Crafting Stories at Home with Product Photography Tips

Photography immediately piqued my interest when I shadowed a wedding photographer; he put a set of rings on a Bonsai tree, crouched down, and then snapped a few photos against the evening sun.

I thought to myself, is this couple really trusting this guy, “a professional,” to take a picture of their symbol of undying love… on a plant? That careless thought process was completely revoked when the photographer smiled, turned around his Canon 5D Mark II, and showed me the photo.

To this day, I absolutely love photography because it shows you an entirely new perspective that you choose to craft. Today, I’m going to use board game pieces to illustrate not only some creative tips that you can use to elevate your product photography, but also give you helpful insight to add to your toolkit. What’s better? All of the following photos have been shot around my own home, and you can do the same! Each section will introduce the story behind each photo, followed by breakdown of the creative tip.

1. Combine different textures to highlight your subject

A teal, otter character meeple from the game Root floats on a wooden chip. I shiny blue marble sits in front on the otter.
A teal, otter character meeple from the game Root floats on a wooden chip. I shiny blue marble sits in front on the otter.

Story

In this photo, my subject comes from a board game called Root. In Root, you can choose to play as various critters that interact with each other in multiple types of environments; one of the critters you can choose to play are otters that use these blue marbles that represent little trading posts in the game.

Breakdown

When I think of otters, I instantly think about their environment: water. Although the otter character floats on its own, the photo would have been static and dull if I just put it on its back in a pool of water. How can we make it more interesting? How about introducing a way to separate the texture of water and the texture of the otter? Even more, we can introduce a contrast of color to distinguish our subject. Now I put in a wood chip and float the otter right on top. Lastly, I often picture otters holding on to something; it could be a clam, fish, crabs, abalone, or even each other’s paws as they float. To incorporate more theme from the game and give the photo it’s final “pop,” I added in the reflective marble. Notice how the marble doesn’t have a reflective glare but instead reflects the otter at a different angle: add components that highlight the subject and don’t detract from it. In total, we have a pool of calm water that creeps onto the wooden chip, merging the first layer of textures. Rough, striated patterns from the wooden chip separates the texture between water and the otter. To give a final addition to story and texture, adding in the “trading post” or marble highlights characteristics of otters holding onto food in the wild while providing a component that accentuates the subject. Seeing all of these components float together in a still, macro setting like this allows you to really hone in on how dynamic textures work together to make a unifying photo.

2. Juxtapose contrasting colors

Story

This bird meeple (or character) also comes from Root. Another team you can play with are these birds called the Eyrie Dynasty and like the previous otters, they have a specialty as well; they build nests around the board game, which is shown by the cardboard tile in the photo. They’re played as a majestic race of birds that are proud and fly onto different spaces of the board. Well, if they’re flying on the board, then somehow I want them to fly in the picture!

Breakdown

A very common technique in photography is to introduce a pop of color that allows the subject to stand out from the background. We often use this stark contrast because it makes our eyes laser-focused on what we’re trying to highlight in an image and the environment we put our subject in. Look at the difference between a photo that utilizes this stark contrast, versus the same photo in a monochromatic setting.

Aside from the photo on the right being a terrible edit of white balance, it shows you how colors can instantly sap the mood and subject in a photo. Therefore, when you choose to use contrasting colors to highlight your subject, nice contrasts are developed by using the color wheel. Notice here how a majority of the colors in the left photo are orange (from golden hour). Opposite to orange on the color wheel is blue/teal, which is why the colors balance each other in the photo. On top of that, these colors specifically add to the overall story; these birds are majestic in character, which is highlighted by the golden rays of sunlight. They make nests, as real birds would, so staging this bird in a tree with it’s roost token (or the “nest”) makes sense since it relates to how birds are in reality.

3. Hook your audience with an engaging factor

Story

If you’re familiar with The Last Airbender/The Legend of Korra series, this is a character from a board game derived from the series. As a firebender, or one who is able to manipulate flames at will, the idea of long-exposure flames instantly popped in my head.

Breakdown

You want to grab your audience’s attention just as you would craft an engaging introduction when writing a paper; the same concept applies to photography. In the first photo, the otter with a marble is floating on a piece of wood, nearly submerged in water. In the second photo, a bird is “flying” onto a leaf with it’s nest. Here, a firebender is spewing flames with an aura of fire surrounding the character. Each time you stage a photo, think concisely about your “wow” factor and what is going to pull your audience in. How are you going to make this photo different? What factors are going to make the photo unique? What is your hook? If you’re constantly asking yourself these questions, then you will undoubtedly start introducing distinguishing factors in your photos. Since fire is the theme of this photo, I placed these arching fire tokens along the base of the character to integrate more features from the board game and add to the story. With a 20-second exposure in complete darkness, I took a lighter and started to make circular motions around the base to create that fire aura, and then add the pop by making large waves of flames shooting out from his back, almost like Wings of Fire…which would-oddly enough-make for a great title for an epic film. Having all of these flames surround the subject in different ways helps to portray the empowering personality of firebenders and accent the flame tokens from the board game.

Tying it all together

Using different textures, juxtaposing contrasting colors, and consciously thinking of an engaging factor all play a role in elevating your perspective in photography. Here’s how all three factors played a role in the 3 photos I showed you:

  1. Texture- In photo 1, you have the wooden chip, glossy marble, still water, and smooth otter. In photo 2, a dead leaf provides a platform the the smooth bird, along with rough layers of cardboard in the roost token, ridges from the live leaf veins, and soft rays of light from the sun. In photo 3, you have wild flames, weathered rocks, raised plastic edges from the fire tokens, and smooth resin from the firebender.
  2. Contrasting colors- In photo 1, the teal water is separated from the teal otter/blue marble with a brown wooden chip. In photo 2, the dark blue Eyrie and nest are separated from the orange sunlight, accented by lines of green from the leaves. Lastly, the gray firebender is centered with accents of white/yellow/orange from the flames, red from fire tokens, and white/brown from the rocks.
  3. Engaging factor- In photo 1, all of the pieces are floating on water, on top of the wooden chip. In photo 2, both the bird and nest are sitting on top of a falling leaf, accented by strong sun rays. In photo 3, the flames seem to be devouring most of the photo, but the hollowness is filled with the firebender.

These tips are all perspectives that help you distinguish your product photography. From a tiny pool of water, to a plant in the front yard, to rocks in the backyard, all of the examples shown above were taken in the comfort of my home. All those years ago, I would have never imagined that the wedding photographer I shadowed was so excited because he wanted to share those factors that I can finally see today. A polished diamond sitting among the bark of a bonzai tree with sunlight shimmering through the jagged leaves: texture. The diamond sat colorless against green bedding of the banzai tree but shined a kaleidoscopic spectrum from the evening sunlight, highlighting how to utilize contrasting colors. The wow factor? The rings were floating on the branch, golden hour rays of light shined through the leaves onto the rings, and to add the final punch... the couple were holding hands and looking into each others’ eyes in the background.

Photographer & Videographer | Instagram + YouTube @timchuon | I write about photography concepts that help you improve. https://linktr.ee/Timchuon

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