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Meet the photographer behind those 'simple' Apple product images

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Photographer Peter Belanger is the man behind Apple's beautiful product photography. Photo from The Verge.

When you think about Apple products, the visual imagery that comes to mind is likely the work of a photographer you've never heard of -- until now. Apple photographer Peter Belanger recently offered insight into how he shoots those deceivingly simple product shots of iPhones, iPads and more in an interview with The Verge

The crisp, clean product images are the results of painstaking setup work by Belanger and his crew. Highly controllable and complex lighting schemes are key to perfectly portraying the iPhone and other Apple products.

"Because Apple products have such carefully selected materials it is incredibly important to light the product in a way that will showcase the various materials accurately," Belanger told The Verge. "I pick an area to start with and think about how that material needs to be described. Once that section is done I move on to the next. This is how my sets get so complicated! I need to have control over each and every surface so when the client asks for a highlight to be elongated, I can do that."

"I think of my lights as layers that I can adjust individually to get the desired results," Belanger said of his complicated sets used to perfectly capture Apple product images.

Belanger, who primarily shoots with a Canon 5D Mark III outside the studio and uses a Phase One digital back with a Sinar X view camera and Phase One 645 camera system inside the studio, says he aims to achieve a look in camera first, but post production work is always necessary.

"No matter how well a product is made, when you magnify it at 100 percent, you see more than the human eye can see," Belanger said. "Something that looks smooth as you hold it will have scratches, chips and other imperfections once magnified."

Watch Belanger and his crew in action on this shoot for a Macworld magazine cover image: 

Comments

Total comments: 61
tmy
By tmy (May 23, 2013)

Great clip, love the idea.

As someone who spent 3-4 years full time shooting products, hats off to Peter. It never is as simple as it seems.
While I still shoot professionally, I rarely shoot products now, but I have to say an iPhone, or anything so flat with so much post behind it is still a lot easier than working with curved surfaces and getting nice highlights. My nightmare was working on Kitchenware catalogues, esp shining kettles! That and all on a Sinar with 4x5 trannies!
Lots of compressed air and polaroids!

@SC Pienaar, lighting with speedlites and torches actually creates some amazing looks with products, esp in a blacked out studio. Different to what Peter's brief is though, but some lighting set ups can get pretty funky. Fiber optic lights are nice too, giving really precise control.

0 upvotes
Eddy M
By Eddy M (May 21, 2013)

Ah that's why Apple products are expensive.

Comment edited 57 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
JKP
By JKP (May 13, 2013)

I wonder if any of the iPhone images has real screen displayed, or is it always copy-pasted in Photoshop..

0 upvotes
HubertChen
By HubertChen (May 11, 2013)

Since a while all Apple Product Images appear to be rendered in 3D or drawn in an Illustration SW, but not photographed. This Article would have a higher authenticity if not only you show the setup of the shut, but also the finished product image. Take the images in: http://www.apple.com/iphone/ as example. Particularly the second last of the isight camera. Since years I can not remember to have seen an Apple product photo, but only these highly artificial renderings.

Comment edited 5 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
SC Pienaar
By SC Pienaar (May 11, 2013)

What in God's name does it matter how this guy achieved the look of his images? I have seen photographers use even more elaborate techniques than Belanger. I agree with what other photographers have posted here: product photography for clients can be daunting. The photographer needs to be in control of everything...even the shape of a highlight. There is no "right" way.

Just enjoy the article.
Or ask Apple if you can be the photographer for their next product line-up. You can light the iPhone 6 with a Speedlite and an LED torch.

0 upvotes
Justme
By Justme (May 11, 2013)

Found it on the original video on Youtube. A song by The Brokenmusicbox called Time on their Waking the Sound CD available on iTunes.

Comment edited 5 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
KodaChrome25
By KodaChrome25 (May 11, 2013)

You stole my other avatar! Ha!

0 upvotes
mustaphapashu
By mustaphapashu (May 10, 2013)

You guys are missing the point. Ever consider the jungle of C-stands is a inside joke? All the wannabee's will go gaga and those who are in the know will laugh because they realize a great chef never gives away all the ingredients.

1 upvote
mickcivic
By mickcivic (May 10, 2013)

How many photographers does it take to make a picture? 1000--one to shoot the picture, and 999 to say "I could have done it better."

2 upvotes
mickcivic
By mickcivic (May 10, 2013)

fineman2 - How about a link to your work?

1 upvote
fineman2
By fineman2 (May 10, 2013)

I'm an advertising photographer whose work has been published worldwide, won every industry awards, been published in CA,Print and Graphis Magazines and was one of 3 American selected to represent the United States by Nikon. (Nikon World, Japan). I also teach Photoshop.

As any good photographer knows, "Less is More". It's rediculous that he would use that much equipment to create this image. One large light and reflectors would accomplish the same thing and in the end it was manipulated by Photoshop.

Shooting today, photography has become different and good photographers have also become the retouchers who "think" Photoshop as part of the creative process.

3 upvotes
wansai
By wansai (May 13, 2013)

and did it not cross the mind that the better and closer to your idea you can shoot the subject, the less you have to spend in photoshop?

In terms of K.I.S.S. you can't get any simpler in terms of process than taking the time and effort to get the shot right first, then retouch later.

I know photoshop can do a lot but it's a matter of time isn't it. A few minutes of making sure you get the shot right with however much equipment you need, can mean hours saved having to retouch.

0 upvotes
mmitch
By mmitch (May 13, 2013)

Finally someone who agrees with my opinion as well.
Talk about a ridiculous amount of c-stands and flags for an iphone.

0 upvotes
pancromat
By pancromat (May 10, 2013)

the headline suggest he is THE photographer of apple products, like those images seen on apple advertising or on the apple website. but from this here i only see he's working for this one magazine. enlighten me please.

1 upvote
KodaChrome25
By KodaChrome25 (May 11, 2013)

I know, right?

0 upvotes
m3
By m3 (May 10, 2013)

Obviously not a good example of KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).

By the way, someone tell the man he'll save a couple of hours Photochopping just by using a blast of compressed air on the product to get the dust off and not use cotton gloves.

0 upvotes
erebuni99
By erebuni99 (May 10, 2013)

iknew there was a trick! :)

1 upvote
guamy
By guamy (May 10, 2013)

I have a lot of those i just need to untangle them when i'm ready to go fishing.

0 upvotes
Justme
By Justme (May 9, 2013)

Cool. Just wondering, what song is that?

0 upvotes
PeterPrism
By PeterPrism (May 9, 2013)

wonderful !

0 upvotes
stevo23
By stevo23 (May 9, 2013)

Thanks dpreview for sharing, I always like to hear how others do it. Product work has a degree of art and skill all it's own. It's one of my favorite "branches" of photography.

Having spent countless hours retouching product shots that have dust, scratches and surface imperfections, I can say that there is a definite value to good product work both pre and post capture. Good looking images help sell stuff.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Terry Breedlove
By Terry Breedlove (May 9, 2013)

I can remember how hard it was trying to light products in school. To do it with a real client added would make it extremly difficult. I can tell by the responses here that most have no idea what it takes to do this.

4 upvotes
ryanshoots
By ryanshoots (May 9, 2013)

" I can tell by the responses here that most have no idea what it takes to do this" So this might be one of the last bastions of well paid photography? I agree typical DP rev readers would be ill equipped. Myself included, though at least I realize this.

0 upvotes
mmitch
By mmitch (May 9, 2013)

Not ALL DP Review readers are semi pros or amateurs! I've been a commercial photographer for 25 years and I read DP Review often.

3 upvotes
Rage Joe
By Rage Joe (May 14, 2013)

It's really not that hard to take photographs, just set everything ok and then push the button. Wasn't so hard was it?

1 upvote
marike6
By marike6 (May 9, 2013)

The Sinar X he's using is an awesome camera. I miss my Sinar F all the time, but not the chemicals or hours spent in the dark.

0 upvotes
mmitch
By mmitch (May 9, 2013)

He shoots product on white plexiglass and everyone is in awe! This is pretty basic stuff for any commercial photographer that is decent at what he does...once again nothing groundbreaking here.
I think it hilarious he uses a ridiculous amount of c- stands! Layers of Light???

1 upvote
marike6
By marike6 (May 9, 2013)

And you know that "everyone is in awe" how exactly?

And why do his studio techniques need to be "groundbreaking"? He knows how to use light so his results are compelling. 'Nuff said.

3 upvotes
Paul Guba
By Paul Guba (May 9, 2013)

I guess you never shot product for advertising and have no concept what that means. I don't get to choose how product is shot, there are: Creative Directors, Art Directors, Marketing Directors, focus groups and clients that all factor into the decision of a products look. The photographer is part of that team but rarely gets the final say. He or she does the best within the boundaries set by other people.

If you actually shot for high end products you would know that is the amount of equipment it takes. When the client asks you to bring up a highlight on the edge of the keyboard you better be able to do it or you've lost a client. You don't say "oh I'll fix that in photoshop" because you just admitted you can't light product.

7 upvotes
mmitch
By mmitch (May 9, 2013)

I do shoot Advertising Photography everyday and deal with crazy requests from clients and art directors. I am fully aware of what equipment is needed. I started out on 8x10 cameras before there was digital or photoshop, so don't lecture me on what is required to complete a commercial advertising shoot. Shooting on Plexi has been done since the early 80's. I would like to see articles on here with more complex set ups than this.

2 upvotes
stevo23
By stevo23 (May 9, 2013)

Who's in awe? I think it's a good article and give some insight into how it's done. Thanks to dpreview for sharing.

But what about you? If you've been shooting for 30 years, I would hope you'd respect him more than this.

1 upvote
Antal I Kozma
By Antal I Kozma (May 9, 2013)

When you shoot magnified images you'll find imperfections. As small as they might be they are guaranteed to show up. I shoot jewellery on the occasion and it takes a lot to get the lighting right, especially when several items are in the same shot. Different angles, reflections, shadows, etc..... Not as simple as one would think. And yes, you need lots of filler and bouncer cards, lights, clamps, booms and so on. A Sinar X with a good back is a blessing to have.

1 upvote
mmitch
By mmitch (May 10, 2013)

@stevo23 I didn't say anything about disrespecting him as a photographer. I just think its a simple product shot on white plexi. Not really noteworthy or offers much insight to me, Sorry for having a opinion.

0 upvotes
Rage Joe
By Rage Joe (May 14, 2013)

Still life/ product photography is really simple, just look when it's ready and then push the button.

Photographing people and life is all a whole different ballgame, there you need a lot more and life goes on all the time :) Just said it, because it's true. That kind of stuff is child's play!

:rJ

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
1 upvote
PatrickSmith
By PatrickSmith (May 9, 2013)

So Apple products have "scratches, chips and other imperfections".

Cool.

5 upvotes
Chuck Lantz
By Chuck Lantz (May 9, 2013)

More evidence that work magically fills both the time and budget available.

4 upvotes
yslee1
By yslee1 (May 9, 2013)

You think doing this in CG will be easier.

2 upvotes
tazmac
By tazmac (May 9, 2013)

This guy is a C stand fanatic!

0 upvotes
marike6
By marike6 (May 9, 2013)

Was thinking the same thing. They are rock solid though, so you can't blame him.

0 upvotes
ryanshoots
By ryanshoots (May 9, 2013)

Funny, I just figured they used an iphone for the photos.

1 upvote
InTheMist
By InTheMist (May 9, 2013)

I've always admired and been curious about these sleek but simple Apple product shots. Thanks!

3 upvotes
SRT3lkt
By SRT3lkt (May 9, 2013)

I've been thinking those were CG.

4 upvotes
RoelHendrickx
By RoelHendrickx (May 9, 2013)

Well, they are post-processed to a very large extent, and there is a finet line between that and full CG

4 upvotes
Greg VdB
By Greg VdB (May 9, 2013)

...and now imagine a product with a much more complex geometry, internal reflections, and imperfections that you want to hide. Welcome to the world of mineral (crystals) photography:
http://www.flickr.com/groups/29975458@N00/discuss/72157629532050618/
(the pdf linked to at that page, "Advanced lighting techniques for mineral photography", is by far the best manual I've seen about photography of small shiny things - not just usefull for mineral collectors!)

3 upvotes
Higuel
By Higuel (May 9, 2013)

Thank you for the link!!! :)

1 upvote
Greg VdB
By Greg VdB (May 10, 2013)

you're welcome! As a mineral collector/amateur photographer I've been wanting to apply these techniques for quite some time now, but I haven't done so yet because it demands...a lot of time ;-)

0 upvotes
vFunct
By vFunct (May 9, 2013)

This is how you do real commercial shoots. The lighting on the imagery is impeccable. Every reflection, highlight, and shadow is perfectly controlled - add a rectangular softbox on one side for one highlight. Add more with different shapes and different light distribution on other highlights. Add black cards for shadow contrast.. etc..

There might be 20+ lighting controls to get the most perfectly shot commercial imagery. Very pro.

And all this is done BEFORE you even get to Photoshop, where another whole world of expertise awaits..

The ultimate result is that the imagery really pops like nothing else.

2 upvotes
vFunct
By vFunct (May 9, 2013)

The lesson here is that real commercial photographers are master lighting technicians.

2 upvotes
Phil Askey
By Phil Askey (May 9, 2013)

What a lame waste of resource, we achieve the same at dpreview with a cove, soft box strobe and umbrella strobe! He spent more time in Photoshop than shooting.

10 upvotes
Camediadude
By Camediadude (May 9, 2013)

The Legend! (bowing in humble awe and reverence) ...

My allotted obvious statement of the day: Without Mr. Phil, we would not be here!

1 upvote
stevo23
By stevo23 (May 9, 2013)

Are you serious, or just messing around? I'm a little surprised at this response.

0 upvotes
CanonKen
By CanonKen (May 9, 2013)

Very cool. Makes you realize just how much goes into good product photography, and all the steps afterwards. If anything, this confirms doing the 'best' is generally a tedious, long, complex process with effortless results.

1 upvote
RoelHendrickx
By RoelHendrickx (May 9, 2013)

Required reading: "Light. Science and Magic".
But what baffled me most, was how much photo-processing work was done AFTER the shoot, including the virtual addition of the whole visible screen content.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Nishi Drew
By Nishi Drew (May 9, 2013)

Crazy, with all the post work it's nearly CG anyways, and there was already the meeting of paths in media for CG to look real and reality to look unreal, and that video was over 3 years ago, photos are still used now... the music industry with all of it's sound work and auto tuning still use "analogue" sound first, and maybe I can include those that still use film for movie productions. Is it something with being able to interact with a physical object, and like in this case have physical interaction with each light for the individual to achieve what they feel is the best in artistic achievement? Or a matter of extreme accuracy, or just control?

0 upvotes
jedinstvo
By jedinstvo (May 9, 2013)

Naturally, all the cubicle monkies on DPR could do a better job. They should submit their portfolio of cat photos to Apple and pull down some of that $15,000 a day photo work!

3 upvotes
billinvegas
By billinvegas (May 9, 2013)

I would have enjoyed it more if he were using a Microsoft OS!
:)

0 upvotes
Mssimo
By Mssimo (May 8, 2013)

He could have cleaned the phones before taking the pictures ;)

1 upvote
Paul Guba
By Paul Guba (May 8, 2013)

You know you are done lighting when you used up all your c-stands.

5 upvotes
whitebird
By whitebird (May 8, 2013)

Um, "carefully selected materials"? White polycarbonate?

FYI: Just joking around

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
4 upvotes
PlainOrFancy
By PlainOrFancy (May 10, 2013)

Just joking around maybe. But seriously, someone had to think of it first… Carefully selected doesn't mean it has to be exotic or expensive… just carefully selected. And they thought of it. And the wallets flew open.

0 upvotes
Lil g
By Lil g (May 8, 2013)

Looks simple enough...

5 upvotes
Total comments: 61
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