There are few things that will sink a business sooner than bad product photography.

More and more, people shop online first; they look at your Instagram, read bloggers’ reviews, and check out Google to see photos of your product. You owe it to your business to put your best photo forward, so to speak.

Recently we sat down with Warren Fenton, renowned sports photographer, two-wheel enthusiast (that’s with or without an engine), and AntiSocial’s own media manager to grab some insight into this field of photography.

Well-versed in product photography, Warren’s past accolades in this service include everything from reflective black bottles to perfect oranges from Save-On-Foods.

He starts, first, by telling us what he likes about it:

WF: “I like that you can work at your own pace. You can get everything looking the way you want it to before you even begin. You’re not depending on another person – you get to make everything yourself. Like lighting, natural or artificial – you control all of that. There’s no external pressure. Everything is something you designed or intended to be there.”

Warren thinks for a bit before adding, “it’s very exacting, and some people dislike that.”

WF: “The nature of product photography is difficult because it’s so focused most of the time. Any imperfection is easy to see. Let’s say you had a cardboard box – you will see a misprint. Sometimes you can fix it in photoshop but in some cases, it can’t be done… Ideally, you would get multiple of each thing from the client, whether it’s a cardboard box or piece of fruit.”

As often as possible, Warren tries to choose the product himself. He tells us about a shoot for Save-On-Foods when he spent hours picking out the perfect orange.

WF: “Literally, I looked for oranges in Save-On-Foods for so long. I was trying to find the perfect orange for the shoot. The King Orange.

I like the process of doing it. You’re involved from beginning to end. You’re going to the grocery store and saying this is the best one. This is the King Orange or this is the background I want to use. This is what the client wants to see. And I mean, you have to go back and forth with the client but that’s always part of the creative process.”

Do you have any advice for those just starting out with product photography?

WF: “For every photographer, it depends. What look you want to go for, who the client is, etc. but there are two basic ways to shoot product.

You can shoot the product in a natural product environment – like food on a table. Or, you’re using a white background with nothing on it, a featureless environment.”

Western Family Product Photography

WF: “So, the important thing to ask yourself when you’re starting is: Do you want to show it in a natural environment that looks nice and compliments the product? Or do you want to show it on a completely white background that makes the product jump out at you?”

Tell us more about the ‘natural environment’?

WF: “Lots of fashion and food bloggers use what’s in front of them because it’s convenient. They use their home because it’s what they have. If you’re going for the natural look, use natural light, use a natural product. It’s always good to find a place or a surface that is a big contrast to the item you’re showing. Say you want to shoot your black iPhone, don’t lay it on top of a black hoodie. You want it to pop. Using contrast makes it easier to notice. Contrast and setting are good starting points.”

What about lighting advice for beginners?

WF: “I like shooting with natural light because it’s soft and in some ways easier to work with. Artificial lights can be harder because the quality of your lights is going to matter a lot. If your product has any sort of reflectively, you’re going to see the artificial lights.”

What was your most challenging product photography shoot?

WF: “The hardest product I have ever shot were these super reflective black glass bottles. You see everything because they’re curved. The entire object acts as a mirror. You basically need to construct a white tent around it so you can control every piece of light the camera sees (which is essentially 180°). That’s where product photography gets difficult – when you’re trying to control the entire environment around you.”

What about a particularly difficult project?

WF: “One client had a very intense turnaround time. Their particular product was difficult to work with for a few reasons. It’s a funny shape – it’s a heart rate monitor so doesn’t suit itself well to sitting flat on a surface. You need to see it and see what the functional pieces are without the entire thing looking like a tangled piece of spaghetti. It needs to look effortless.”

Evolve Product Photography

WF: “You can see the conductive patches for the heart rate (that’s the business end) and the Bluetooth component where it connects to your phone. From this angle, you get to see different parts of the product… The client wanted the product shot on a white background so this is how I managed to work with a product that looks better in use, not in use.

This product is also a mix of textures; that gives it visual variety when you’re looking at it but it’s also difficult to find a balance between the surfaces. There’s a matte surface beside a glossy surface, it’s not good to illuminate the glossy surfaces directly because of reflectivity.

So, I made sure it was illuminated from above and below rather than straight on. It also gives it a nice highlight on top and bottom, making it pop. You can create that contrast using light – you don’t have to use colour contrast or black and white contrast. You can create a light highlight on your item which helps it feel 3D, like a real object.”

How else can a 3D look be achieved?

WF: “Depth of field helps with 3D as well, for this product I lifted the computer bit off the table, so the bottom strap is out of focus.”

Warren notes that depth of field is especially important for product photography.

WF: “Often your product is fairly small so you need to get close. As you get your item closer to your camera, the surfaces behind the object become more out of focus, creating depth. But sometimes that can work against you if one part of the item is out of focus and one part is not. With this image, I used that to my benefit to emphasize the part that is in focus. Often, this works.”

Warren Fenton Product Photography
Photographing cycling products such as this, Warren also furthers his own freelance career.

We know you’ve shot a lot of food photography, too. Can you tell us about that?

WF: “Food is technically product photography but it also has to do with lifestyle photography, too. Food will never just be a product. You could almost qualify food as a subgenre of product photography but the preparation is wildly different and so intense that there’s no way you can do it the same way as normal photography. Even just the heat that comes off the camera lights needs to be considered with food photography.”

Warren laughs, “Food photography is a whole different interview. Even just ice-cream photography is its own beast. We’re fortunate a lot of the food we photograph is made by a chef and we get to shoot it fresh… That’s a rare opportunity.”