Crash Course in Product Photography

The past week has been a crash course in product photography. I decided to fast-track this skill development because I have a retailer who may be interested in the dodecahedron floor lamp. If all goes well, I'll never see it again -- which means I need to properly document it before it finds its permanent home!

I started by watching some tutorials from the Etsy Seller Handbook. Then I made brunch for a photographer friend in exchange for a photography 101 class, in which I picked his brain about light, aperture, speed, ISO, depth of field, and workflow (see his terrific handwritten notes here). My partner Phil borrowed a fancy DSLR camera and lens from his work, and I invested in some gear (9'-wide paper backdrop, tripod, and the stand thingies to hold up the backdrop). I turned our garage into a photo studio, gave the lamp one last coat of black metal wax (love that stuff; so slick), and got started. Our dog Simi kept me company, snoozing in the sun and occasionally barking at passers-by (rude!).

I turned our garage into a photo studio.

I spent two full days shooting the lamp. Turns out product photography is hard! Some examples of my frustrations:

  • Why are all my photos blurry?
  • Our garage floor isn't level!
  • How can I tell if something is truly in focus?
  • My left eye hurts from squinting.
  • How did that crease get in the paper backdrop?
  • How do you turn on autofocus? 
  • Why isn't autofocus working?
  • Why won't the shutter click all the way down? (True story.)
  • My back hurts from standing in weird, contorted positions.
  • Shit, low battery. Where can I find a replacement battery?
  • Simi, stop barking at the neighbors!

I'm lucky to have some great help, though: Both Phil and our roommate Bradley (a.k.a. GMUNK) answered a million questions for me throughout the last couple days, and Phil even drove home in the middle of the day to drop off a replacement battery and fix some camera settings. I took about 1,000 photos over the two days, and by photo number 800 or so, I think I actually started to get the hang of it. 

Simi kept watch while I took photos. She hunted mice in the garage (ew) and barked at a few people innocently walking their dogs (oops). 

I took a cursory look at the pics last night, and some of them look pretty good! I'm about to go watch a tutorial on how to use Lightroom to sort and edit my photos. So, hopefully I'll have sexy new lamp photos to post on my website shortly!

My main take-aways from this learning experience:

  • The auto setting on a $1200 DSLR works pretty damn well, if you ask me.
  • I'm excited to be adding photography and photo editing to my skill set. I imagine (hope!) that future shoots will be considerably more efficient and less painful than this one. 
  • Learning new skills is totally exhausting. I can't wait to get back to doing things that I'm actually already good at (like welding). :)

The view from the sidewalk. Don't miss Simi's goofy grin.