Product photography / by Harminder Singh

Understanding Product Photography

The key purpose of any photograph is to grab your attention and compel you to pause and observe, take notice. Likewise in the case of product photography, the primary objective of the visual is to create a desire  to own it.

To create these compelling images, a professional photographer has to have a vast exposure and understanding of the subject, with thorough knowledge in dealing with it, on a technical level. An artistic flair is another most valuable and significant attribute that the photographer can complement his work with.

Understanding of the product and its applied function.

The photographer has to keep in mind the desired application of the image too. If the image is to be shot for packaging, then the image of the object has to be composed so that it meets the packaging designers layout. If on the other hand, the image is a part of a bigger library appearing on the same canvas as in catalogue, then the background and lighting should ideally match with adjoining images to create a more harmonious look and feel.

Key to lighting of the product

The photographer should having thorough knowledge of the properties of light such as color temperature, Behavior of light with different types of surfaces, color temperature of different types of lights and how to achieve true color for reproduction. 

White or silver objects reflect light very efficiently where as dark & dull surfaces absorb light and reflect very poorly. Normally, reflective objects should be dealt with using large source of soft light and light absorbing surfaces require the use of stronger and contrasting light to bring out detail.

Exposure should be maintained for overall product lighting in a manner that must not exceed 5 stops EV value for print media.

Then there are products that can pose further challenges, as they can be made of both, reflective, transparent materials.

A wrong approach in lighting can ruin a beautiful product … for example, expensive diamond studded gold jewelry, where diamonds appear as cheap pieces of glass and gold appears either pale yellow or have a copper tone. Steel / chrome should not look like silver.

Choosing the right lens (focal length) and viewpoint

One needs to ascertain a correct view point, to set the camera in relation to the product. At this point choosing the correct focal length lens is also a major contributor that influences the final visual outcome. A perfect viewpoint is one flatters the shape, form and material of the product.

Choosing the correct focal length can create or destroy the shape and form of the object. Long focal length, will compresses the perspective and a shorter focal length will enhance the perspective of the image/product.


Many times while watching a cricket match on T.V. when the camera shows the bowler’s side, the batting end appears very close to the bowling end, this happens because of optical compression due to the use of zoom at its long focal length by the cameraman.

Any camera system must comprise lenses of different focal lengths for various applications. Usually, the photographer chooses these as per his requirement. Smaller studio restricts the photographer to use appropriate longer focal lengths for large products as they have a narrower field of view thus restricting him to create a correct perspective of the product. This leads to distortion.

A large studio gives the photographer, flexibility to use appropriate lenses to do complete justice to the job in hand.

Exposure parameters

Correct exposure is the one that will render the image with proper detail, in the highlight and shadow areas.

Exposure calculation and tools of measurement is a separate reading. Ansel Adams has developed and explained the fine art of exposure techniques in the ‘Zone System”, this is a ‘must reading” for all photographers.

Composition: layout & view point

Composition plays a very important role in product photography. It is an integral part of a good visual. The success of a good visual is its retention in your subconscious mind that lingers on long after you have moved away from it. A good photographer has an acute sense of composition where he can arrange the products in a very pleasing manner and at the same time prioritizing the most important features of the product.

Rule of Thirds

The most basic rule of thumb is Rule of Thirds. It means human eye is naturally drawn to the area that is about two thirds up from the bottom of the picture.

Dynamic Diagonals

What is Dynamic Diagonals? When you are thinking of picture frame, guess the diagonals of frame. Place the object on diagonals and there you are. Simple.

Using the right background

Another important element of product photography is the use of background. This is an area where your lighting skills and knowledge comes in picture. While planning for the lighting one must not forget the background against which the product will appear. Choosing the right background is very important as it s plays a role in bringing out the product, add character to the product and create an interesting space.

Shooting a product against white background or dark background demands different light treatments. The background should be lit in a manner that enhances the visual and should never be obtrusive or have reflections.

Shooting a product on glass without shadows requires good use of studio light sources. You can eliminate the shadows/reflections only when you understand how they are formed. Photographs without shadows/reflection are useful while working with editing tools for preparing product photograph for website and other communication materials.

Perfect Camera for product photography

35 mm cameras (Nikon, Canon, Leica etc) OR medium format SLR ( Hasselblad, Contax, Mamiya, etc.) that does not enable movements of lens and film plane as per the Scheimfluge principal, Will not produce perfect results.

The perfect camera choice is a view camera, that belongs to the family of technical cameras. A camera that features an unusual method of generating optical “shift movements”, based upon the principals developed by Theodor Scheimpflug, who lived from 1865 to 1911.



  • Deterrents of using the view camera
  • Extremely high cost of camera system & Apo digitar lenses.*
  • Difficulty in mastering it’s use is the biggest single most reason why photographers shy away from using the view camera.
  • The image appears upside down and reversed from left to right on the focusing screen.
  • The image is not very bright and during extreme shifting of lens and film plane, the view-finder becomes very dark, making it difficult to see the image.
  • It is very time consuming to set up a proper shot.
  • Small errors in improper shifts will render an out of focus image area.
  • The camera is very heavy and requires high grade professional mounting systems and heads.
  • The camera requires the use of smaller apertures when compared to 35mm format. Hence longer shutter speeds for continues light photography OR high output flash heads for flash based photography. Slow shutter speeds are usually not desired for reasons of blurry movements in the subject. Smaller apertures beyond the golden aperture starts to effect the image adversely.

*Digital lenses are designed specifically for digital backs to outperform regular lenses.

Digital lenses focus in one single plane. Film is basically made up of 3 layers where each layer is sensitive to certain light spectrum (RGB). Thus film lenses focus incoming light at 3 different layers. Digital lenses on the other hand are designed to focus on one plane, as digital sensors are in one single plane.

Digital lenses offer a much higher resolving power.

Film lenses are designed to resolve information in proportion to grain size of silver molecules that are light sensitive and reside in the emulsion. CCD chips are an array of light sensitive devices that are very small in size. Hi end digital lenses made by Schneider and Rodenstock are capable of resolving power up to 5iu.

(Digital lens, term is misused by lens manufacturers to mislead the common man, just like rating small portable stereos with 1000watts PMPO output. Consumers rarely understand.)

In spite of huge investment deterrent, we did not give up our quest to provide our clients with stunning images by constant and expensive upgrades (starting from Toyo View, Sinar F1, Finar F2, Sinar X and now the Arca Swiss Monolith ), required to keep pace with constantly evolving technologies.

Final word

Product photography is not simply about camera and lights. Being in business for more than 25 years, I understand how various types of products should be photographed. I offer my clients valuable experience backed by top of the line leading edge technology to fulfil their need for top quality product photography covering subjects like Jewellery, food, automobiles, Industrial and engineering products, beauty and cosmetics and consumer electronics.

When you hire me for your photographic needs, you are assured of top quality images shot on the very best photographic equipment.

Along with photography, you are also assured of the best in - house system work services. We work on professional Macintosh computers calibrated by Spyder2PRO for consistent true colors and tonal accuracy.