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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
– 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.
Beauty lighting setups does not have to be difficult. You can easily get professional looking beauty shots using the clam shell lighting setup.
It’s called clam shell simply because you rig two softboxes as a giant gaping clam shell. It’s hard to see in the lighting diagram because of the levitated view. It would have been better illustrated if the lighting diagram was viewed from the side. Anyway, I think you get the idea.
A common setup is to build you’re clam shell with a larger upper softbox and then a lower smaller stripbox. The upper softbox is about one stop higher than the stripbox. Using two softboxes gives you good control of the light.
Simplified clam shell lighting setup
This specific clamshell lighting is simplified a bit. I used one big softbox from above and then a big horizontal silver reflector underneath. This gives you a little less control of the light, compared to using two softboxes, but the setup is about what you want anyway. The softbox will automatically give more light than the silver reflector. You can vary the distance between the soft box and the rector to control the light a bit. You can also try with a white reflector to find a lighting setup that you like.
This is a photo portrait of the swedish professional dancer Karl Dyall. The lighting setup is very simple. The model is standing next to a big window which is about 4 feet from him on the right hand side. On the left hand side stands a silver reflector about 2 feet away. It was cloudy that day, so the light is very soft. As many of you know is the Canon EF 50/1.8 II bokeh a bit stressful, so the warm light in the background is not as smooth as I would like it.
Natural light photography
When you practice natural light photography, keep in mind that the constant light from a silver reflector can be annoying for the model if the light is too intense. It makes it difficult for the model to keep a certain facial expression, and the whole workflow for the session will be affected.
If the light from the window would have been more intense that day, or if it had been an outdoor session a sunny day, I would probably have used a white reflector instead of a silver reflector.
This is a simple yet very useful lighting setup with only two hot shoe flashes (canon 580 ex speedlite), two homemade light modifiers and a dark glossy board.
I use one honeycomb snoot on the backdrop to get more control of the light. That flash i placed under the board. I use one homemade horizontal strip softbox as a main light. That flash is mounted on my camera.
For this session I wanted a dark exclusive look n feel that harmonizes with the delicious dark coffee tones, so I used a brown backdrop and a black glossy board to put the cups on. Even though the board is dark, it will still reflect plenty of light from the background
Low budget lighting setup
First time I used this lighting setup was on an assignment when I shot some food and drinks for a restaurant i Stockholm and needed to keep the budget down.
I have reused this lighting setup many times. These specific photos is from a session when I shot some stock images for istock. Check out that lightbox.
It’s difficult to give a good ratio between the two strobes, since I have used this lighting setup on many different colored backdrops. My advice is simply to try what’s best for your specific session.