Great lighting makes the difference between an average photograph and a memorable one. Whether you are a business selling products, or an occasional seller on eBay, Amazon or Craig's List you want to make your products stand out from the crowd. In this blog, I'll give you five tips to create great product photography. While not every tip is strictly a lighting tip, they are concrete examples of what affects your lighting and the final product. The example I used is a wine bottle, it's challenging to photograph, and fun to drink afterwards with friends.
1) Create a Clean Background
It is imperative that you remove distractions from your photograph. Remove everything except what you are photographing, and use a clean area free of dirt and debris. In this case, I purchased a small product photography table from Adorama for about $30 on sale. It comes with a metal frame and plexiglass, which you can light from below. The table folds up into a small space. I highly recommend it. You can also buy a light tent and put your product inside. You can see the table I used and the light set up in the photograph below.
Product Photography Lighting Set Up
2) Shoot Tethered to Immediately See How Light Falls on Your Product
Shooting tethered means that you have a cable or wifi that immediately transfers the photographs from your camera to your computer. Having a large computer screen nearby when you shoot is really helpful when you are looking at your lighting. Adobe Lightroom has a tethered shooting setting. In Lightroom go to the File menu, then Tethered Capture. I shoot with a 7D Mk2 and there is a handy port on the left side of the camera. I bought a 15' cable (it's blue and you can see it above) and connected it to my computer. Within 3-5 seconds of taking the shot it shows up on my computer. This allows me to quickly look at the image in Lightroom and adjust my lighting in a way that you cannot see on the LCD on the back of your camera. In this example, the bottle has a metal mesh around it. I had to adjust my lighting several times so that the light was not directly on the metal mesh.
3) Clean The Product Before Photographing It
I learned this one the hard way. EVERY SINGLE DUST SPOT shows up in product photography. After photographing the wine bottle I brought it into Lightroom and all the dust spots showed up. Dust and dirt often reflect light drawing your eye to a random bright spot instead of where you want it. Before photographing an item, wipe down the dust, and any grease on your fingers that might have gotten on the item. I constantly use sunscreen in So. Cal. and that leaves my hands a little oily, this got on the bottle and I had to wipe it off, and edit a spot in Photoshop.
4) Light the Product From Multiple Angles for Depth and Interest
This is where your personal taste, eye for lighting and experience come into play. There isn't a "right" way to light something you are displaying or selling. You just want to light it so that the best qualities stand out. In this case, since I was photographing a wine bottle, I wanted rim lighting on the bottle, I wanted the label lit evenly, and finally, nice bright light from below. To get to this point, I tried several different angels and types of lighting. Notice the lighting on the side of the bottle. If I was regularly lighting wine bottles, I'd buy two long narrow strip boxes to light the sides of the bottle. In this case, I had two awesome Manfrotto Lykos LED's on hand so I used them to light the side of the bottle. I took a test image with just the side lights. You can see the image below without the front lighting. The side lighting adds depth to the bottle in the same way that a hair light adds depth to a headshot.
Test Image with Side Lighting Only
5) Consider Lighting Your Product from Underneath
One of the things I really like about the plexiglass table is that it allows you to add light from underneath. In this case, I took a flash and put it underneath the table with a diffusion cap on it. I put the light below the table at about 1/8th power. It was triggered with a R2 slave which was triggered by the R2 transmitter on my camera and at the same time as my main light. For my main light I used the Flashpoint Xplor 600 Watt Light and the R2 transmitter. For the side lights I put the Manfrotto Lykos LED's at 100% power. One of the great things about LED's is that you can see the effect of the lights more easily than with flash because they are constant. I shot the image with the Canon 7DMkII and the Tamron SP 90 mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD.
The above image is almost there. The image is slightly dark for my taste. This was shot at 1/500th of a second, at f/7.1 and ISO 250, with a 90 mm Macro lens. For the next shot, I went to 1/400th of a second and I liked the results much better. I brought the image into Lightroom and Photoshop where I removed dust spots, and my greasy fingerprint at the top. I also removed the overhead light reflection and added some clarity and sharpness. Since I photograph in RAW, all my images get some sharpness in post-production.
Final Image After Post-Processing
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About the Photographer:
Kevin Gilligan is an award winning, museum displayed photographer based in L.A.'s South Bay. You can read his bio HERE.