Shooting the shoe

When  people ask me questions about shooting products or other still life subjects, it’s nearly always about small, shiny things, so I ran a series of tutorials on shooting small shiny things, and did my best to explain how to make the most of the inevitable reflections in this blog post about controlling specular reflections.

One of my clients sells fashion for older ladies – the ones who have enough money to buy her stuff…

And one of the product types that I photograph a lot of for her is shoes. Actually I like ladies shoes (no comments please!) because I have to give them a bit of thought.

This photo is straight out of camera, except for cropping and reducing the size for this blog post. Some PP work is usually necessary, but everything you’ll ever see in any of my tutorials is either SOOC or, if any PP work has been done, I’ll tell you what and why.















As always, pose comes first, camera position comes second and last but certainly not least, comes the lighting.

Lighting comes last because the lighting effect is nearly completely dependent on both the pose and the camera height.

The pose here was easy, because all shoes are always posed in this exact same position, although other angles are often shot too, to show particular features or detail, this is the one that always ends up as the main piccy on the website.

Camera height then follows, and is important because the choice of camera height determines exactly what the customer sees. Here, I’m looking down a bit, mainly because if the camera had been any lower it wouldn’t have shown the width of the shoe, which is important, and partly because it’s just as natural to look down on shoes as it is to look down on low-cut tops…

These things then, are pretty much fixed for the whole batch of shoes. The variable here is the lighting, which has to be individually tailored to suit the shape and reflective qualities of each shoe.

There are no rules about equipment, but for what it’s worth I used my Nikon D700 fitted with a 200mm lens. The 200mm lens gives me plenty of working space and also avoids any perspective distortion. I used one of our product shooting tables, it isn’t essential but it makes life easier. I also used a heavy duty boom arm to support a flash head Suede and patent leatheroverhead, this was fitted to a 70 x 100cm Chiaro softbox, a bit of kit that I use for most product shots of this type. If the shoe had been highly reflective, say patent leather (and some of the shoes are patent leather) then the softbox would have been so close to the subject that it would have been only just out of frame, to control the specular reflections, but this one is made of Italian leather that’s shiny but not impossibly so, so I had the softbox pretty high, maybe 3′ above the shoe. This creates a harder, punchier light and also has the advantage that, with the softbox so far away, both the highest and lowest parts of the shoe are getting a pretty equal amount of light. Moving it closer would have caused unnecessary problems with light fall off, due to the effect of the inverse square law. The shot on the left does have patent leather in places, so the overhead softbox needed to be much closer. I got around the problem of the inverse square law simply by sticking a bit of neutral density gel over the left side of the softbox, to reduce the amount of light hitting the left side of the shoe, which is much nearer to the softbox. The use of an overhead softbox is crucial, and another benefit is that it produces a diffused, natural shadow too. The flash head used in this softbox was one of our SuperFast 300‘s. The SuperFast comes into it’s own for freezing really fast moving subjects, these shoes weren’t moving at all, but I just like the remote control system…

I used a 70cm silver beauty dish in front of the shoe, and off to the right. This lit the side of the shoe visible to the camera and, because I used it at a fairly acute angle, it showed up the texture of the silver straps (first picture) and the suede leather in the second picture – soft lighting just wouldn’t have cut it for either of these shoes. The shoe on the right has similar features, plus the lacing, which needed to show up, Suede and Italian leatherso I used the beauty dish for that too, although I turned the power up a bit to make the lacing stand out a bit more. I used a SuperFast for the beauty dish light too.

Then there was the background. Shoes generally look best against a grey background. If clients really insist on white then I still photograph them against grey but get them cut out later. I could very easily light the product shooting table to make it white, but this would reduce the image contrast and contaminate my quite precise lighting, so that’s simply something that I won’t do. What I did do though was to use another flash head, an UltraPro this time, fitted with one of our background reflectors. This lit the floor area of the product shooting table just a bit, so that we ended up with a graduated grey background.

And, finally, I put a 5 in 1 reflector, silver side towards the product, immediately left of the table. This produced just the right amount of light on the left.

Suede with gold metallic interior

Shiny leather, gold decoration and brass zips for good measure