I’ve had a few people ask about my soap photos, so l thought l’d put together a few tips and tricks l’ve learned in the past few years.
A BIG disclaimer is required here though – l am NOT a photographer by any means, not even close. I have no idea whether half of what l am about to tell you is even technically correct, so take it all with a huge grain of salt, and experiment. That’s all l’ve done – l quite often walk around the house with some soap and my camera and take photos in lots of different locations and angles. Eventually, one of them will be a keeper and you’re going to get something you love and a location to remember for future soap photos.
Some basic rules l follow:
- Take lots more photos than you need – you can always delete them afterwards, and more choice is a good thing!
- Crop out any ugly backgrounds or distracting elements from your photos using photoshop or similar.
- Arrange your soap in a number of different ways, and as you take photos, check if anything bugs you in the photos that show up in the viewfinder – you can move the soap arrangement as you shoot.
- Never use the flash! I have a piece of stickytape on the top of the camera to stop the auto flash popping up, because flash gives really harsh light and makes my soap look awful. l never use a flash for ANY photo.
- Lighting is really important. Take the time to find a place that gives you a soft, warm light without harsh shadows. This is where walking around your house with a bar of soap is a really good idea.
- Try to stay away from bright sunlight – in most cases (for me) it is far too harsh – my best soap photos are taken in warm daylight.
It’s a Nikon D80 that l bought on ebay secondhand a couple of years ago, and l just use the standard lens that came with it. My partner John has a Nikon D90 with a longer lens (technical hey!) but it annoys me because the zoom lens is more temperamental and won’t let me get right up close to the subject – l have to move away from it and then use the zoom to close in. Seems a bit silly to me when l’m quite happy to move myself closer! So l stick to my D80 and l’m extremely happy with it. It’s basic but takes GREAT photos.
This is the location l’ve ended up using the most. Just the kitchen table. It’s not perfect because our house is so dark! But l’ve found that this setup gives a nice soft light from the side window, and if the sun is out, it’s even better because the light becomes warm but not harsh. l’ve tried nearly everywhere else l can think of in the house, and nothing has beat this yet. The bonus is that l can leave everything set out for a while because it doesn’t take up too much room (unlike a light tent) and there is no need for additional lighting. And l can sit down to take my photos when Smoky is not hogging the chair
Here’s a closer look.
The backdrop is a piece of fabric that l drape over a nearby picture frame, which gets put back on the dresser when l’m finished.
Sometimes l don’t set up the backdrop and just take photos using the surroundings as a background. l quite like the interest it adds to the photo. The photo below was taken in a different room with my bookshelf in the background and some sewing stuff on the table. A shallow depth of field blurs the background but still adds some interesting shapes.
Light tents don’t work for me at all. l adore the ‘soap with white backgrounds’ look but for whatever reason have never been successful at achieving it. A while back l bought a light tent on ebay along with two mini studio lights and an array of coloured backdrops. l used it once or twice, but after setting up the tent, watching it blow away about 15 times when l used it outdoors, tripping over it because l bought one far too big and can’t figure out how to re-fold it, and then not really being happy with the photos (who is going to photoshop all those wrinkles out!!??) l gave it up as a waste of time. I just can’t be bothered, it is much easier to take a photo with a ‘real’ background, and for my soap they look far less contrived and not as stark.
Off white backgrounds are brilliant!
Patterned paper can work:
Or the blurred (and messy!) kitchen table…
Crop enough of the background away and you just end up with some nice background colours…
One rule l always try to follow is to not let the background be brighter than the subject. (another reason why white & light tents don’t work for me.) I’ve found that if l place my medium coloured soap with a background that is also medium toned, then it seems to be easier for the camera to balance it all out and produce a nice even toned photo. But if l put red soap on a stark white background, it just doesn’t seem to work. I’m sure there is a technical name for this (l read it in a photography article once) but l can’t remember it.
ARRANGING YOUR SOAP
I try not to arrange my soap too much, because l’m no good at ‘staged’ shots. I’ve found that just keeping it simple gives me much better results and prevents things from appearing too contrived. I take photos of my soaps while they are stacked on the tray waiting to go to the curing rack…lined up in their original log formation…stacked in twos or threes…or sometimes quickly arranged in a white bowl or tin bucket. Every once in a while l pull off something a little fancier (the gumleaf & green soap photo a few pics above, and the honey soap photo below) but mostly l keep it extremely simple.
Side angles are always more interesting than front on shots…it creates more ‘drama’ in the composition and forces your eyes to move around and take in all the other elements. Staring at a bar of soap that is just shot front on is not quite as effective. (just my opinion, and l am sure l will contradict it by the end of this post!)
side note: trim up your soaps! l love this photo because of the lovely sharp smooth edge of the soap, but can you imagine what it would have looked like all crumbly and crooked? I check all of my ‘photo’ soaps before arranging them and remove fingerprints, crumbs, and rough edges.
l don’t use this arrangement very much, but l like how this photo turned out.
As mentioned before, try to keep arrangements simple (not too contrived)
The apple ‘prop’ is terrible! When l look at this photo it makes me laugh, it is yelling ‘HEY, she made apple scented soap and just got a random apple out of the fruit bowl and plonked it there’. There’s nothing original about it, the greens don’t even match, and it does nothing for me. If anything you look at the apple more than the soap. l’ve learned to just not go here
Sometimes a simple row is nice, but look at it from a different angle. (l also love the warm wood background, it has stopped the soap from looking too stark)
Put your soap IN something – this helps keep the arrangement tight and meaningful. Instead of a multitude of soaps floating all over the kitchen table, they are all packed in together in a bowl or a dish or a basket, and it is much easier to get a well composed photo.
Make a soap stack! l love these with a nice background. If you can change the aperture settings on your camera, go for a fuzzy background (l think it is shallow depth of field?) Get up close to the stack and try lots of different angles. I always try to get all of the soaps facing mostly the same way, so the tops of the bars are getting the same sort of light. Shadows are okay, but let them fall on the parts of the soap you don’t care about so much.
Soaps in a metal bucket with a simple tea towel. Keeping it SIMPLE
Get up close to your soap! Close-up shots are perfect for showing off decorated soap tops, botanicals or a pretty swirl. Make sure your focus is super-sharp, and you can also sharpen a little bit more in photoshop afterwards. l especially love getting in close to the ingredients.
ps. yup, l just broke my ‘front on’ rule – but the rolls of the teatowel break up the ‘straightness’ a bit. Than’s my excuse and l’m sticking to it!
My previous house was perfect for taking soap photos. The sun came in through the kitchen window, but very softly and gently, warming the windowsill, the bench, and casting a beautiful soft glow over the soaps. I don’t miss living in my house, but gee l miss my mini photography studio that made all my soaps look so beautiful. l hardly had to do a thing – just plonked the soaps in a bowl, and grabbed the camera. l have to try much harder now to take a good soap photo because my new house is a little darker and doesn’t encourage natural light as much.
Look at the glow on these orange soaps, it’s all just from soft natural sunlight coming in (my previous) window.
l love this photo, the light has picked up the soap curls beautifully.
This is one of my favourite soap photos ever – with the soap in a noodle bowl in front of the windowsill. l love the light on the top bar and the sugar crumbs….ahhhh! It didn’t look this nice when looking through the view finder, but when it loaded onto the computer, l was so glad l had spent some money on a really good camera. lt has paid for itself over and over again, l quite often think it finds things in a photo that l never even dreamed were there. It seems to have a knack of picking up the light so much better than a little automatic camera.
I hope all of the above has helped with some ideas for taking your own soap photos!
When looking for photography inspiration l often check out the soap listings on etsy. Dennis Anderson takes beautiful soap photos. He’s got the whole white background thing worked out. Erin from Inner Earth Soaps also takes amazingly gorgeous photos which l love to admire. Oh, and l also adore the photos of the amazing soaps from a spanish soapmaker here – she stages the photos beautifully and l am totally in awe.
Happy soaping, and happy snapping!