As a product photographer, nothing is more embarrassing than submitting a dark, underexposed image to a brand or client. Owning the best cameras and lenses can only help you to an extent. Understanding lighting is essential if you want to capture the best photos for commercial use.
The best lighting setup for product photography involves one to three continuous light sources. These can be LED lights, tungsten light bulbs, or fluorescent lamps, depending on the final image you want to achieve.
But you must also consider the lighting techniques for product photography. Remember that not all clients require the same look, so you must be flexible. In this article, you will learn how to set up lighting in different ways. You will also discover the best lighting equipment to help you achieve the best results.
What Is the Best Lighting Setup for Product Photography?
The best light setup for product photography includes one to three high-quality continuous lights.
You need a single powerful light to illuminate the subject or product.
Set the second light source to lower brightness and point it in the camera’s opposite direction.
Finally, place the last lighting to brighten the background.
If you are just starting in commercial photography, you can stick to a single continuous light. Get a white foam board or flat surface to reflect the brightness to the subject.
What Is Continuous Lighting?
Continuous light refers to a light source that remains on all the time until you turn it off. It allows you to direct the light wherever you want to. Hence, it can help you achieve the desired look for the final product image.
Continuous lighting is different from strobe lighting. The latter is synced with the camera. It only flashes light when you press the shutter button. There is no way to see how the light will interact with the subject in the scene.
What Are the Best Lighting Techniques for Product Photography?
You can choose different lighting techniques when shooting an image for product photography. Each one can create various visual effects.
Below, I will enlighten you (pun intended!) on what you can achieve through three basic photography lighting techniques:
- Side Lighting
- Front Lighting
- Back Lighting
These lighting arrangements can be made with a basic home photography studio without needing expensive equipment.
Side lighting requires you to place the light source 90° to the camera. It illuminates the product from the side, hence its name. This lighting technique creates the strongest sense of a three-dimensional subject due to the shadows falling on its side.
You can start with a one-light setup if you are a beginner or on a tight budget. Then, experiment with the side lighting arrangement to achieve more unique visuals.
Use a diffuser to soften the shadows cast by the side lighting. Simply place it between the light source and the subject. You can buy a professional diffuser softbox or stick with a translucent white cloth.
If you feel like the image is underexposed, try adding a reflector. It can bounce available light back into the object in the scene. A reflector also minimizes shadows so that they appear softer.
But if you have the budget, place a second light on the opposite side of the product. Ensure it faces the direction of the first source. Doing so illuminates the subject evenly and eliminates all shadows.
Front lighting refers to a lighting technique when the source is directly beside your product. It results in shadows falling behind the product. It can make the subject appear flat, which is ideal for showcasing some products.
Remember that not all items look great in front lighting. Consider moving the light source a few centimeters from your camera while still facing the product to see how it will look.
You can also adjust the height of the lighting to change the shadow’s effects on the final image. Pointing the source from a low angle means the shadows are longer, while higher or slightly overhead lighting gives you shorter shadows. It is easy to do when you mount the source on a light stand.
The back lighting setup requires you to place the light source behind the product. It helps isolate the subject from the background. Thus, this lighting technique is ideal for capturing translucent items, such as glass and liquids.
Set up a diffuser between the backlight source and the commercial product. It can help spread the brightness within the scene to achieve a more flattering look.
You can also add a white sheet or foam board reflector beside your camera or in front of the product. Doing so can bounce extra light back onto the subject for a more balanced image.
Be careful when capturing reflective surfaces with backlight. That is because you might see the white cloth or foam board in the frame. Take a test photo of the product and examine it carefully to avoid unwanted reflections.
What Is the Three-Point Lighting Setup?
If you have stepped into a studio or have worked in the photography industry, you probably heard about the three-point light setup.
As its name suggests, the technique involves working with three different studio lights. These include key lights, fill lights, and backlights.
Key light refers to the main source of lighting. In product photography, it points towards the product for powerful illumination.
The fill light, also known as supplementary lighting, is the second most important source in a studio. It produces a lower intensity of light that is positioned on the camera’s opposite side to key lighting. The fill light in product photography ultimately softens the shadows cast by the key.
The backlight is the last product lighting to arrange in a studio shoot. It can isolate the subject from the background. It also creates a focal point to put emphasis on the product. It is usually placed behind or above the subject.
What Lights Do I Need for Product Photography?
Now that you know the best product photography lighting techniques, you may be curious about the ideal light sources to buy.
To reiterate, continuous lighting is the ideal lighting arrangement for illuminating commercial products.
You can find many lighting kits online or in photography stores near your area. These include the basic studio lights you will need for a straightforward product shoot.
Ensure to set a budget because some studio light kits are expensive. The last thing you want is to spend a fortune on your gear if you do not use them for high-end commercial projects. You can always invest in better lighting equipment for product photography later.
If you prefer to buy light sources separately, choose the following products:
- LED lights
- Fluorescent ring lights
- Tungsten light bulbs
Note that each one has its pros and cons. It is best to weigh your needs and preferences before finalizing your purchasing decision.
Can I Use Other Lighting Equipment for Product Photography?
In addition to light sources, you can also use other tools for your product photography lighting setup.
As its name implies, this tool can reflect light to create a softer and more even illumination within the scene. It is extremely handy if you only use a single light source because it bounces the main light back into the subject. The result is reduced shadows and more balanced highlights.
You can buy a reflector online or in photography stores. Some products include five reflectors in different colors: gold, silver, black, white, and translucent fabric. These can affect the light quality, ultimately giving you different visual effects.
A diffuser features a semi-translucent surface that is strategically placed between the product and the light source. It can help soften and diffuse light as it passes through the material. It can also help minimize harsh shadows and glare.
You can invest in a softbox light or an umbrella to create soft light over a large area. If you are on a tight budget, you can improvise and use white paper or sheets as DIY light diffusers.
Light stands allow you to mount and secure your light sources. They also make it easier to adjust the lighting position. This way, you can achieve different visual effects with a slight arrangement.
A light stand is available in various height and mount options. Choose one that is compatible with the type of product photos you shoot.
Can I Use Natural Light for Product Photography?
While you can use natural light for product photography, it is not recommended to do so. The reason is natural lighting is unpredictable—it is present in one moment, but it can also be gone in an instant.
Having steady and continuous light is best for commercial photography. That is because you will likely need to take pictures of the same product several times but from different angles or perspectives. You need to match the light in every image when presenting it to the brand or client. As such, most product photographers prefer shooting with studio lighting in an actual photo studio.
That said, it is essential to learn and master natural lighting techniques. There is a chance that a commercial client will request an outside shoot. Always come prepared so that you can impress the customer and possibly receive referrals and more projects.
Product photography is much more than using the best cameras and lenses. You will need to understand the best lighting setup to shoot great photos for commercial purposes.
Use one to three continuous lights and arrange them following any of the techniques discussed above. You can also consider the three-point lighting method for a more balanced image. When missing a light source, take advantage of a reflector and diffuser to bounce and soften light simultaneously.
I hope this article helps you nail your product photography shoots. If you have more questions, do not hesitate to contact us!