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

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

Dramatic lighting

The hard light gives a dramatic look n feel

One light source is all that was used for this lighting setup.

Another great contribution from photographer Pedro Moreno.

The camera had a WB in Flash,  Canon 5D MK II, 24-70mm, Aperture F 5.6, shutter 1/125, ISO 400.  Main light Canon 580EXII with a grid. My assistant was up high and pointing down the speedlight on to my subject.

Reflector and natural light

Lighting setup and lighting diagram

Cecilie Harris tells us how she took this photo using only a window and a reflector: – “Shot indoor at the Ragged School Museum that provides a lot of natural light coming in through windows and even holes in the ceiling. This image was shot for my “Boys by Girls” project (www.boysbygirls.co.uk) for the first coffee table book for this project.
When I have enough daylight to play with that comes in even if I’m shooting on an indoor location, I really prefer using the natural light I have. So I tend to adapt my outdoor techniques indoor. If I don’t have enough light, then I will bring with me my lighting kit. But for those who follow my work, they’ll know I’m addicted to what you can do with natural light and bouncing that around, be it using reflectors or reflective surfaces.”

Natural light photography using a window and a reflector

Natural light FTW!

Lighting diagram of the window and the reflector

Cecilie Harris gives us the details for this lighting setup:

– Shot indoor at the Ragged School Museum that provides a lot of natural light coming in through windows and even holes in the ceiling. This image was shot for my “Boys by Girls” project (www.boysbygirls.co.uk) for the first coffee table book for this project.

One-light beauty setup

A while ago I got this video tutorial from Santa Ana based photographer Sean Armenta. It’s a simple one-light beauty setup that gives stunning results.

There is no lighting diagram in this tutorial, but Sean explains very clearly how to set up the light, so you can easily use this lighing setup yourself.

There are also some other useful tips about make up, digital image editing and more. Enjoy!

Check out Sean’s blog for more inspiration and information about lighting and photography.

Beauty dish portrait lighting setup

Fashion designer Zac Posen looks good in the light of a beauty dish.

Beauty dish portrait lighting diagram

Mattias Olsson gives us a great portrait lighing setup, using a beauty dish as keylight. There is also a bare strobe bounced in the ceiling to achieve a good omni lighting at the location.

On location portrait lighting setup

Portrait of swedish actress Nina Zanjani. All the red household objects go well with the warm light from the lamp. The key light is from the strobe though.

Diagram for on location portrait lighting setup

Here is a great portrait lighting setup from New York based photographer Mattias Olsson. All you need is one strobe and a white wall to bounce the light.