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How To Set ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed for DIY Product Photography


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ISO, aperture and shutter speed are the most critical camera settings for product photography.

Shooting in manual mode is a big step for DIY product photographers. It’s tempting to let the camera automatically handle important settings like ISO, aperture (F-stop), and shutter speed. Eventually, however, you need to take control; automatic is not going to get you the best possible product images.

If you want high quality product images, you need to set your camera yourself. You can follow our complete DIY Guide to Manual Camera Settings, or read on to get quick tips that will help improve your next shoot.

Camera settings almost all determine a camera sensor’s relationship to light, and ISO, aperture, and shutter speed are no different. ISO sets sensitivity to light, aperture controls how much light gets through, and shutter speed is how long your sensor is exposed to light.

What settings should you use?

ISO

ISO is the sensitivity of your camera sensor to light. The lower the number, the less sensitive and the longer you will need to capture an image. You can increase ISO to capture images in lower light, or just to capture images faster, but there’s a cost. Higher ISO settings can lead to grainy, or “noisy,” images.

A higher ISO introduces grainy “noise” to your photograph. Img src: photographylife.com

A higher ISO introduces grainy “noise” to your photograph. Img src: photographylife.com

ISO measurements reflect fractions of a second and generally range from 100-3200. “ISO 100” is a full second, while “ISO 3200” is 1/32 of a second. For side-by-side comparisons of product images taken at different ISO settings, read our guide to choosing the right ISO setting for product photography.

You should use the lowest ISO possible in order to keep noise to a minimum. Mount your camera on a tripod and take a look at your product after your lighting is set. Start at the lowest possible ISO, and gradually increase it until your product appears properly lit.

Aperture

Aperture functions like the pupil of an eye: it controls the amount of light passed through the lens to the camera. It also determines the depth of field of your shot. The depth of field is the area of your shot that is in focus, and it has major aesthetic consequences. For an in-depth examination of aperture, complete with numerous examples, learn how to understand aperture in product photography.

Aperture controls how much light passes through a camera lens. Lower F-stop settings allow more light and create a shallower depth of field.

Aperture controls how much light passes through a camera lens. Lower F-stop settings allow more light and create a shallower depth of field.

If you want high quality product images, you need to set ISO, aperture, and shutter speed yourself.

Aperture is measured using a system known as F-stops, and generally ranges from F1 to F22. The lower the number, the more light gets into your camera and the faster your shutter speed can be. Lower F-stops also create a shallow depth of field, allowing you to focus on specific details while focus falls off and blurs around your focal point.

For product photography, shutter speed isn’t an issue because your camera is on a tripod and your light is generally consistent (even with DIY sources). You will almost always want to use as high an F-stop as possible, like F16 or F22, in order to capture your product in full focus.

Aperture F-stop settings determine depth of field, which is the area that’s in focus.

Aperture F-stop settings determine depth of field, which is the area that’s in focus.

The exception that proves the rule is when you’re trying to highlight a detail, like a handle on a knife or a buckle on a belt, and you use lower aperture to draw the eye to the focal point. In almost every other case, you will want the entire product to be in complete focus.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed setting (also known as “exposure time”) determines the amount of time your camera’s sensor is exposed to light while taking a photograph; literally, it’s how fast your shutter opens and closes. Generally speaking, the faster the shutter speed the more an object is frozen, while slower speeds can create motion blur. You can learn more in our complete guide to DIY camera settings.

Shutter speed, aka exposure time, can either freeze or blur subjects in motion. Img src: photographylife.com

Shutter speed, aka exposure time, can either freeze or blur subjects in motion. Img src: photographylife.com

For landscape, sports, and nature photography, shutter speed is extremely important aesthetically because shots contain moving subjects. The photographer may be moving too, and handholding the camera.

Low shutter speeds are ideal for product photography when your camera is on a tripod and you’re shooting a still subject.

Low shutter speeds are ideal for product photography when your camera is on a tripod and you’re shooting a still subject.

In DIY product photography, your camera will almost always be on a tripod shooting a still object. For this reason, we don’t have to worry much about motion blur or camera shake generated by handholding, so it’s possible to use a low shutter speed to create extremely sharp images.

Use your light meter to determine if you should adjust your camera’s shutter speed.

Use your light meter to determine if you should adjust your camera’s shutter speed.

Shutter speeds are given in fractions of a second. When using a tripod in a studio, use a low setting like 1/13 in order to push more light into the camera. Use your light meter to determine your exact setting by adjusting shutter speed until you get to zero.

If you are shooting a model, you may need to increase your shutter speed to compensate for motion.

Learn how ISO, aperture, and shutter speed control your camera’s relationship to light.

Controlling Light

Do you feel like you’ve got camera settings down?

Lighting equipment and setup is crucial for product photography.

Lighting equipment and setup is crucial for product photography.

Good! The next big step in improving as a photographer is learning how to shape light itself. Read our guide to photography lighting equipment to determine what to buy, rent, or build for DIY product photography. Then check out three common lighting setups and see if they’ll help on your next shoot.

Do you have questions about ISO, aperture, shutter speed, or other camera settings? Let us know in the comments below!