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Photography for packaging:

simple steps on how to have it done right

About 30% of studio work  I do is for packaging, and  I would like to share what I have learned.
Simple tips and rules  on how to make product look best on a package. Shooting  product for a package sometimes is very similar to a catalog photography, or for a web (except resolution). However, there are few aspects which  photographer need to keep in mind during a shoot:

Background:
In most cases product  will be clipped out from a background and placed on a digital one, so it is important to know what actual color of the package background it will be.
You have to match the color (or at least get as close as possible), to avoid glowing look (in case if you shoot on a bright background and item will be placed on a dark), or  dark edges , when you shoot on dark, and product was placed on white package.  The client not always aware of this, and you have to specifically ask about color of a  packaging box. Also, make sure the background can be clearly separated from the object: white background should be at least 2 stops brighter than the object, black should be darker, so the edges of the object are cleraly visible. Do not make package designer guess where is the edges.

Lighting:
It is really depends on what kind of  object will be photographed, but be prepared to place your product  in a shooting box or surround with big softboxes and white reflectors.
When I shoot kitchenware, most objects has curvy reflective surfaces, which requires to place white screens all around the product to kill unwanted reflections.  Sometime a gradient reflector will be needed, as you may not be able to create desired gradient tone on those mirror-like surfaces with the light only.

Also, we need to make sure the object does not have deep shadows or highlights. Ideally it should look like it was photographed in the lightbox. I am saying “look like” because I’ve never used lightbox and do not recommend using it, it has too much limitations.

Lens, DOF and Focal Length:
We’ll need to have  as  deep Depth Of Field as possible, to have all parts of the object in a focus. Remember, this is not an AD photography, where some blur may help to create an attractive look. Here we need to make sure that all the details are clearly visible.
To achieve this, I usually  close aperture down to F18-F22. Obviously, the lens should be able to  deliver sharp and high-contrast  image at such aperture level. Make sure you know your lens: What the maximum aperture number you can set before diffraction starts lowering contrast and whipes out details?

 

I have a nice cheap Sigma 100mm F2.8 macro lens, which I use occasionally. It is very sharp between f4 and f9. Starting from f10 till it’s (unusable at all) maximum of f42(!) it lose the contrast and details. More I  close diaphragm, worse image I  get.  In opposite, my  macro Canon 180 F3.5 L lens is capable to deliver  exceptionally good quality picture till  F22.

Focal length: For some products I use long lens (usually Canon macro 180mm), which let me to retain object proportions, which  is good when I shoot object frontally. Longer lens makes object look flat, so we have to use lighting to accentuate object’s shape.
In other cases I use  wider angle lens (35-50mm focal length), good when object being photographed at the angle. Here is the example of wrong use of long focal distance lens:

180mm lens, an example of unproper use of a long focus lens for a product photography

See how unusual and wrong it looks.
And here is a wider lens used for the same object:

50mm lens, good example of correct use of short focus lens for a product photography

The grill looks more realistic, angle and perspective is more pleased to human eyes.

When front view shot is required, longer focus lens work better, helping to remain proportions of the object. Image below was done with 70mm lens, which gives me a good balance of real proportions and still wide enough not to flatten the object and to show the internals of the oven:

Long focus lens product example, front view

Below an example of use 180mm lens, I use gradient light to show the volume of the product:

An example of good use for a long focus lens:kettle, 180mm lens

At the end I would like to show an example of GE Grill packaging photography, from a the camera Raw file to a final result after designer compiled all the pieces together. (Designer have used similar image but without a pasta bowl).
As you see, in this case white background was OK for clipping object out and placing it on a red.

Atlanta product photography: grill press as-is image

 

Ready for print packaging box tear sheet

I hope this has been helpful and would love to hear your comments. Especially if you are on other end of the chain, meaning you are a packaging professional designer. Would you agree with what I have here? Did I miss anything important? Any feedback is highly appreciated.

-Alex




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