How Much Shadow Should I Use in My Product Photography?

We are fortunate to work in an era of modern camera equipment that allows a product photographer or packshot studio to capture all of the luminosities between the darkest and brightest parts of an image. The question this raises is what is the most effective set up and whether we need everything within this dynamic range or not.

When looking at images, do we want maximum brightness to enhance detail, or do we want to utilise shadow to create emotion and impact? These are questions we ask ourselves as a product photographer when planning every shoot.

Staying between the boundaries

When we think of a product image, we often want to capture as much detail as possible particularly when it is important for the view to be able to look at every minor detail, feature and design of a product.

This often requires adjustments to be made to brightness in post-processing and a common trick is to ensure that the image luminosity stays between the boundaries of the 8-bit histogram. This means ensuring that there isn’t any (or minimal) pure black or white in an image, helping to reveal every single detail.

Now this will certainly help for those products with a lot to show, but if you want to create more of a story or add emotion into a photograph then this isn’t always the best approach so you should get creative and test different options out.

Should you show everything?

As highlighted above, modern technology allows us to show off almost every detail of a product and scene. This has some incredible benefits for a product photographer or packshot studio, including creating detailed, vibrant images that really jump out of the website or social media platform.

However, it may end up losing some of that mystery and emotion which is a big part of the sales process. We want customers to use their imagination and engage with product photographs as this improves conversions. As an example, our eyes are normally drawn to the lightest part of an image and so if this isn’t the subject (e.g. the product), then the viewer may not focus on the product as much as you’d like.

Be careful of fake light

There is a temptation of trying to remove every shadow and add light to even the smallest parts of an image, particularly as lighting is generally a directional tool. When we do this, it can reduce the effect of the image by making it look flat and unnatural. Shadow is more often than not, an essential part of a photograph whether it is a packshot studio shoot or an outdoor action shot for sports equipment. If you lose shadows and different lighting techniques then you lose that connection with your viewer that will help sell the products.

Summary

Ultimately, the most important takeaway from this article for any product photographer is to plan ahead of time. Explore ideas, understand the product and what the client is searching for with these product photographs. At the heart of everything we do is the aim of delivering the most effective images that will convert viewers into brand ambassadors or purchasers and shadows play a big part in this.