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
  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]

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Previous comments
Tilo Gockel's picture

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 :-) :-)

Kristi Woody's picture

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!

David Adamson's picture

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.

steven tippett's picture

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 :)

Michael Sjogren's picture

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.

John Skinner's picture

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.

frank simon's picture

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.

Andrey Mikhaylov's picture

Awesome result! Here's mine with iPhone 6

ramon negron's picture

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 . 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 !!

Pranali Teli's picture

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

Adolph Cabanas's picture

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