Lighting Techniques for Product Photography

knife-photography
Creative knife Photography

Product photography is about so much more than the best camera and lenses.  Product photography lighting techniques matter a great deal when you want to achieve the best results.

If you have studied professional photography, you probably already know a great deal about lighting. But, if you are just getting into product photography, you may find yourself on a steep learning curve.

The Nitty, Gritty Of Product Photography Lighting

Lighting techniques for product photography are all about using the right light to make the product, or products look as good as possible.  It does not matter if you are using a still camera, or shooting a product video, lighting the products in the right way will play a huge role. When the product is lit in the right way, the buyer in all of us will come out and make us want the product.

With so many products out there, it is the product that stands out that will attract the most buyers. Light is often what makes a product stand out.

The use of the best lighting practices is especially important when it comes to creative and on white product photography.

Let There Be Light

black man in glasses shouting with happiness in ne x3a55et
A man in glasses shouting with happiness FabrikaPhoto

The first time you hear a photographer talk about light, you will probably be somewhat baffled. Photographers see light in a totally different way. The way they talk about the lights they work within a studio setting describes how photographers perceive light.

To make it easier to understand how photographers work with lights, we are going to go through some of the basics of photography lighting.

In a studio, you will mainly find three types of lighting. If you have worked in the photography industry for a while, you are probably already familiar with terms such as key lights, fill lights, and backlights. For the novice product photographer, getting more familiar with the different lights and their functions would help to understand the composition of a photograph.

Key Light – This is the main source of light. In most studios, it is off-axis from the camera and pointed directly to the subject. In the case of product photography, the key light is pointed at the product.

Fill Light – The fill light is sometimes referred to as the second diary light. It is very much the second most important light in a studio. The fill light is always a low-intensity light placed on the opposite side of the camera to the key lighting. Its job is to “fill in.”

Backlight – Don’t for one moment think that the backlight is not important. In photography, the light is used in either one or two ways. How the light is placed depends on the subject and how a photographer likes to work with a backlight. A backlight is placed behind or above the product.

The backlight is very important as it helps to define the product from the chosen background. You will often find that artists use backlights to “draw out” the main subject in a painting or create a focal point.

A Word Of Warning About The Background

clipping image from a background
Clipping image from a background

When it comes to product photography, clients often want their products to stand out from the background.  Some photographers call it a clipping path or transparent image.”

As most clients want to sell their products online, it is important to be able to consider the lighting. White backgrounds are popular, but sometimes a brand has certain colors that they work with as part of their brand image. Often, you will find that the background is changed at a later date by the webmaster.

That means that the lighting you use when shooting the product must work with different color backgrounds.

The Best Lighting Positions For Product Photography

The most important decision that a photographer makes after setting up the scene, is where to place the lights.

This is where your experience as a photographer comes in. You need to think about how the placement of light will impact the product’s appearance.

Once again, you may know that the client has a preference. They may want the company’s logo to be highlighted or the product’s name. These are important points that you need to cover with your client before you start the shoot.

godox led light continues
Godox led light continues

Is Strobe Lighting A Good Choice Or Should I Go For Continuous Lighting?

Continuous lighting is often the most popular solution when it comes to product photography. The best examples of continuous lighting include:

It is a good idea to invest in lights with a dimmer function. It gives you much better lighting control over the entire shoot.

Strobe lighting is used as part of product photography. It is great when you want to create a very sharp focus image. However, in the early part of your career as a product photographer, working with strobe lighting is not desirable. It is an acquired skill and you need to make sure you pay close attention to your camera’s shutter speed and exposure.

Where Should I Buy My Lights For My Product Photography Set-Up?

online retailers
Buying your pro equipment online.

Although there is no reason why you should not buy your lights online, it is a good idea to visit a store that specializes in lights for photographers.

You want to make sure that you are comfortable with the lights that you are going to be working with. There are also slight differences in lighting quality. Actually, differences are not really the right word, nuances in lighting are a better fit.

What About The Quality Of Light And Shadow?

You will also hear experienced product photographers talk about the quality of light and shadow.

When it comes to any kind of photography, the quality of the light does matter. Is the light you are going to be working hard or soft? Can you change the quality of light?

You can change the quality of the light by using diffusers. Harsh light can make a product look too “bland” or washed out. That is particularly true when it comes to beverage and food photography. We are covering working with light modifiers in another article on ProPhotoStudio.net media.

If you have not been professionally trained on how to work with lights, or have previous experience of working in a photographic studio setting, you should “play around” with lights. Try moving them closer or further away from the subject.

You can also try adding grids to emphasize and focus the beam on parts of the object you are photographing.

What Lighting should I Use For Product Photography?

If you are just starting out as a product photographer, you can start by investing in lighting kits.

A range of kits are available online or you can check out stores in your local area. Make sure that you set yourself a relevant budget. If you don’t think that you are going to pick up a lot of high-end commercial work, you don’t want to spend a fortune on your gear.

You can always invest in better equipment for product photography lighting techniques later.

a_picture_of_a_perfume_on_a_hard_surface
A picture of a perfume on a hard surface

What Are The Best Lighting Techniques In Product Photography?

How do you learn more about light and working with different lighting techniques?

Don’t for one moment think that all of the best product and commercial photographers got it right from day one. Most of them spent a great deal of time studying other photographers’ techniques.

How do you do that? Just like artists spend time studying other artists’ paintings and drawings, you should spend time checking out your fellow photographers’ work. You can look at catalog work or commercial brand photography.

It is likely that a lot of your work will be for sites such as Amazon and similar sites that sell goods. Why not see if you can figure out what techniques the photographer used to create the images that you are looking at.

Now that you know that shadows and light play a huge role in product photography, see if you can figure out where the photographer placed the light to achieve a certain effect.

If you know the name of the photographer, you could always try finding them online. Tell him you are a huge fan of their work and ask them for tips.

Here are a few tips that you may find helpful:

  • Take your time and learn how to understand lighting. Many photographers are not prepared to take the time to understand lighting. All they want to do is to snap photograph after photograph. The light really can make or break an image. It is easy to think that altering lighting in post production is the right thing to do. To take a quality product photograph, you need to get the lighting right from the start.
  • The size of the light is what determines the softness and the other quality of the shadows in any photograph. Using a small light will result in harder shadows. When you want soft shadows, using a larger light is the right thing to do.
  • You need to understand the difference between soft and hard light. If you need to show a product’s texture, you should use hard light. The downside is that it can cause reflections on products with shiny surfaces.
  • The position of the light is another main influencing factor. Should you angle the light from above, below, behind, or to the side? That is something you learn from practice and experience.
  • The closeness of the light matters as well. A light placed further away appears harder. Frontal lighting produces fewer shadows and side lighting will create more shadows.
  • Texture is also an important part of product photography. If you want to add texture, lower and side lighting is the best way to go.

Inverse Square Law In Photography

inverse square law in photography
By diyphotography

When you study photography, you will learn about Inverse Square Law. It relates to the fall off of light. In other words, it is dependent on the distance of the light and the size of the source.

In layman terms, it means that the further away from the object you place a light source, the faster the light will fall off or trail off. Once again, it is important that you experiment with different ways and distances of placing the light.

Understanding The Tools You Have Available

Of course, when you start out, you may not have so many lighting tools available. Over time you will build up your inventory of tools that can help you to produce better photographs.

That is why it is essential that you know how and understand how to make the most out of the tools you have available. Ultimately, that is what product photography lighting techniques are all about when you want to do a good job.

Other Professional Product Photography Tips:

  • Making the right lens choice. As a photographer, you probably have a range of different lenses at your disposal. Extension tubes are a great way of making the most out of your lens and camera functions.
  • The angle of view matters. Many product photographers shoot head on. If you would like to make the product stand out more, you should try shooting from a low angle. It can make the product look both more impressive and imposing. Try it and you will soon find that it makes a huge difference.
  • Your choice of background and base is another consideration that you don’t want to leave out. Spend some time making the right color choices. Make sure that the colors you choose don’t distract from the product.
  • The right light will create the right emotion. Bright and clean lights work well for certain products such as women’s skin care but not always for men’s products. Dark colors more often than not work better when photographing men’s products. However, when you photograph women’s apparel, you will find that lighter colors are the way to go.

Learning How To Manipulate Light

perfume_on_a_surface_with_a_computer_screen_behind
Perfume on a real surface with a computer screen behind for a background

Now that you know more about light, you will have realized that product photography lighting techniques are about learning how to manipulate light.

If you stop and think about it, you will realize that we do it all of the time in our homes. We use uplighters and other forms of light when we want to make our home nice to live in.

Light has a huge influence on the way we feel about something. Men and women react to light in different ways. When you work as a product photographer, you will need to learn to recognize the difference.

That is why it is so important that you study and learn different techniques when it comes to working with light.

When you use light in the right way on a product photography shoot, the sales conversion rate increases. That means the client sells more of the product. When that happens, the client will come back to you again.

Having the right lighting equipment is just as important as having the right camera and lens.

Working With Lighting Effects In Adobe

adjusting_lighting_on_adobe_photoshop
Adjusting lighting on adobe photoshop

Yes, you can use your Adobe program to work with light. However, you can’t do it as efficiently as you may want to if you have not lit the subject correctly in the first place.

When you have taken your photographs in a studio setting, you can use Adobe to change the color and the intensity of a color in a photograph. That is one of the best ways of making use of Adobe when it comes to product photography.

It is very much an after-effect, but you can certainly put the program to good use. Try to see it as an enhancement tool instead of the solution to using environmental light.

What About Working With Natural Light?

lysol-germ-x-lifestyle-image
Lysol germ x lifestyle photography natural light setup

In all likelihood, unless you are doing lifestyle photography, you are probably not going to be working much with natural light as a product photographer.

The problem with natural light is that it is temperamental. It is there one moment and gone the next.

When you are shooting for sites such as Amazon and Etsy, you don’t have to worry about natural light so much.

That being said, it is important to learn how to work with natural light. You never know when a commercial client is going to ask you to do an outside shoot. When it comes to product photography and retaining clients, it is always best to be prepared.

How long does it take to master light? Mastering light is not going to cost you very much. The good thing is that you can delete any experimental images that you don’t like.

The ones that you do like, keep them and make a note of how you used your studio light. You will be surprised how many photographers keep detailed notes of how they took a certain photograph or created a setup for a product. That is how you master the technique of lighting in product photography.

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