If you’re like me, you have commercial clients who need video footage of their products: electronics, sporting equipment, shoes, pens and pencils, food, compost buckets… the list is as endless as the shelves at Mega Lo Mart. But how do I make these inanimate objects look interesting? Here are a few simple tips:
Obviously, your techniques will depend on the equipment and space you have access to, but even shooters on a shoestring budget shooting shoestrings can use these principles to get some nice shots. First of all, use soft light. Hard light creates hard shadows, which can be ugly on almost anything you shoot. Second, don’t forget the back light. Just because you’re not shooting a person, doesn’t mean you don’t need a halo of light to separate the object from the background. Third, top light is OK – as long as you don’t have hands coming into the frame. If you do, you’ll need to change the angle of that light to more of a 45-degree angle. And BTW, top light for people is fugly, but if you’ve ever seen a car commercial, that beautiful shot of the gleaming car in the studio is lit mostly from a humongous soft box above the car (along with bounce cards on the deck to “glow up” the fenders and doors).
I’ve got a YouTube video that shows you a simple limbo background set-up for a product demo. Limbo is a black background so the product is not shown in any particular environment. It’s a demo shoot, because there will be a person in the scene operating the product. The key light is a 1K with a soft box, flagged off the background. It’s positioned immediately to the right of the wide shot camera position, at a slight angle to the product (not straight on). The close-up camera is just to the left of that camera position. I recommend you “spike” the floor (marking positions of objects, cameras and lights) in case you need to move around or bring in multiple products. The back light is a 300-watt Fresnel through a silk, flagged off the camera and the ground. If you hang that light from the ceiling, you can put it 180-degrees from the key light. If it’s on the floor, I usually place it on the same side as the key light, but just out of the right edge of the frame.
You can shoot the product or process twice, or use two cameras (one wide, one tight). I like to put one camera on a slider. This makes it easy to make minute adjustments side to side for the close-up camera, and you can shoot the “hero” shot trucking right and left. One item I suggest (but do not have in this example) is a lazy susan. Depending on the size of your product, it’s real nice to be able to spin the product around, especially if it has shiny pieces that can pick up a glint from the lights.
When you’re shooting, keep in mind you will be editing between the wide and tight shots, so you don’t have to nail each take from beginning to end. The process can be broken down into each step and then pieced together. If there’s no “process” to shoot, then play around with different angles, different heights and different lenses. Sometimes a well-composed, 10mm, handheld, “swing around” shot can end up being the image your client loves the most.