Looking for an inexpensive way to take gorgeous tabletop photography of your products? What lighting you need for product photography and what still life photography equipment to buy without spending thousands of dollars.
Tabletop photography is a genre of commercial product/still life photography, which implies placing objects such as food and drinks, gadgets, cosmetics, etc. on the table. Primarily, commercial photography is associated with advertising and promotion of a product and table top photography is no exception. It means that this genre is intended for commercial shooting of the products. A table is used as a base.
Why has tabletop photography become so popular? Firstly, it’s because of using such kind of product photography in Instagram. Secondly, arranging a tabletop photo studio won’t take a lot of time and efforts, compared to the traditional product photography studios. However, image quality will meet the professional level standards. If you want to get more information on these photography types and setting up the studio, read on.
One can divide tabletop photography into three most popular types – flatlays, stylized and white background photos. Each one has its own purpose and peculiarities.
The flatlay tabletop photography is represented with photos that are taken from above, in other words, at a 90-degree angle. This style lets you showcase flat objects or a great number of them in the best way possible. For instance, it can be a pizza or a roomy suitcase, with the contents that can’t be clearly seen from a side. Yet, if your object doesn’t fall under one of these categories, a 45-degree angle would look better and more dimensional.
The stylized tabletop photography immerses an object into its “natural” environment, thereby creates an authentic atmosphere. It can be a cup of coffee in the coffee shop or a book in the library. You should remember that it’s hard to carry around all of the necessary equipment (we’ll talk about it a little bit later), thus, it’s better to prepare a tabletop studio nook in advance.
This style of tabletop photography is intended predominantly for commercial purposes. You’ll often see the white background photos on the online markets (Amazon product photography) because white background doesn’t distract your attention from a product and potential buyer can evaluate it thoroughly. It’s very important to choose the right surface for a photo shoot; below I indicated a great inexpensive example.
Here are 5 effective steps to create and organize a tabletop photography studio that allows you to achieve a better result with minimal time and money expenses.
First of all, you need to understand how you want to photograph a product, why do you take a picture and for whom. Only after you’ve grasped the essence of the photoshoot, you can go ahead to the next stages and try to put your tabletop photography ideas into action. I also recommend getting acquainted with similar photos in order to analyze their strong points and improve the flaws. For this article I’ve chosen an ordinary white mug with the custom inscription.
Undoubtedly, powerful equipment helps you achieve incredible results, but is it really that necessary for a table top photo studio? Keep in mind that photo is created by the photographer, not the equipment, so you can use cheaper analogs without losing on the image quality.
If you plan to use your tabletop photography samples mainly on the web, then you’d better focus on the lenses, rather than on megapixels. Although megapixels improve the clarity of your images, they refer more to the printing than viewing visual content in digital space. If you’re ready to invest quite a lot in a camera, but you still need something easy to use, these two options can satisfy your expectations. The first is a DSLR, the second is a point-and-shoot camera. Both variants prove that photographer skills more than a pricey equipment influence the quality of the shots.
Since tabletop photography involves taking photos of the relatively small things, there’s no need to buy the telephoto lens and the like. Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens is an excellent reasonably priced lens that will be a perfect fit for beginners as well as for experienced professionals. It is a good universal lens, which is also suitable for lifestyle product photography.
Unfortunately, you can’t just shake off the dust from an old, shabby table that has languished in your garage. You need a high-quality, presentable surface for a successful tabletop photography setup. There shouldn’t be any horizontal line on the surface so that you can place the camera directly in front of the subject. However, it all depends on the subject you are shooting. After all, if it’s antique, then even an old table would be a good variant. The option above is very versatile, and, most importantly, it’s portable. Now you don’t need to get attached to a specific workplace.
Having an expensive camera is crucial when you work in low light conditions or shoot moving objects, but it doesn’t apply to tabletop photography. If you have a good SLR, point-and-shoot camera, or even a smartphone, it’s more reasonable to invest in lighting than to buy an expensive body. You can, of course, save even more and use natural light. However, this approach will significantly complicate the shooting process compared to one with the lighting set.
The main purpose of a tripod is to ensure the stability for a camera during the shooting process. This is especially important for still life photography, which calls for a clear and static image. If you aren’t going to change the shooting place very often, then you don’t need a portable tripod. However, I recommend looking for more versatile options that provide both stability and portability. (Find your best tripod for DSLR)
In order to fulfill their main function, the commercial images should look as presentable as possible. That’s why you need to remove all kinds of scuffs, irregularities and other defects, especially, when it comes to the jewelry photography or shoe photography.
If you’re interested in food photography, then a tasty and fresh looking food is an absolute must-have. Still, if your product is supposed to have certain defects, don’t mislead the potential buyers. On the other hand, a slight imperfection may become a part of your style, in case you don’t plan to use your photos for commercial purpose.
Also, to enhance the composition, you can use props depending on the forethought style. You can use various acrylic trays or plants as jewelry photography props. If you don’t know what food photography props to choose, authentic table serving like a slice of meat on a wooden board or any associated object like the ice cubes for cold drinks would be a great decision. You can even add a crafting touch to your tabletop photography setup, using DIY photography props. Just don’t overdo and focus the main attention on your product.
Though the Automatic mode seems simple and very convenient, prefer a Manual shooting mode. Only then you can adapt yourself to the shooting situation and show your unique style. Below you’ll find the basic settings that I use for tabletop photography.
A great photo session is only half of the success. You need to use photo editing software to get a professional and finished look. It’ll add an interesting flair to your most creative tabletop photography ideas.
Adobe Photoshop CC is probably the most famous photo editing software, which is considered to be the best of its kind and fully deserves the title. It’s perfect for both simple photo editing and professional image retouching. You can remove background, place your product on any background realistically. Of course, there’s a price to pay, but any tabletop photographer will confirm that it justifies the cost. Find several ways of downloading Photoshop free.
GIMP is the best free Photoshop alternative among free photo editors. The only thing that makes it inferior to Photoshop is some limited photo manipulation functions. The software can help you bring to life a lot of your tabletop photography ideas. If you want to know more about this image editing program, then read full GIMP review.
Each product is special in its own way and there is no single standard for choosing the appropriate angle for tabletop photography. The difference between a 45-degree and 90-degree angles can bring the fundamental changes to a perception of a photo. You need to find an exact angle to complement your composition harmoniously by trial and error.
A smartphone can be a good and cheap variant, as it is suitable to shoot most types of products. While the earliest smartphones couldn’t boast of a good camera, their modern versions have advanced characteristics. The majority of modern flagships have 12+ megapixels camera and temperature settings to adapt to different types of lighting. The still life photography equipment doesn’t have to be expensive or massive.
A certain light setting may not work for each individual product; a lighting system that works for some of them may have no benefit for others. Typically shooters choose between natural and artificial light for product photography. For commercial purposes, proper lighting helps to instigate a purchase decision, especially in the online stores, where a photo is the main factor.
No matter what type of lighting you use, be it natural or artificial, your goal is to reduce the shadows while emphasizing the quality of the product and making it interesting to the site visitors. When it comes to tabletop lighting, balance is a key.
Photographers use filters to retouch an image. However, you need to ensure that your product doesn’t lose its natural look. Don’t apply Retro, Matte, or Sepia filters to your product photos.
Hi there, I'm Ann Young - a photographer, photo retoucher and of course, journalist. Here on FixThePhoto blog you can find all of my reviews, photography and photo editing tips, pricing guides, and photography experiments.