Thursday, September 10, 2009

Making product photos for eBay, Craigslist, etc. on the cheap.

So you want to sell stuff on eBay, Craigslist, or some other online community/auction site but you don't have a fancy schmancy digital camera to take photos and know nothing about product photography?  No problem because you can still make halfway decent product photos that don't look like total blah if you have a cell phone with a camera in it or just an inexpensive point and shoot camera.  Blah is a technical term by the way. So let's turn these uninspiring blah shots into something a little more appealing. 

Blah shot number 1 taken straight on of a watch on a desk.

Blah shot number 2 taken of a car model on a desk (yes, I'm a car nut and collect car models)

There is a quick and easy way to make these shots just a tad more professional.  By the way, all the photos for this post were taken with my Blackberry Storm.  Why?  To prove a point... it's a complete crap camera but yet I still made usable photos with it.  They're not the sharpest and the white balance* is off  but the point is you can create halfway decent product photos without even owning a real camera.  It's killing me not to correct the problems with these photos but I'm leaving them as shot just for this blog.

*In layman's terms white balance means the colors of the picture are interpreted by the camera properly so the stuff that's white in your photo comes out white when you see it on the screen.  In the photos below I used white paper as the background but notice it's not really that white.  That's what it means when someone says the white balance is off.*

So how do we turn those uninspiring photos into these?

Slightly more professional looking shot of a watch.  If I had a watch holder I could have done even better.

Far more interesting shots of the Hummer Concept model.

So how'd I do it?  Easy...

I used an 11"x17" sheet of white paper for my background and two 8.5"x11" white sheets of paper to reflect some more light onto the objects I was taking photos of.  The two white sheets of paper help to fill in some of the shadows and illuminate the object just a little bit more.  Sure we can get into some fancy light setups but remember, we're doing this on the cheap.  These were taken in an office with my overhead light on so a desk lamp would serve the same purpose.  Here's the setup....
Like I said, I love cars. Anyway as you can see the 11"x17" sheet of paper forms a base to put the object on and a background behind the object.  In photography this would be referred to as a white seamless backdrop.  You could use a bed sheet or piece of cloth as well but I prefer the paper because as the name implies, it has no seams, no wrinkles, it's just a plain background that doesn't distract from the subject of the photo.  If you have a larger object to photograph you can get one of those flexible poster boards.  Also notice the light overhead that's illuminating the whole setup.
I slightly creased the 8.5"x11" sheets of paper to make them stand up better.  It's all about improvisation here so I used paper cups as stands.  Again these sheets of paper are used to help reflect (or bounce) some light back at your subject.  In this case my subject is the Hummer concept model.

Same setup for the watch although I moved the 8.5"x11" sheets of paper in closer because the watch is smaller.

The last "trick" takes a little bit of practice.  Try to find an angle to photograph your object at that looks interesting.  Compare my blah shots to my "better" shots and you'll see what I mean.  Generally straight on shots are boring but photography is all about breaking rules and sometimes straight on shots are necessary.  Just experiment with it by taking the photos from different angles.  Put the camera (or camera phone) close to the object, tilt the camera so it's not completely level, try to get more than one side of your object in the photo.
Finally if you want to do something more advanced but still inexpensive try replacing the two 8.5"x11" sheets of paper with two desk lamps or two cheap work lights from your favorite hardware store.  Not the 500watt halogen ones, just the cheap clamp on ones that cost around $8.00 each.   There's no right or wrong way to do it... experiment and see what looks good.

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