A basic product photography lighting setup consists of three key components:
There are countless ways you can set up your lighting for product photography. The setup that's best for your products will depend on the type of item you're photographing and the overall look you want to achieve.
It can all get a bit confusing.
Keep in mind, the fundamental configurations you'll use to light your product photos all come down to some arrangement of the three elements: light source, reflector, and (possibly) diffuser.
To keep things simple, we'll examine three simple product photography lighting setups:
These setups will give you a solid starting point. You can experiment from there.
When you place your light source to one side of the item you're photographing, you have side lighting. Your product will be lit on one side with shadows falling on the opposite side.
From this starting point, you can refine and experiment with your side lighting setup.
If you want to soften the shadows that fall on the unlit side of the product, add a diffuser between the light source and the product.
The light will become more evenly spread out as it passes through the diffuser, and harsh, heavy shadows in your scene will become softer.
If you want to add more light to the side of the scene that's facing way from the light source, place a reflector on that side of the scene facing the light source.
Light from your light source will hit the reflector, bounce off of it, and fall back into the scene you're photographing. Bouncing this light back into your scene with a reflector will increase the amount of light available to your camera and minimize shadows so they appear softer and less distracting.
If you're using artificial light, try adding a second light. Place it on the opposite side of your product, facing in the direction of the first light source.
A second light placed on the opposite side of your product will balance the light so both sides of the product will be lit evenly and shadows are eliminated. This lighting setup can work well in white background light box product photography.
Start with your light at a 90 degree angle from the camera, directly facing the side of your product, then experiment with the direction of the light.
Move the light source so it's positioned anywhere from about 90 to 130 degrees from the camera. Notice how the shadows change as you move the light.
Moving the reflector will change the angle at which light is bounced back onto your subject, which will change the look of your photo.
Start with your reflector directly facing your light source, and then experiment with the reflector's position and angle to find a look you like.
The height at which you position your light will affect the shadows.
When your light source is lower, shadows will be longer. When your light is placed higher and aimed down toward your product, you'll get shorter shadows like you'd see in nature.
When your light source is at the back of the product, you have back lighting.
Back lighting is an effective, dramatic way to light translucent items like glass. In a basic back lighting setup, you'll place your light source behind the product, and set up a diffuser between the light source and the product.
Try adding a white foam board reflector in front of your product to bounce some light onto one side of the front of your subject.
Alternatively, you can add two reflectors, one on each side of the scene, placed just out of the camera's view. Two reflectors will bounce light back onto both sides of your product to create a more balanced and symmetrical look.
Keep in mind, if you're photographing something reflective, like glass, you'll need to be careful with the placement of your foam boards. They can create unwanted reflections, in which you can see the foam board reflected on your product in the photo.
It's a good idea to take a test photo and examine it carefully to ensure you haven't created any unwanted reflections before you proceed.
When your light source is positioned directly beside the camera, you have front lighting.
Typically, sidelight or backlight will be a better option for product photography. With front lighting, the shadows fall behind the product, which can make your image look flat.
Different types of surfaces react differently to light, so you may want to give a front lighting setup a try and see how your products look. If you're not thrilled with the results, try switching to side lighting, which is more universally effective product photography lighting.