You'll get excellent photo quality, enough megapixels for full-page pictures, and the interchangeable lenses will give you professional versatility as your experience grows.

Use lots of light

Digital cameras are more versatile with lighting. We've converted our studios to contant-on flourescent lighting over the older, traditional high-powered flash units. An excellent setup is to mount three 2-tube, 4-foot flourescent shop lights with color corrected tubes side-by-side to form a light bank approximately 2' x 4'. Mount this over your photography table. This will provide a bright, even light for most table-top product shots.

Use main overhead light with side/front fill lighting

In addition to a primary overhead light you will need some flexible fill lighting. Some (4-6) clamp-on flourescent spot lights will get you by. These are used to provide angled light to the front of the product. Never, ever use the flash on your camera. Ever.

Always use a tripod

Nothing is worse than taking the time to shoot a photograph only to have it turn out blurry. Especially for studio shots, always use a tripod because the wide aperture setting and indoor lighting will require long exposure times.

Use 100 ASA film or digital equivalent for sharper images

The lower the ASA the less film grain or digital noise you will have resulting in sharper, clearer images with smooth tones. For digital cameras, more light will help reduce noise as well.

Use an 80mm lens for "natural perspective"

Most cameras come with zoom lenses that typically range from 35-80mm. At about the 80mm focal length the lens is close to approximating the view we see with our natural eye. Product photography taken at this focal length will look more natural than at shorter focal lengths. This is a good rule of thumb for making your standard product shots. Certainly unique product photography may require more stylized looks and therefore other settings.

Use an aperture setting of f/16 or higher to get the whole product in focus

For standard product shots you want the whole product in focus. That requires an aperture setting (called f-stop) of 16 or higher. Because this lets in less light than lower aperture settings, the exposure time will increase (see Always use a tripod).

Process the photos

After the product photographs are scanned or downloaded you will need to process them in photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. You will need to correct for exposure and color, drawing a clipping path to enable the knocking out of the background, and converting the image file format for printing - 300 dpi at the size you intend to print, CMYK color, TIF format, etc.

Glossary of photography terms