I've become a big fan of using studio lighting setups - they give you so much control and you can get really clean, dramatic results. However, they do have the disadvantage of requiring space! So what do you do when you want to practice using studio lighting? Product photography! Needless to say you can still need a vast amount of space for product photography depending on the result you're looking for, but you can still get some good shots with limited space in your own home, which is what I set out to do.
The first step I'm sure a lot of photographers may start with when beginning a new project is inspiration - websites like Pinterest can be very handy and I find myself using it quite a lot, but you may also find inspiration in more unlikely places as well. I found myself in the West Quay shopping centre in Southampton which is full of jewellery shops - I have a particular appreciation for jewellery and watch photography, and found myself wandering past all the shops looking at the various adverts in the shop windows, trying to guess what lighting setup was used for each shot.
For my first shoot I was going to shoot my own watch. I supported it using the foam it came in, with the aim of editing it out later. A major difficulty with jewellery photography is that most jewellery is just so shiny! It reflects everything around it, which can make it difficult to match the degree of cleanliness you see in advertising if you're constrained by location. Thankfully the lounge of my flat has no windows, allowing me to quickly remove all natural light and use only speedlights for the shoot. What this does is allow me to completely remove the background and get a classic low-key look, with complete control over the lighting on the product. Having switched off or covered every light source in the room (even that tiny LED on my computer, because even that was showing up in the reflections!) I could get a completely black background and control every reflection on the watch. Some reflections you want like a nice white reflection around the edge of the watch, some like a strong reflection on the glass of the watch face that effectively blocks your view of the face you don't want, you just need to experiment a little with angles until you find a setup that works best. I ended up with a 2-flash setup - one mounted in a softbox and one in a miniature softbox I triggered by hand several times during a 15 second exposure to get several plain white reflections while evenly lighting the watch. By systematically adding flashes from different angles I eventually ended up with a result I was happy with, which just required some cleaning up in Photoshop. When you're blowing up a small object like a watch to completely fill a page, you see every little spec of dust, every little imperfection, every little scratch, so you really need to do some intensive post production work to get the product looking its best as if it had just come out the factory.
Moving onto jewellery next, and aiming for a more traditional, high-key look. Using a softbox on each side of the subject to get it evenly lit and surrounding it with white paper so as to avoid reflections of my bookshelves. The only real problem I ran into was getting the focus so close up without a dedicated macro lens and had to use a set of extension tubes to get my lens to focus in close enough. For those of you who don't know, extension tubes are just a set of tubes that are mounted between your camera body and the lens so as the shift the focal plane relative to the sensor, allowing the lens to focus much closer to an object at the consequence of losing its ability to focus to infinity.
After some post processing using a combination of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, I got some shots I'm very happy with and learned a lot during the process. Product photography really challenges you to think closely about lighting, composition and keeping your images clean. It also makes the entire shoot dependent on you! There's no model to work with, no sunlight to depend on, it's all down to you to come up with some creative solutions to get the cleanest image possible. Below you'll find some of the results.