“Hi guys! I'm a big fan of your work. I'll be quick: How do you do to take that perfect-light photos of the products? Which setup do you use? Hope you can help me out! Thanks!”
During a recent shoot, my model half asked, half gasped, “You light all your images?!” The photographer-turned-model was surprised to learn that most of my images are artificially lit. In fact, most people are surprised that I haul in at least two lights for every shoot. The model voiced a phrase that was music to my ears: “But the light seems so natural.”
Though lighting products isn’t hard, it does require some special equipment and basic technical knowledge. I’ll unload a little here on how I create that effect. At the end of this post, I share the three foundational resources that I’ve found helpful to that end.
“Just like there’s more than one way to bake a cake, there’s an array of lighting options for products.”
What follows is just my go-to process, largely because it provides flexibility in a number of areas. By no means is it the only way to light products.
- Set up at least two off-camera lights.
“Off camera lights” refers to any lights that are unattached to your camera. I use either speedlites or strobes. (I’m not going to get into how to trigger the lights here, but you can learn more from the first two resources below.)
- Use light modifiers.
I shoot through umbrellas 90% of the time. They soften and disperse the light, and have loads of light spill, which lightens the whole scene.
- Place lights strategically.
One light should be 45 degrees behind the product, and the other 45 degrees in front of it on the opposite corner. Ensure that the lights are up high and pointing downward, but at the subject. This will reduce the length of your shadows.
- Make the backlight slightly brighter than the front.
Doing so helps create a separation of subject and background. The front light creates a fill—meaning it illuminates (fills in) the front.
You don’t have to have lights to shoot products. Some colleagues expertly use window-light and reflectors to achieve similar results. If you have a shoot scheduled on a rainy day, though, you’ve got problems, hence one of the many reasons why I go for lights ;)
Below are my recommendations to satiate your new found-lighting appetite.