One-Light Product Photography

Given the global pandemic of COVID-19 (and the year that shall not be named), I very quickly found out that I am indeed, contrary to previously held opinions, an extrovert (and not an introvert). But given the situation, I wasn’t photographing people. What could I make that would work well with the images I already create? I do quite a bit of fashion and beauty work, so why not products that go with those?

I rummaged around the house, and using things I already had and used, built up a very rudimentary (and very small) portfolio of product images. Now, I’m still very much learning, but I did want to share a few things I’ve picked up along the way as well as how I went about it.

The first few times I tried this, I didn’t have the easiest time in the world, because you really want to make deliberate movements. I’d definitely recommend a good sturdy tripod as well as a tether system if you don’t have one already.

Well, coming from a background of portraiture, photography really is all about light and material behavior. How will light behave hitting specific surfaces? Darker surfaces need more light, metallic surfaces reflect more light, etc.

The Process

From here, it really was about setting up one light at a time to get the desired result.

I started by composing my image. I placed my bottle on a piece of slate I picked up at the local hardware store for super cheap. I think it was only like $10. I chose this setup because I didn’t want to spend too much money, but also because I feel the monochrome of the bottle goes well with the overall image.

I used a towel so the stone wouldn’t move, but also to protect the table I was working on.

I placed a single light camera left in a way so as to provide a wrap around the body of the bottle. I used a small softbox on my flash head. The main thing to keep in mind with product images is that you want to create something that jumps of the page. You want to a three-dimensionality in a flat image.

Then, I carefully positioned my black foam core using clamps as a background. B&H has a range of clamps and boards available, so it's definitely worth checking out a size that suits your needs. I used A4 size.

From here, I introduced a white reflector on camera right to provide fill and lighten up the other side of the bottle.

Two more pieces of foam core were introduced to darken the background a bit. These were placed in a way so that some light still spilled on the background.

The Final Image

The final image is a composite of a few images, borrowing bits and pieces of highlights in Photoshop and blended using layer masks and luminosity settings.

Conclusion

Lighting an image really isn’t some magical process. It’s small steps, one at a time, to try to figure out how best to present something. Instead of saying “I’m done,” perhaps a better question to ask is: “what else can I do here to make this image better?”

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