Taking Great Pictures of Electronic Designs

By Mark Bingeman | Aug 26, 2013

Once you’ve completed a circuit board or product design, you will often want to take pictures of it. Sometimes it’s for marketing material or documentation purposes, and other times you’re proud of your work and you want a few pictures for posterity. While you can always pull out your cell phone and snap a few shots, it’s nice when images of products do justice to the quality engineering that went into them.

As an electronic design services firm, the majority of products that Nuvation develops involve PCB design and implementation.  As a result I have experience photographing PCBs and product enclosures. Here are some tips that can apply to all types of photography, but are particularly important for capturing the nuances of an engineering design.

It’s All About the Lighting

Lighting is absolutely critical to good product photography.  The product needs to be uniformly lit with a white light at a good color temperature.  This is often the reason why the cell phone shots in the lab fall short—the lighting is not sufficient.  In order to obtain uniform lighting a light box is required.  

The light box I use is a white plastic 3 sided box—2 sides and base, with rounded surfaces between each of the sides so that the background for the product is a seamless white background. The light box also has a florescent white light and a reflector to produce a soft white uniform light across the light box area.  For larger objects, a larger light box, or light tent is needed, as well as two studio lights with softboxes in order to uniformly light the product from both sides.

Light box setup

Depth of Focus

A good engineering product photo has the full product in focus. This can be challenging for larger products to keep the full object in focus.  In order to obtain a deep focus you need to shoot in aperture priority mode and the highest aperture value (smallest aperture opening) supported by the lens.  This is often f/22 or higher.  This is similar to setting the camera to behave like a pin-hole camera.  At this aperture, it means you are using a tripod, all the time, every time, no exception.  Depending on the light source, this could mean exposure durations of 1 second or longer.  No one can hold a camera steady for that long!

Nuvation BMS board in focus

Tack Sharp

Along with depth of focus, a product needs to be tack sharp, every detail crisp and clear. This requires eliminating all sources of vibration for both the camera and the product.  For the camera, use a remote to press the shutter button, or use the self-timer to eliminate camera shake from pressing the shutter. For DSLR cameras, there is a mode to lock the mirror so there is no mirror movement just before the picture is taken.  In terms of the product, it needs to be photographed indoors (no wind) and on a stable table.  Do not lean on the table while the picture is being taken.


What’s Your Angle?

From what angle(s) should you photograph the product?  This is where the science of photography meets the art of photography.  You could capture a rectangular PCB in a rectangular frame all squared up, but that often looks boring and uninteresting.  These types of photos can be useful, but more often photographing the product on an angle and at different heights – above, level with and even slightly below, can result in more interesting photographs. Try taking pictures at the same angle as the product is normally viewed, and at different angles, to provide variety.

One PCB, three angles

Additional Photo Shoot Hints

  • Clean the board before you shoot it! Tack sharp pictures with deep depth of focus show every fingerprint and dust particle. Clean the product before the photo shoot, otherwise you’ll have to fix it in Photoshop.
  • Prop the board or product up.  Keep a few small objects on hand that can be used to prop up the product.  These objects should preferably be black, and need to be small enough that they are not viewable in the picture.
  • Use reflectors or mirrors.  In order to obtain uniform lighting around the product either mirrors or portable reflectors can be used to fill in any shadows  on or around the product.
  • Come prepared.  Make sure all your equipment is ready and working.   If possible, view the product and the photo location ahead of time so you know what you are working with.
  • Have fun.  Be excited about the object you are photographing.  Your attitude about the product can affect your work ethic and the quality of the photos.

Continue reading for helpful advice on post-processing and how to improve the quality of your image after it’s taken. 

Nuvation provides the full range of electronic design services to bring products from concept to market. Contact Nuvation to learn more about the services our skilled engineering and manufacturing teams offer.