A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to experience the Taylor Guitar tour of the factory here in San Diego.
As a photographer, I’m excited by any chance to see something new, and as a (bass) guitarist, I’m excited to see how these fantastic objects are created. The Taylor Guitar tour was very “open” —we had pretty full access to every part of the factory, from raw materials to robots that rubbed out flaws in the finished lacquer. And as a result, nearly everyone participating had a camera to record all the cool stuff.
I brought one body (a Canon 7D) and one lens (a 30mm prime). I’ve shot factories and warehouses before, and I knew that light would be strange (a mix of CFL, skylights, and industrial sodium vapor), space would be tight, and flash would be annoying and counter-productive.
When you present products or other physical items on your website or social media outlets, you want them to not only look good… you want them to be slightly idealized. To do that, no matter your skill level, remember three photography concepts:
- No flash
An object’s essence is its defining quality. Is it a fender curve? A proprietary weld or joint? A package design? Think about that essence and try to capture it. During the Taylor Guitar tour, I noticed the stunning woods they use on guitar bodies (called “tops”), the hardware, and other details. Every guitar has a neck, a headstock, a pickup/electronic system of some kind. But what makes a Taylor unique?
Flash is a tough one. For traditional commercial product photography, lighting is the most difficult, yet most rewarding aspect. But for most people shooting for the web, a pro lighting setup isn’t reasonable. Ninety percent of cameras have flashes on them, right? But I’m here to tell you—please don’t use them. On-camera flash gives portraits a horrible “DMV” or mugshot quality, and makes shiny objects look flat and without depth. If you have a DSLR, buy a lens that lets you shoot in low light (has a large aperture like the 30mm I brought on the tour). Anything wider than f/2.8 is good. Crank up the camera’s ISO if you have to. Use available light whenever possible. If you can take the object outside, do so – put it in the shade, on a table, and maybe drape a white bedsheet over it to diffuse the sun.
Cropping is the first step in editing a photo. You can take an OK photo, and with judicious cropping, turn it into something that really highlights the subject. It’s quick, and *every* photo editing app has a crop feature. With today’s 12-megapixel (and more) cameras, you have plenty of real estate to work with for cropping.
For the best results, hire a professional for your product shots. But there’s a lot you can do, even with a decent mobile phone camera, like that on the iPhone (pretty much the best quality camera phone out there). Shoot outdoors if you can, find the object’s essence, and crop to really focus the viewer’s eye.
Andy McRory is a San Diego photographer and an alliance partner for Parallel Interactive. He specializes in portrait, interior/exterior design, and commercial photography. Visit his website.