Light, dark, moods and methods: product shooting tips with Fernando Ribeiro

We spoke to product photographer Fernando Martins Ribeiro to discuss his top tips for shooting for publications, clients and portfolio…

In this blog post I’ll share some tips to help you create images for publications, as well as for your portfolio. Since I’m a product photographer, the examples used are all products, but all the ideas can be easily adapted to other types of photography.

When an editor asks you to create some images for a publication, there is always a story being told in those articles, and you should be able to create images that enhance and illustrate that story.

I believe that the work you create for your portfolio should follow the same path; it should tell a story. This will help you tremendously to make choices—what should and shouldn’t be on the image, what props to use, and what type of lighting and mood is better for the image.

So let’s get started…

Tip 1 - Create a story

Although creating a story might seem a complex task, here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Is the product for men, women or is it indistinct?
  • Is it to be used on a specific occasion?
  • What adjectives would you use to describe it?

All these will help you to create an image that is consistent in itself and that is much better than a simple pack shot or portrait.

Two photos, two very different stories…

Product photo of sunglasses with a contemporary, young and feminine feel.
Product photo of men’s fragrance with a sleek, minimalist, masculine feel.

Tip 2 - Create a mood board

Now that you have a story to tell, it’s time to have visual references that can help you give context to your story, and a mood board is a great way of doing it.

The mood board should contain images with similar ambiance to the one you want to create, props that might work with your main object, and ideas for places where the story takes place.

For example: suppose you’re shooting a beer bottle. If you imagine that the beer is being served in an old pub, by a bearded tough man in a dodgy part of town, that helps you select the type of background for the scene, the type of lighting, the beer glass and the props.

Imagine that the same beer is being served in a high class bar, to a lady with her friends. This will lead you in a different path regarding what should be in the image.

Below you’ll find a mood board for a shoe company who needed some images for their Autumn/Winter catalogue. To illustrate the ideas I had, I’ve used materials, reference images from other photographers and a colour palette that goes with winter.

Tip 3 - Create a colour palette

Creating a colour palette is something that should be done before shooting. Some colours work better together than others, and if you start with the base colour of your items then it gets easier to define a colour palette for the scene. This will also help you chose the props to use and give you ideas for backgrounds and accents in the image.

Below are some images of colour palette tests in Affinity Photo. Basically, I start with the main colour of my subject, and then using a RYB colour wheel, I test several colour harmonies to see which would work best for my scene.

By now you already have a good idea of the mood you want to create. If the scene is simple, maybe you should use a simple colour harmony. On the other hand, if it is complex, maybe a more elaborate colour harmony will be more adequate.

Tip 4 - Horizontal/Vertical

Most of the time, you need to create an image in a specific orientation. With the new sensors with millions of megapixels, you can shoot from further back and crop horizontally and vertically, but that isn’t the same as rearranging the composition to a specific format.

What I would urge you to do, is after shooting in your intended orientation, rotate the camera and adjust things to work on a new orientation. This will give you and your client more flexibility.

The images below are an example. The first image was created as landscape and then, just by rotating the camera and removing some elements, a new image was created.

Horizontal and vertical orientations of the same shoot.

Tip 5 - Lightness vs darkness

In the renaissance, painters developed a style of representing light that was named chiaroscuro. It was a departure from the traditional way of painting and looked more into representing the tri-dimensionality of people and objects by using strong and directional lighting.

In photography, that can be applied to most compositions just by changing the positions of the lights or by subtracting or adding light to a scene.

In the two images below, you’ll notice that the composition is the same, the only thing that changes is the light.

Light and dark for different moods and seasons.

Spring/summer

The scene from the left has a strong backlight giving it a feeling of lightness which suits a spring/summer mood. This is because in summer there is so much more light that it bounces everywhere and fills the space.

Autumn/winter

On the contrary, the image on the bottom has no backlight and all the light is coming from the side in an extremely controlled way. Notice that the background is very dark.

This image evokes more of a winter feeling, when light is dimmer and tends to be more directional.

Going back to tip three (colour), notice how the background has the same colour hue as the glasses being photographed, giving consistency to the image.

Spring/summer lighting.
Autumn/winter lighting.

Tip 6 - Magazine cover

This last tip refers to shooting for publications. It is very important to consider that publications generally need to include some text across the images.

“Being aware of this during composition is essential in order to leave some negative space for text.”

Being aware of this during composition is essential in order to leave some negative space for text. This will avoid having the text over important parts of the image or having text that is not readable.

In the images below, I’ve created two mock-ups: a cover and also an inside spread for a magazine.

The cover has all the usual information—title, main articles and bar codes. The spread is comprised of two pages and includes notes about the images.

These are PNG files with a transparent background that you can download and use during shooting as overlays to check for composition issues, and later, in post-production, to do a final check.

Two magazine cover mock-ups.
A mock-up of a spring/summer magazine spread.
A mock-up of an autumn/winter magazine spread.

Other examples of product photography with consideration for text…

A product photo for beverage advertising, with space left for text and logos to be added later.
A handbag product shot, showing the ​placement of text and logos when used for a magazine advert.

Try it with your own photos.

If you want to try it out, just download the Affinity template files below, change the text to suit your subject and place your image.

Download templates

I hope all this information is helpful and that it helps you create images that are a true expression of your vision.


You can see more of Fernando’s work at www.martinsribeiro.com


Artist relations
Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.
Credits & Footnotes

Photographs copyright Ⓒ of Fernando Martins Ribeiro