It wasn’t in the plan to become a product photographer. But being offered a chance at a large jewelry catalog image shoot began a new era for me. I became fascinated with building the light and learning how to craft images. This process has changed how I look at and work with all images I take. From landscape to portraits, products and still life, I now look at the light and image differently.
It has made me a better photographer.
With landscapes you work with what you have, wait for the light, try to be there at the right time or maybe simply snap away for something to do while you wait for that perfect moment.
(we’ve all been guilty of this at some point)
We can’t control the light, only when and how we frame and expose for the image. With portraits and product photography it is different. We are in control and make the decisions on the look we want. Even if you are a natural light photographer, you are choosing the time and place for your shot. To get the light you want.
Enter the speed light or strobe…
These tools allow you to craft an image any time of day in almost any environment. Even in full sun at the “worst” light of the day, it’s possible to control the ambient light and get great and interesting shots. Once you enter a studio environment, you have complete and total control over all aspects of the image and light. There is no time of day or waiting for the light. It becomes up to you. (I know, a heavy burden to be in charge…)
From one light to a dozen lights, the possibilities are endless. You now have creative license to do whatever you will, good or bad, success for failure. No waiting…
Where to begin building the light for a given product? I had no clue how to shoot jewelry. I jumped on the web and started searching, watching videos and spent many, many hours looking for tutorials and clues. I found lots of information. Some good, some OK, some bad. Who was right? Ultimately I had to do my own tests. The trial (and trials) and errors game began.
I started with a translucent shower curtain, some plastic pipe to make a frame for a lighting box and some various tungsten and fluorescent lights in those silver hardware store work lights. I even had flashlights with paper snouts on them for spot lights. I shot for 6 weeks as often as I could, all the while studying and looking for more information. In the end, one image was submitted and the job was offered for over 1100 rings with two images each.
Along the way I found my product mentor and began the process of learning to build up nice light gradients, highlights and the tricks of the trade (ice is not ice, btw). It is an ongoing process. You learn to break down an image you are looking at and seeing how it was done. You can look into the eyes of a model photograph and see what the key light is. You begin to see subtle light gradients and patterns. You appreciate those who know how to craft the top images even more. You also see the average or mediocre images being used in major marketing campaigns and in magazines.
It has changed how I see light and the images I want to create. It is something you can do at home, in your garage and at midnight when you can’t sleep. It can be done with almost any light source and your creativity is the only limit.
There are many techniques employed. Hard light, soft diffused light, dragging the shutter, light painting, focus stacking, compositing and done in camera shots.
Photography is a technical art. This suits me fine. I love technology but I am also an Artist too.
We all are different. For some the technical is overwhelming and they simply want to keep it simple and shoot. Let the camera do it’s job. Modern cameras are amazing and great stuff comes out from those who learn to see the light an compose images well. On the other hand, are those who like to control the camera and what it sees more. Moving into utilizing more of the features and tech. Composition and quality of light is still important.
No mater which of these you fall into or somewhere in-between, shooting still life, doing table top photography, product photography and portraits with controlled lighting will evolve your vision and your photography for the better.
Finding help and a mentor will help you accelerate your process and save you a lot of time. Joining challenges, photo themes, online and offline workshops will advance your skills faster, and make you more comfortable when taking any image. Even those family, holiday and birthday images will improve as you expand your awareness and seeing.
No matter what you currently take images of or want to photograph in the future, I hope you have the passion and desire to keep improving and learning. I am a work in process. This is part of the fascination of this digital art. My desire is to shoot images at the top of the industry for products, models and advertising. This was not the original plan as I stated in the beginning of this article. It has evolved as I have.
The Photographers Adventure Club is all about this process in a fun, friendly and supportive environment. You get to hangout and learn from other photographers, from newbies and casual photographers to pros and upcoming pros.
I highly recommend you learn how to work with lighting in a studio and shoot still live/table top images. It will change you in positive ways and improve your imagery.
Larry Pollock is a product, portrait and event photographer from Sedona Arizona. He is also the leader of the Northern Arizona Photographers Adventure Club Chapter