WE ARE PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHERS
Who we are and what are the types of photography we offer?
I am Julia Schärdel, a German based photographer and the co-founder of the collaboration AUEN60 Photography, which also consists of Ines Häberlein, Andreas Zitt and our junior photographer Cora Tamborini. Andreas, Ines and I were studying Photography Design in Munich and since we all have kind of a similar style and approach to photography we fit perfectly together as a team.
We startet our career in a small wine cellar during our studies. Today we are lucky to have a big studio in the heart of Munich and another studio in Regensburg where we offer professional product photography as well as corporate business photography.
Our style is being described as colorful, minimalistic and natural.
We love to make it look simple and let the products shine in their best way. Always trying to hit our customers needs and fit to the particular brand identity.
You can check out some of our work here: www.auen60.de or on instagram: julia_schaerdel_auen60
IDEA AND IMPLEMENTATION OF A PRODUCT SHOOT
Eye-catching product photos are crucial for every company and brand, especially in e-commerce where it is often the first impression a buyer will have. They are essential when customers cannot see the products face-to-face or physically hold the product in their hands.
Product images serve a variety of purposes like being placed on brand websites, populating product listings on ecommerce sites, used for digital marketing and be shared on social media profiles.
Well done product imagery can show to customers how the product looks and feels, demonstrate use, and add meaningful lifestyle context. Demonstrating the positive attributes of the product through visualization helps empower your audience to feel confident in their purchasing decisions.
But how can we fit our customers needs, how to get the idea?
First of all there is to say, that the approach is very different in our case as our customers are big and small companies, start-ups and Advertising/Marketing-Agencies.
Big Companies with inhouse-Marketing departments often already have a very clear vision and even have very strict shooting guidelines. There’s nearly no creative input needed from our side for shaping a concept.
They actually will pick photographers by their pictorial language and hire them for the particular campaign. Therefore it is vital for any professional photographer having a website and to show a portfolio in a consistent style. In general you can say, that customers like to perceive you as the professional expert for a special imagery style. They don’t trust you if you offer everything from Wedding photography, landscape photography to Advertising Photography.
Please allow me the following comparison to make this point even more clear: Someone who would like to eat Chinese food will probably not ask an Italian Restaurant if they are able to deliver a traditional Chinese dish. They will hire the expert - the Chinese restaurant. It´s as easy as this.
If it would be possible, customers would even love to see the final shot of their shooting concept on your page and pick it like in a menu.
Besides the big companies, there are other „species“ of customers, like smaller companies and start-ups which are in general a lot more flexible when it comes to shooting concepts and ideas. They are happy to get some input from our side and benefit from our knowledge and expertise. Most of the time they commission their first photoshooting and do not have any experience or just no time to dive into the universe of product photography.
Shaping the shooting concept
For shaping a shooting concept I will ask them following questions:
1. How do you want your brand to be seen by your customers? Do you want to be seen as classy, fun, professional, creative, trustfully…?
2. Which product qualities do you want to highlight? Is it your product’s active ingredients or a specific function or use case?
3.What type of photography would you use to showcase your product?
a) Packshot Photography/Clean-cut photographs of products mainly used for showing products in Onlineshops. This is supposedly the most neutral and objective presentation of a product.
b) Stilllife Photography showcases the product in a staged surrounding, it will add atmosphere and emotion and there are a lot of creative decisions to make in order to achieve the right look.
c) Lifestyle shots are a perfect way to show customers how the product is used. It can give customers an idea of what's in the product. Also, adding a lifestyle context to the product photography helps the customers imagine how the product fits into their lives/needs.
Creating a mood board and sourcing reference imagery is the best way to keep visual notes about the whole desired look & feel.
It includes colour scheme, general mood and theme that you'd like to achieve. It can also help you determine the appropriate style and aesthetic that will appeal to your audience.
Creating a mood board gives you an efficient way to come up with a vision and define a product shoot concept without losing sight of the bigger picture, ensuring a smooth photoshoot process.
Pinterest is a great place for collecting visual references, I have dozens of pinboards and always love to browse new visual content.
We discuss the moodboard pictures with our customers and try to analyze what exactly they were attracted to:
Now the whole concept should get clear and you can start finding proper Backgrounds, Accessoires and think of a suitable light setting.
The three-dimensionality of the product must be displayed
Every photograph is a two dimensional object which shows three-dimensional objects. This in mind you should master your lighting in a way that the viewer almost has the impression that he can touch the product.
In a world of digital online shops where you never see the product vis-a-vis before you buy it, it is even more important that you nurture the illusion of actually seeing a 3-D-Object. This will boost your customers conversion rate and sales.
Taking great photographs is like painting with light. Where you can find light, there you’ll find shadows - these two always will come hand in hand. And as a photographer it’s your task to balance it in a pleasant way.
Product selection – vegetables, fruits:
If you are using accessoires like vegetables, fruits, plants, flowers etc. make sure that you carefully select these items when buying them. It´s a good idea to buy a bunch of the certain accessories so you can choose the most photogenic one during the shoot. Also you might have to cut them into pieces (which is not working very well sometimes) - then you’ll be happy to have some in reserve.
Complex compositions and how to do them
In stilllife photography you have numerous decisions to make. Choosing the background, the colors, the lighting, the overall look & feel. Finally you have to care about composition and arranging several things in a way to look easy and draw the attention of the viewer to the product.
This leads me to the most important advice even though it might sound simple: You have to define the „star“ of the shot before starting to arrange anything. As a stilllife photographer you obviously like to highlight the product you are shooting. Never loose track of this in your shooting process.
There are plenty ways to achieve this, just to mention some possible options:
You can bring your „star“ to the foreground and/or blur away the background.
You can place your subject on a pedestal or anything that lifts it up.
You can experiment with contrasting or matching Colors.
You can reduce the number of colors and things in the background to achieve a minimalistic and neat look. Less is more.
You can use the rule of thirds to selectively direct the attention to your subject.
You can play with the lighting and place a lighter spot on your „star“ or give the picture a soft vignette to „frame“ it. The eye always will always stick to the brightest and most colorful part in the picture.
Besides that it will be exceedingly helpful to shoot from a tripod. That way you can choose the right perspective first and then arrange all your components one after the other.
I always shoot tethered into Capture one - so I can see the result on a big monitor and also can check the sharpness and correct exposure.
Photos hand in hand with graphics
If you are shooting for a magazine cover or for an advertising, you additionally have to consider where you have to leave some space for graphics and text.
At best you have all data like pixel dimensions and where exactly the graphics will be placed later on. If you shoot tethered (which is the only professional way to go), then you can prepare a graphic mockup and place it as a mask over your photo. Thereby you’ll exactly see how to arrange your components in the frame. Capture One is a great tool for that.
Make sure that you can read the text and the colors of the background and text have enough contrast for being visible.
PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHER EQUIPMENT
Our standard lenses are:
105mm, f2.8 Makro (for Close ups and small items)
Using a tripod is absolutely essential - my work would not exist without a tripod.
Not only it helps you to construct your stilllife and keeps it in a consistent angle. Sometimes you have to take multiple shots of one picture in different lighting (to get rid of disturbing reflections etc.) If your camera did not move, you can combine these shots easily in postproduction.
We never use a light tent for our photographs. You don’t have full control over the light - everything is just bright and diffuse light comes from all sides.
Instead we use acrylic glass, white and black reflectors to control the light and shape it the way we want.
Indeed a light tent can be very helpful to get rid of unwanted reflections in an easy & uncomplicated way. However in my opinion it is not the most elegant way to control light.
A photo table is a good choice for taking pictures of pack shots and neutral product shots in front of white background. In contrast to paper backdrops a photo table is translucent, which means you can illuminate it from the back and down below in order to have a seamless white background. This is perfect for neutral E-commerce shots for Online-Shops.
Photo background and materials
We mostly use handcrafted backgrounds for our still-life shots. We figured that varnished boards are the best solution for us. You can buy varnish in individualized colors in every hardware store. This way we are extremely flexible in terms of colors and we can easily clean the varnished boards when shooting wet things (creams, fruits, drinks…) or when things are getting messed up.
Besides that, there are a lot of interesting suppliers of textured food photography backgrounds around the internet. Also the hardware store is a great place for getting inspired when it comes to backgrounds and shooting accessories.
Remote camera control
Shooting with a remote control (or shooting tethered, which I prefer) is always important when you don’t want your picture to move. Pressing the button on your camera will immediately move your shot and this might not be helpful for your retouching. Sometimes you have to take more shots of the same scenery and combine the best parts/lighting in postproduction. Therefore it will make things a lot easier when your picture is standing absolutely still.
Daylight The biggest benefits of using natural lighting is that it is free, you don’t need to make huge investments in lighting equipment. The downside is, that you have restricted opportunities to control and shape daylight. It´s a lottery - you basically have to work with the light the specific day offers you.
If you are working as a professional product photographer, you probably have to stick to your customer`s briefing, which also should include the desired sort of lighting. You may want to have full control of all styling components - including the light.
One of constant light’s biggest advantages is that it takes the guesswork out of knowing where or how the light is going to fall on your subject. What you see in-camera in terms of lighting, lens flare, bokeh, and so on, especially when using live view, is exactly what you’re going to get when you snap the shutter.
I almost always use flash lights for our studio still-life photography. The power output from flash units far exceeds that of constant lights. This is important because most of the time I need to photograph the products sharp from front to back - therefore I need to increase depth of field and close the iris of the lens. If you do so, you’ll need a much more powerful light source - which leads us to using studio flash lights.
Furthermore flashes have the ability to freeze motion (e.g. If you want to freeze splashes of water) Also if you need to overpower the sunlight, you’ll need a bigger output of light, which only flashes can provide.
And finally, with more power comes the ability to use bigger modifiers and get more light coverage from longer distances, which will help you control light.
A reflector is a tool that helps to manipulate the light by providing another surface for the light to bounce off. Reflectors are inexpensive tools that can make a big impact on the image.
Understanding light, the ways it spreads and bounces, is essential. Some objects absorb light, others bounce it back in another direction.
The first thing to understand about reflectors is, that the light from a reflector isn’t any brighter than what is already there. The second point to understand is that the quality of the light will match the quality of the light that’s in the scene.
Reflectors don’t create light, their primary purpose is to fix shadows and create fill light. Bouncing back some light helps to bring lost details out.
Therefore you can use classic reflective plates (like the 5in1 reflectors) or even white, silver, gold or black paper if you want to stay at a small budget.
How much postproduction and how to do perfect postproduction for a product photo? What is important?
We always try to keep post production at a minimum. But sometimes - depending on the concept or the nature of the products, there is a need of a little magic from photoshop after the shoot.
First of all: Always shoot in RAW-files. This is major to get the most out of your pictures. Never use JPG as you have a lack of details for postproduction.
Basic postproduction will cover cleaning up dust/scratches/spots on the product and scenery. Sometimes you want to remove some disturbing shadows as well in order to achieve a neat & clean look.
Furthermore color-grading is an important tool to set the mood of an image. You can control the color of your lights, midtones and darks to give it a cinematic/interesting look.
If you are really getting creative, there’s no limit in postproduction.
We are happy if you write us on instagram or send us an email if you have any questions or comments.
Julia Schärdel, co-founder AUEN60 Photography
Ines Häberlein, co-founder AUEN60 Photography
Andreas Zitt, member AUEN60 Photography
Cora Tamborini, junior photographer AUEN60 Photography