Why you need strobes for Product Photography

Why you need strobes for Product Photography

Many product photographers use fluorescent lamps or available light to produce their images.  Indeed, you can use these lights but do not expect the very best results. This article outlines why.

Photography 101

For an image to expose correctly, you need a given amount of light to reach your sensor. To achieve this, you have three tools at your disposal:

-          Time (shutter speed), 

-          The opening of light that allows light to reach the sensor (aperture), and 

-          The sensor's sensitivity to light (ISO).

In Manual Mode, you can adjust all the above settings on your camera. When your camera is set to Auto Mode, the camera will decide these values for you; often incorrectly.

Shutter Speed Best Practice- Product Shots

Best practice for shutter speed for product photography is about 125th of a second. I shoot at 160th.  Fast shutter speed helps reduce the effect of camera shake. A short exposure also insures less image noise (graininess) as long exposures tend to expose the camera‚Äôs sensor to random photons that contribute to image noise. Short Exposures are always better than long exposures.

ISO Best Practice- Product Shots

Despite what some people may say about the quality of the modern camera sensor, it is still far from perfect.  I always shoot at 100 ISO or less when I shoot product photography.  At ISO 100, on a full frame sensor, I notice some noise- but barely any.  At ISO 400, I see noise.  I guarantee that the photographer who shoots jewelry for Tiffanies never sets his camera at ISO 400. 

If you have a descent lighting setup, you should be able to shoot at ISO 100 or lower all the time.  My typical product photography lighting setup includes three 650-watt strobes.

Perhaps you can get away with a higher ISO for web projects publications, but I think that is just laziness or a lack of knowhow.  If you know what you are doing, it takes about as much time to produce a great shot than an average one.

Aperture Best Practice- Product Shots

To get a deep depth of field, meaning that my camera will be in focus from tip to tail, I shoot at F-16. Any higher and my image will begins to soften due to diffraction. Any less and my depth of field begins to diminish. That said, I don't mind shooting as low as at F11 and as high as F18, but F-16 is my preference.

To shoot product photography under these constraints, I need a lot of light. Fluorescent lamps just don't cut it as they produce insufficient amounts of illumination. To work with fluorescent lamps, I need to open the shutter longer to get the image impression. By doing this, I find that I get more noise on the image; meaning, the photo gets grainy. This is caused by erratic photons that inappropriately fall on the camera sensor.  

The workaround is to use strobe lights. My preference is to use 600 Watt strobe lights. This allows me the flexibility to use various diffusers as required. Moreover, my shutter speed can achieve 125th of a second opening time (or greater).

For best results, use a light meter. 

Jules Design

Toronto Product Photography

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