So you have your photo studio all set up. You have minimized harsh shadows by shining your light through your diffuser, onto the product, bouncing off your reflector, and back onto the product from the other side. You have your phone camera held close to the product, tapped on the phone to make sure the product is properly focused, and adjusted the brightness of the image on your screen to compensate for the light taken out by the diffuser.
Now you just snap the photo, right? Not quite. Unless you’ve taken art classes before and learned how to compose a visual image, your shot is likely fairly flat and uninteresting right now. I know I’ve said that all you need for basic product photography is a clear and crisp photo of your product, but there’s nothing wrong with posing the product a little and composing the shot.
Visual composition can get complicated, and there are some good articles on the web focused on composition. I learned the basics of composition in middle school and, after studying countless paintings and photos, some shots now just feel right to me. If you have not had the same opportunity to absorb visual composition in the same way, here are some quick tips to help you better compose your shot.
Shoot Slightly Off-Center
Usually, placing something dead center makes the composition less interesting. So, even when you have just one object, move the center of that object slightly to the left or right of the center of the frame. Tilt the object if you have to, but do not place it dead center in your photo. Look and evaluate if that feels right, and take the shot only if the composition feels pleasant to you.
That said, sometimes you shouldn’t follow this tip. While this photo is not of a simple product, I shot this dead center. It felt right.
Draw Imaginary Lines for the Eyes to Follow
In the photo above, you can see imaginary lines from the top, middle, and bottom converging to a point in the middle. In the photo below, you can see two diagonal lines crossing at where the pen’s nib is. These are the lines you want to find. Your eyes naturally follow these lines to a converging point, and that point is where your eyes tend to rest. Determine where on your product you want your viewer’s eyes to focus, and make sure some lines converge at that point.
Use an Odd Number
An odd number of objects are more interesting than an even number. Divide the frame into halves horizontally and then vertically and think of it as a scale that you have to balance. You place the subject of your photograph slightly off center, and now that scale feels slightly weighted towards that side. Add objects to the empty parts to “balance” the scale so that nothing feels tilted. Those objects are typically smaller, are in the background, and can be out of focus. You want to end up with an odd number of objects in the photo. Sometimes, the easiest way to achieve this is to frame a triangle, so at least you have three corners to satisfy the odd number requirement. Look at the photo of the pen above. There are triangles in that shot.
Shoot High, Shoot Low, and Shoot Close Up
An eye-level shot of any object can be fairly boring, but if you crouch low, climb high, or even get really close, you can make the same object more interesting. Crouching low can sometimes make an object look more imposing. Climbing high sometimes offers a view not often seen (though this is less true in product photography). Getting really close sometimes points out a detail people miss when looking at the object casually.
The Rule of Thirds
Finally, there is the Rule of Thirds. I only heard of this rule recently when I looked into photography composition. I do not usually follow this rule, but it is so prevalent that most cameras have a superimposable grid to help a photographer with the Rule of Thirds.
The rule is fairly simple. Divide the frame into thirds vertically and then horizontally. You get a grid with nine squares. Line your subject along one of the lines or where two lines intersect, and line your horizon always close to one of the two horizontal lines. This helps everything balance, and that is the Rule of Thirds.
Last Word on the Tips
I usually keep the off-center, imaginary lines, and odd numbers tips in mind when I set up my shots, and I supplement these by moving my camera up or down or super close up. I’ve never consciously used the Rule of Thirds. While there are many more rules of visual composition, I don’t think you will need them for simple product photos taken in a controlled indoor setting.
Finally, there are no hard rules in art, and a good artist merely has a better sense of which ones to use and which ones to discard for a given situation. The tips in this article usually make a photo look better, but not always. At the end of the day, rely on your sense of aesthetics and make your final decision that way.
The tips in this article are Lazy Worthy. If you do a quick search on the web, you will find many articles on photography composition, and they usually contain a much larger number of tips. I have basically three tips. It’s easy to keep these tips in mind and they get you fairly good results in a short amount of time. Any lazy person would be comfortable using these tips.
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