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Stunning Product Photography with an iPhone and a Desk Lamp

Stunning Product Photography with an iPhone and a Desk Lamp

As I start to get more campaign work via Instagram for product photography, I've found that I need to use every bit of my creative mindset to get the shot I want. All the while I must also play to some of the iPhone's limitations. Tilo Gockel, a professional photographer and lighting expert, has created quite the tutorial for some outstanding product photography with nothing more than an iPhone and a few simple lights found around the house.

Armed with an iPhone 4s, desk lamp, and a couple light sources, he was able to compose and light this Smith & Wesson hunting knife to a stunning final image. The original idea of the shoot was to illustrate the simple task of taking great product shots for use of selling something online or promoting a new piece you may have made. The great eye-opener in this tutorial is the before shot taken with an obvious direct flash and little thought to the composition. This shows what a majority of product photos look like for small business owners who are selling online.

Tilo does a great job breaking down the list of lights used and illustrates in a behind-the-scenes photo how using paper can diffuse and reflect the light. Below is a little more explanation to each light source as he set it up.

LIGHT SOURCE NO. 1 (coming from the left): The blade needs a rim-light on the upper edge. That light should be oriented in a way, that each of the three different planes of the blade’s cut comes out in another brightness, to make the cut clearly visible. Furthermore the writing on the blade should be clear and readable.

LIGHT SOURCE NO.2 (coming from the backside): The second light helps to illuminate the upper edge of the grip and the curved little pattern in the grip plate.

LIGHT SOURCE NO. 3 (coming from the right): The third and last light serves as grazing light to show the emblem on the grip. It also gives a nice shadowing along the grip.

I tested different angles and also used translum foil (from Modulor) to get a nice gradation across the knife’s surfaces. For the warm-cold contrast I used a halogen light from the back and two cool white LED torchlights from the sides. Lamps and foil are fixated using little clamps from the hardware store.


  1. Halogen lamp (IKEA)
  2. LED torchlights (LED Lenser P7)
  3. Translumfoil from Modulor.de
  4. Smartphone on a tripod (remote triggered using the earphone cable)


Below is another fantastic shot with a very similar setup, but different product. Simply changing the lighting angles along with the textured background is all that's needed.

Be sure to check out more work by Tilo on his blog as he continues to push the limits of the iPhone!

[via Photigy]

Andrew Griswold's picture

Andrew Griswold is a photographer and designer based in Indianapolis. Born and raised in Indy he has made a name for himself by staying very active in the creative community in both photography and design. He has also founded a community of photographers via Instagram connecting them with brands to work with and shoot locally.

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Ok.. Wicked photographer.

Stuff like this inspires me to create, especially seeing what can be done with limited tools. Awesome work.

Experience is sometimes more important than the equipment you use! You can do this with any phone with a high quality camera.

Maybe I missed it, but what did he use to raise the knife off of the surface? Great shots!

Good question.

Very nice!

Details, details... :-)

wow... nice

I just don't understand how you get that much detail out of an iPhone. Every single photo I take with my iPhone looks like complete dogsh*t....bad light...good light...it doesn't matter. I'm starting to think mine is broken or something when I see stuff like this.

Ha! I have people that have to send pictures of equipment from remote offices so i can see the model numbers because they can never find them. one person I ask to do it, has a recent phone with a decent camera. EVERY SINCE SHOT taken with it is blurry and out of focus. I am dumbfounded every time i get something from her. I think it has to do with a steady hand, it has to! What happens if you lay the phone on a flat surface and take a picture?

I'll give it a shot but everything comes out grainy with poor detail on my iPhone 4s. It looks like my first consumer digital camera from ~2000 which was a Fuji FinePix....took pretty bad photos compared to what we have now.

try wiping the front lens, and take it out of the case... that usually helps

I showed it to my fellows and we are sure this could be a great topic for the next meeting in our agency ! :-)

This just depresses me as a photographer, especially the last comment from an agency. All you need is a (profanity) iphone! It just encourages clients to dispense with photographers and their mega expensive equipment and fees! Why pay them when I can just use my phone?

Admittedly the results are impressive (damn it!) and it isn't going to go on a billboard, but! I'm just going to sit in front of my computer and wait for the phone to ring, 'Do you shoot on an iphone?' No, I have a Blackberry. Oh! OK, Sorry!

I don't want to be negative, I'm just not sure we should be selling the nails for our coffin!

Blackberry? That is your problem right there.

You're probably right! Benefit is I don't have to replace it as a fashion accessory every 6 months! :-)

There are talented drivers of cars on the road driving fast street cars. Do you think those cars will soon replace closed or open wheels cars on the racing circuit or would the racing teams recognize that the driver is the one wielding the controls and is able to make the car perform the way it does? I wouldnt worry about a guy with iphone or rebel taking away professional gigs.

You're right too! I feel it may erode the perceived value of a photograph though? I may be wrong as well. We face the onslaught of new equipment daily, 4K this, 60MP that, and then some uber talented guy appears with his iphone! Just one of those days!
Now where did I put that 300mm f1.2 lens for my Blackberry? :-)

yes it was an iPhone (which everyone has), but not everyone has the knowledge of good lighting setups or creative ideas. And Rob's car example is one i use all the time

I don't think the make and model of a camera is that important when it comes to taking a photograph (it's good to know what it was taken with and what setup, but not enough to put it as a headline over the actual photo) - otherwise we should start every thread with "Stunning photo taken with a D700 or 5D etc." (Why is it still so important with phone photography I don't know or is having a good picture taken with a phone (especially an iphone) a sign of "having made it"?)
The headline should be about the great lighting setup used and the message about not needing costly equipment to get fantastic shots if you have creativity, skill and vision.

Impressive. Also proves a point!

Thanks so much folks for the nice words, I appreciate it! The text above is a short version of the shoot, you can find a more detailed version , including more making-of-shots in the gallery, via http://www.photigy.com/product-photography-using-your-smartphone-the-lig...

Absolutely brilliant Tilo, thank you for sharing...

Of course Tilo! An fantastic BTS. I left the link at the bottom so more could be seen there. Thanks for repsoting the link for folks in the comments.

Amazing. Great work Tilo. You just inspired me

How many times will have to be said, the camera doesn't matter! Agencies don't hire the camera, they hire the photographer who has ability to light and style a product to their specifications. Then, take it to post and create something amazing. Cameras just record, they don't create.................

Is the article because it was done with a phone sensor, or because it's the iPhone?! Sick tired of hearing about this phone, like the others were less capable. God damn it, i will make something cool with my android phone that shoots RAW!!

Brilliant article, thanks Tilo and Andrew!

@ Paulo Macedo : I used the iphone for several reasons: (1) I have one (2) lots of people have one (and so can relate) (3) it is the worst camera I know :-)))) (sorry, Steve J.)
So afaik any other smartphone can do better, and so: if you want to show, that nice images can be shot with even a bad cam, it is a good choice :-)

btw.: some people questioned the reasonableness of that little project ...
To me, this is not reasonable, just pure fun. But if you want some reason: I did a similar project with the iPhone years ago, and then and now I experienced so much feedback (mostly good, some stuff from haters, but that's ok, too) . So, in other words, one reason for little projects like this could be to get a lot of feedback and attention. Works perfectly. :-)

But for me, it just has to be fun ..., the less reason and meaning the better :-) :-)

This is just hard for me to wrap my head around! I have a 4S and I guess I'm just not using it right. haha. Super impressed with these!

Good photography, good lighting but why would one want to do table top photography with a phone. Small sensor, small pixels. When working (before I retired) I always shot large. I never knew how an image was going to be used. A photo would go into a brochure and then a six foot stand up at a convention.

this is the best "on a budget" tutorial fstoppers has ever put out... thats all... i wander if this is scale-able for a fashion shoot... lol :)

Absolutely incredible. I don't have any soft boxes or continuous lights and this inspires me to play with what I have. Thanks for the inspiration.

I think the word "stunning" is very subjective.

And that's not being a negative Nelly here. In THIS case where a knife was the object, it's a good shot on a knife. In the world of product images as a whole? Not so much.

Clients that have real campaigns and real product lines couldn't and wouldn't buy into it. This 1 image could not be considered for an overall expectation of output every time.

Man, no wonder we're going extinct. I miss the days that would have been shot with an 8x10, elaborate lighting, art director, stylist, and a ton of hype. Plus, we would have made $700 for doing the shot. Sometimes, I'm glad I'm old.

Awesome result! Here's mine with iPhone 6

AWESOME, inspirational shot.. I would like to try this project on my own.. Trying to find locations to buy the items you listed..BUT, unable to find the transom foil, even from the site Modulor.de . I do a search on ransom foil and many items come up except... When I do a search on the Internet for ransom foil.. only LARGE sheets are available... Does that mean I would have to get a LARGE sheet of ransom foil and cut it up into smaller pieces ?? Thanks again for a wonderful post !!

What a perfect photography! Use of lights and the arrangement inspired me a lot.

I love it! Creative and ingenious, you can see the love and drive for his work!