What is the single most important aspect of quality packshot photography? Selling products effectively through the use of a catalogue photo or packshot photograph requires a whole raft of skills and techniques, but if you had to select the one factor which makes more of a difference than anything else, what would it be?
If you said the camera, the computer or even the product then you’re fairly far from the right track. Of course, the single most effective factor in the equation is the photographer himself or herself, but since it’s clearly not possible within the confines of a single article to provide you with 20 or 30 years’ worth of professional experience and creativity, let’s look at the second most important factor in packshot photography – lighting.
Light is pretty important, because let’s face it, without it we’d all be in the dark. Literally and metaphorically. If products aren’t lit correctly then customers aren’t going to be able to see them properly, but it isn’t just a case of adding more and more light to make the image brighter. Lighting is not just measured in watts, but in fact requires a whole array of different techniques and tricks of the trade in order to get it just right.
The first thing to appreciate is that the product you’re selling needs to be photographed in a way which makes it look believable, realistic and accessible. This means that if you’re selling a product such as a garden gnome, lighting it up using basic studio lighting may well not give it the same visual appeal as it would if it was positioned outside in daylight. Natural sunlight is quite different from the sort of artificial light we use indoors, and whether you realise it or not, our eyes, brains and sub consciences can tell.
So sometimes it will be necessary to light up products for packshot photography using a special combination of lights, gels and shades which give a natural, realistic impression of natural sunlight and daylight. Of course this is doubly important if you intend to use the packshot image and replace the background or superimpose the image on top of an alternative background. Perhaps you’re photographing a beach ball – if you light it correctly to look like bright, warm daylight then the product will look much more natural when superimposed over a bright, warm, sunny beach picture. Bland studio lighting would make the ball look a lot less appealing.
And when it comes to making things less appealing nothing is easier to undersell than jewellery – especially jewellery which includes diamonds and similar expensive jewels. Because studio lighting, no matter how hard you might try, almost never achieves the same multicoloured sparkly effect you see with your eye in real life. The trouble is that we look at things stereoscopically, with two eyes slightly apart we see twice the number of sparkles and glints that a single camera lens would see. Not only that but studio lighting doesn’t refract and split into a spectrum of colours quite as easily as you’d imagine.
In such cases packshot photography incorporates a light box, which is a white lined box with no internal features, corners or edges, and which includes coloured LED lighting in an arch over the top or around the sides. By suspending an item of jewellery such as diamond earrings in the middle of the box, the ring of multicoloured LED lights when combined with white LED Lighting creates the kind of packshot image you would expect to see. Plain studio lighting would otherwise make diamonds look like rather dull glass.