Product Photography Lighting – A Guide to Showing off Your Work

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If you work in an industry where having pretty photographs is an absolute must — think furniture, floral arrangers, and photographers, then having a professional understanding of lighting your photos is an absolute must.

Getting there, however, takes time, skill, and knowledge. In this article, I’ll walk you through the basics of lighting and composing your photos — along a brief introduction to editing and post production.

Composing Your Product Photos: Plan Things out Before you Start Shooting

You’ll want to spend some time to plan out your product photo shoot just as you would when photographing people. Make sure that you have the proper equipment, lighting, crew, and image editing software before you begin. Before the resources your will need, let’s talk a little about composition.

Simply put, photo composition is how the elements of a photo are arranged. Like all things, there are a few, time-tested rules that will go a long way toward improving the quality of your photos.

  1. Rule of Odds – This rule states that an uneven number of items in a photo is more interesting to the eye than an even number. See how this works in action here.
  2. Rule of Thirds – To make it simple, if you take your photograph and divide it into 9 equal sections, important elements of the photo should fall at those intersection points. Here is a full explanation.
  3. Frame Within a Frame – Using elements within a photo to “frame” the subject of the photo. This is best explained visually, so check out this detailed explanation.

And that’s it for composition.

Make a Quick List of your Products and the Shots Needed

Once you have an idea of the basics, a best practice is to create a list of all the shots you need  i.e. front, back, side, etc.

Any spreadsheet will do for this list, and as you shoot each product you can check it off the list so that you don’t take two sets of photos and waste time. This may seem like a lot to do — and it is if you are only creating a few photos. If you need to photograph many items or are working with a team, it’s a must.

product photography lighting
Photo by ProductViz

Set your Camera Up

Many types of cameras can work for your product photos — and I could talk for days about the best practices, cameras, etc. We will save that for another day. Here, the best advice is to invest in a tripod for stabilizing your camera. Any stable surface can be used to set your camera on, otherwise if you have the budget you can invest in a tripod. You can even find mini adjustable tripods for smartphone cameras at a low cost if you want to go that route.

Get a White Background

You’ll have several different options available to create a white background. You can purchase a small white sweep online or from a local photography store. You can choose a long rectangular white Mat Board for your backdrop or a poster board, which you can find at an art supply store.

Even a long roll of white paper or sheet will work. Adhere it to a vertical surface so that it sweeps from being flat on your table to vertical. There’s no right size for your white background, it should just be bigger than your products.

Product photography lighting

Dust and Clean Your Products

Get your products in nice and neat condition by dusting or cleaning them off prior to your shoot if needed. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning them. Try to group up similar products together as well which will help you streamline your shoot.

Product Photography Lighting – Natural or Artificial?

Product photography lighting is a detailed topic in and of itself. Taking a few steps to plan out your lighting will make all the difference.

Investing in high quality product photograph lighting can ensure that your photos turn out at the quality that you need, without the high cost of a new camera.

You can purchase portable photography studios complete with lighting in the $400 to $500 range.  However, you can create a custom lighting setup for around $100 using clamp lamps, a diffusion panel, and spring clamps which can all be purchased online.

If you have a bigger budget, consider purchasing an LED kit which will guarantee incredible product lighting. These kits often come with 3 LED lights, stands, dimmers and other accessories and can run from $500 to $1000.

Natural sunlight can work perfectly well for many types of product photography lighting. If it’s a cloudy day or if you want even better lighting, you’ll want to invest a little bit in a lighting setup.

For artificial lighting, set up your product in the middle on a table, the camera and sweep on opposite sides, and two lights on either side of the product. Add a third light above and behind your product.

Final Touches

Even with a good camera and a great product photography lighting setup, blemishes will show up in your product photos. Use your photo editor to remove them and put the final touches on your products before uploading them.

Taking these small steps will help your product photos look as professional and appealing to your customers as possible.

With these quick steps, you’ll be well on your way to taking an amazing set of product photos!

Determine which type of camera will work best for your product photos. Even if you don’t have a new camera, what you currently have is usually perfectly fine for most types of product photos. A basic model or smartphone camera may suffice. You may also want to purchase a higher end camera, especially if you’re photographing expensive items.

You’ll also want to make sure that you have the right photo editing software for your needs. In most cases free or basic editing software can do such as GIMP or Paint.NET, or if you have access to Adobe Photoshop and the experience needed to use it, it’s even better.

– Jake

I’m the lead illustrator at Productviz, a studio dedicated to creating art.