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Home Lighting The Ultimate Guide to DIY Product Photography Lighting

The Ultimate Guide to DIY Product Photography Lighting

DIY product photography lighting is easier than you might think. You can put together a home studio with items from around the house. You can make good use of natural light and any electric light source.

A well-lit, well-photographed product is going to sell it. If your professional product is out of focus, too small in the frame, or poorly exposed, people will pay no attention to it. An eye-catching professional product photo of a well-lit item will capture people’s attention and interest. Whether you intend to publish your product images on social media, an online store, or any e-commerce platform, this article will help get you started.

Before we read the copy, we look at product images. If the product photo is not appealing, we don’t even begin to read. The sale is lost. Having a great product is irrelevant if your DIY photography looks like it was taken with a point and shoot. To be able to sell, you must first be able to present a great picture of a quality product, or at least make it look like it is.

cold water bottle.
Macro shot of an amber colored glass bottle with condensation. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Lighting is a Key Aspect of Product Photography

One of the key aspects of product photography is good lighting. Being able to control the lighting allows you more flexibility than you are probably used to having when you take photos. If we rely on window light, we don’t have much or any ability to manipulate it. 

Setting up to use artificial light, reflectors, and even making use of window light, you can create a professional studio-like environment. Keep reading and you’ll learn what you can use for lights and reflectors. You’ll also learn how to balance and control the light to capture professional-looking product photos.

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Most hobby photographers don’t set up lights and learn to manage them to create a particular look for their photos. This is imperative for good product photography. Without well thought out lighting, your product photos will not capture the attention you want them to.

You must look at the shadows and highlights. Understanding how the strength of light affects the appearance of your products helps you manage the lighting better. If you place your product in direct sunlight you’ll get harsh shadows. You’ll need to use a white foam board or fill light to throw light back onto your product to reduce the contrast levels.

The best DIY light setups will not cause unwanted reflections from your product. Knowing what to do when you encounter problems with reflections will make for cleaner, more appealing photographs.

Close up Image of a pink rose with DIY Lighting.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

What Types of Lights Can You Use for DIY Product Photography?

You can use any type of light you like for DIY product photography lighting. Some are better than others. Obviously, high-quality studio strobes are the choice of professionals, but most people don’t want to fork out that kind of money for something they probably won’t use that often, even if they do have the space to use it in.

Window Light

Working with window light, a white background and a few sheets of white foam board may be all you need to get started. Window light is often strong enough so you can achieve a good depth of field. Using a white paper background and reflectors may be all you need. 

However, setting up next to a window may not be so practical. You might not have enough room to move around or be able to get light behind the product. You’ll be limited on how many different angles you can take photos from.

Natural light outdoors can be great for taking product photos with. The drawback of doing this is that you are at the mercy of the weather. One minute it could be cloudy, the next you may experience bright sunshine or rain. 

If your in a location where you can take product photos outside you do have the advantage of it being a completely free light source. You may not need to spend anything on lighting your product.

Household Lamps

Household lamps are very practical for use lighting your product photography. Two lights fitted with daylight, high wattage bulbs are a great place to start for your DIY product photography lighting kit. Using daylight bulbs means you will have a good white balance and avoid having to alter it in post production.

Your typical reading lamp bulb will not provide the best light. Use the brightest white balanced bulbs you can. This is because you will be filtering the light so that it’s softer and produces a more appealing looking shadow. It will also allow you to use a narrower aperture to obtain a deeper depth of field.

Fluorescent and LED bulbs are best because they can be very bright and give off very little heat. When you’re working close to a bunch of hot lights things can get pretty sticky rather quickly.

lighting with lamps.

Flashlights

LED flashlights are great for helping to illuminate your product photography. As with lamps and any other lighting, the brighter the better. Cheap LED flashlights will only serve to frustrate you. A good, powerful flashlight with a rechargeable battery, can be positioned easily and directed at specific areas of your product photography set-up.

Handyman Work Lights

If you’re a bit of a handyman, or your partner or dad is, you may have some handyman work lights available to you. These are often high powered LED lights that are lightweight and not heavy. Usually, they’ll pack more of a punch than a regular household lamp.

One of two powerful work lights can be managed to provide enough light for your product photos and for the background. This type of light is ideal for illuminating a white backdrop for very crisp, clean-cut product photos. 


LED Video Lights

These LED panels are very popular with video producers. You may not have one around home, but they are inexpensive and available to order online. They are battery powered or you can plug them in.

A good LED video light will come with a diffuser and one or two color temperature filters. The light output is also adjustable, so this gives you control over how much light you are throwing at your products.

LED lights for product photography.
A closeup view of several LED video camera mount lights.

Flash

Many photographers have a flash they don’t often use. A good flash is going to produce more light than most continuous light sources, so this is one strong reason to learn to use it. 

With DIY product photography, you can set up and then work on the lighting until you get it right. This is an ideal situation to learn to become confident using your flash. You can experiment as much as you like and test as often as you need to.

Continuous lighting is easier to set up because you can see where the shadows. You can also see which surfaces are reflecting light and causing glare. With the light from a flash, it’s not so easy. You have to take some test images and then check to see where the reflections and shadows appear. This is not so difficult once you have tried it for a while and get used to managing your flash.

Your flash has many power settings you can adjust. This gives you a great deal of control over the output. Because the flash is so powerful you can diffuse the light from it in many different ways. This provides you with more opportunities to produce the results you want.

If you are able to use your flash off-camera, this affords you even more advantages. You can place your flash in any position you like when it’s not fixed to your camera. Some camera systems allow you to fire the flash off-camera with no extra accessories. Other systems require the use of a trigger on the camera and a receiver on the flash.

Off camera flash for photographing products.
Off camera flash.

Product Photography Lighting Techniques

Once you have your lighting organized you then need to develop some solid techniques to manage it well. First, you must know what you want to achieve with your lighting. What style will best suit the product and help sell it? When you have decided this you can go about setting up your lights for the result you want.

Choose a location, either close to a natural light source or away from daylight if you don’t want it illuminating your products. Then position your lights and white foam reflectors to obtain the lighting look you want. You are working in three-dimensional space to create lighting for a two-dimensional photograph. Where you place your main light and fill light affects the outcome.

Having your lights closer to your product illuminates them with a softer light. Shadows are less intense. The further away your lights are, the stronger they need to be and the harder the shadows appear. Lights to the left throw shadows to the right. Lights high up above your product create a different look to lights positioned low in relation to your subject.

Bouncing light or diffusing it in other ways softens it and also reduces its strength. The larger surface you bounce light off, the softer it appears on your subject. This look usually works well with product photography. But it can be challenging to manage if your lights are not powerful enough. 

Diffusing your lights by placing something translucent in front of them also diminishes their strength. It improves the quality of light but reduces the quantity. 

Bringing your lights so they are close to your subject means the illumination is stronger, but it can make it difficult to work with your lights very close. This is why it’s best to have more powerful lights.

macro photo of a DIY lit oil capsule.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Choosing a Background For DIY Product Photography

The type of background you choose not only affect your composition, but it can also influence how the light looks. 

A white paper background is the most popular background for a nice clean image of your product. Using a white background you will find it can reflect light back onto your product. This can create problems or it can be to your advantage.

white backdrop.
White backdrop for photographing products.

With a white background it’s often preferable to have little or no shadow. This clean look will make a great looking product photo, but it can be challenging to remove all shadows, especially if you are only using light from a window.

You’ll need to experiment a lot to obtain the best light to create a shadow less product photo on a white background. But once you have figured out the best light to make this happen, you can re-create it for any product image you want to take.

If you use a white background, fill light is the key to reducing or eliminating shadows. Well positioned fill light will not negatively affect the light on your product. It is aimed at the shadows and helps to manage them.

coffee beans.
Macro shot of three coffee beans. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Problems with DIY Product Photography Set-Up at Home

Setting up to do product photography at home is easy to do. You don’t need to have a studio full of expensive lighting equipment. One key thing to learn is to overcome lighting problems when they arrive. Problem-solving is a big part of any studio photography work.

Having control over where you place your lights and the quality of the light means you have many decisions to make. Taking photos only using daylight, you are not facing so many choices because you can’t do much to manage the sun. 

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Once you’ve chosen where to set up your products to photograph and your lights, run a few test photos. Study these carefully, preferably on your computer monitor. Being able to view them larger than on your camera monitor will help you see what’s happening with the lighting.

You need to identify problem areas and fix them. For product photography lighting these are mainly in two categories, shadows and reflections. Are your shadows too dark or too light? Is there light reflecting off a shiny product in such a way that it’s not clear? Can you read the labels on what you are photographing?

Experimentation will teach you how to avoid unwanted shadows and reflections. Whether you are aiming for a bright, high-key lighting look or a more dark and moody low-key look, you need to ensure your product is easily recognizable. Don’t leave important aspects, like a label, in the shadows or obscured by a bright reflection.

Moving lights and\or the products will alter how the light interacts. Sometimes it may require a slight adjustment of one thing. At other times you might spend hours getting the light looking perfect on a product. Controlling your camera well using manual mode will also help.

bottle of Beer.
Macro photo of a bottle being opened. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Product Photography Set Up Equipment

To help you achieve the lighting style you want, you’ll need accessories. Tape, clips, clamps, and a flexible mind for problem-solving. Every well-established photography studio has a collection of props that never appear in photos. These are used for propping things up. Often to the light will look right.

A range of various sized clips and clamps will allow you to hold diffusers and reflectors in place. I often prefer using these than tape as they do not leave a sticky residue that is problematic when working in a hot climate. Sometimes tape may be the only practical option, so it pays to have a good quality tape that’s strong enough.

A box of black and white card cut to various sizes is an essential part of a product photographer’s kit. These can be used to reflect and to block light. You can also place pieces of card strategically to manage the reflection off shiny products like bottles and glasses.

Blu-tack is another crucial accessory for product photography. It’s not sticky, but it sticks. And it’s lightweight. You can use it to prop things up or hold two pieces of card together. It can be placed under products to adjust the angle they sit at. This can often help avoid an unwanted reflection.

Aluminum foil is another household product that comes in handy as a DIY product lighting accessory. This can be spread over card to act as a brighter reflector. It can also be used as a background that will help reflect light.

A good tripod for your camera is another important accessory. Holding your camera stable by hand is not always possible because you may have to use a slow shutter speed. 

product photo with dark background.
Bottles of beer against a black background. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Imaginative Thinking Makes DIY Product Photography Successful

Use your imagination and camera when faced with lighting challenges as you set up and take product images at home. Thinking outside the box helps you develop your experience and will teach you to achieve the types of photos you want.

DIY product lighting is as much about problem solving as it is about what you are using to illuminate your products. However many products you have to photograph, it pays to spend time to get your lighting set up well. Check it and test it. Make sure you are getting the type of photo that will best show off your ecommerce product.

If you have a range of similar products to photograph, you may only need one lighting setup. Once you’re ready, you won’t have to change it significantly. Photographing a variety of products poses more challenges. If some of your product is dark and shiny and other of it is light fabric or another not reflective surface, you’ll have more work to do. Both in lighting and post production.

Top DIY Lighting Tip

Once you have your lights set up to produce photos that make your product really pop, step back and use another camera or your phone to photograph everything. Capture some wide-angle photos of your hard work so you can replicate it next time. Make sure your main camera is in the image also. All you’ll have to do is check the setup photo and position your lights and product the same way. This will save you tons of time.

tea set on the table.
DIY Lighting on tea set. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

FAQs

What type of lighting is best for product photography?

The style of light your choose for your products depends on taste. The look you want to achieve can often be achieved in many different ways for your images. Using professional camera and lighting equipment is always going to make the job of making a great photo much easier. If you are stuck using the light from the window, you have less control and you have to work harder to get high quality images.

If your aim is to share your images only on social media, it may be tempting to settle for less than the highest quality professional camera gear and lights. This is fine and I hope this article has helped you see that you can do a whole lot without having to purchase expensive camera and lighting equipment.

How Do You Get Good Lighting For Product Photos?

Being in control of the light is most important for product images. If you are using light from the window only, you then need to use white foam board to fill in and avoid harsh shadows. When you have one or two lights you can more easily manage shadows and reflections in your images. 

Working with more than one light source you need to make sure the white balance of each is the same so you don’t have problems with color casts in your photo. The more you can control the light, the better images you’ll be able to create.

Are LED Lights Good For Product Photography?

Yes, LED lights are good for product photography images. They are cheap and relatively easy to control because you can see the effect of the light before you even take a photo. You don’t have to use your camera to see how the light will look, as you do when you are using a flash.

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KevinLJ
Kevin bought his first camera in the early 1980s and started working in the photography department of a daily newspaper a few years later. His whole career is focused on photography and he's covered a multitude of subjects. He loves to photograph people the most. During the past decade, Kevin has begun to teach and write more, sharing his passion for photography with anyone who's willing to learn.

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Help us grow

Did you learn anything? Maybe consider giving a small donation 🙂

We’ll get straight to the point. To keep quality high, we work together with the best photographers in the world. As a company, we are spending a lot of money to give our writers a fair compensation. 

To stay online and become better in what we do, we depend on contributions and some products we sell. If everyone who enjoyed reading the above article gave just a little, we could keep Photographycourse.net thriving for years to come. The price of a cup of coffee is all we ask.

We know that most people will ignore this message. But if photographycourse.net is useful to you, please consider donating $2, $5, $10 or whatever you can to protect and sustain Photographycourse.net. 

Thanks,

Domien Van Eynde 

CEO Photographycourse.net

$
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Donation Total: $5.00

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