December 01, 2018
Beginner’s Guide to Studio Lighting for Product Photography

Online shops face a unique challenge in that they need to convince customers to make a purchase without the opportunity to try before they buy.

Brick-and-mortar stores attract shoppers with decorative storefronts and displays. Seasonal decor and interesting store layouts create an experience for customers as they shop.

But online shops have to wow customers using a different method — one that sparks that same instant jolt of curiosity that comes with walking through a physical store.

Visuals are everything when it comes to online shopping. Just as a customer would walk into a store to look at the items in the window display, having supreme product photos instantly grabs a customer’s attention and encourages them to shop your store.

The reality: images can make or break a purchase. According to Forbes, the average customer forms a first impression within seven seconds. Some psychological research indicates this happens in even less time — a mere tenth of a second.

Stellar product photography does more than draw attention to your product. It also helps provide visual context for your customers as they shop and makes your website seem more legitimate. In an era of cheaply produced knock-offs and spammy products, high-quality original photos add ethos to your site and help show visitors you’re the real deal.

So what do you need to know about studio lighting for product photography? This guide will walk you through the steps to create eye-catching product photos in studio light. Let’s dive in.

What Is Product Photography?

First things first: what is product photography?

Product photography uses several techniques to highlight a product in a way that draws in customers and encourages purchases.

Essentially, product photography lets the customer get as close as they can to seeing the product in real life. Instead of using filters, unique angles, or distracting backgrounds, product photography captures the product as it is.

Lighting: The Difference Between Good and Bad Product Photography

Before you start snapping pictures of your product, understanding the ins and outs of what makes a quality product photo can help you produce your desired shot.

These product photos of a pair of Kodiak women’s boots from REI are excellent examples of proper product photography.

In addition to the multiple-image views, the images adhere to good lighting principles by incorporating key lights, fill lights, and backlights while photographing.

  • Key lights are the main source of light pointed directly at the product.
  • Fill lights are low-intensity lights placed on the opposite side of the camera from the key light.
  • Backlights are lights placed behind and above the product to make the product stand out from the background.

Having these types of lights in place ensures the product is shown in sharp detail, and with minimal shadows, to create crisp, professional-looking images.

As a contrast, bad product photography would make it challenging for shoppers to see detail, understand dimensions, and get a full grasp of how the product really looks.

Now, let’s talk about studio lighting.

Understanding Studio Lighting

Studio lighting gives the photographer more control over — you guessed it — the light over an image. Natural light is trickier to photograph because it’s continually changing and requires quick camera setting adjustments to keep your photos consistent; it can be helpful to have a mix of both studio lighting and natural light photographs to really sell the product.

Studio light offers the same consistent lighting with any photo no matter the time of day and without having to modify your camera settings. This ability to control the lighting and create more consistency between your shots is one of the reasons why it’s optimal for product photography.

How To Create High-Quality Product Photos in a Studio Setting

With the right equipment, you can create stunning visuals for your online store that will seize the attention of your customers.

To get started shooting high-quality product photos in a studio setting, you’ll need:

  • A camera
  • A tripod
  • A white or solid-colored backdrop (optional but recommended)
  • A table or a flat surface (preferably one that’s movable)
  • A reflector card
  • A studio space or an area where light can be easily controlled
  • Studio lights or a beginner lighting kit with basic lighting equipment

Next, it’s time to set up.

Setting up your photo studio

Step One: Set Up Your Area

Before you begin snapping away, take the time to set up your space so the photos are primed for the desired result. Move the table or flat surface to an area of the studio that gives you space to adjust the camera, fit the products, and fit the backdrop — like right against a wall.

Cut off any external light sources (like a window) before you start shooting to prevent any corruption. Otherwise, you might find yourself having to make constant adjustments depending on the outside light which defeats the purpose of having studio lighting.

Step Two: Set Up Your Background

Next, place your white backdrop behind and under the product. Make sure it sits from the front of the table closest to the camera, under the product, and up against the wall. This is known as the “sweep” in that your backdrop sweeps down under and behind the image up against the wall.

If you’re photographing smaller items, consider purchasing a seamless backdrop from Amazon or a lighting box that creates a smaller-scale photography studio environment.

Place the product in the center of the backdrop and leave space for the reflector card to sit. The reflector card will work to fill in all the shadows the product may cast. Move the card around until you get your desired look.

Step Three: Set Up Your Camera

Put your camera on the tripod and move it to the desired length away from your table setup. Adjust your camera settings and make sure your product is in focus. Double-check to make sure there are no external light sources and that your camera settings are correct for the image you’d like to take. No one wants to photograph their products only to learn later that all of their shots are inconsistent.

Step Four: Test Your Setup

Finally, take a few test photos to gauge what adjustments you need to make. This is a great opportunity to play around with your camera settings and determine what makes your product look its best. To be safe, take a moment to test the lighting during this time as well.

If you’re new to photography, it may take a few tries to nail down the image you’re envisioning. Play around with different setups and see which configuration yields your perfect product photo.

Common Mistakes in Product Photography

As we mentioned above, there are a few key differentiators that separate good product photography from bad product photography. Avoid these common mistakes and you’ll be on your way to creating excellent product photos.

Product Isn’t in Focus

If the product isn’t in focus when you look at your shots, the F-stop on your camera is probably set too low. Switch to the automatic setting on your camera or increase your F-stop until you find the right setting for your light levels.

Images Are Washed Out

If your photos look too washed out, your camera is letting in too much light, and the aperture on your camera needs to be smaller. Again, if you’re not comfortable experimenting with different camera settings, try using the automatic or ‘program’ mode and take advantage of the camera’s automated settings.

Too Many Shadows

If you find that your products look too shadowy in the photos, you likely need to add more fill lights or backlighting. Rearrange or add more lights to cut down on shadows.

Your Images Matter

There’s no denying it — images are a fundamental component of the online shopping experience you create for your customers, but to see results in the form of conversions, brand loyalty, and referrals, your online store must be cohesive. What better way to do that than with product photography?

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