How can you liven-up your indoor product shots? There are several approaches you can take: shoot with your built-in flash activated (not recommended for natural-looking results), use available light coming through windows and reflectors, use continuous lights with either Tungsten- or daylight-balanced lamps installed, use strobe lighting, or use a combination.
Learn the differences between Tungsten- and daylight-balanced lighting options and when they are appropriate. See how a multi-use reflector kit can enhance your lighting set-up. This lesson explores a few of these lighting methods with a single product, an antique radio. Although the camera settings were changed throughout this lesson to accommodate optimal captures, the camera position remained constant.
- The Snapshot
- Creating Instant Window Light
- Adding a Reflector Fill
- The Backlit Look
- Mixing Natural and Artificial Light
- Changing the White Balance Setting
- Balancing with Daylight
- Using Translucent LitePanels to Reduce Contrast
- The Digital Merge
For this lesson, we decided to photograph a new, yet retro-looking radio on an old paint-crackled door. Since we wanted the focus to be primarily on the radio and have the background fall quickly out of focus, we decided to shoot with a telephoto lens, which would give us this limited depth of field.
For comparison purposes, we first took a snapshot of the radio with the camera set to Program and with the built-in flash activated. Although the result is not as bad as most built-in flash lighting shots, it’s still far from natural looking.
Creating Instant Window Light
Next, we decided to set up a medium Starlite Kit (a heat-resistant soft box attached to a continuous light head using a 500-watt Tungsten bulb) and use it to simulate window light. We placed the light off to the left of the radio and angled it downward slightly to throw a soft shadow on the right side of the radio.
After disabling the built-in flash in the camera and changing the White Balance to Tungsten to match the color temperature of the Tungsten bulb, we took another shot.
With just this one light, we see a huge improvement over the built-in flash result. The light is soft, throws a soft, short shadow, and provides nice highlights in the radio dial. And because the light is positioned off to the side, it renders the radio in a more three-dimensional way. Compare this lighting to the straight, flat lighting of the built-in flash.
Adding a Reflector Fill
Next, we wanted to bounce some of this main light into that shadow side of the radio to balance out the contrast somewhat, so we set up a 39×72” LitePanel with Silver fabric, attached it to a LiteStand using a Main & T Clamp, and positioned it to the right of the radio.
Without any changes to the camera settings, we took another shot.
As you can see, the LitePanel helped to fill in the shadows on the right side and even provided additional highlights in the radio dial.
The Backlit Look
At this point, we were happy with the lighting on the radio, but we wanted to create a more backlit look to suggest daylight just beyond the frame. We could have added another soft box and positioned it behind the set, but instead we wanted to just use one light for this shot.
Fortunately, the studio we shot in had large windows, which could be revealed simply by pulling back the black curtains. To keep the lighting simple, we first removed the Starlite Kit, changed the White Balance back to Daylight, and dialed in an optimal exposure setting for this backlit scene.
From the result, however, you can see how the contrast range is too great to adequately capture the highlights and shadows. While there is nice texture of the crackled paint in the foreground, the face of the radio is too dark while the top of the radio and background are blown out.
To reduce the contrast, we tried bouncing some of the window light back into the face of the radio with the Silver LitePanel.
Although the LitePanel greatly improved the level of contrast, the exposure was still too hot on the top of the radio. To reduce the contrast even further, we repositioned the LitePanel and brought it in closer to the radio to increase the strength of the fill light.
Once the light looked good to us, we took another shot.
The repositioning made a big improvement, and we now had a nice reflection in the radio dial, but the top still seemed a bit too hot. Additionally, the name of the radio, “CROSLEY”, was not showing up too well above the main dial with the way the LitePanel was reflecting into the face of the radio. We could have made some modifications to resolve these minor issues, but instead, we decided to try some alternate lighting methods.
Mixing Natural and Artificial Light
Next, we removed the LitePanel, brought the Starlite Kit back in, and positioned it to the right of the clock. Once it was positioned where we wanted it, we adjusted the exposure settings and took another shot.
As you can see from the result, the light from the Starlite created a very warm cast to the shot. This is because the bulb being used was a Tungsten bulb, which is much warmer than daylight.
Changing the WB Setting
Before doing anything else, we decided to simply change the WB setting to Tungsten to balance for the Starlite Kit. Once this was made, we took another shot.
Now, we had the opposite problem. The lighting on the face of the radio was fairly balanced, but now the light from the window was rendered as excessively blue.
Balancing With Daylight
We really wanted to use the soft box for this shot, since it was giving us a nice quality of light for the front of the radio. Fortunately, we had a CoolStar CFL (compact fluorescent lamp), which is daylight-balanced, and switched it out with the Tungsten-balanced Starlite lamp. Once this was in position, we changed the WB back to Daylight and took another shot.
The result shows enhanced color-balance, but we still had contrast issues due to the fact that the CoolStar (150 watts) was not quite as bright as the Starlite lamp (500 watts). While the exposure was good for the face of the radio and background, the top of the radio was once again blown out.
Using Translucent LitePanels to Reduce Contrast
Since we couldn’t get any more power with this single lamp, we decided to knock down the strength of the window light by replacing the Silver fabric of the LitePanel with Translucent fabric and sticking it in the window. This would knock down the light about a full f/stop.
Without changing the exposure settings on the camera, we took one last shot.
This result shows even more improvements in color-balance. There is detail in every area of the shot and we’ve maintained a backlit look. Below is a side-by-side comparison of the various result shots.
Keep in mind that none of the result shots are necessarily better than the other. And upon close inspection, you can see that each version has its strengths and its weaknesses with respect to lighting. For example, we really liked the lighting on the radio in the final shot, but preferred the lighting on the background in the daylight/LitePanel fill result.
The Digital Merge
Fortunately, with some basic digital imaging techniques, you can have the best of both worlds. Using a layer masking technique in Adobe Photoshop®, we merged the best parts of these two results together. To create such a seamless result, it’s important to make sure the camera doesn’t move between shots. Here’s how our result turned out.
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