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HOW TO: Take professional product photography with your cellphone

Posted on July 07 2017

Light Box for Smartphone Product Photography

The camera does not make a great photographer any more than paint brushes make a master painter. You need creativity, discipline, and great lighting. After all, why spend thousands of dollars on a professional camera, various lenses, and photography accessories when you can get the same results using the camera you already have -- the one in your pocket.

Smartphones are ideal for teaching beginners the basics of photography. In skilled hands, smartphone cameras can take crisp, clear, professional photos ideal for product photography projects and more.

Here are some practical professional photography tips that any budding smartphone photographer can use on their next shoot:

1. Learn your smartphone camera’s features.

Treat your smartphone like a new camera you just purchased. Dig up the smartphone’s user guide or find it online. Learn every feature and function of your built-in camera’s capabilities. Here are some general features that every smartphone camera is equipped with:

RAW

Shooting in RAW prevents your smartphone’s camera from adding additional, automatic edits to your photos. The feature also prevents your smartphone from compressing the files. This means that you will have much larger file sizes, but they will not appear pixelated. With RAW images you will have complete control over the editing processes when you transfer the image to a PC.

Pro Tip: Because the file size is dramatically larger, it is helpful to have access to cloud storage so you don’t have to transfer your photos to a computer immediately.

Manual Controls

The main difference between point-and-shoot compact cameras and DSLRs are the manual controls. Your smartphone camera’s settings often default to “point-and-shoot.” Today, most smartphone cameras have the option to use manual controls, allowing you to adjust shutter speed to experiment with light, for example. You can also adjust the ISO and white balance. ISO stands for International Standards Organization and is the standardized photography industry scale for measuring sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO, the less sensitive it will be to light, so keeping it on the low-end will produce clear, less grainy, shots.

 Pro Tip: Adjusting the shutter speed will also help you capture action shots such as sports photography, for example.

OIS

Use your smartphone camera’s Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) to your advantage. This feature is another that has come leaps and bounds since the camera’s addition to mobile phones. The primary function of OIS is to stabilize your shots and reduce blurriness. This function, combined with a tripod, will significantly reduce or entirely eliminate the odds of creating a blurry image during your shoot. 

2. Learn how to use a light box. 

No Flash, Please!

Don’t use the flash on your smartphone. While the flash may be great… well, not great... for a night out with friends, it is a feature that it is far less superior to professional cameras. The flash on a smartphone is intense, casts a reflective glare, and makes every subject appear bathed in the light a car’s high beams.  

For example, if you’ve ever taken a picture of your family while they’re dining in a beautiful, low-lit restaurant, you know that the flash will make your family look like a group of surprised garbage-diving racoons that you just spotted in a dumpster. 

How to Use a Light Box or Light Tent

Rather than depending on a flash or waiting for “the right time of day,” take the time to learn light tent photography for product shoots. Light boxes provide you with complete control of your lighting and environment, giving you full control and optimal exposure.

  • Arrange your light tent on table of comfortable height -- ideally counter height -- to make it easier for you to see the product and maneuver your camera during the shoot.
  • Place your light sources directly opposite each other on each side of the light tent with the camera centered in front.
  • Your backdrop, attached inside the tent, should fall freely down in a gentle curve (no hard angles) at the back then across to the front / bottom of the light tent. This continuous curve will give you the option to shoot the product with virtually no shadows or background distractions, if that’s the look you desire.
  • If you are using a fabric backdrop, make sure your backdrop is free of wrinkles and debris, for a completely smooth look.
  • When you place the product inside the light tent, be sure to leave space between your subject and the walls so that you can position the smartphone camera to only see the backdrop and not the edges of the light tent.
  • Consider ambient lighting in the room you are shooting from and adjust the lighting for the light tent as needed. Pull the curtains on the windows and keep the room low-lit. This will help you achieve optimal balance.

Pro Tip: Roll your backdrops on a cardboard tube after shooting to keep them relatively wrinkle-free until your next shoot. Keep a lint roller or small blow-dryer handy to quickly knock-out dust and debris.

3. Use a solid, neutral background.

Most light tent kits will come with a continuous edge background described above, in either white or very pale gray to make your product “pop.” If you’re considering experimenting with other backgrounds and textures for rustic shoots, continue to stick with neutral colors. Avoid bold textures that create shadows and distract from the product or loud prints, which will consume the subject.

4. Steady your camera.

We highly recommend investing in a tripod if you are considering taking your smartphone photography to a professional level, especially product photography. A tripod for smartphone product photography will entirely eliminate the possibility of blurry photos and will allow you to effortlessly change angles, allowing you to work quickly and efficiently.

The OIS on your smartphone will only do so much to eliminate blurriness and pixelation. Set your smartphone securely on the tripod and use the 2-second timer to ensure that the camera does not vibrate at your touch and your tripod remains steady. Now begin shooting!

5. Experiment with different light, angles, and negative space.

Don’t Zoom or Crop

Don’t use your smartphone camera to digitally zoom in on the product. Instead, manually shoot from a closer distance by moving and adjusting your tripod. Smartphone cameras don’t focus well when you use the zoom function, and you don’t have the ability to manually adjust the focus. The quality of the image will deteriorate if you zoom even slightly, resulting in pixilation.  

Measure your negative space to develop interesting compositions. Consumers like to see multiple shots of every product from a variety of angles. Each one doesn’t have to be head-on.

Experiment with Light Tent Photography

Play with hard and soft shadows. Move your subject forward or backward relative to the light sources and experiment. You can also point the lights slightly at an angle, rather than straight on at the tent. As you experiment with your light tent you will develop your own tricks and tips for virtually eliminating the need for post-production editing. Do not use the editing features or “filters” on your phone. Always bring your images into a post-production software to keep your images crisp.

Pro Tip: Litebox Light Tent Kits have a unique dimmer function, which allows for an added layer of control over your photography lighting and another way to experiment with your product photography shots.

For more photography tips and advice, check out our blog or visit Litebox Photography to see the latest in softbox studio lighting, complete light tent kits, and photography accessories at liteboxphotography.com.

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