I often find people baffled with Tabletop, Still-Life, Food and Product Photography, so here starting up with a brief and incisive definition of Tabletop Photography that clearly talks about the distinctions and relativity between all of them. And the TIPS will follow…
# DEFINITION: Tabletop Photography is a branch of Still-life Photography that focuses on capturing the inanimate subject matter that can be placed on a table and includes both Product and Food primarily for commercial purposes.
# Choice of Camera body will always be determined by the kind of work you prefer to get more into and the end use of the images. e.g. whether the images will be used for print or for Web will ascertain the camera resolution and so on.
# Sometimes the client might wish to highlight a small portion of the product or the subject as a separate image. Here, high resolution cameras gives an advantage of cropping the image without losing the quality.
# The pixels in a high resolution camera are capable of capturing more information which improves the details of the product/ subject matter being photographed leaving both the client and the photographer with enough creative freedom to work on it.
# Because of the details captured in a pixel and the overall quality of the photograph, the biggest advantage of high resolution cameras is their capability of providing huge prints and can also display all intricate details on a high resolution TV/ Monitor.
# Another factor while considering cameras for Product/Tabletop Photography is the Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF). I personally prefer one without OLPF as the absence of it adds some extra sharpness to the overall image.
# Although you can always start Tabletop Photography with a standard zoom lens that comes with the kit, I personally recommend prime lenses for their significant sharpness and better quality due to less diffraction.
# Generally a standard or a normal lens like 50mm (with approximately 46° angle of view on a 35mm full frame camera) is recommended in Tabletop Photography as is believed to be closest in perspective to the human eye. They just don’t misrepresent or reorientate the subject.
# For a crop body, 35mm lens would be more befitting for Tabletop Photography as it would render much appropriate results (e.g. approximately 52.5mm for Nikon and Sony with a crop factor of 1.5x and approximately 56mm for Canon with a crop factor of 1.6x).
# A true Macro lens with a magnification ratio of 1:1 is used for taking super-sharp, detailed and very close images of your subjects and adds a lot of versatility in Product and Tabletop Photography.
# Tripod is must for Tabletop Photography as it helps in achieving constancy, stability, focus and sharpness especially by maintaining a standardisation in subject’s/product’s orientation while taking multiple shots.
# You can always start with any good small table available as a base but it’s good to upgrade to a conventional product table for better results. There are quite robust and professional ones available in the market. You can always choose the one that fits your space and budget. The benefits of these tables are that they give you so much freedom to work with lights from almost all possible directions (e.g. from bottom as well) and the height and depth of the background can also be customised as per requirement.
# Despite the fact that there are some Still-life and Food Photographers that work with available or continuous lights, I would rather suggest studio strobes for best results especially if you wish to move forward commercially. They are more flexible and can also be used as continuous light sources when and if required.
# Any basic lighting kit of studio strobes (i.e. two lights with stands and softboxes) is good enough to start up with Tabletop Photography as it adds more creativity and professionalism to the pictures. Later you can invest into more lights and light modifiers as per needs and requirements.
# Some of the all-important and best light modifiers to invest into for Tabletop Photography include:
-Softboxes and Strips with or without grid
-Standard reflectors with grid
-Butter paper roll
# Some custom made scrims/ diffusion panels of varied sizes (made with butter paper stretched over a wooden or cardboard frame) are must haves for Tabletop Photography as they open up lots of possibilities for photographers to play with lights by simply diffusing it in the finest possible ways.
# When it comes to picking up backgrounds, savage rolls in black and white are vitally important for a small studio setup. These rolls comes in half (i.e. 4.5 ft size) as well that are quite sufficient for small Tabletop setups. And then later you can keep on adding more colored and textured backgrounds as per need and requirements.
# You just can’t go and shop for all the photography props at once from one single source. Hence, the best advice is to keep on adding props in accordance with your shoots and assignments. There are lots of online platforms selling variety of props but most of the time you’ll have to go out and explore them physically on your own.
# While picking up backgrounds and props for your shoots, make sure you choose them in a way that they don’t out balance your main subject. They should be used more as supporting elements complementing to the physical and aesthetic attributes of the subject.
# Tabletop Photography is all creative stipulating a fine aesthetic sense incorporated with technical expertise unless you wish to ameliorate commercially as either a Product or a Food Photographer or both where technicality seems to supersede a bit over aesthetics.
# When it’s about Commercial Tabletop Photography, the client prefer images of the pruduct that can engage and convert their prospective customers into happy clients. The quality of the photographs manifest their brand image that forge their first impression.
# Anyone from a small entrepreneur to a large corporation/brand could be your future client and keeping this in mind you’ll need to start building your portfolio.
# Portfolios are planned and created in different ways to meet the client’s needs, e.g. Printed Portfolios, Presentations, PDFs or Mailers.
# Printed portfolios have a high cost because of the high quality prints. Although they are the most imposing ones even in the digital age, they are quite uneasy to carry around all the time.
# I think presentations and PDFs are much more appropriate as they are easy to share with clients plus anytime you can edit and customize them as per the demand. Also, you can keep separate PDFs/Mailers for different categories of clients as well.
# Website plays a crucial role in Commercial Photography. Having a fairly clear and precisely updated website always gives a strong impression to the client.
# Make sure your portfolio has variety both in terms of products and images but at the same time should appear clean and simple. There should be uniformity in ways the images appear.
# Although you can always take references and inspirations from the portfolios of the industry experts while working on yours’, make sure to add your own unique style to it.
# Having a strong portfolio alone doesn’t gives an assurance that you’ll get the best clients. You’ll need to market your work and marketing comes with its own challenges.
# Although there are lots of marketing channels available like social media, blogging, networking events, etc., you can choose the one that seems to work best for you. Still, word of mouth plays a crucial role and most of the time you’ll be faced with in-person meetings.
# Search Engine Optimisation (SEM) is another quite effective way to grow your business in this highly competitive market.
# When it comes to pricing, make sure you neither over price nor underpriced your work. If you are not sure about how to price some specific assignment, better consult some industry expert. It’s always better than to lose an assignment.
# Pricing will always vary with the nature of work, like e.g. even though E-Commerce and Catalogue shoots are more similar in nature, there’s a significant difference in the pricing for both.
# Also pricing will vary with quality and quantity of work. Per image price will always be higher for high quality/ low quantity images and will be lower for low quality/ high quantity images.
# Once you get an assignment, you’ll need to follow certain steps that will ensure minimizing errors and maximizing productivity in terms of quality images. The more your shoots are organised, better is the output.
# Preparation is indispensable to any kind of Photography and especially when it comes to Product and Tabletop Photography. Better your preparation, smoother your shoots will go.
# Double check your products if they need any kind of cleaning, smoothening, ironing, the cartons are properly intact, etc. as these little efforts will save lot of your time in Post Production.
# The next step is to categorise your products depending upon their size and surfaces (as the surface of the subject will determine the lighting setup).
# Select your background and base and other props. Start arranging your main product and other elements in the preconceptualised way. Place your camera on a tripod and check your final composition. The next step is setting up lighting.
# While placing your camera on the Tripod, make sure to turn off VR (Nikon) and IS (Canon). This is simply a mechanism that moves to combat the camera shake produced while shooting handheld but if your camera is already on a stable place, then this same movement will make the images look quite soft.
# When it comes to adding lights, we always set one light at a time starting with the main light and then we keep adding more as per the requirement.
# First add lights to your background and then to the product if both needs to be lit separately.
# Consider closely all the detailing including lighting, focus, overall sharpness, composition and everything else. This is where comes the role of tethering. It simply help us see immediately what we are shooting and minimizes the room for any errors.
# Especially while shooting for E- Commerce or Catalogue, make sure the product should neither take less than 75% of the coverage nor more than 90%.
# Once you are done with shooting the product, double check for the final shot(s) and angle(s) you listed for that particular product before moving to the next.
# Post-Production is very crucial to Tabletop Photography and can range from minor corrections to high end cleaning and retouching of the product. Retouching is done for both the background and the product depending upon the end use of the image(s).
# Maintaining maximum quality while resizing the images as per the criteria shortlisted by the agency or client or website(s) you are working for is very important.
# While working with bulk images (except the cleaning part and some corrections that varies from product to product), sometimes we repeat the same steps for all the images in Post-Production like minor changes in exposure, color etc. So, for this, you can create your own actions and use them for Batch Processing. This will save lot of time.