In this article, we are looking at tweaking the mindset and approach when considering your set up.
It’s very important when starting off, that your set up stays simple and basic. There will be plenty of opportunity to go crazy soon enough!
Very often we see tutorials and examples of work from pro photographers, like myself, showing you a complicated multi light set up or demonstrating shooting an image using multiple exposures and clever tricks. At the pro level there are very good reasons for complex shooting. However, when I think back to when I learned my craft I didn’t have a lot of kit to play with, and so I had to keep things simple. When thinking about your set up, make your life easy and calm everything down. Less is always more in my book!
Sometimes, basic ways can deliver a beautiful outcome. So how can I help your set up start off with simplicity in mind?
There are a few things to consider when setting a shot up. Think of them in the following order.
- The product or subject
- The surface and background
- The lighting
What is it that we want to do with the product? What is result that we want to have from this shot? I keep on discussing the “result” in nearly all of my lessons and tutorials, as it is so important to have a good idea about why we are doing the thing we are doing!
There is an up and coming tutorial from me on this very subject which really goes into this in depth – can’t wait to share that one with you!
But right now, let’s just think in simple terms about what we looking to say about a product. Usually, this comes down to the shape (the form) and the material it is made from (the texture). Think about that, and then consider how you can best show that with your camera angle and your choice of lens.
In Shoot Products Like A Pro, we have a whole module that works through this very subject. We can keep drilling down and down and getting ever more granular.
In practice how do we find our angle? Let’s presume you have a standard lens on your DLSR – Perfect. Hand hold the camera whilst looking at your object and check out all the angles through the lens. Move closer, pull back a little…How do you like it looking? Search around. When you have found what you like, get your camera onto your tripod and you are ready to go!
The choice of the surface and background are going to be really subjective to what you are shooting. I would however stick to the following rule of thumb:
- Keep focused on the subject, not the environment, by choosing a surface that will not conflict with the subject i.e. If you are shooting a loaf of bread, use a simple coloured paper surface or material that doesn’t look too different. Perhaps choose a similar tone and colour to the bread like a muted orange or light brown. A wooden chopping board would work well. This way, your product will still be the centre of attention.
- Do you want a horizon? If so, have a surface and a separate background. If not, you will want to go for one continuous scoop of surface, perhaps a piece of material gently sloping up in the background until it goes out of shot at the top
Don’t overcomplicate things! That’s my main advice. We always want to run before we can walk. We always want to try lots of things out. Chances are we’re going to get too complicated, and trip ourselves up. Keep your set up simple.
Another way of thinking about why we should keep our lighting simple is let’s think about everyday objects that we see around us in our life. Most of the time they are lit naturally by a single kind of light source. An object outside is lit from the sun. It is very unnatural to have an object lit from multiple directions unless you’re achieving a specific graphical result. Start off simple and natural. Start by crafting the lighting using a single light source on the subject.
Simple and effective lighting explorations, can come from understanding what objects look like when they’re lit from either the top or from the side. Which one you choose will depend on what it is you are photographing and the shape. In my view, the result we are looking for here is to create a nice highlight that moves with good light movement across a product and then goes into shadow.
Practice this simple approach before doing anything else!
Once you have got your light moving nicely, the best thing we can then do is fill in from the opposite side of the light with a simple white reflector. You can move that reflector closer in, or further away. A piece of white foam card that you can get from your local graphic store can be easily supported on a tin with some tape or some blue tack. It’s very simple and very effective.
Examples of simple lighting
Here are a couple of examples of ‘simple light’ that I took at college and early on in my career.
You can see the hot water bottle is lit from the left-hand side using a spotlight. The light really picks out the product shape and describes its material very well. The Butternut Squash is lit from the top and the rear. The light is quite bright along the top edge, then falls off quickly showing the roundness and shape and volume of the object. There is nothing hard and tricky in these kinds of lighting set ups. Almost any kind of lighting source can be used and controlled to give dynamic results, and most of the time a bit of thought behind where the light needs to come from to gain the maximum effect is all that is required. Try and stay away from hard or complex studio set ups. If getting a particular result becomes a bit of a monster, just stop and think about whether the result can be achieved a different way.
- Work out how you want to describe your subject, then make sure your camera angle shows this as best you can.
- Keep your set up simple through using similar surface and background materials, tones and colours. Keep the attention on the subject.
- Keep your lighting coming from either the side or the top, with one light, and just explore how that light moves from the highlight to the darker tones.
Understand and master this before you move onto more complicated approaches. Have fun!
Cheers for now!
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