DIY product photography lighting setup on a budget

This was one of my first product shots ever from waaay back in time, but I want to put it here because it can inspire new photographers to experiment with very simple equipment and get started on a tight budget. I had just bought my first digital  DSLR – Canon EOS 300D aka Canon Digital Rebel with the kit lens.

I was pretty new to photography at the time. I had a some experience of shooting with analog film, and also shooting a lot with digital compact cameras, but not with a DSLR. So I didn’t shoot RAW at the time, which is absolutely necessary for professional digital photography.  I did many misstakes and lots of learning by doing.  This was not an assignment for a client, I was just experimenting at home in a very small apartment with DIY equipment and a tight budget.

The most experimental aspect of this product lighting setup is that I lit up the bottle with a flashlight from underneath. I put a sheet of acrylic glass (plexi glass) on a card board box. I made a small hole in the box, right under the bottle, so the flashlight could shine right through the stage of acrylic glass, and luminate the bottle. This specific product was frosty matte in its finish, which give a more even glowing effect.

You can use this technique for all kinds of bottles and product photography of other transparent objects. I have later on used it even for beer bottles made of colored glass and it gives a very warm glow.

For more inspiration of great product photography using a flashlight, check out Magnus Svenssons paint with light product photography.

The lighting setup

The background was lit up with a Canon Speedlight 550EX. I might have used a home made snoot for speed lights that I made of black straws and some black card board.

The speed light was placed next to the card board box, facing the backdrop (which was just a wrinkly sheet of paper). I don’t remember if I used a home made DIY snoot on my speed light or if i just had it as is.

The blue color tint is made from the different color temperatures of the flashlight and the speedlight flash. So no gel filter or equivalent is used.

I did also use the cameras built in flash from the front, mainly to trigger the speedlight, and not so much for exposure, because then the bottle would be overexposed and I would lose that glowing effect that I wanted to achieve.

I used a long shutter time to get a balance between the flashlight under the bottle and the speed light on the background.

I didn’t own a proper tripod at the time, so I put the camera on a bunch of books so it got the right height in relation to the height of the cardboard box with the pixie glass. As you can see on the unedited product photo the horizon is severely tilted, and the reflection of the bottle too.

There are so many things that could be improved in this product photography.

I didn’t put the bottle facing straight to the camera so the text is not symmetrically centered. The focus is on the high contrast circular logo, so the text on the front of the bottle got slightly out of focus. Since the whole product is basically back lit, the cap got a bit underexposed. 

Post processing

I have made some major post processing in Photoshop. I did mask in a more even backdrop, made with the gradient tool. I also sharpened the text on the bottle. I made the cap lighter. And finally rotated the photo a bit. Probably I did some more minor editing that I don’t remember, but these are the most obvious and prominent digital enhancements.

DIY product photography lighting diagram
Unedited version of the product photography with flashlight and speedlight

Fashion photography lighting setup with model ShellZ Zhu

This fashion photography lighting setup is from a session on location in Hong Kong, featuring ShellZ Zhu. ShellZ Zhu is a fashion model and actress in China, but she has also been seen i a few Hollywood productions.

Portable lighting setup

I didn’t have the possibility to bring my full arsenal of lighting equipment, so I had to find a lighting setup that was easy to travel with. I brought a hot shoe speedlight flash, a shoot through umbrella, a lightweight light stand and the Elinchrom Skyport radio trigger. The shoot through umbrella was actually a multifunction umbrella with one shoot through layer and one removable silverlayer that you can bounce the light in when needed, but for this photo session I used it only as a shoot through umbrella. This is really a minimalistic fashion photography lighting setup.

It was a bit cloudy that day so the daylight was soft and had no specific direction. I placed the umbrella in front of ShellZ Zhu about 45 degrees to the left. For the photo with the “catwoman stance”, the lighting setup was moved so the lighting direction came a bit closer to the camera direction. Since the models pose i lower, the light gets relatively more from above.

Portrait lighting setup with fashion model ShellZ Zhu.
Model lighting setup for almost full figure model photography with fashion model ShellZ Zhu.
Lighting diagram of portable lighting setup for model photography

Butterfly lighting setup with Denice Andrée

Butterfly lighting setup with Swedish model Denice Andrée

This is a lighting setup by swedish photographer Carl Magnus Swahn with swedish model Denice Andrée. It is actually a classic butterfly lighting setup. I think it gives a very feminin character and I find suitable for classic beauty photos. This specific setup has the soft box with angle closer to the camera lens and less from above, so the characteristic butterfly shadow under the nose is not so prominent.

The equipment for this lighting setup

The photo was shot with a Lastolite Hilite 2,5 x 2,15 m giant soft box as a background. It was lit up by two Elinchrom strobes with a red/pink-ish gel filter to get that pink background. The gradient in the background was later enhanced in Photoshop. It’s difficult to see in the lighting diagram, but the Lastolite Hilite soft box is really huge. It’s like a huge lit up backdrop that easily can cover a full figure modell.

An Elinchrome Ranger (even though it was indoors) with a large soft box above the camera pointing at Denice. There was also a table with a silver metallic rescue blanket on it, used as a giant reflector. That gives a rectangular shape of the reflector and a much nicer catch light in the eyes.

If you zoom in on the photos and take a close look at the catch light in the eyes, you can clearly see the large soft box from above as well as the reflector from underneath.

The bokeh blur was added in photoshop.

Check out Denices Youtube channel here!

The Lastolite Hilite Soft box is much larger than shown in the lighting diagram.
More photos with butterfly lighting setup with the Swedish model Denice Andrée

Fruit splash photography lighting setup

This is a setup from the swedish photographer Carl Magnus Swahn.

– I used a small aquarium filled with water, and then I simply dropped different fruits in it. I dropped the fruit with one hand and triggered the camera via remote with my other hand. It took a while to get the timing right. Between every shot there was water drops on the inside of the aquarium, so I had to wipe it before the next shot to avoid blur.

These photos are from a series of about twenty different fruits dropped in water. So there was a lot of wiping the window of the aquarium. And a lot of retakes when the timing wasn’t perfect.

If I had to do it again today, I would probably done much more in the post editing. Even for those photos I reused parts of the best splashes. The most resonable way of doing this could be taking separat photos of just the water splash and the surface, and then edit in the fruits. Then I would be able to photo all fruits from perfect angles and combine it with perfect photos of splashing water.

I used two Canon EX 550 for this shot. They burn pretty fast, so the water splash can freeze. I had one with a soft box behind the aquarium and one without modifier from the right side. On the opposite side I used a reflector. I shot many different fruits and there was many different strobe settings depending on if the fruits were light, dark, colorful etc.

The splash makes the photo a bit more interesting than a regular still life photo of fruits.
If you look closely, you can recognise parts of the splash pattern that has been reused in the photo editing.
Two Canon EX 550 were used for this shot.

Dramatic lighting setup for a model outside an ancient temple

Combined photo and lighting diagram for this beautiful scene

Here’s a new lighting setup from photographer Meggy Irawan. The strobes are used without any light modifiers. That creates a crisp and dramatic light in the scene. The temple is lit by the sun and parts of the background is slightly underexposed which makes the model more prominent.

Portrait lighting setup with a reflector and a strobe

The reflector gives a soft light and the strobe from the back adds som details.

Here's the lighting diagram for the photo above.

This is a perfect lighting setup for all you that don’t have so much equipment but still want to take professional photos. All you need is one strobe that you can fire remotely and a reflector. Indonesian photographer Meggy Irawan shows us how the it’s done.

Two models lighting setup

A dramatic low key lighting setup that goes well with the black dress. Click to see in full size.

Lighting diagram for that low key lighting setup

This is actually two photos that’s been combined in photoshop. There is a beauty dish from the front, and the room you see behind the window is lit by a strobe without a lighting modifier.