Packshot photography – a quick guide
E-commerce, catalogues, bill-boards. There is an increased demand for packshots in all sectors of marketing and sales. Product photography broke into the market for good and continues to conquer new areas. If you are looking to understand what packshot photography is and what requirements it sets for a photographer, you are in the right place. In this guide we will offer a helpful introduction as well as some practical tips.
What is packshot photography?
The question could be widened in its range and reformed as “what is product photography?”. Certainly, in the past two decades, digital photography has developed several separate genres, from landscape panoramas to product photography. It is within the last genre that packshot photography gained a solid position, a precisely defined sub-branch.
The main goal of packshots is to accurately present a product, which will be sold subsequently with the help of different marketing channels: mainly hard-copy or online advertisements. A packshot needs to show the product in the exact form that a customer will receive in the parcel and quite often in a container, if the product consists of multiple elements.
In contrast, lifestyle photography tells a story about a product. The product is usually depicted in its natural environment, while the photographer’s main goal is to attract your attention and create positive emotions around the product.
A proper packshot should not make the product look better than it is. A well-done packshot is supposed to include an accurate presentation of the qualities of the item. Ideally, a packshot would also be attractive and encourage customers to make purchase decisions.
Depending on requirements, a good packshot may also include a view of the packaging, labelling and any additional information. The aim stays to trigger a purchase without misleading the customer.
Where is packshot photography used?
As a branch of product photography, packshot photography is closely related to sales and marketing in the e-commerce sector. Salesmen and marketers will refer to packshots, when the product needs to be shown precisely and fully, without a distracting background.
Many e-commerce platforms require product photos to have a white background and a defined product to frame size ratio. Read more about what Amazon requires from retailers as to their product photography in our dedicated article.
Very often catalogue and manual creators state additional requirements for photography. Spare parts and small details of devices will need a sharp precise photo on a white background to provide a good level of contrast.
Big brands which present their products on billboards can also appreciate the magic of white background and equalized lighting that packshots can offer. A high quality packshot will play an informative role in marketing materials.
Leaflets, posters, brochures will be an example of good use of packshot photography. A product on white or cut from the background can be used in a montage and play well in a composition with text.
Does it mean white background only?
Absolutely not. It is not the background that defines product photography and packshot photography as its derivative. It is the mode you choose to photograph the product:
- whether you decide to present it in full extension?
- whether you choose to show all the details?
- whether you shoot it in exactly the form that the client will unwrap after delivery?
- whether you shoot all the elements of the set or make art compositions?
These questions, when answered, will help you categorize the shot as a product one or qualify it as still life.
How to shoot packshot photography?
In case of packshot photography we can talk about a series of characteristics that make it a special enterprise and put forward requirements regarding equipment, light and camera settings.
Packshots prepared for e-commerce will most often need a white background and not necessarily a high resolution. This is due to the fact that high resolution exposes irregularities and shortcomings of the product that a seller might want to keep out of focus.
Blurry background will also be out of scope for packshot photography, as it is often a feature that applies the artistic touch to photos and brings them closer to still life photography. Also, any parts of the shot that remain unsharp and mask the features of the product should be avoided.
Knowing the above requirements for a good packshot, you can plan for the execution of the shots. What will come to mind first is the camera and its settings.
Camera for packshot photography
The decision whether to choose a classical DSLR or a mirrorless camera (which is consistently gaining in popularity) remains important only with regard to the size and quality of the sensor. This will further influence the resolution and level of detail you can present in the photo.
The most common camera sensor sizes are full frame and APS-C. Full frame measures traditionally 35 mm in width, while the APS-C is smaller with 24 mm of width. What matters for packshot photography here is that the APS-C will allow a higher depth of field, i.e. the sharpness of the whole product in frame (assuming the same settings such as aperture)
The choice of full frame cameras will serve occasions when a higher level of detail (resolution) is needed: products with plenty of small features or a complex texture. This would mean jewelry (read more about jewelry photography in our full guide) and small gadgets. Full depth of field can be then ensured with a post-production technique called focus stacking. A series of differently focused photos is put together to form one sharp shot.
Should you wish to avoid the difficulties of Photoshop focus stacking, this technique is implemented automatically in packshot photography hardware solutions such as Orbitvu automated studios, some of them designed for small items.
The choice of lens for product photography comes as a next equipment question. We described the stages of lens choice in our exhaustive guide. Here, let us only mention that a macro lens will come in handy. It often offers the best magnification ratio (look for 1:1 at least), which directly corresponds to detail rendering in the final photo.
Lighting in packshot photography
The work with light in packshot photography will revolve around the need to present the product as faithfully as possible. Shape, texture, and color need to be rendered just as in reality, so that the customer receives precise information before a purchase decision.
The requirements for lighting in packshot photography sum up to four major points, described in full in our complete guide to product photography. Let’s examine them quickly:
- For texture – set the lighting unevenly.
Items such as fluffy fabric clothes or electronic equipment will require the photographer to expose much detail and take care to make the photo realistic. That all with artistic techniques kept to the minimum. Unevenly distributed light of different strength will be a perfect means to render the texture or any hidden small switches.
- Take care of white balance and the color temperature of the light source.
To render the colors without distorting their natural hue, you will need to coordinate the white balance in your camera with the light color temperature of the lamps you use. It will be best to keep the color temperature around natural sunlight, ca. 5500 K.
- Know the requirements and the advantages of continuous and flash light.
There is no actual difference between continuous and flashlight in quality of the produced packshots, however technical questions may incline you to choose continuous light. You will not be limited to slower shutter speeds and will be able to benefit from live view in the camera (read more about live view in our article about camera settings for product photography).
- For repeatability of shots – draw a careful plan of the setup.
In a big business, studios for product photography will need to be set up in various locations or moved frequently. The logistics will make it more difficult to achieve an acceptable level of shot repeatability. Moving a traditional photo studio with lamps will be easier, if you draw a plan of the setup. Don’t forget to measure and write down the distances and angles, as well as the strength of lights.
Post-production in packshot photography
All the post-production of a packshot will consist of four stages. First, you cut the product from the background. Second, you choose a desired uniform background, usually white. Third, you retouch the surface of the photographed item. Finally, you correct the color palette of the photo, manipulating saturation, vibrance and contrast.
It is important not to overdraw post-production effects in your photo because this may mislead the customer as to color or texture and trigger an unwanted product return. We wrote more about reducing your returns rate via product photography in our e-commerce dedicated article.
With automated solutions available on the market some steps of post-production can be eliminated (executed by the machine) or partially automated. Think of automated cutting of the product from the background or simple adjustment of contrast and sharpness. This is all done within seconds thanks to advanced algorithms and masking technology for the cutting of the product and a friendly accessible user interface for other aspects of post-production.
Even with high Photoshop skills a human is not able to match the speed of automated background removal. It gains importance with a growing business and demand for product photography. Thousands of products multiplied by minutes in post-production time-savings give significant alternative cost reduction.
Finally, it is necessary to remember that post-production is a means of persuasion just as any. Try to apply it too blatantly and the result gets undone. Inviting more automation can be a good solution here, as it will standardize the photography output of a business with templates. It will help to consistently keep the persuasiveness of your product photography at the right level.
Technological solutions for packshot photography
Among technological solutions for packshot photography, you will find plenty of studio equipment ranging from special lights to dedicated white background shooting tables. The market also provides automated solutions in the form of software-manipulated studio booths for different product sizes.
Aiming to shoot packshots of furniture? Or maybe jewelry? You will be able to find solutions tailor-made for both, some requiring more experience than others. What advantages do they bring?
These devices offer especially made, comfortably-shaped white plexiglass or plastic surfaces to position your product on. Supported with backlight and a proper set of lamps, shooting tables allow for production of packshots with uniform white background. However, this happens at the cost of plenty of manual work – from ensuring the right equipment to complex post-production.
With most shooting table-produced photos, the product will have to be cut from the background. You may have to deal with contrast issues when shooting glossy items and Photoshop post-production can become a difficult task.
Knowledge of flashlight operation will be necessary, as you will need to arrange the lamps yourself, which means choosing the strength and angles. Light diffusers will be a useful addition and depending on the shooting table model you will be able to choose differently colored backgrounds. We wrote extensively about shooting tables in our article on the best solution for white background.
Automation of packshot production has become available with the introduction of software-supported studios. These are advanced technologies that streamline the photoshoot process with the use of templates, step-by-step automations, and go as far as enabling the direct publication to various e-commerce websites.
At the cost of one-time investment, they pave the way for significant cost reduction, as the making of one packshot is significantly shorter and together with post-production executed within one software suite.
A big advantage of packshot automation is the possibility to have the product cut from the background in seconds. Intelligent masking techniques, such as those from Orbitvu, offer an easy, controllable method for white background, which does not require high photographic or post-production skills. This in turn means a further cost-reduction with the outsourcing and staffing spending minimized.
The level of control you gain with automated solutions may not be as high as in traditional studios but certainly allows for high-quality packshots created in a significantly shorter time. This will rise in importance with the growth of your business and the numbers of packshots you shoot. Our video shows some of these advantages with a deeper insight into how automation works.
For anyone armed with the knowledge of what a correct packshot consists in, the approach to packshot photo sessions and post-production becomes a task within reach and a way to constant skill improvement.
Showing the product with as much faithfulness to reality as possible, reducing effects that border on art, and choosing a uniform background remain the goals and methods of a packshot photographer.
Depending on the budget and business purpose, they will make choices as to camera equipment and technological solutions dedicated to packshot photography. Their decisions will focus on a balance of high quality and cost-effectivity and will inevitably turn to considering automation in their packshot process.
The basic tips and definitions of this article may serve as a stepping stone or a starting point for these decisions. Should you wish to delve deeper or have questions regarding Orbitvu packshot automation, feel free to book a demo with our support services and stay tuned to our blog.
Happy packshot sessions!
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