What Setting Should I have my Camera on for Product Photography? An Introduction to Aperture
Some of my favourite places to shop online are Not on the High Street and Etsy because I know I can get my hands on some really unusual, unique and handmade pieces that are supporting independent sellers...BUT it pains me so much to see little businesses struggling with their product photography. Bad photography normally undersells the product and means people like me will most likely scroll past that item because I can't see it clearly enough or the picture doesn't stop me in my tracks and make me inspired. Has anyone else done this?
Whilst I offer product photography services, I completely get that outsourcing is not in every small businesses' budget and that's ok! I'm a small business too and I want to help other small businesses where I can which is why I'm bringing out these series of blog posts with little pointers and tips to help you master the art of social media and photography until you are so busy that you NEED to outsource.
So here's my first post with tips on product photography... it's a long one so brace yourself!
Let's start by talking about your camera. Every single type of camera/lens combo will create slightly different results. Taking into consideration different light and the many possible combinations of settings, I can't easily tell you exactly what settings your specific set up will require.
What I can do is guide you through the different elements, hopefully giving you a little more understanding about why stepping away from the 'auto' setting will change your photography for the better and how different settings will give you different results.
If you use your camera phone for your photos, don't stop reading here! These days, camera phones are incredibly and almost all modern smart phones will have a 'pro' mode on their phone camera so you can still take control and change settings yourself rather than the phone 'guessing' what you want from your image.
IT'S ALL ABOUT PLAYING
It sounds silly but the absolute biggest piece of advice I can give you is to PLAY with your camera. Change one setting at a time, go up and down the numbers and see how it effects your images. Just snapping away will make you feel more comfortable with the camera itself and the more you use it, the more you take photos with it, the more natural it'll feel when you really need to get that perfect snap and ultimately, you'll take a better picture.
THE FIRST STEP
The first setting I'm going to ask you to think about is...
You might have heard of it, you might not but chances are you'll have seen the settings on your camera without even noticing them.
I promise it's not that scary and once you understand it more, you'll want to be in control of it yourself rather than your camera guessing what setting you want!
WHAT IS APERTURE?
Aperture on a camera is referencing to how much or how little light you’re letting pass through the lens. The affect of this is something often referred to as ‘depth of field’ AKA whether your subject has a blurry background or not.
Aperture is measured in ‘f’ stops and you might have noticed figures such as f/5.6 or f/11 pop up on your camera, this is your aperture setting and is literally referencing how open your camera shutter opens when it captures an image.
WHAT DO THESE SETTINGS MEAN?
For ease, let's break the settings down into roughly three groups (remember these are guides and every camera/lens/phone/set up will create different results, you may also not have all of these apertures available on your camera).
Aperture settings f/1.2 - f/5.6 will allow a lot of light in so creates a brighter image because the shutter is wide open. These settings are perfect for picking out a single object as it will create a blurred background and is known as a shallow depth of field.
Aperture settings f/5.6 - f/8 are a good mid-range. The shutter is open slightly less so won't let as much light in. You might find you'll still get some blur in the background but your product in the foreground will quite clearly in focus. If you aren't sure what settings to choose, this is a good place to start.
Aperture settings f/11 - f/22 allows a lot less light in as the shutters only open a small amount when capturing an image. These settings are good if you want the whole of the scene to be in focus and a really clear and detailed image. This is also known as a deep depth of field.
I've made an A5 PDF digital download that is the perfect help sheet to guide and remind you what the different aperture settings on your camera mean.
WHAT DOES THIS LOOK LIKE?
I've created some examples to show you how different apertures can affect the outcome of your product photography.
Note how the foliage is barely visible in this one and focus is purely on the candle itself but a little detail is lost around the 'H' and 'S' as the candle is curved. The foliage just adds some interest to the otherwise plain background.
Note how the foliage is more in focus but not completely in focus. The 'H' and 'S' has more detail than above.
In this one the foliage is sharp in focus and you instead you look at the image as a whole, rather than just the candle. The word 'Happiness' is all in focus.
WHAT SETTINGS SHOULD I USE?
As a rough guide, I'd recommend the following aperture settings for product photography although make sure to refer back to my 'play' section, learn about your camera and find settings to suit you:
A mid-range 'f' stop such as f/8 for images for product listings where you want the product to be in focus and clear for the customer.
A wide aperture 'f' stop such as f/2.8 for images for styled images for social media where you want to create a lifestyle image with depth and interest.
Now, one last big thing...
SHUTTER SPEED, LIGHTING, ISO AND EVERYTHING ELSE!