GOOD, BETTER, PERFECT: How do you capture a beautiful still-life product shot?

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Here’s a shot my team and I worked on last year for Szanto, a heritage watch company based in the Bay Area. This is a good example of what goes through my head when I’m working on a product lifestyle shot. It started with a month of research into visual and brand identity. Once we nailed that, we started a location and prop search. We ended up renting the Oakland Aviation Museum and used their space and displays. We also worked with an experienced prop stylist to search for period and theme appropriate props. For this shot, I had the idea that we wanted something blue. The docent helped me find some old engine blue prints, and we found a great bench with old engine parts and tools. 

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Good: This opening shot was a good start-off point for us because all of the elements worked together nicely. The blue from the schematic page and caliper complemented the silver tones in the metals and the olive green from the wristband. The first step was to just lay down the elements in a loose and general manner. All I looked for here was if the flavor was there. 

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Better: In this next shot, we tidied the scene up a bit by closing the binder rings and adding some less distracting elements in the background. This phase was quite a bit of trial and error. I often will take things away, put them back, and add other elements to see what works and what doesn’t. I’m looking for dynamics in framing, rhythm of lines or props and objects. I’ll experiment with moving the camera slightly, I’ll play with cropping, and making sure I like all parts of the image. The focus here was on the watch, and all of the other elements needed to either compliment or not distract the view. 

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Perfect: Next we started working on lighting. For this shot, a lot was done to make sure that a romantic atmospheric mood was achieved. That meant adding a lot of directionality and introducing contrast by adding hard streaks of light in the background and foreground. The product had to really sing off of the page, so the watch was lit separately from the rest of the scene. And since the watch was black, it needed a lot of help. I didn’t have the luxury of a lot of equipment or hours, so a simple product photographer’s trick was used–little silver and white bounce cards. It took some photo yoga, but we were able to get the desired light on the product. Finally, many hours were spent comping the image together in photoshop, and making sure that the watch looked perfectly set in the scene. 

Cheers,
Thomas

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