When it comes to product photography, your goal should be to frame your products in a way that makes consumers want to buy them. By having as much fine detail in your final shots, you can make your product look downright irresistible.
One of the best ways to bring that detail to life is by using LED lights in your studio, home, or wherever you prefer to shoot. LED lights are bright and easy to use - so they’re great for both professional and amateur photographers alike - and don’t give off a lot of heat.
In our guide, we’ve put together a quick rundown of the best lighting for product photography, as well as how you can create the best lighting setup for your space to help you on your way to achieving the best possible snaps of your products.
Best LED Lighting For Product Photography
The best type of lighting that can work in almost any environment is continuous lighting. Continuous lights plug into the wall and stay on the entire time they're turned on. By using one or two of these lights, you’ll be able to have better control of your scene before you shoot. This is important for product photography because it will help you see how the light interacts with your shot before you take it.
Continuous lighting is exactly what it sounds like: a light that will stay on until the moment you decide to switch it off. This is different from other lighting sources like strobe lighting that only turn on when you press the shutter button on your camera.
Because you can move the light around, they allow for easy shadow management by being able to play around with where your light is coming from.
Continuous lights are available in multiple forms, like tungsten lightbulbs and fluorescent lamps, but we would recommend a light that utilizes high-powered LED lights for the sharpest image.
If you’re an amateur photographer, or you just don’t have the budget for a bigger light setup, you can always start with one continuous light placed along the left or right side of your scene. Side lighting is the easiest light position to master so we recommend trying it first.
If using side lighting, an amazing trick is to use a white reflector to brighten the far (darker) side of your scene. Reflectors are any white material used to create ‘fill light’ and can be used to brighten up or bounce light back, like we discussed above. You can also use a black material as an "absorber." Anything black absorbs light and darkens the far side of your scene to intensify shadow.
What can you use as a reflector? White foam core, a trifold poster board, or even a white-based Surface like I'm using in this photo. And it doesn't have to be pure white to work. If you own a white-based Surface like White Marble or Subway Tile and aren't using it in your scene, it makes a great reflector too! So does our All-White surface.
How To Make Continuous Lights More Effective
Because they're designed differently, continuous lights don’t produce the same amount of light (measured in lumens) as strobe lights. That doesn’t mean that they’re better, though. If you want to use continuous light, you may want to consider investing in more powerful lights in order to ensure your light source is as bright and beautiful as it can be.
For this reason, we recommend using LED lights with at least 1000 bulbs. This may seem over the top, but it’s good to remember that the light can always be dimmed if necessary. It’s always better to have more light than you need and be able to dim it than not to have enough light to properly bring your product to life.
One of the best features of continuous lights is that some of them allow you to modify the color temperature. This allows you to create a warmer (yellower) or cooler (bluer) scene in seconds. For the most realistic appearance, make sure your lights are adjusted to daylight. This is usually around 5500K.
Word of wisdom: Before shooting with artificial light, remember to turn off all other light sources that could interfere with your subject, including blocking out sunlight, so that the lighting is as consistent and controllable as possible. Don't forget about overhead lights or light streaming in from a nearby room.
A ring light is a circular-shaped light that is often powered by LED or fluorescent lights. They are fabulous for lighting faces in photos and video.
A word of caution: you may be tempted to use a ring light for food photography. While ring lights are amazing for lighting faces in photos and videos, ring lights aren’t ideal for food photography as the light isn't very diffused and the round shape is more likely than other light types to cause unwanted hotspots or "glare" in your food photos.
Using a ring light for product photography can be just as problematic. If you DO want to try using your ring light, there ARE a few tricks to work around it. Specifically, you can put a pillow case over the light to add an extra layer of diffusion, or place a diffuser in front of the ring light. You should also see if your ring light has a high CRI or Color Rendering Index. This is because lights with a high CRI rating can better replicate bright, natural sunlight.
Check out also If you’re wondering how to light a white background in photography.
4 Ways To Create The Best Lighting Setup
Start by optimizing your Studio
If you’re lighting for product photography at home, the Replica Studio is an amazing starting point. The studio holds any two Surfaces in an L-shape and can also hold light modifiers, which we'll talk about below. Since the Studio has a tripod base and locking wheels, it's also height adjustable and can be moved to work with whatever lighting setup you choose.
Choose The Best Lights For Your Needs
Lighting can either make or break your overall shot. So it’s important to invest in a lighting setup that works for you. Typically, there are three types of lighting that are used for product photography: Tungsten, fluorescent, and LED.
Tungsten lights are popular because they generally produce the most light. This is why they are best for portrait work.
Fluorescent lights typically use less power but produce a lower amount of light as a result. However, they have the potential to tint in unfavorable ways.
LED lights consume very little energy and emit very little heat. They are made up of a large number of microscopic "light-emitting diodes" (LEDs) that endure for a long time.
This is useful for numerous reasons. For one, it makes LED lights much more pleasant to work around. Secondly, it helps to keep your subject from withering or wilting if what you’re trying to capture is sensitive to the heat.
We recommend using LED lights for general or eCommerce product photography because they give you the ability to adjust your light intensity and temperature.
Use Light Modifiers
Light modifiers are handy photography tools that help you to enhance the lighting in photographs. They also help to create a specific mood in your scene, whether you’re using natural or artificial light.
Modifiers can also help to draw attention to your subject, mitigate harshness, or flatter the overall look of your product. Generally, modifiers can be freestanding, handheld, or made to fit over a camera lens.
Modifiers include diffusers (including scrims, softboxes, and shoot-through umbrellas), reflectors (including foam core, trifolds, and white-based Surfaces), and flags.
To help you better understand how to use modifiers, here’s a quick rundown of each type and how you would use them, including how to use umbrella lights for product photography:
The scrim from a 5-in-1 reflector set is a great diffuser for natural window light. You can also place it in front of an artificial light soft box for extra diffusion. That's what I'm holding in this photo.
Soft boxes are contained fabric boxes that cover an artificial light. The front is made of translucent fabric that diffuses (aka spreads out) light as it passes through. Soft boxes are height adjustable, so you can choose the most comfortable height for your photoshoot. Especially if you use the Replica Studio with your lights!
Shoot-through umbrellas are similar to soft boxes in that light passes through the translucent umbrella to diffuse it, but they aren't enclosed like soft boxes. The downside is that light spills out the sides and reduces its intensity. The upside is that shoot-through umbrellas are usually less expensive than soft boxes.
To use umbrella lights, simply place them along the left or right side of your scene with the light pointing toward your subject. Adjust the height of the light to create the size of shadows you like best. High lights pointing down will create shorter shadows. Lowered lights that hit your subject from the side will create longer shadows.
Reflectors are any white material used to create ‘fill light’ and can be used to brighten up or bounce light back. You can also use a black material as an "absorber." Anything black absorbs light and darkens the far side of your scene to intensify shadow.
Flags are any dark material placed in front of your light source to BLOCK unwanted light from hitting your backdrops, thereby preventing uneven lighting and flare. They are most useful with dark backdrops since dark backdrops make uneven lighting more obvious.
Now take some test shots and send them over to your computer. Confirm or adjust your lighting to ensure your background is white BEFORE investing time into an entire shoot.
Create The Ideal Light Arrangement
Ensuring your product stands out against the background and that it is lit brightly enough is crucial in product photography. You'll need to explore and take your time to figure out what works best for your product. There are a few simple setups that many photographers use that may help guide you in creating an arrangement that works best for you.
If you're new to product photography, this is the best arrangement to start with. Place your light to the left or right side of your scene, depending on where you want the shadows to land. Add a white reflector or black absorber opposite the light to create your favorite shadows. Now shoot away! This light arrangement is great because it only requires one light and it creates natural-looking shadows.
The most popular arrangement among professional product photographers is front lighting, and when it’s done correctly, it can end up being extremely flattering for your product. There are a few things to keep in mind when using front lighting that can help you create the perfect shot.
There won’t be a lot of differentiation between the background and your subject, so you should check to see whether your background is overly busy. Busy backgrounds create a lot of noise and can blur the line between your product and what’s behind it. The easiest way to keep your background as clean as possible is to use a plain white backdrop.
You’ll also need to ensure that the front light is at eye level with the subject you're photographing when you set it up. If the light is too bright, try dimming it and increasing your exposure.
It’s important to note that this setup won’t work if your product is reflective unless you plan on using modifiers or removing the reflections in post-production.
Front Lighting Using A Ring Light
Ring lights can help to separate the subject from the background, making them a popular choice to use for a front lighting setup. If you’re using this layout, you should keep in mind that ring lights are extremely bright and generally don’t have a diffuser.
If you want to try this setup out, you should place your ring light a considerable distance away from your subject to capture your product’s finer details. Be sure to utilize your light by shooting through the ring light's center.
Two-Light Setup For Reflective Products
Reflections are often a bigger problem in the center of your subject. To offset harsh reflections, you can opt for a setup that utilizes two lights that are placed at an angle on either side of the front of your product. This will help you to keep your lighting even and can possibly eliminate troublesome reflections altogether.
The effectiveness of this setup largely depends on the size and shape of your product, but this can be solved by a few adjustments and tweaks.
Three-Light Triangle Setup
If you want to give your subject more dimension and create a stunning 3-D effect, using a triangle setup and utilizing three individual lights may be the best way to go. The triangle is set up by using one light directly in front of your subject and two angled lights on either side of the back of your product.
By using backlighting, you are creating a clear divide between the subject and the background, making it easier to pull focus to the product and for the product to stand out.
Using a triangle configuration is the best way to ensure that your products look dynamic and that they won’t appear flat in your final image. It may also help to make your product shots look more professional because by providing dimension to your subject, you are able to evoke a more editorial feel to all of your shots.
Did you find our blog helpful? Then consider checking:
- How To Take Pictures At Night
- How To Get Good Lighting For Pictures
- How To Take Low Light Photos
- How To Get Good Lighting For Product Photos
- What's The Best Backdrop Material For Photography
- Photo Compositions to Know
- Natural Lighting
- Depth Perfection
- Light + Airy Photography
- Dark + Moody Photography
- Food Styling
- Product + Flat Lay Styling
- Clothing Photography
- Drink Photography: The Splash Technique
- Your Ultimate Photo Resource