May Forum Contest - Product Photo

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Robert Fehnel
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May Forum Contest - Product Photo

The May theme is: Product Photo

This month's judge is anonymous for now.

Theme description: 

The May contest is something a bit new: product photography. Sort of like a still life, but of a promotional nature. Technical perfection is a big part of success here; exposure, focus and lighting need to be spot on. There’s plenty of room for artistic creativity, but you need to clearly show your selected product at its best as if your photo were going into an advertisement. If there’s a reflection or a blown-out area, it had better be on purpose and helpful to the image overall. And I can’t emphasize enough how your subject should be spotlessly clean and flaw-free, unless the dirt and flaws are deliberate and beneficial.

Black or white backgrounds are common, but they aren’t required. Food is a valid entry, but if you haven’t tried it yet let me tell you it’s a difficult subject. The subject itself doesn’t need to be complex, in fact simple subjects (like a bottle) can be the hardest to do well.

Multiple lights are helpful if you know how to use them, but you can do a lot with continuous light and some reflectors and diffusers. A lightbox, like the ones that have been shown at some of our workshops, are very effective. Please post the highest quality JPEG you can, and remember to grab a setup photo with your phone so you can show the rest of us how you got your winning image.

An image search for “product photography” should give you enough ideas to get started.


Rules can be found here. Keep in mind this is just for fun and has no impact on points gained during our regular monthly competitions.

If you are unsure how to post a photo visit this post here where you can learn how to add a photo to your reply.



Submissions are due by May 28 2015 by 6 P.M. To submit simple reply to this posting by adding a comment below.


If you have any questions or problems uploading a photo please email Robert Fehnel at

Toni Zappone
Toni Zappone's picture

Just saw this. Some good comments on photographing food, but it can apply to other products as well.

Robert Fehnel
Robert Fehnel's picture

Simple Guitar

Simpler Guitar

Toni Zappone
Toni Zappone's picture

Dino Gas

David Katz
David Katz's picture

Too Many choices

Kathy Kildea
Kathy Kildea's picture

Twistie earrings

Judy Edwards
Judy Edwards's picture

Guitars for Sale

Robert Fehnel
Robert Fehnel's picture

The contest is now closed to entries and the judge will have time to look at the photos, critique and choose a winner.

Anton Largiader
Anton Largiader's picture

Hello folks,

I was the judge this month. It looks like May was a real stumper as we got very few entries. Robert and I discussed that possibility but decided to go for it anyway. To my eye, we ended up with three kinds of photo: abstract, single product, and group. Going into the contest, the single was what I had in mind but I’m open to all of them. Let’s go through them:

Most or all of us have seen Robert’s guitar image before. It’s very clean and minimal, sharp, and well colored. By that I mean that the dominant black/brown/white palate is pleasing to my eye. You can’t use it to sell a particular guitar, but you could certainly use it as a background image for an ad, although that distracting blue tip to the outline would have to be edited. Overall, it’s a well-done art photo but it doesn’t have the detail to be considered to “showcase the product” since you can’t see very much of it.

Toni’s Sinclair sign is a traditional single. Wow, Toni, you picked a very difficult subject. Getting even, soft lighting onto that has to be a major challenge. The first thing I notice is that it has a decapitated look to it; the bottom ends abruptly before the edge of the photo. If the object is standing on the ground, it may be better to leave some shadow on the ground to anchor the object rather than just let it float. The other is that the backlight (left side) shows some reflections of objects or light sources that are not in the image, and highlights the flaws in the sign. You may get a better result with a dark background and a small rim light, with most of the light shining on the face. Like these:

It was a very low-res image - only 33kb - so there’s not much to do with it but if you crank the contrast up to max and the brightness way down, you can see the artifacts in the background where you erased it. Now crank the brightness to max… that’s more like it. Check the image at the end of this post.

David’s cupcake array suffers from a few problems, too. To start with, the colors are not appealing. None of them have any energy, and they don’t play well together. The lighting is very obviously direct flash, indicated by the consistent thin shadows on the right of the cakes and the blue tint. And the composition is just too cluttered, with too many of them (none being the subject) and some partially-shown other objects in the background. One, two or three of these by themselves on a crisp white background, in an interesting pattern, with very diffuse light (to keep the reflections off the glass) would be fun to play with.

Food photography is hard, really hard!

Kathy’s Twistie Earrings is very well done. Clean, crisp, well-shown product. Nice arrangement, with the back two sufficiently blurred that you don’t try to look for detail in them. The two very small problems that leap to my eye are the depth of field and the exposure. DOF, in order to get the two in back blurred so nicely you actually give up some focus on the front two. It would be nice if the front two were completely sharp, front to back. Maybe you could use focus stacking for that. And exposure, like David’s, you can just go a bit brighter on it. Google search product photos and you’ll see that the brightness, contrast and saturation are usually pretty high. Bold, bright colors are attention-grabbing. I think you can get a bit more out of this one. What was your light? Were you outside? I’m looking at the reflections in the green earrings and they could almost be a circle of trees. Functionally, it’s not a distracting reflection.

Judy, that’s a cool image. But.. I would say that it is shot as initially seen, rather than being refined after you saw it. The more I look at it, the more it bothers me that the farther instruments are not in focus and that the black objects leaning against the wall are there. The image doesn’t need to go that far. And the light is clearly as-is, too, or else you wouldn’t have those reflections in the rightmost guitar. Now, you probably didn’t have a lot of control over this scene but the three center instruments, with the identical and nearly aligned f-holes, would make a great image by themselves. Color-wise, the yellow background gives a yellow pall to the whole thing, whereas the colors of the instruments themselves are nice and bright.

As I mentioned in the intro, lighting and the quality of the product are extremely important. Rob and Kathy were the ones who took control of the lighting and (in different ways) controlled the shadows and reflections. Kathy’s image, by a big margin, most closely matches what I described in the intro and she is the winner.

Toni Zappone
Toni Zappone's picture

Thank you Anton for these thoughtful critiques. The original of my photo has a lot more resolution to play with, so I can go back and incorporate your suggestions.