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