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Shooting Products on a White Background

Lesson 28 from: Craft Photography Fundamentals

Candice Stringham

Shooting Products on a White Background

Lesson 28 from: Craft Photography Fundamentals

Candice Stringham

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Lesson Info

28. Shooting Products on a White Background


Class Trailer

Session 1


Introduction to Craft Photography Fundamentals


What Your Visuals Say About Your Brand


How to Become a Photographic Author


How to Use Natural Light for Your Product Photography


Setting Up Your Photo: The Basic Rules


Becoming the Viewer to Take Better Photos


Shooting 3 Setups: Creating the Backstory with Images


Lesson Info

Shooting Products on a White Background

We are just going to get into this lesson, and I would say it's probably one of the most important things we'll be talking about in this class, and probably what everyone's been waiting for, for a day and a half. Photographing on white. It's so important to take a beautiful photograph of your product on white. And it is so difficult, unless you really know your equipment. Now as a professional photographer, when I'm shooting in studio, we, to get a beautiful white background with a product, would probably use 4-5 studio lights, so we can light the background separately than our product, and it's a very technical thing. As a natural light photographer, and as a novice, I'm going to teach you some ways to sort of get around, hack your way, into getting really beautiful white backgrounds. So we're going to do that through taking the photos and through editing. So it's going to take a little bit of both, and we're going to teach you both of those things. But first I wanted to show you my s...

etup, and I wanted to talk about the difference between how you see something versus how your camera sees something, or thinks about something, and once you know that, it's the key to getting really beautiful images. So, here we have a basic setup. I was setting up for a class I was going to be teaching at Alt Summit, and we were teaching a styling class, and we were also, at the same time, showing a party, how we would blog a party, and it was a Fiesta Frida, so it was based on Frida Kahlo, and so we were using a lot of elements, Mexican elements, and bright colors that she would have used in her paintings, and we were photographing it on white. So, I would look at this, you would look at this and you are seeing a white board, right? Just like that, this is what you see. The items on white. This is what your camera sees. And then, that's what happens when you take the photo, right? You take the photo on auto, you thought it looked really pretty, and had really nice lighting, and then you look at the back of your camera and you're like, "Why was it gray? Why was it gray? I was taking a picture on a white background." Well the difference is, from what you see, to what your camera sees, or thinks, is that, when I see a white background, I see a white background and it makes me happy. When my camera sees a white background, it sees a white background and it wants to make it middle gray. My camera, on the setting that it comes in, when I open it out of the box is evaluative metering. And what that means is everything the camera sees in the viewfinder, it wants to calculate down, photography is all math, all comes down to that, unfortunately, but it all comes down to wanting to make the highlights, and the shadows, and everything equal a middle gray exposure. And so, when it sees all that white, when your camera sees all that white it thinks, "Danger, danger, Will Robinson." Like we have to fix this, right? That tells you how old I am. (laughs) We have to fix this, like, I can't have this blown out white, no area detail of photograph. So then, it meters for you to get middle gray, and I feel like that's so key to know because now I know I can't shoot anything on white in auto. I have to use the other settings to be able to get a white background. And not only that, I know that anytime my camera sees a lot of white, or light areas, it could be a pale pink, it could be that muslin, or the osmerge we were just photographing, anything a higher key than middle gray, and my camera is going to automatically underexpose. Even when my meter looks like its at zero. And once I know that, I know how to override it to get the image that I want. So, we're going to use exposure compensation. It's easy, it looks just like your light meter so when you look through your viewfinder and you see the 0, and the +1, and the +2, and the -1, and the -2, that's the light meter and the camera is telling you, at 0, you're getting a good exposure, at 1 you're getting a little brighter, at +2, you're getting even brighter and these are by stops. So remember what I told you in stops earlier, every time you go up a stop, you're doubling your amount of light, or you're lessening it by double, okay? So, I get two times brighter, four times brighter, and if I go all the way up to three, six times brighter. And it works the other way around two, I start getting darker as I go down, okay? But when you're in AV or TV, you're only picking one setting and the camera is picking the other two settings to give you an exposure, and it always, remember how I could change my aperture and it always looked the same, okay? So we have to override that, and we do that with exposure compensation. It's us telling the camera, "Overexpose, make it brighter." And then it will automatically, in that math equation, put in settings to make it brighter, or to make it darker. So, using manual is awesome, it's the best option. Either way, if you want to learn manual, good, but if you don't this is a way to override that. Not have to know everything, not have to figure out the equation, and get the look you want. Exposure compensation, it's in everyone's menu on their camera, and it comes up and it looks just like your light meter, and you just set your camera to what you want to over or under expose. And the reason I was talking about it earlier, in previous lessons, when I was photographing, is because I was photographing on white, right? Those white tiles? And yet it looked white and bright. It wouldn't have if I had just left my camera alone and let it make the decisions. I was using exposure compensation to brighten it, so I wasn't telling you that, but now I am, okay? So that's the secret, exposure compensation. When you are in AV, or A, or TV, or S, depending if you have a Nikon or a Canon. And once you set that just remember it's set to that because remember, we went to the next set that was darker and my image was really overexposed. So you have to change exposure compensation the next time you go to shoot if you're using something that's not the same. And there's the difference in just changing my exposure compensation. I didn't change my aperture, I didn't change my lighting. I didn't change anything about this image except for, I set my camera to overexpose by two. What? It's mind blowing right? That's it. This thing this whole time that you were letting stop you from taking good photos, it was one setting on your camera. One setting and it's just knowing that, it's just knowing that my camera is going to make everything middle gray, that then tells me exactly what I need to do to fix that problem. So it's so important to learn about your camera, to be in courses like this, to come to Creative Live, and learn from people who know their cameras. And it's that one setting that makes such a big difference, so, and also he's adorable. That's my baby. Okay, then after that I make more adjustments, okay? If I really want it to be high key I don't want dark shadows, so now I'm adding in a reflector. So I'm overexposing by two stops and I'm adding in a reflector. And, then when we go from here, see this image on the right? You can still see between the white of the screen and the white in the photo, it's still not pure white, and that's where we really come to big issues, right? We think it looks white and then we put it next to something really white and we're like, "Oh." It's like leaving a gray sock in your load of laundry, or a black sock, and it makes everything that gray color and it makes everything like, "That was a mistake." You know? So, then that comes through editing and we can make it look like that. So there is no seem between the white on your website and the white in your image. Here's another example of that. This is something that I see so many people have issues with, right? It's just too dark. My camera just couldn't read that white wall so then I overexpose and I get a really beautiful, brightly lit, image. Okay, same thing. I did this at home, and I did this here for you. Same concept, same idea, but my camera automatically reads it much darker than it really is so I have to adjust for that. And this is what happens in this room all the time, so now I now, in general, if I'm shooting on that set, I need to be two stops overexposing on my compensation. So, there's what my camera would normally do, and that's what I would do, okay? Same thing with back lighting. So this is how we get really beautiful back lighting. When your camera looks at a large window it sees all of that light and whatever is in front of it, it underexposes, because it wants to make the window middle gray so then anything that was already middle gray becomes dark, and we lose detail in our shadows. So back lighting we also have to overexpose in our exposure compensation to make up the difference. So here's back lighting, he had the sun set behind him. I mean, how many times have you tried to get like, a beautiful sun shot in front of a sun set and either the sunset completely goes away, or you are in silhouette. So you have to learn how to kind of, overexpose. Now I do lose the sunset when I expose for my subject, but my subject is more important to me so then I choose to overexpose in that case. So it works the opposite way with black or dark backgrounds. Now my camera sees the black background, sees the loss of detail, and says I want that to be middle gray, I need for that to be middle gray. And so what does it do? It gives settings into your exposure that make the black or dark background middle gray. And then your subject, that was middle gray, gets blown out, and you get that kind of murky, flat, gray look to your image, as opposed to a dark, deep, rich background that you want. And so here, it's the opposite way. I set my over- my- (laughs) exposure compensation to underexpose, so toward the minus one or the minus two, and now I'm blocking out some of that light and I'm able to get a dark rich photo. So we're going to shoot both of those so that you can see that, so you can see the whole process exactly how we're doing it, that it's not magic, that it really is those camera settings, and that it's completely doable. And then here is that again from the side, with the dark background, and we're able to just a really beautiful exposure on that. Alright, let's do it, yes. Can I ask a couple of questions, again making sure everyone gets this. Yeah. Did you mention what kind of metering you are using in the scenario of under and over exposing? What, within the image is the camera- Metering on? Metering on? What does that mean? Okay, so, um, when you press the button half way down and you are engaging auto focus, you're also engaging the metering system in your camera and that's when you look in you viewfinder and you see the plus one, and the plus two in that, we showed you, and when you're in anything other than manual, because when you're in manual just whatever settings you plug in, it will show you where you are on that meter, but when you are in anything else the camera is always trying to get it right in the middle, zero, middle gray. So every time you press the button half way down you are metering, you just never knew it. So your camera comes, DSLR's have multiple different ways of metering, but most people don't know that and so they never change it, and so your camera comes in evaluative, or matrix, on a Nikon, I think is what it's called, and what that means is everything you see in the viewfinder, your camera is seeing, and it takes both the highlights and the shadows it sees and comes up with a calculation. So in that way of metering it's seeing everything. It's not just seeing where you're focusing it's seeing everything in the view finder. If you want it to be in a more specific area you can change your metering system. There's center weighted metering, there's partial metering, there's spot metering, there are several different ways to do that. I generally use evaluative because I generally care about the whole image overall, and now that I know that- How it's going to react in specific situations, I don't really need to change my metering because I already know in my mind I already need to change the settings. But if it is an issue for you, another thing you can do is change the spot metering which means it's metering a much smaller area within your view finder, and it will then, like if I was metering something darker on something white, it will give a heavier weight to the exposure on the item you're metering on. I guess I generally don't tell novice photographers to change their metering because they'll forget where they changed it or how to change it back, and then later when it's only metering on this tiny area they're like, "What happened? All my pictures are so weird." You know, so it is something you have to remember to change back. So... Thank you. Yes. The important part being, understanding what the camera is actually trying to do. That, whatever that metering thing its doing, it's trying to see that middle gray- Yes. and so thank you. Yeah. And so everything in photography is sort of based on values or tones, and we have white to black and all the way in between. So, and we a lot of the time in photography call those stops. All those in between ways of letting in light. Um, as a human you can see about, a dynamic range of about thirteen stops of light. So we can see areas of detail in shadow and in highlight. I can look at the clouds and see detail at the same time, as I'm looking at that, I can look at a tree and see detail in the leaves, even though its much darker, because I, my human eye, lets me see about thirteen. I'm not sure what it is on DSLRs right now, but a few years ago when they were first starting with DSLRs it was five stops. So the camera can't see as much as you, it just can't. So it got about five stops of range before you start losing detail in the highlights or shadows. I think it's much higher now, probably closer to seven or eight stops, 'cause they're just getting better and better. But that's important to remember because, if you have a particularly dark or white area you have to just know that there's not gonna be detail in that area, and we don't want to lose detail on the items that we are photographing. But in this case I want to override the camera and I don't want detail in the camera, I want pure white. So it's all about understanding how my camera sees that. That it's taking everything to middle gray, and then how do I override that and compensate, and it's exposure compensation, so it's easy to remember.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Creating Visuals For Your Brand Assignment
Slide Presentation for Lessons Part 1
Slide Presentation for Lessons Part 2
Prop List

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

This class taught by Candice was amazing. She teaches in such a step-by-step, easy to understand pace. She shares so much of her own tips and tricks she uses to create beautiful images without spending a fortune or having all kinds of expensive equipment. Having the DSLR lessons included was really great for anyone who wants to do more than the camera phones are capable of. Learning the basics of how to use a DSLR is confusing for most people, but Candice broke it down in the simplest way possible. Social media is all about imagery, so if you want to put out the most beautiful eye-catching photos, then you want to learn how to use more than the camera phone. I don't have a business where I need to take photos of things I sell and I still enjoyed her class so much. As a photographer, I am going to use her ideas and insight when I photograph things for fun. There is so much to gain from this class. I would highly recommend taking her class. She is a wealth of great ideas and information and has that friendly personality of someone you'd want to sit and have coffee with.


A wonderful class to get you going with craft/product photography. Candice provides (and shows) fantastic examples and it's really fun to watch her work through a shoot, moving items, etc. to create the final image. She also covers some basic photography tips which is very helpful. Great class! I definitely recommend to others!

Melinda Malamoco

I loved this class! Candice is so personable, clear and relatable. I would want to hang out with her and be creative! I have been taking pictures for YEARS, and for my Etsy store for over two years, and I still learned a lot in her class. The lessons are set up in a way that you can follow, take what you want and don't worry about what you don't need. I will say that I got a TON of ideas for how to better display my brand, what my personal style is and how to be consistent with it. I so recommend this class for anyone who has small business or just wants to be able to take better pictures of their products. Okay, off to build a prop kit!

Student Work