Efficiently Lighting and Shooting Product Shots for YouTube
Lighting and shooting products is a common challenge videographers face. Here are some tips to make your life a little easier.
Products are among the most common things YouTubers shoot. Yet, there is very little information online about how to do it efficiently. Most product video tutorials are based on commercials, where a dozen crew members have a whole day to get that perfect shot.
When I started shooting products, I lit them just like a human face, but I quickly came to realize products come with their own set of challenges.
In filmmaking, you’re always struggling against the two-dimensionality of the screen when shooting a product shot. The screen is flat — the product is not. So, it’s surprising how much of cinematography is trying to create the illusion of depth.
People see a static shot of a product from one perspective, and they don’t understand its scale, weight, size, or how it fits in with other things. The best way to create dimension is to orbit around an object, dollying as you pan from one side to the other. This creates a powerful feeling of dimension and what the object looks like. It’s also a nice way to have light play off the corners and angles. You almost always see this in TV commercials, where they do an orbit move around the object they’re advertising.
Orbit shots are not that simple to do because you need a dolly or a slider. You also need to pan consistently from one side of the object to the other, at the same rate that you’re moving with the slider.
Two Ways to Get Around Orbit Shooting
A motion-controlled slider is a great option; however, it’s relatively expensive, and it takes quite a long time to set-up — especially when all you want is one shot of the product. A curved track slider is the cheaper option. ProMediaGear make these — they come in different lengths and different curvatures, which allow for different shooting distances. The interview-specific unit has a radius of five feet. There is also a model for smaller objects, which is great for product shots, where the radius is only two feet away. This allows you to get in close with a macro lens. The move, combined with shallow depth of field and some nice lighting, yields a professional look. This is an elegant solution to the orbit shot, and it eliminates human error in the pan.
There are a few different ways to mount a curved slider, but you need to make sure the camera won’t sag or move at either end. You can put it on two tripods — a single tripod with a removable bracket, or even on two lighting stands, which is what I use. You don’t even need to use a tripod head with it — you can simply put the camera on the slider itself, then adjust the height of the stands, or the height of the object.
Lighting the Product
There are a couple of ways to get good reflections when lighting product shots. First, start with a hard backlight that edges the object from its background. Second, add points of light in the background to create a sense of dimension as the camera pans back and forth. Lastly, use a long light source like a Quasar Science or Astera Tube placed 45 degrees above and 45 degrees in front of the object you’re photographing. This creates a nice long line, and it accentuates the object’s build. If you need a fill light, you can either put a second source below and in front of the product (at the same 45-degree angle), or use a light as the stand itself. This shoots light up through the object and works best with transparent or translucent materials.
With orbit moves and some good lighting, you can make any product seem like it’s grabbed straight from a commercial, without the time and expenses.
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