3 easy and inexpensive setups for shooting product videos

Jun 22, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Jun 22, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Product videos are a lot of fun to shoot. As is product photography. Coming up with different unique ways to show off a product is an exciting challenge. Doing it on a low budget, even more so. In this video, filmmaker Todd Blankenship creates three product ads with minimal kit and shows the gear, sets and lighting setups used to make them.

YouTube video

While some of these setups might seem fairly expensive for stills photographers, but the principles are quite easy to adapt to less expensive versions. Shooting RAW files for photography gives us a lot more latitude to make up for issues that might result from using super inexpensive setups.

For video, though, where you’re typically dealing with lower bitrate footage, and have to deal with light hitting the subject from multiple angles, you need a little more kit. You can still get away with, and “fix”, a lot, but one doesn’t want to trade away too much time to save a few dollars. And for video, these are still fairly inexpensive setups.

Todd talks about a number of things you need to take into account when shooting products. These also apply to shooting stills, and they’re things you’ll need to take into account on every single product shoot that you do.

1. Product material

This is going to determine how you light your subject. Or, in the case of something like glass, how you’re going to light something that reflects off the surface of your product. With something like glass, no matter how much light you throw at it, it’s never going to get any brighter. So, you have to light things which reflect off its surface.

For a solid surface, like anodised aluminium, you can light the surface more directly. But metals still show a lot of specular highlights, so you still may need to consider surfaces that reflect into it.

2. Surface / Set

What is the environment in which you want your product to reside? This will speak to your ideal client and who they are. Even with the same product, having the images shot in a different environment with a different lighting setup will appeal to different audiences. Look at the flashlight, for example. If you want it to appeal to mechanics, this seems a decent idea. If you want to target those looking for a flashlight for camping, is this really the way to make them take notice?

This will also help you to determine what props to use. A flashlight next to a wrench or other tools, sure. A flashlight next to a bowl of fruit, not so much.

3. How are you going to make it cool?

Products need to look cool. 99% of product photography is taking a boring looking product and making it look cool. How you do that is the big challenge, and what separates one photographer or filmmaker from another. It might be some simple trick with filters or obscuring the lens to create a different effect. It could be the lighting, or just the general “story” you give your film or photos.

As I mentioned, this will be your biggest challenge. It’ll depend a lot on who you’re trying to speak to. It’ll also depend on what the brand who makes the product typically does. You might have to make it fit a particular look and feel, but just give it that bit extra. Or you may have complete control to do what you want.

The video contains quite a few tips that apply to both filmmakers and photographers. Many of the principles and ideas mentioned in the video can be replicated for even less money, too.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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