photo by carlosrojas20 via iStock
We say a lot about methods, techniques, and skills on PhotographyTalk, and I love teaching, learning, and sharing in this way. I also like to share ideas concerning the equipment we use to make use of these many skills we have gained.
For instance, I often get asked about certain styles of photography and what gear would be beneficial for doing these styles. Such as what might go into a well-rounded product setup - cameras, lenses, lighting, backdrops, tripods, and other accessories.
Small Product Photography
photo by Pekic via iStock
Product photography as a genre can include many different things. Food photography, recipe photography, personal items for auction sites, making images for use by us or others in commercial websites for retail sales, and photography for illustrating articles or instructional materials all qualify as part of product photography.
If you are looking for ideas of how to get into product photography, you might find our latest series of articles on food photography to be helpful. In addition to showing how to do product photography, these articles also highlight some ideas for a workable product photography setup, since food photography can be considered a form of product photography.
While much of what we do as product photography ends up also being a form of tabletop photography, all of those skills and techniques are usable for making images of products. Same with still life techniques, though some of the artistic interpretations may get slightly toned down for straight-up product images on a retail website.
Camera and Lens
A product photography setup begins with our camera and lens choices. Almost any modern kit of digital cameras, DSLR or mirrorless, can be used for small product photography.
An entry-level camera with the regular kit lens can be used for this genre, but many photographers find that certain additional features and the more robust build of pro and prosumer cameras and lenses can make a more useful product photography setup.
In APS-C format, we find many usable options in both mirrorless and DSLR style. The crop format of APS-C is great for a product photography setup that is budget-friendly. As an example, take a look at the prosumer level DSLR Nikon D7500. Paired with the DX only macro lens Nikon 40mm f/2.8G AF-S DX Micro-Nikkor lens and you have a nice product photography setup with a sharp, fairly fast lens that can also be used for general photography and videography.
Mirrorless cameras in this format are excellent for making a pro-level product photography setup, often adding professional-level video capabilities, too. The Fujifilm X-T4 is a super capable camera for many professional endeavors. Fujifilm XF 80mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro lens offers a slightly more telephoto focal length which is sometimes preferred for product photography.
You’ll notice we’re keying in on macro lenses in a prime focal length for our product photography setup recommendations. Prime lenses are usually faster than zoom lenses in similar ranges of focal length, plus macro lenses are specially corrected for low distortion, super sharp, ultra closeup imaging.
Fans of Full Frame format will want to look at the mirrorless Sony Alpha a7II camera. It’s incredibly budget-friendly for a Full Frame format camera and can be the cornerstone camera for a product photography setup.
Third-party manufacturers are making amazingly sharp lenses in mirrorless Full Frame lens mounts. Sigma 70mm f/2.8 DG Macro Art lens in Sony E mount is a prime example. The focal length is an awesome choice for a product photography setup, slightly longer than normal, just a little telephoto. The fast lens aperture allows selective techniques to be used for our images.
A small product photography setup is going to need versatile and color-correct lighting. We have two options, flash or continuous. Being portable is important for any on location shoots, so battery power and light weight are preferred by some. AC-powered units are often brighter and sometimes a little more budget-friendly and can also be very portable.
Off-camera lights are also generally more useful in a product photography setup since 2 or 3 lights on stands provide us with the capability to use several different lighting configurations for our product photography.
Out of the two options first listed, continuous LED lighting is extremely versatile. They can be easily moved around for the different light configurations, are a cool light, have excellent color correction, and can also be used for videography.
Smith Victor LadyBug 1500 LED 3-Light Kit with Boom Arm is a good choice for a product photography setup. The LED bulbs emit much less heat than incandescent or quartz lights, the boom arm is perfect for overhead shots such as flat lays, and it’s a complete kit with stands and a carrying case.
Backdrops are an important part of a product photography setup, the backdrops from Best Ever Backdrops are designed with food photography in mind and are excellent for all sorts of small product photography.
These backdrops are small and easy to transport and yet are super strong and durable. A great thing about these food photography backdrops is that they are double-sided. You can mix and match colors, textures, and photo-realistic themes for all kinds of product photography.
The Skylar Collection has several patterns and colors that would work well as part of a product photography setup. Pair the cool tones of the Skylar Burt Afterglow with a dark warm rustic tone such as the photo-realistic Skylar Burt Black Feather for added versatility.
Backdrops for food photography make excellent all-around backdrops because they are water-resistant, very durable, and look great.
Camera Supports and Tripods
Another vital piece of a complete product photography setup is the tripod. Instead of opting for a very lightweight travel tripod, a good, heavy or medium-duty tripod with lots of movements will probably be more useful in product and food photography.
Aluminum and carbon fiber legs are sturdy and lightweight, and a versatile head is beneficial for all of the varied configurations of our product photography. The Manfrotto MT055XPRO is a great tripod for this. It’s unique 3-way head is extremely versatile and the center column also extends horizontally for lat lay photography.
Shoot Video, Too!
photo by 5PH via iStock
Many clients also ask for video as part of a product or food photography job in addition to all of our stills, so many of these recommended items for a product photography setup can do double duty.
Modern digital cameras have very good video modes, continuous lights can be used for still and video, and even our tripods with versatile heads (or an added fluid head) can be used for double duty.
A camera remote, wired or wireless and a good pair of sturdy and comfortable shoes rounds out our ideas for a basic and very capable product photography setup.