How To Get Good Lighting For Product Photos
As a budding product photographer or small business owner, your photography is all about focusing on the quality and desirability of your subject. Because you’re shooting a stationary object, you’ll need to create a sense of "movement" to really make your product pop.
One of the easiest ways to create a sense of movement and intrigue is to play with your photo composition - particularly your light and shadows. Good lighting isn’t about having the best equipment or access to an expensive studio.
Anyone can make their products look professional through clever use of lighting.
So, if you want to learn a few tips and tricks to make your product photography stand out, our simple guide on product photography will have you posting the perfect shot in no time.
Why Is Lighting Important For Product Photography?
If you’re running an e-commerce business, chances are you already believe in the quality and standard of your incredible products. Although you may know that your products are amazing, all your customers have to rely on is a photograph.
This is why it’s important to make a great first impression through the images of your products.
Similarly, if you’re a budding product photographer, you generally have to rely on a portfolio of your work to be hired for a job. Therefore, it’s just as important for you to produce high-quality images to present to your potential clients.
The best way to get these high-quality shots is to have the right lighting. Good lighting can bring out the finer details of the product, and can also make post-production editing a lot easier.
Types Of Light Sources
There are two types of light sources that you can use in product photography, namely natural and artificial lighting. There’s no ‘right’ answer when you want to know what lighting is best for pictures because each type comes with its own pros and cons - although both types can produce breathtaking images.
Natural lighting is a cost-effective option if you’re on a budget, and just because it’s a cheaper option doesn’t mean you’re going to produce lower-quality images.
If you’re shooting indoors using natural light, you should try to place your photo backdrop and your shooting surface close to a door or window that lets in a good amount of natural light. If the sunlight is too bright, you can try to diffuse it by draping a white sheet over the window.
- Gives shots a brighter mood
- Easy to work with
- Less creative control over lighting
Artificial light may be a better option for you if you have a bigger budget, or if you need to shoot in the evenings or in the winter. If you have a smaller, at-home studio, you'll want to keep space in mind as a lighting setup can take up a fair amount of room.
Once you’ve got your lights, there are a few different ways to position them. If your budget allows, you should try to have at least two lights.
One of your lights will function as your key light, which is positioned in front of your product, and the other light should serve as a filler light. Fill lights are usually positioned on the side of your product.
If you only want to invest in one light, place it to the side of your scene, either on the left or right side.
If you’ve been wondering how to take low light photos or how to take photos at night, artificial lights may be the answer.
- Total control of light and shadows
- Not weather-dependent
- Can be expensive
- Lights take up space
- Lights need a power source
Understanding Product Lighting
Professional artificial lighting generally consists of three different light types: key lights, fill lights, and back lights. To understand how to get the most professional lighting for your product shots, you’ll need to understand the difference between the three types and what function they serve.
Key lights are used as your main light source. They are positioned in front of your scene and are pointed directly at your product. They typically stand off-axis from your tripod or camera and serve to illuminate the product entirely.
Fill lights are low-intensity lights that are used on the opposite side of the camera as a mirror to your key light. They are usually further away or produce a slightly dimmer light than your key light and can help to create depth and shadows in your final image.
Back lights are usually positioned above or behind your product and help to create a clear definition between your subject or product and the background that you have chosen.
The Difference Between Continuous Lighting And Strobe Lighting
When setting up your lights, you have to choose between continuous or strobe lighting for your studio.
Continuous lights - also known as hot lights - are lights that stay on until you turn them off. They are a great choice for beginner photographers because the constant light allows you to adjust your setup or rearrange your product or background to get an idea of what your final image will look like until you take the shot.
These lights come in a variety of types, including fluorescent tubes, tungsten bulbs, and LED panels. Some amateur photographers begin by capturing product photography with a ring light.
While this may seem like a good idea if you’re on a budget, ring lights aren’t optimal for product or food photography as their shape creates round hot spots in your photos, which can create glare that is difficult to edit out in post-production.
LED lights are a cost-effective way to get continuous lighting without breaking the bank. If you’re interested in LED lights, you can read guide on the best LED lights for product photography next.
Strobe lighting - also known as flash lighting or flashes - are lights that turn on when you press the shutter on your camera.
These lights have a bigger learning curve if you’re just starting out with product photography because you aren’t able to play with the light before taking your final shot. Instead, you’ll need to snap a picture to gauge your lighting and adjust your setup in between shots. They also can't connect to phone cameras (only DSLRs) at the time of writing this.
Choosing the light type for your setup is all based on personal preference, although continuous lights can be a better option for amateur photographers or anyone with a small business or e-commerce site that doesn’t need a large, professional setup.
Lighting Tips For Product Photography
There are a few steps that work well for product photography, and each will give you a helpful tip on how to achieve the best photos of your product.
Set Up Your Lights Or Use Natural Lighting
Before setting up your product and background, make sure you know what kind of lighting you want to create. Is it light and bright or is it dark and moody? Knowing the tone that you want to portray is important in choosing your backdrop and how to set up your lights. For example, increase the distance between your light and subject to get harder, more dramatic shadows. Move them closer together to create softer shadows.
For basic product photography, natural sunlight is the best way to capture your subject without having to splurge on a lighting setup. Make sure to pick a spot in your home or office that gets a good amount of sunlight. To find your best time of day to shoot, take the same photo every hour. Compare photos to see what time of day the light looks best to your eye.
Add A Diffuser
A diffuser is a translucent material that scatters light rays to soften your light source and is positioned between the light and your subject.
By diffusing your light you reduce its intensity, although you may need to adjust your camera settings to compensate for the softer light.
As the light goes through the diffuser, it will become more evenly distributed, and harsh, heavy shadows in your image will become softer.
If you’re on a budget, you can make a diffuser out of any basic white or translucent fabric, such as a curtain, sheet, or even an old t-shirt draped over a frame. You can also use the shear "scrim" that comes in a 5-in-1 reflector set (pictured above).
Add A Reflector
A reflector is anything white you place opposite your light source to reflect light onto the far side of your scene. You can use white foam core, a trifold poster board, or even a white-based Surface like the one 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!
By placing a reflector on the side of the scene facing the light source, you can add extra light to the far side of your scene.
The light hits the reflector and bounce onto your product to brighten it and reduce shadows.
Experiment With Your Setup
The next thing you’ll want to do is play around with your lighting setup.
Experiment with the angle, height, and intensity of your lights and watch how the shadows and brighter areas (called "highlights") change with every adjustment you make. It sounds intimidating, but it can actually be fun to watch how shadows change.
A rolling studio on wheels makes it really easy to change the angle and direction o your light. Especially when you can change the height like this one.
By thinking outside of the box, you’ll be able to learn what works - and what doesn’t work - for your products. It’s all about bringing your product into the spotlight and creating a setup that allows for small details and the quality craftsmanship of your subject to be brought to the foreground.
Choose the best backdrop for your style
Not all backdrops are created equal. With some types, you may have a hard time adjusting your lights to avoid glare that may be hard to edit out after all is said and done.
If you already own backdrops, make sure to play around with different background materials and colors and take a few test shots to make sure that your backdrop isn’t going to be too distracting. If you want to avoid all the fuss over choosing the best backdrop - don’t worry.
All Replica Surfaces are glare-resistant, so you won't have an editing headache like you get with shiny backdrops. There are also many different Surfaces available to suit almost any photography style.
If you're new to product photography, we love using either the Replica All-White or Slate Surfaces. Because of their neutral colors, you can keep the focus on your product without your backdrop stealing the show. Once you get more practice, you can start mastering product photography using colorful or patterned Surfaces. You may have to plan you scene a little more, but the results are worth it.
Replica surfaces are also quick and easy to set up. Especially using their mobile Studio on wheels. With Replica you’ll have one less thing to worry about when perfecting your studio setup. You simply place them behind and under your subject and voilà!
You don’t have to have a professional light setup to create eye-catching photos of your product. You can use any kind of light you have available, from using large studio lights to smaller one-light setups, and even good old-fashioned sunlight.
Now that you’re armed with our top tips and tricks on how to get good lighting for product photos, you can start to create and capture professional-looking images that will take your products from looking drab to looking absolutely irresistible to your customers.
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