- 39x39" LitePanel Frame
- 39x39" Translucent Fabric
- OctoDome White: Small
- Photogenic Matrix Ion Kit
- 22" White/Gold LiteDisc
- LiteRoom: Medium
- Light Stand: Medium
- Canon 5D Mark III
- Canon 24-105mm Lens
As a commercial photographer based on the beautiful California coast, my neighborhood can be a huge asset in my work. I live about an hour south of San Francisco in a small farming community right off of scenic Highway 1. The surrounding beaches, forests, marshes and mountains have been excellent locations for fashion, lifestyle and beauty assignments.
I also shoot product photography on a regular basis and not every client needs their product photographed on a white background. When the assignment is editorial in nature or is going to be used for print advertising, I can get a little more creative with the art direction. It's always possible to use props in-studio to create an outdoor feel but when the weather permits, I like to get outside as nature offers some stunning background options that I don't have at my disposal in the studio.
The products I am working with for the first image are part of the Brightening Skin Care line from Burt's Bees. These products feature Daisy Extract as the active ingredient so using a location where daisies are growing is a perfect fit. Luckily I know of a field with blooming daisies right near my house.
When I head out on a location assignment I always make sure I have the following tools with me; scissors, paper towels, blue tack and gaffer's tape. These items help to secure the products where you need them and I pretty much always have my light meter with me.
Let's start with the most simple approach and use natural light only. I shot this on a sunny day in the middle of the morning so the field was very bright with natural sunlight when I arrived. I have found that when the sun is almost directly overhead, it's too bright to use without diffusion.
My favorite tools for diffusion in the field are Photoflex LitePanels. Since I was working with small bottles of lotion and soap, the 39x39" LitePanel was perfect. I secured the LitePanel frame to a stand and added translucent fabric to cut the sunlight by one full stop.
Once I had an area of diffused light under the LitePanel, I arranged the products at the edge of the shaded area. I wanted the field behind my subject to be bright and give the viewer the feeling of being in a sunny field. Using a shallow depth-of-field also created a nice bokeh effect behind the products which helped to pop them from the background. The ground itself was not perfectly flat so I used a small table top surface and some prop moss (the real thing) to blend the surface into the surroundings. Adding some fresh picked daisies was the final touch.
The final image below was captured at f4, with a shutter speed of 1/200 using ISO 100. Without diffusing the sunlight using the LitePanel, I would not have been able to create such a balanced exposure.
For the second image I used 3 products from the Burt's Bees Original Honey Skin Care line. These products featured yellow packaging and I wanted to showcase them as organic and natural so I chose an area of the field that had some small yellow flowers growing.
This time I set up in full shade so that I could have complete control over the light. Working in full shade allows me to add light from whatever direction I want using portable strobes.
For these products I used a round piece of wood as a base as the organic look was a great fit with the natural surroundings. I brought some real honeycomb to use with this shot but didn't add it until the very last moment when I had all the lighting and other styling ready to go.
As you can see from the first test shot below, natural light in open shade is very even, but can look pretty flat and uninteresting.
To add some drama to the image, I added a strobe behind the products to recreate the sun-drenched look of the field (outside of the shade). For this I used the portable Matrix/Ion Kit from Photogenic as it features my favorite modifier, the Photoflex OctoDome White soft box in the Small (3') size.
This kit is super convenient to use on-location as it includes a 400 W/S Matrix strobe, Ion battery pack, light stand and OctoDome soft box. The entire set-up is lightweight and easy to put together quickly. I also use this kit for shooting portraits, lifestyle, beauty and fashion.
The OctoDome soft boxes from Photoflex are my first choice for recreating the look of natural sunlight. The wide shape of the box throws the light in all directions and the front diffusion panel softens light output for ultra-flattering results. I placed the light directly behind my subject for an even wash of light. To give the impression of late afternoon or early morning, consider off-setting the light to one side.
In the image below I was happy with the light behind the subject but the front of the products was a little too dark. To solve this, I added a 22" LiteDisc White in front of the subjects to bounce some more light onto the product labels.
In the comparison below you can see the before/after effect as the white reflector was added. What a small step to a big improvement.
The final image has the bright and golden feel I was going for. If only a honeybee had flown by and landed on the honeycomb as I was shooting (that would have been awesome).
The final capture below was made with f5.6 with a shutter speed of 1/100 at ISO 100.
Here is a before/after comparison to show how much of a difference one light and a reflector can make. The goal of a good product shot is to catch the viewer's eye so they take a closer look. There is nothing really wrong with the image in only natural light (left) but compared to the dynamic lighting in the image with added light (right), there is no contest which is more effective for an advertisement or magazine article.
For the next set of images I changed things up by heading to the beach. Now, shooting at the beach is no picnic. Anytime you are close to the ocean there is a high probability of wind and high gusts can be tricky to work with. Sand blows around and can make working with human subjects a real challenge (bowing hair, blowing wardrobe, everything blowing).
This time around I was working with jewelry and wanted to use the beach for the natural look and interesting textures that are available. I knew there would be wind happening so instead of using a LitePanel for diffusion like I did in the field, I brought the Photoflex LiteRoom in the Medium size. I love using the LiteRoom: Medium as it scrims the light from all directions and also protects the subject from wind.
To start, I found an area of clean looking sand with a pretty green foliage. Placing the LiteRoom over this spot gave me an area of diffused light to work in with no wind. Using some small sand bags to secure the LiteRoom insured that the whole thing wouldn't blow away when I wasn't looking. Regarding placement, I usually position it with the sun behind and at an angle so that the look is not too flat.
I also found a nice piece of driftwood to pose the jewelry on. Often when I head out to shoot at the beach I don't have a set plan for props and styling. I really enjoy leaving room for creativity in the moment as it's not difficult to be inspired in such a lovely spot. There are always elements to work with such as sand, driftwood, seaweed, rocks, shells, etc.
Below you can see the first capture using sunlight only. The bright overhead angle of the sun resulted in harsh shadows and the necklace was lost in the busy surroundings.
Adding the LiteRoom to diffuse the light greatly reduced the contrast and allowed for a more balanced exposure. The frame is still somewhat busy but the colors of the jewelry come through more and you get a better feel for the piece.
The final image below was captured at f4 with a shutter speed of 1/400 at ISO 100.
For the next shot I was originally planning to shoot on a rocky surface but instead was inspired to use a big log that had been beautifully weathered over the years. I secured the LiteRoom again with the small sand bags and was ready to go.
In the first shot below using only natural light, the bronze piece of the necklace caught some glare and overall the wood surface reflected more light than I wanted.
Adding diffusion with the LiteRoom reduced the glare on the wood surface and created a more even reflection on the bronze piece. I really love the gleam that metallic surfaces have when using the LiteRoom and my jewelry clients love it too.
The final image below was captured at f5.6 with a shutter speed of 1/640 at ISO 100.
I hope this lesson inspires you to get outside and shoot some great product location images. From urban cityscapes to rural farms, there is a lot of room for creativity.
Written and photographed by Laura Tillinghast.