How To Take Photographs For Manuals

Top down instructions shoot - post postI am involved with a large project that needs photographs for their step-by-step instructions manual. The same regular lighting and placement challenges are there, but there is a new challenge for this kinda shot and it is where to place the camera.

The images need to be taken from atop, creating flat drawing like images. For small stuff (around book size), you can just stand over the thing legs spread and shoot from eye level pointing down, provided that you can level the camera. For bigger things, though, you need to go higher. Way higher.

Here is how I tackle it.

The Setup

For lights I am shooting two small profotoes at the two parallel walls of my studio. This should provide general soft lights that should be able to eat what ever I placement I throw at them.

Since at the end this will be a black and white job, I am using a Bristol board for color separation. At post, it will be deleted to white. This is much easier then to actually shoot on white paper. The color paper creates less flare, and contrasty paper make separation easy. And this is true even if you shoot available light. The only caveat of shooting like this is getting blue tint from reflections. Since the end job is black and white, I can live with this.

My Hi Tech Steady Dolly

So, challenge is getting high enough while remaining 100% parallel to the shooting surface. The setup shot is displayed above (apologies for not including the actual product, I can tell you, but then those nasty agents will track your IP address down and shoot you).

Top down instructions shoot

1. Ladder – The ladder provides the height. No Way around it, unless you have a shrinking ray to reduce the size of your model.

2. Sand Bag – the ladder is pretty stable, yet since my prized D300 and the 24-70mm lens are up there, I take no chances.

3. Tripod – This is used to get the camera off the ladder into the shooting grounds – the center of the sheet. I am using the Manfrotto 055XPROB, but any tripod that provides some length will do.

4. Bungee Balls – Those are used to hold the tripod in place. I am using two Bangee balls on each intersection and they are wrapped in an X.

5. Tripod Sandbag – or actually gravel bag to keep the tripod steady.

6. Remote Trigger – yea, you try to climb up there for event shot – this is a step by step tutorial and there are lots of steps.

7. Small Ladder – for camera fiddling, focus changes, chimping and so on.

Sample Images

Here is what the image looks like out of the camera. All that height and still had to shoot at around 35mm.

Top down instructions shoot - pre post

And after post

Top down instructions shoot - post post

Got more tips for product shooting? share them in the comments.