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Apple's product photographer discusses inspiration, tradecraft and gear

post #1 of 15
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Peter Belanger, the man whose images present Apple's latest and greatest products to the public, dished about working with the Cupertino company in an interview published on Wednesday, detailing his daily workflow and the tools he finds most useful in getting that perfect shot.

In an interview with The Verge, Belanger, a San Francisco-based advertising photographer, offered an in-depth look at how he creates the almost too perfect images of Apple products like the iPad, iPhone and other massively popular products.

"The biggest factor is how many photos need to be accomplished in a day. I try to keep the shot list reasonable so there?s time for me to light each product uniquely," Belanger said. "Ideally, I consider the material of the product and how best to light it. Sometimes it?s easier to light the materials without a surface getting in the way (since it can be added later)."

Belanger
Peter Belanger's lighting setup for a product shoot. | Source: The Verge


Belanger studied photography in the classical sense, and while pushed toward creative "art gallery" results, decided to go a more commercial route as Silicon Valley was ripe with product companies.

With Apple, the team comes prepared with a well developed idea of what is needed, he said. First Belanger works with the company's art directors on positioning the product before moving onto lighting, an important process in portraying the subject accurately while keeping an eye-catching aesthetic.

"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 said. "I pick an area to start with and think about how that material needs to be described."

As for gear, Belanger said his "go-to camera" right now is Canon's 5D Mark III fitted with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. He touts the zoom lens' shallow depth of field when wide open, a plus for his brand of product portraiture work.

To read the full interview, head to The Verge for a look at Belanger's software suite and the tale of a project with snakes coming out of shoes.
post #2 of 15
I was under the impression that commercial photographers used Hasselblad large format digital cameras. I know that Hasselblad were typically what the high end commercial photographers used in the pre-digital days.
post #3 of 15

The biggest problem I have had photographing iOS devices is moiré from the screen. Eliminating that would probably be the only benefit that traditional film could offer. I haven't tried shooting any of the Retina products which possibly minimizes that effect to some degree.

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post #4 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by drblank View Post

I was under the impression that commercial photographers used Hasselblad large format digital cameras. I know that Hasselblad were typically what the high end commercial photographers used in the pre-digital days.

Funny you said that, I was thinking the same thing, I guess the guy could not afford a $40k camera. A good friend of mine during the film age of photography carried around a Hasselblad large format film camera for the important pictures like portraits and such, and use the 35mm for everything else. Grant it my friend bough his Hasselblad used and it was still was expensive.

 

I guess this guy does not think Apple products are worth a better camera and lens system, maybe that is what he need so much extra equipment to make the pictures look good.

post #5 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maestro64 View Post

Funny you said that, I was thinking the same thing, I guess the guy could not afford a $40k camera. A good friend of mine during the film age of photography carried around a Hasselblad large format film camera for the important pictures like portraits and such, and use the 35mm for everything else. Grant it my friend bough his Hasselblad used and it was still was expensive.

 

I guess this guy does not think Apple products are worth a better camera and lens system, maybe that is what he need so much extra equipment to make the pictures look good.

My guess would be that the Hasselblad is not required for small pack shots that are destined for online use. Was he to use a shot for a billboard poster or even magazine ad, he may well be using a large format camera. He didn't say he didn't, just that his go to camera was the Canon. Remember he is shooting under ideal lighting conditions.

post #6 of 15

the full article says he uses large format + phaseone digital back in studio, dslr on location

 

I'm more surprised that apple uses photography at all, considering a large percentage of the product is a screen which is dropped in in post. And apple products lend themselves to cgi, they would already have the CADs and need to create cgi models for all the animated videos, so photography seems a bit pointless


Edited by Kevinneal - 5/8/13 at 2:59pm
post #7 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevinneal View Post

the full article says he uses large format + phaseone digital back in studio, dslr on location

 

I'm more surprised that apple uses photography at all, considering a large percentage of the product is a screen which is dropped in in post. And apple products lend themselves to cgi, they would already have the CADs and need to create cgi models for all the animated videos, so photography seems a bit pointless

Apple likes to let you feast your eyes on the product, and soak up all its beauty. It's the hand operating the Apple product that does most of the movement.

 

If Apple had a shit-looking product; ugly as sin, then they'd be moving it all over the place and throwing it around like a ... a... a ... Microsoft Surface.

"That (the) world is moving so quickly that iOS is already amongst the older mobile operating systems in active development today." — The Verge
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"That (the) world is moving so quickly that iOS is already amongst the older mobile operating systems in active development today." — The Verge
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post #8 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maestro64 View Post

Funny you said that, I was thinking the same thing, I guess the guy could not afford a $40k camera. A good friend of mine during the film age of photography carried around a Hasselblad large format film camera for the important pictures like portraits and such, and use the 35mm for everything else. Grant it my friend bough his Hasselblad used and it was still was expensive.

 

I guess this guy does not think Apple products are worth a better camera and lens system, maybe that is what he need so much extra equipment to make the pictures look good.


LOL.

 

The Hasselblad would require the same lighting and setup techniques that any other camera would.  

post #9 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maestro64 View Post

Funny you said that, I was thinking the same thing, I guess the guy could not afford a $40k camera. A good friend of mine during the film age of photography carried around a Hasselblad large format film camera for the important pictures like portraits and such, and use the 35mm for everything else. Grant it my friend bough his Hasselblad used and it was still was expensive.

 

I guess this guy does not think Apple products are worth a better camera and lens system, maybe that is what he need so much extra equipment to make the pictures look good.

You're seriously uninformed. No particular brand of equipment denotes a professional photographer. Knowing when to shoot the camera and format that are appropriate does. If you read the full article he states "I try to keep up to date with my photo gear. Up until last year I only used Profoto lights. I wanted to expand my lighting so I added some Broncolor lights. In the studio I shoot with a Phase One digital back with a Sinar X view camera, and Phase One 645 camera system. Outside the studio or doing handheld work I use a Canon 5D Mark III."

 

He passed $40K a long time ago. A Phase One back on the Sinar X is about as high end as it gets and can exceed the capabilities of any Hasselblad if needed. With that at his disposal he clearly finds the Canon gear creates the image Apple is looking for and they agree.

post #10 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maestro64 View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by drblank View Post

I was under the impression that commercial photographers used Hasselblad large format digital cameras. I know that Hasselblad were typically what the high end commercial photographers used in the pre-digital days.

Funny you said that, I was thinking the same thing, I guess the guy could not afford a $40k camera. A good friend of mine during the film age of photography carried around a Hasselblad large format film camera for the important pictures like portraits and such, and use the 35mm for everything else. Grant it my friend bough his Hasselblad used and it was still was expensive.

 

I guess this guy does not think Apple products are worth a better camera and lens system, maybe that is what he need so much extra equipment to make the pictures look good.

Man.... Why even bother commenting? You just made yourself look so ridiculous.

post #11 of 15

I wanna know who "the hand" is.  It's George Costanza, isn't it??

post #12 of 15

Hasselblads have never been considered "Large Format". They're medium format. Always have been. The image size (sensor size) is 6x6 cm or 2.25x2.25 inches square. (Which gives you a cover crop of 6x4.5 cm.) A Large Format camera starts at 4x5 inches.

 

In the pre-digital days, we generally wouldn't have stooped to using the little medium format cameras for product photography unless the client was trying to save on film costs. It was 4x5 or 8x10 Large Format for the ultimate quality.

 

With the advent of digital, and the general realities of the economy, things have shifted. Now we're using Phase One digital backs for 60+ Mpix files and 'stooping' to full frame 35 (Canon 5D3) 22Mpix when the needs arise.

 

Note also that with some closeup work, the larger formats become a hindrance as the depth of field gets narrower as you make the negative/sensor/format size bigger. Thus for some smaller closeup work, I actually prefer the 5D3 for it's greater depth of field.

 

Keep in mind, however, that ultimately photography is about lighting...not cameras. The true purpose of the camera is simply to record that you got the lighting right.


Edited by trojdor - 5/8/13 at 8:24pm
post #13 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevinneal View Post

the full article says he uses large format + phaseone digital back in studio, dslr on location

 

I'm more surprised that apple uses photography at all, considering a large percentage of the product is a screen which is dropped in in post. And apple products lend themselves to cgi, they would already have the CADs and need to create cgi models for all the animated videos, so photography seems a bit pointless

 

It would still likely get contracted out either way. Some ad agencies handle that in house, but I doubt Apple produces many of its own ads directly.

post #14 of 15

sure, but I shoot a lot of  white goods and am surprised that we are still getting asked to shoot them when they also have another agency producing cgi models from their CADs, the quality of the CGI is equal to photography when done well, so I think its a lack of communication or understanding that leads to this duplication, I shouldn't complain as its my main source of income, but product photography's days are numbered in certain industries, which is why I'm currently learning maya

post #15 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by trojdor View Post

Keep in mind, however, that ultimately photography is about lighting...not cameras. The true purpose of the camera is simply to record that you got the lighting right.

Excellent post, excellent point! You should post in this thread as well:

Purported next-gen iPhone motherboard part may reveal tweaked camera design

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