Studio Product Photography (without a studio)

Studio Product Photography (without a studio)

The wrong way

Every once and a while (usually a weeknight around 9pm), I need to take some beautiful product shots with a pristine white background and immaculate lighting with no shadows.  This usually happens with little notice when my wife’s company, my company, or one of our colleagues needs something for a social media post or a product email blast.  I used to drag out a soft box, setup a bunch of continuous lights and reflectors, get the camera on a tripod, and start shooting mediocre images that required tons of manual touchup in Affinity (no, I don’t use Photoshop.)

The awesome way

Then, I came up with an idea after seeing a some similar setups on other photography blogs.  Turn the room into a soft box.  Most of us have white ceilings, and light walls – me too.  I just needed a big backdrop and some good flashes.  I looked at some of the “professional” backdrops, and they were all too pricy.  Then I stumbled across this gem on Amazon: CowboyStudio 107 Inch x 24 Feet Seamless White Vinyl Background (VL-W24)

This is basically an enormous roll of white vinyl.  I bought the biggest one they had, and it arrived a few days later – unfortunately, I didn’t get to see how the UPS guy got it into his truck.  I highly recommend buying the biggest one because its super easy to cut it down into several smaller backdrops.  I have one that I cut for shooting people (floor to ceiling) and then from the remnants, I made several more that work for table top shooting.

Tip: use a hair dryer or heat gun to gently remove wrinkles from vinyl.

Step 1 – Secure the backdrop

Instead of buying a fancy stand and sandbags, just grab a couple of spring clamps from Lowe’s.  I have yet to run into a situation where I can’t find something to clamp it to.

Clamp backdrop in place.

Use a couple of spring clamps to hold the backdrop up.

Step 2 – Lay out the backdrop

Find a nice surface (tables work great so you don’t have to bend over the whole time) and lay the backdrop out with a smooth transition from vertical to horizontal.  No joke, I am in my kitchen doing this late at night – evidence below.

Backdrop on table

Create a nice transition from vertical to horizontal

Back side of backdrop

Backdrop as seen from the back.

Step 3- Setup your flashes

I am working with two pretty decent flashes.  The main flash is on the camera, a Canon Speedlite 580EX II.  Then I have a slave flash that is simply pointed to the ceiling, a Canon Speedlite 430EX II.

Canon 580 EX II

Master on camera flash – 580 EX II

Step 4 – Setup the camera and shoot

The beautiful part about this setup is that you can now just dictate to the camera what you want for aperture and shutter speed (within reason).  I’m shooting with a 35mm that opens up to 1.4, but I can’t afford any out of focus details or softness in the shot.  So I put the camera in manual mode and choose a shutter speed of 1/125 and an aperture of f3.5.  The flashes take care of the exposure (E-TTL II is amazing) and you don’t need a tripod.  Stand on a chair, setup your products, and fire away!

Camera settings

1/125, f3.5

Here is an image take directly from the camera.  No editing at all.  Worthy of an Instagram post at least!

Taken straight from the camera, no editing except RAW->JPG.

Here are a couple of examples showing a similar setup in our family room for shooting larger subjects.  Some continuous lighting is used as well, especially since we shot some video (see the end of this post).

Larger vinyl with kids and dogs

Shooting some lifestyle shots with kids and animals.

Larger vinyl backdrop

Shooting certain items on the floor can be easier.

And of course, no backdrop post would be complete without the amazing Ellie dancing video we shot using the techniques above.