Product photography or e-commerce photography draws someone’s attention to a product to drive sales, create awareness, etc.
Any product photographer worth their salt understands the importance of a proper lighting setup. In this article, we’ll talk about all the important things you need for a proper product photography lighting setup and more.
Equipment Needed for a Product Photography Setup
There are so many ways lighting can be manipulated to bring out the desired outlook, but first, let’s talk about the various types of lighting and how they perform different functions and impact the composition of a photograph. This is the first step to setting up product photography: knowing the kind of studio lights you want to use for the product and background. These include:
Backlighting involves placing the light above or behind the product and pointing toward the camera. You’ll need a backlight to create more definition, silhouette, or glowy outlook to the image and give the other parts a darker appearance.
2. Key Light
The key light is the primary light source for your scene. It is usually pointed directly at the subject (product) to illuminate one section.
3. Continuous Lighting
This is one of the most sought-after artificial lights for product photography. It’s meant to illuminate the product continuously —instead of flashing on and off as photos are taken, it remains on the entire time. The three types include LED video light, tungsten bulbs, and fluorescent.
4. Fill Light
This is commonly referred to as the secondary light and is very important in a studio. It performs the function of ‘filling in,’ which means it fills in high contrast shadows that the key light creates on the product. It is a low-intensity light that is placed on the opposite side of the camera next to the key light.
5. Strobe Lights
This is used when you want to create a short burst of light or a sharp focus on your product. Unlike the others, this type requires close attention and skill in monitoring the camera’s exposure and shutter speed. This is another popular type of lighting used for product photography.
Natural light can also be used to shoot products. It can be next to a window or positioned in direct sunlight outside the studio.
Equipment to Pair With Lighting
A larger softbox will leave fewer shadows and allow more light to spread through. When a softbox comes into the mix, it replicates light that shines indoors through the windows. A photographer may decide to add a softbox to one light and leave the others plain to play around with the shadows.
A softbox is different from an umbrella (which can also be paired with lighting when photographing products). It is suitable for smaller products and doesn’t require a stronger flash because there won’t be shadows bouncing off products.
2. Foam Boards and Reflectors
A white foam board can be used as a reflector to bounce back light to your product and fill in harsh shadows. Place it opposite the light source to achieve this.
3. Light Stands
Every photo studio has these, and they are used to hold different lighting arrangements while photographing or videoing products. Another piece of equipment you can use to hold lighting in product photography is a tripod stand. They are not just limited to the camera alone.
4. Lighting Box
Otherwise known as a light tent, they are perfect for shooting smaller products like shoes, jewelry, etc. These are a great way to capture beautiful shots in good lighting to soften the appearance of a product. They also serve as a great backdrop.
5. Ring Lights
Ring lights are round lighting equipment that some professional photographers decide to ditch because it’s harder to take pictures with them. However, if you’re photographing small products, they work very well. All you need to do is place the camera lens between the ring to make sure the product is evenly lit from the camera’s direction.
Backgrounds and Lighting
White backgrounds are common in product photography setup because they have a very low impact on the product. On the other hand, photographers may use other background colors that complement and illuminate the product. Other times, they may use two different colors for the background. One thing that you must avoid is allowing the product to get lost in the background. Always remember that the product is what is meant to stand out.
Materials for backgrounds may include fabric, rug, vinyl, metal, paper, etc. The important thing to note is that the studio lighting you use should complement and blend the color of the background.
Lighting Positions for Product Photography
The positioning of the lighting is just as crucial as the type of lighting you decide to use. Different light angles will highlight different parts of the product. It is the photographer’s job to choose how various lighting placements will bring attention to the different parts of the product.
A Simple Product Photography Lighting Setup
1. Step One
The first step for a setup is to create a layout for where your product will be placed. An area where there is enough space for the cameras and lighting is ideal for product photography. One cool idea is to cover a table with a white acrylic plate as the background. This creates an underneath reflection of the product and illuminates the background. After this, place your product on the table.
2. Step Two
Start your setup with two or more off-camera lights. These are any lights that are not attached to your camera but are synced to it and can be positioned independently — for example, strobes.
3. Step Three
Make use of light modifiers like umbrellas or softboxes. Shooting through them creates a softer light which then lightens the whole scene.
4. Step Four
The angle you place your light at plays a huge role in how your photo will come out. Ideally, you want to place one light at a 45-degree angle behind the product and another in front of it on the opposite side also at a 45-degree angle. Angle your light high and ensure it’s facing downward at the product to minimize shadow lengths.
Also, the backlight should be brighter than the front light to create a clear difference between the product and the background. The front light serves as an illumination.
5. Step Five
Take the pictures. Every photographer knows that there will be a lot of clicking before the perfect image is produced, so it will take time. It’s all about experimenting with angles and lighting to find the perfect shot. Some products are very frustrating to work with, like reflective ones (glass or jewelry, for example). They bounce light around and cause shadows. Pay close attention to reflections and move lighting around to avoid them, otherwise, you will be stuck editing them.
Also, make sure you use strobes/flashes that a white hue radiates from to prevent color cast (like a shade of blue or green) to your photos. This will give the image a color balance.
Importance of Good Lighting in Product Photography
The importance of good lighting for product photography cannot be overemphasized.
- Lighting adds to the mood of a photo.
- Lighting for product photography creates highlights.
- It creates high-quality images.
- It determines how bright or dark a product will be.
- Lighting can determine whether or not the product photos will be a hit or miss.
How Many Lights or Reflectors Do I Need for Product Photography?
This is dependent on whether you’re a beginner or a pro. Most professionals know how to direct and use more light and reflectors. As a beginner, one reflector and a continuous light will be enough to take photos of products. As you get better, you can increase the number. Remember to control harder shadows and adjust the brightness to create a softer light on the product.
Which Scene is Better? Dark or Bright?
It depends on the look and mood you want your photo to portray. When shooting home products, beauty, or food products, you can mix the two scenes or use either. If you’re going to highlight more than one part of a product, a brighter scene would be better.
Should You Buy Your Lighting Online?
There’s nothing wrong with buying your photography equipment online. Still, if you’re a beginner in product photography, it would be advisable to buy your equipment in person so you can test the lighting.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and it’s completely true. Your product photography lighting setup determines what your photographs will tell people. Ideally, you want it to catch their attention and pass the intended message to them. You just need to know the right lighting, angles, and equipment that will do this efficiently.
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