Lighting for Small Product Photography - dummies

By Thomas Clark

Light determines what viewers see and do not see in a small product photograph. In small-product photography, you generally want to provide detail throughout the subject so viewers have a clear view of what you’re selling. This means you must have control over your shadows and highlights.

Creating a lighting setup that works for your specific subject requires that you consider the direction, quality, and intensity of your light sources. To begin the process:

1Position your subject in the scene and compose your frame.

When composing a small product shot, consider the size of the subject in your frame. Having it take up a dominant portion of the frame draws more emphasis to the product itself, causing it to stand out as the main subject and helping to provide maximum detail.

2Position your key light so that it provides the type of shadows you’re looking for.

A sidelight works best to reveal texture and to create an even amount of shadow and highlight areas in the scene. A three-quarter light is best for revealing form and is suitable for most subjects. A flat light (positioned on or near the camera’s position) is commonly used on two-dimensional products, such as stamps, and provides an even illumination on the subject.

3Adjust the quality of your key light.

A key light source that affects the subject directly is considered a hard light source. A scrim, umbrella, or soft box can soften the light. Remember, hard light sources produce shadows with hard edges and create smaller highlights in reflective surfaces. Soft light sources produce shadows with softer edges and create larger highlights in reflective surfaces.

4Introduce a fill light to show detail in the shadow areas.

A fill light is an ambient or flat light source that brightens the scene without casting shadows. The relationship between the intensity of the fill light to the intensity of the key light determines how dark your shadows are.

Increase the power of your fill light to create images with less drama and more shadow detail. Decrease the intensity of your fill light to add drama and mystery.

5Bring in a third light source if you prefer to use one.

A third light can create a highlighted edge on a subject, or it can light the background. Some photographers create a spotlight on the background directly behind the subject in order to draw attention to it.

If you prefer to have a highlighted edge on your subject and to light the background, then use a four-light setup.