One of the biggest challenges that a number of our tech writing colleagues face is taking good pictures of products in conditions that are, to put it mildly, not in the least conducive to product photography. Classically, one would like clean backgrounds, good lighting, and a great surface to prop the product on. But in the normal world, these can be difficult to find, especially when you have a few minutes barely with the product (often the case at a launch event) in a room that is crowded and noisy.
Well, we think there’s a quick fix solution for that. And it comes from the much-hyped Portrait Lighting feature on the iPhone 8 Plus. The Portrait mode feature itself had made its appearance in the iPhone 7 Plus, with Apple claiming that the dual cameras on the back allowed it to deliver a better depth of field, blurring out the background (bokeh!) even while giving you sharper subjects. The iPhone 8 Plus claims to have improved this still further, adding effects called Portrait Lighting, which basically try to mimic different lighting conditions. There are five at the moment – natural light (default), studio light, contour light, stage light, and stage light (mono).
Yes, we will shortly be writing a piece on the different portrait lighting effects and what they work best for, but for this article and our product snapping friends, just look at the last two – stage lighting and stage lighting (mono). What these effects do is basically black out the entire background and leave your subject more sharply outlined than ever. In essence, the area that is bokeh-ed becomes jet black. This is great for those stark portraits of people.
And is frankly, darned good for quick product snaps. You get rid of the background totally (even bokeh can get noisy), and in most cases, you end up with a reasonably sharp image of your product. We tried it a few times on our official Instagram account, and the results were more than passable, especially when we went into the mono mode, in which case the black background seemed to blend in with the shot much better.
Mind you; they were not perfect. For in spite of all the talk of dual cameras making bokeh better, we have seen that phone cameras still struggle with borders and edges, or in case of products having elements of translucence (you can see through them), with the areas in their immediate vicinity. We found this to be the case rather often with edges of products getting blurred. Another issue that props up is the fact that you do not actually have too much control over the shot – the camera app basically tells you when you can take a snap using an effect (the effect’s name goes yellow). If you click with the effect name not highlighted, you get a normal snap (normal, as in not even a portrait mode shot). Once again, working in mono mode works best as the blurred edges get swallowed in the black backdrop – the effect can be eerie in color. One can also shoot a normal lighting portrait mode snap and then add lighting conditions – normal lighting portrait mode snaps seem to let you get just a little closer to the subject.
The iPhone 8 Plus as a product snapper? No, it is not perfect, but it is convenient and in most cases very effective. It will not replace your trusty DSLR but then your trusty DSLR needs space and time, and when those are at a premium, the iPhone 8 Plus with its portrait lighting modes can be very effective indeed.