Product Photography with Vladimir Morozov: Simple Answers to Difficult Questions

What is the key to success in product photography, what’s the right way to set up light, and is it possible to make the lighting equipment with your own hands? A famous advertising photographer Vladimir Morozov answers these and other questions especially for readers of the “Free Shooting Angle”.

Personal file: Vladimir Morozov is a professional advertising photographer, expert in product photography. His awards include the Golden Apple of the Moscow International Advertising Festival, and two Grand-Prix of the Moscow International Advertising Photography Festival Master. He created imagery for lots of campaigns of worldwide known brands.

What is the main difference of the product photography from shooting models?

One kind of photography depicts products, the other one does models. Yet to put it straight, it’s all about photography; either it is, or it is not. Surely, there are differences in setting up light; in product photography, as a rule, back and modeling lights prevail, for revealing of shape and texture of a product is more often advantageous than disadvantageous.

What kind of light does a product photo require?

You can take a high quality image using only one light source. It can be a piece of professional lighting equipment, yet it can be a usual desk lamp. Just do not forget about a tripod, cable release or remote control, and do use a lens hood: after all, if there is only one light source, it should be a back light.

The image was created at the author’s product photography workshop. Three light sources (all being back lights) and two white diffusing flags.

How should we set up a camera for product photography?

It depends on what you are going to get. Product photography does not exclude the exposure metering basics. Use your tripod, set minimum ISO, and let your concept define the rest of the settings. Do not forget to shoot RAW files; in case of minor mistakes you’d be able to correct those.

What’s the best way to get off the dust from a product?

I use either a usual photographic dust-blower (means of average efficiency, but serves you lifelong), or compressed air (highly effective, but a cylinder is enough just for several big shooting sessions). In case you need to clean dust from a large surface, compressed air goes surely better. But all your objects should be fixed and fastened to the shooting ground. One more tip: do all the work in white cotton gloves to avoid any traces on glossy surfaces, it is that difficult to take those away during post-production.

What’s the best way to get soft lighting?

Most of photographers use soft-boxes for this purpose. But it is important to remember that soft-boxes were invented for quick work on the go. If you have enough time, try to work with directed light, softening it with various diffusors. As such, you can use semi-transparent materials, fabric, opaque plexiglas.

An example of softened directed light.

How can we do a more interesting lighting pattern?

Do not use soft and diffused light.

Croissants. The image was created at the author’s product photography workshop as an example of working with directed light.

What light does suit better, pulse or continuous?

The light, which you like, and which is more convenient for your shooting team. I use both, often mixing them in one shot.

The image was created at the author’s product photography workshop as an example of simultaneous use of pulse and continuous light.

What’s the best way to shoot foodstuff?

Do not try to do it alone. For good food photography you need an experienced cook, food stylist, a couple of assistants, let alone the photographer.

Behind the scenes of a food shooting session.
Food stylist Elena Bychkova practices her magic on a set.

At a commercial shooting session there are representatives of an agency and the customer always present on the set, as it is necessary to approve or introduce corrections in the quickest fashion possible, because everything is rapidly fading, drying and thawing.

An ice-cream photo sketch.

Is it possible to use a lightcube for shooting?

A lightcube is always a compromise. It can be used, but it is not suitable for every shooting. On a set you often need an access to your products, but it’s not that convenient, to do things in a lightcube. However, if your order is to shoot a hundred of boots — use it. But remember: even in this case you’d be able to correct the position of laces.

What background is the most convenient?

White and black glasses are best friends of a product photographer. As for white, you can use plexiglas, because scratches are hardly noticeable on its surface. But black should be the real glass, it is more scratch and wear resistant.

Parmigiano. The image was created at the author’s product photography workshop. White glossy glass used as a background.

If you don’t need any reflection from the product you shoot, take frosted glass, but if you do, take glossy one. Black velvet is the best option for a deep black background; it absorbs light perfectly and does not give any stray reflections or flares.

Morocco Tea. The image was created at the author’s product photography workshop. Black glossy glass used as a background.

What can be used instead of reflectors?

We call them flags; they can be white, black and colored. And they are most often applied in this very sequence. They can be made of sheet foam board, plastic and even mirrors. Nice white flags come from smooth foam board ceiling tiles. They are affordable, light, convenient to fix, and easily cut to any shape.

Sample image made with white reflective flags.

How do you place beautiful flares on the products you photograph?

The best way is to reflect in the product something bright and beautiful; but if it is not an option, you have to paint it during the post-production. However, many consider it unfair; they say all the chiaroscuro should be created directly on a set. My opinion is that we should choose the shortest way to the intended result, and my customer has not to pay for some hours’ job of my team trying to place a nice patch of light on a product.

Here, all the flares are created on the shooting ground.

What else would you wish to the beginners?

Break all rules you can, don’t listen to anyone, do your experiments, make your own team, and… shoot your beautiful projects.

Interview: Alyona Bel’skaya

Translation: Vladimir Samarin