Blogging and photography go hand in hand, and quite often it’s the photos that can make or break a blog. Let’s not ignore the fact that product photography can make or break a business, too. The prevalence of social media and blog/product photography means that if you’re lacking in just one area, you could be shooting yourself in the foot. I’m certainly no pro, in fact I’m at the opposite end of the scale, but there is one thing I have learned about photography since wanting to up my game, and that’s the brighter, crisper, and cleaner the image is, the more likely you are to succeed, or at least see increased success in social media reach and/or interaction. You don’t have to have expensive set ups or equipment to help you achieve this aesthetic either.
Evolution of Little Goldfish’s product photography
As mentioned earlier, I do not deny that my photography skills are remotely close to a professional’s, or even an amateur’s. Once upon a time, I’d complete a product, shine a light on it, and snap away with my 12MP Olympus digital camera (you know, the kind that fits in your pocket), or my phone. I thought that it showed my cute little paper goods perfectly. There was no flat lay styling, it was just taken at my craft desk (mess pushed to the side, of course). The images were often out of focus, too close to the product (because I was trying to eliminate the surroundings), wrong lighting, and so on and so on. Sometimes I even used a flocked damask patterned box lid in black and grey. Wrong, just wrong.
After a little while, I realised that I should try to use a more neutral background, and make sure that there wasn’t anything to detract from the image in terms of other objects around it. The lighting was still terrible, along with the yellow walls in our old flat, and perhaps my choice of bases wasn’t so fabulous either. Nonetheless, I could see marginal improvements, and I was happy with the images.
Although I subconsciously knew it, I soon realised that natural light was the best for photos and that I might have to wait for daybreak to take product shots. Sometimes I would even venture out into the common gardens of our apartment building and use the fence or trees for effect.
Once I realised the err of my ways, I focused strictly on using natural light. Until I got impatient again. My next venture was to use rustic wooden crates that I’d purchased to use for market displays, and using the warm lighting we had instead of waiting….
Not long after I made the Frohe Weihnachten cards, I turned away from the handmade and turned to digital designs. I still used the wooden crates, but superimposed my digital designs onto the crates (they were real crates too, I was quite happy with how the photo of the crates turned out).
I ran with the crates for a good while with my product photography, right up until the other week actually. On the odd occasion, I would grab some pieces of white card stock out of my stash to use as backgrounds for photographing real products, like below. The card would be supported by items behind it so as to not fall over.
However, as I tend not to print a lot of my products unless it is a custom job, I still went with the crates. It was really only for Instagram and the desire to create better product images that I upped the ante with myself again and went down the brighter, crisper, cleaner path.
My DIY Photography Studio
Seeing all the gorgeous photos that would constantly pop up in my Instagram feed made me put my thinking cap on: what could I use that was cost effective and easy to store to take pretty photos? I love the pegboard look but a lot of people do it and masonite is not cheap to buy or store, I love the gorgeous styled shots but I don’t have the budget to buy items to style with, and I wanted it to be fairly robust. It wasn’t until I was standing in front of the masonite at Bunnings that I realised I could use Corflute, and that it would probably be better than masonite.
What is Corflute?
Have you ever noticed the A-frame store signs on the street printed onto a corrugated-looking plastic? That’s Corflute. Of course, it has lots of other uses too. Manufacturers of Corflute here in Australia, Corex, describe the product as:
“A twin wall Polypropylene sheet for conversion into signage, packaging, display, surface protection and a multitude of other Industrial applications.”
I love Corflute for my small biz and blog photography: It’s light weight, it’s durable (bends but doesn’t snap easily), it’s easy to store (I keep it behind my desk), it’s relatively cheap, and it reflects light perfectly.
I picked up four sheets of Corflute from Bunnings (but it’s not on their website, poo!) for around $5 a sheet from memory. I ended up cutting one up to use for a sign for our wedding ceremony, leaving me with three for photography. Each sheet is 900mm x 600mm x 3mm. I haven’t taped them together as that would limit the way I could use them.
Setting up the Corflute studio
As mentioned earlier, I have realised how poor my photos were without natural light and a clean, neutral backing, so now I try to only take my photos with natural light. We have big open windows in our flat along with light grey-white walls that are perfect for both reflecting and diffusing the light coming in from the windows. We do have Ge10 LED lights in each room too that really light up rooms well, but because it’s artificial I avoid taking photos after dark unless I really have to. Now that I have the Corflute, product and blog photography (for me) just got a whole lot easier.
Setting up the Corflute studio is quite easy, all you’ll need is some Corflute (I recommend a minimum of three sheets), a flat surface, a window, and some props to lean the Corflute walls against. If you are wanting a seamless background for product photography, a sheet of A2 card stock in your preferred colour will also be needed, along with bulldog clips or tape. And, of course, you’ll need a camera. It doesn’t have to be a flashy DSLR, your phone will work a treat with this set up too, especially with all the great photo editing apps out there.
Setting up your Photography Studio – for dimensional or flat lay images
- Ensuring that any product barcodes or branding are face down, place once piece of Corflute on a flat surface in front of a window. Try to ensure the flat surface is not too far below the window sill.
- Position second piece of Corflute directly opposite the window, i.e. facing the window. Place prop behind Corflute for stability (blutac adhered to flat surface and Corflute wall may work).
- Position third piece of Corflute at the opposite end to where you will be taking the photograph, i.e. the rear of the studio. Place prop behind Corflute for stability.
- If you are not using this set up for flat lays or you want a flawless/seamless background for a product that you’d like to show dimension, attach the piece of card stock to the top of the rear piece of Corflute with either bulldog clips or tape. You want the card stock to have a slight curve where the seams of the Corflute are at the back to give you that continuous look.
Voila, your DIY photography studio is complete! Here’s a snap from my Galaxy S5 last week demonstrating how quick and easy it is to set up that I sent to my friends at Blog Passion Project during a Twitter chat (search #passionproject on Twitter).
That image above has not had any edits applied to it so you can see how bright it is in our house even on a grey and gloomy day. You can also see the prop behind the back panel.
Here is what I put on Instagram, no filters but using their image editing tools.
From this Behind the Scenes shot, I went and created a flat lay image to share on Instagram. Again, before edits and after.
In the top image, you can make out the corrugation lines of the Corflute, while in the second image – thanks to Instagram’s editing features (again no filters just brightness, highlights, shadows adjusted) – you do have to strain to see them. Still not perfect but much better than when I first started photographing things for both business and blog.
I’m really happy with how my skills are developing, but there is always room for improvement! Today I’m actually going to find a piece of A2 card stock so I can start to take photos of my products so you can see how they look printed up instead of just relying on the images in my shop. And I’ve still got to read some great tutorials and manuals tweeted in the Blog Passion Project #PassionChat last week. Oh, and the other thing I want to do is just keep practising with the manual settings on our DSLR.
What do you use to do flat lays or product photography? Share your set ups and methods with me below!