Pure white style photography is more popular than ever. Companies crave the raw simplicity and pure white style shows off the product in a most clean, fresh and elegant way. The techniques laid out below give some insight into how to achieve "pure white style" from my years of experience (and mistakes I've made and learned from) with many photo shoots involving products.
Any one who has attempted pure white product photography will tell you one thing: "It's not as easy I thought it would be ". Simply placing an object on a white backdrop and shooting will not yield very good results at all. Anyone somewhat serious in product photography has of course tried the "white box" product photography box. This box can give somewhat decent results and be adequate in a mediocre sort of way, especially if you are cranking out a large quantity of low cost items (think many variations of a 2 dollar item on ebay). Overall the white box method fails because it does not treat the subject with specific lighting that is required for a given product. Each subject is different and require a different light source, luminance ratios, and approach.
Keep these things in mind when attempting to shoot pure white style for products (in order of importance):
Multicoating on lens - Quality Lens mulitcoating is essential to all product photography but especially pure white style. The quality coating allows a more variance of light and dark in a scene and this is necessary for pure white. Because the background will be light in comparison to the subject, a good quality modern mulitcoating will allow you to push further with the whites without washing out the detail and tonality of the subject. In short it is more forgiving for back light. You can light it more dramatically without washing out the scene. To obtain a lens with a quality multi coat you have to be prepared to part with some precious money. Go for Zeiss, Leica or Sinar. (and I mean legit detachable SLR or medium format lenses: real zeiss or lieca not the consumer point and shoot type where it just says leica or zeiss on it for sales purposes). In most realms of photography the consensus is "lighting is everything" but for critical product photography the correct is lens is everything, followed by great lighting.
Micro Contrast - To achieve the clear crisp style product photography , a quality lens with excellent micro contrast makes all the difference. It adds more from and definition ot the small aspects of the product and give it a feeling of realness and 3 dimensionality. Again go for Zeiss, Lieca or Sinar. Nikon and Canon high end prime lenses can perform quite well also if used with proper technique. (not kit lenses or lower end lenses though, it should be L series or nikon high end)
Macro - For smaller subjects macro is necessary to fill up the frame with the subject. There are 3 ways to achieve macro: Using a macro lens, using extension tubes or using a large format camera.
Light Source and Temperature: The size and amount of diffusion of the light source or sources is very key to getting the correct shape of the product. Much time will be spent fine tuning the light positions and source sizes. An evenness of light temperature (kelvin) throughout your light sources will greatly improve the overall crispness and correctness of the image. I would say keep within a tolerance of 100 Kelvin between lights.
Lens stress / Back Flare: For pure white style this is a common problem. When the background is too bright in comparison to the subject all manner of cheap looking flares, colour casts (usually blue) and aberrations will creep into the image. Be sure to not stress the lens with too much uneven light entering the lens. This also goes back to the first point about the importance of quality lens multi coating, the better the coating the more you can stress the lens without adulterations to the image.
Sensor Stress - Assuming you are shooting digital, it is important to stay within the tolerances of the dynamic range of your sensor. Personally I like to keep everything within the histogram levels and make "blow out" decisions in post production, so nothing clipping at all in sensor. This way at least I know all the info is there if I need it. This goes for all channels. In portraiture it's usually the red channel that gets out of hand but for products it could be any channel so be careful. Try to ensure that nothing is going out of bounds. It help to white balance before hand (even if you know you will be assigning WB in RAW processing later) because it is easier to correctly asses if any channels are starting to clip. With my particular set up I like to under expose about 1/3 stop as I find it much easier and more forgiving to bring up exposure in post rather than bring it down. Depending on your particular system the opposite could be the case, so get to know your camera sensor and its abilities.
Depth of Field Vs internal refraction - there is a delicate balance of trying to get all the subject in focus without falling into the realms in internal lens refraction. After about F11 things start to actually get less focused and less sharp. This goes against common photo theory but in practice it is the case with most lenses (except large format view camera lenses). I won't go in to the technical reasons but feel free to research. This causes an issue because with smaller products you will find yourself wanting a larger and larger f stop setting to ensure that all of the subject is in focus, back to front. There comes a point where you have to sacrifice either overall sharpness (by going for a high fstop) or only having only partial parts of your subject in focus sharp (but very sharp) say by using f11 or so. This issue comes up regularly for me doing all types of product photography including pure white and I usually choose going for f11 or under.
Retouching - This is an important step and makes all the difference yet without the above methods in place it is difficult to get an amazing product photo. The more one has to chop, push and filter in photoshop the more it takes away from the natural resonance of the actual product. Great steps and effort need to be given into getting the shot just right in the camera before going to the post production stage. The "fix it in photoshop" method doesn't really work for high quality product photography, the photo should be strong right out of the camera. Really all that should be needed in retouching for pure white is make sure that the whites are pure whites and spot tone actual product for dust and scratches. Add some final levels and curves , finalize and wrap it up. Retouching does still take time for small detailing and density correction but the bulk of the image tonality and colour should already be there. The Key steps in Retouching would be: Spot toning, Levels curves, color, cutouts if needed and finalizing.
If you are an independent jewelry designer or a business owner contemplating doing it yourself: In most cases it's just much easier to hire a professional product photographer. They have all the necessary gear lighting and experience to get the job done correctly and add value to your products. Cheap looking product shots make the product look cheap. Consumers are simple, they like pretty pictures and place higher value on sharp vibrant looking products. We as humans like to look at pretty things and place higher value on things that look crisp, interesting and colourful.
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