Product photography lighting: It is simple when you know how.

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by koloskov, May 7, 2010.

  1. Working on our latest assignment, a catalog shoot for Refrigiwear, I decided to show how proper lighting can make a big difference by using one of the boots from the catalog as an example.

    The object I've selected is a simple to photograph. Really simple.
    Because it has well visible texture, and does not have highly reflective or transparent surfaces.

    However, having an easy to shoot object does not mean you should not worry about the lighting. It is so easy to do a crappy image just because it looks "nice" as is, with one light source, for example. Believe me, I am not against simple lighting schema, but more lights gives me more control over the look of the subject, just need to narrow them down.

    Here I am going to show you how each additional light source will change the look of the boot and explain why I need it.
    Let's start from this well textured boot and only one light in front-top of it (White Lightning BD in my case):


    It may look good, but not for our catalog, where white background is required. It needs to be completely white (RGB: 255.255.255). We do not clip out the whole object, but use instead a different technique explained here , it allows the shadow to remain under the boot and is much faster to do.
    So, one strip box added to fill the background:


    Does not look bad, right? However, it won't be good for a catalog shoot, as it does not have clearly visible product details. Now it is time to add some backlight to highlight the texture: intense directional (from 20° honeycomb) light hits boot on a very low angle, from behind (right side) and adds more volume to our boot:

    Now, the last one.
    Same spot light (20° honeycomb) was added from behind on the left side, to show the texture on this side of boot. Additionally, top-front light (BD) was decreased by 1.5 stops (approximately, I do not use flash meter) to compensate additional light source. Now it is more like a fill light.
    Background was whitened during post-production as well.

    I know, some may say that the very first shot looks better then the last one... This may be true if we were talking about individual preferences, each has his own vision. I like it better the way I did it on the last image, plus, there are unwritten standards for the catalog photography which I need to follow to be successful in what I am doing.

    Lighting setup:

    That was shoot for the catalog. Nice, but regular catalog with products on a white glossy paper. This is how I make money these days, but I always wanted to do more creative photography, AD-oriented, much more innovative, edgy, stylish and technically challenging.
    So, why not now? Customer did not ask me to do such shoot, but it will be a good exercise for me to produce something more creative.
    One additional hour spent in the studio, and here we go:


    The full article is on the blog:
    Alex Koloskov
  2. Nice work, Alex...
  3. it


    Nice stuff.
    Isn't everything simple when you know how?
  4. Cool. Love the last 'creative' one, thanks for sharing.
  5. Nice presentation, but the title is misleading, since there's nothing "simple" about professional product photography, not withstanding your one example.
    I personally feel that there is no area in professional photography today that requires more, real professional expertise than product photography.
  6. ^^Well.. You are right, but.. from other side, it is simple. Simple, when you know how to do it, right? Like Ian said: everything simple when you know it:)
  7. One can look at photography books on lighting from 50 to 70 years ago and it was all about technique; and little to do with brand names. The books had nice diagrams like Alex's; and most all was with dumb Edison base tungsten.
    Today many seek the store bought solution.
    Threads on lighting here almost never have a diagram like Alex's; and if a tungsten is mentioned lay folks parachute in and act like a stupid tungsten is like Uranium 235.
    Most folks really do not want to learn lighting; they really want to use a matrix flash and what ever strobes are trendy this year and just fire away.
    I have a friend that shoots high end real estate interiors. He has a separate van just for all the gels; strobes; tripods; tungstens; reflectors; shades etc, After a big 2 day shoot and it gets published in a high end magazine even seasoned pros want to know what camera; what film and what brand strobes. They *ALL* think it is so easy; if they buy the same tools; they will get the same results.
    In a way lighting has little respect. It is like if folks dwelled on what vesion software; what typewritter; what brand pencil and paper a great author used.
    In cine work and still food and product shots; lighting is everything. Sadly most all is in great books from 1/2 century ago when there was more of a respect for craft; than todays dwelling on brand names.
    The real hard part of lighting is folks brains cannot fathom that a lighting master can go to Walmart or Home Depot and create great lighting with common stuff if they have to. It goes against the grain of buying XYZ preppie brands.
    My home realestate shooter can try to draw a sketch like Alex's; and msot all will quickly get bored; most all want brand names; ie an instant solution.
    The funny part of it is that the 1930's Kodak books had a massive amount of good info on food and product shots; booketes that cost 25 to 75 cents. The pocket exposure guides was 5 cents before WW2. The totally amazing thing is the total lack of pushing brand names; and the total instilling of diagrams like Alex's. The idea that it is a craft; learning to make things simple; learning to experiment; learning to see the light.
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    Also must be said that "product" takes in a lot of subjects. Lighting a shoe is about 1% as hard as lighting a car in studio, or a high end piece of jewelery. Or food photography. In can take ages to get one shot.
    I once saw a very well known D.O.P. fill a sound stage with lights (probably 20, including 10Ks) to light a tube of toothpaste. Crew of 8 working for hours.
  9. ^^ 100% agree with Ian.. This is why I said this is simple object and it was relatively easy to do such walk-through.
    Yesterday I was dealing with GE Kettle with chrome parts and back glossy body.. That was a challenge!:) One day I'll release the process, but now can't really disclosure anything due to the agreement.
    Thank you!

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