So, I am in no means an expert at photography, nor do I claim to be however I feel like I finally have the correct photography setup after years of trial and error. I sell my work predominantly online so trying to convey true colour, texture and size are all part of the challenge when photographing my work. My main piece of advice would be to invest in good quality equipment as early as you can, I've ended up spending more throughout the years than I would have done if I'd have just purchased quality in the first place. Below I've tried to break things down into sections to try and give whatever help I can.
Overall Setup Changes
When I first started selling I didn't really know what I was looking for when it came to product photos and found myself trawling the internet for ideas and advice. If you do the same thing you'll find all sorts of results: 'white backgrounds only'
'gradients are needed for professional pictures'
'Get a lightbox'
'Use natural light'
From the amount of information online I found it so hard to make a good, informed decision because the solutions above work for some products but not for others and most of the information was more tailored for accessories or jewellery, quite the different beast to ceramics. I ended up purchasing a foldable 'lightbox' much like a 'pop up' tent and two large bulb type lights like the image below.
This worked well for some images but I found the lights got very warm so I couldn't use them near the tent and the size of the tent meant overall lighting, although diffused was often too dark. If I tried to take photos without a tent then the light was too intense and got lots of reflection from my pots. One of the main factors for me was the ability to put things away and get them out as I didn't have a dedicated space for photography, although the tent was great for folding away the overall size was just too cumbersome and meant that I could only use it in certain spaces, meaning if I wanted to use natural light in some rooms it was difficult.
I have most recently upgraded to a pair of Neewer LED lights to replace the older style of light. these work incredibly well considering they are LED's and both came with a removable diffuser panel which allows for an optional increase in brightness on cloudy days. I use these without a lightbox, utilising photo boards which I'll go into below. Although the lights were roughly three times the price of the old lights they remove the need for the lightbox which makes them much more versatile. They are strong, lightweight and have already paid for themselves in the quality of image being provided.
I use the lights in a downward position as seen in the image below, because of the lack of lightbox I can use these in whatever room I need, depending on how much natural light there is (which does make a difference). Whether I need lifestyle photos or closeups their position can be changed to suit any photo.
I didn't know what backgrounds to use for my photos and to be perfectly honest a lot of what I do now has come from trial and error.. plain white backgrounds have felt boring and clumsy as white can often appear grey when lighting isn't at it's best. I've tried rolls of white paper on a hand made support to make 'gradients'. I've tried handmade wooden boards, I've tried foam board with a plastic vinyl coating for 'wood effects' but each of these has ended up with problems. The vinyl on foam is one of the best options so far but the foam does damage overtime which makes dents if you aren't careful. Below is an image using my old lights, a wooden base and a foam board background. The quality is good but for me the foam would dent and the wood was quite difficult to store.
I have recently upgraded to a range of professional photo boards by www.photoboards.org They are high resolution printed images on very durable backing. They are by far the most expensive option for photographs but they stand up to the constant use and provide an excellent quality of image when doing closeups all at a fraction of the weight of my solid wooden boards. I opted for two neutral boards, (white wood and a plaster board effect) and a darker wood styled board for particular glaze colours. Because of their size and shape they are easy to move and change out, providing a clear backdrop to my imagery as seen below:
The subtle textures of the boards are visible in the photos but they don't takeaway the focus from the pots. As mentioned previously they can be expensive so if you are on a budget and have space to store foam board without it getting damaged I'd highly recommend making your own. You can buy vinyl covers which are usually used to 'upcycle' doors and furniture and instead adhere it to any size foam board allowing for a selection of backdrops that suit your needs. My handmade boards were about a quarter of the price of professional ones and the only downsides is that they are quite glossy so can reflect a lot of light and they do mark easily as seen below:
I have a couple of props which I've purchased over the years but a lot of them don't get used. I've found I 'think' I need them when I really don't. The image above is a good example of when a prop can enhance and image but I've purchased wooden blocks, perspex stands, faux flowers. Lots of things and all of them come out only on the rarest of occasion. I've found that subtle prop use works well and most things can be found around the house and don't need to be purchased. If I'm shooting a soap dispenser I'll use the kitchen as a natural prop. If I'm doing bowls I'll make sure I have soup for lunch, photographing mugs? make a coffee. Almost all of my product photos look best in their natural homes and from learning that I've spent much less on needless props and focused much more on the uses of the item I've produced.
Overall I've built many different setups and variations for photos. I've invested in various boards and have come to the conclusion that less is often more. If you are looking to newly photograph your work then lighting is by far the most important thing, get the brightest and most versatile lights you can for your budget. You can make boards, buy boards but if you are thinking of this more long term then the initial investment in quality equipment will do you well in the long run and you won't end up spending the earth on photograph failures and have much more elevated photography from the beginning.
I hope if you're reading this then you found it somewhat insightful and useful. It's another look into my practice and I certainly haven't covered everything. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out.
*Please note all images were taken with a Samsung S9+ camera phone*