Give your product photography some sparkle! Try this easy lighting effect at home

Future
(Image credit: Future/ Peter Fenech)
Makeshift gels

You can buy colored gels for your flashes, but sometimes it's much easier (and cheaper) to use colored translucent materials from around the house. Plastic bags, perspex, or in our case, a plastic cup can effectively produce a gelled effect. Watch out for over-saturation as these materials are not balanced specifically for photography. Control intensity with your white balance.

We love product photography, not least because it's so much fun, but also because it calls on (and therefore trains) many photographic skills. If you're feeling in a bit of a creative rut, look for items around the house that you can use as your next subject. Perfume bottles, watches, clocks, tech items and even instruments make fantastic subjects to examine more closely the next time it's raining outside and you're lost for what to photograph.

While products may seem a highly niche area, this type of photography really stretches your creative muscles and helps you see the world around you in new ways. If you have an external flash, or even if you only have continuous household lighting, try getting artistic with directional light.

For this shot, we focussed on a watch, with the aim of creating a contextual ad shot. We used some crinkled-up foil as a glitzy background element and tried to find easy ways of lighting both the subject and it's environment.

The aim of any environmental shot is to make the subject seem like it fits in with its surroundings. The light, color and texture need to seem compatible. Here we've gone for a familiar ultra-colorful branding theme. You'll need a camera for product photography and a flashgun before getting started.

1. Separate the elements

Place the subject on a non-reflective surface, to avoid unwanted highlights and color casts, and support a crumpled sheet of aluminum foil behind it. Ensure the bottom of the foil is not visible to create the impression it is seamless. Lower the camera to the subject level.

(Image credit: Future)

2. Focus the subject 

Shooting at 90° to the product will extend depth of field without stopping down excessively. Switch to manual focus and zoom in to fine-tune the focus position over logos or key features. We used a 60mm macro lens to get closer to the watch face.

(Image credit: Future)

3. Turn out the lights

To ensure we have full control over the light and color in the shot, with no ambient interference, turn out all of the room lights. This will mean we can control image brightness through flash intensity and distance between the source
and subject. 

(Image credit: Future)

4. Place main light

To illuminate the subject without throwing too much light onto the supporting surface fire the main flash over the subject, to feather the spread without an excessive spill. Here the bevel on the softbox helped, but a black flag beneath the flash will create a sharper beam.

(Image credit: Future)

5. Color the background

Fire a second speedlight or shine a strong torch at the foil background to create dazzling and unique bokeh effects. We passed the flashlight through a colored plastic cup to achieve a gelled look without additional accessories. Avoid overly bright highlights.

(Image credit: Future)

6. Control bokeh styling

Vary the distance between the foil background and product, while also experimenting with different aperture settings, to produce a range of sizes of the specular highlights. We also added a spray of water to the foil for greater highlight visibility, without becoming distracting.

(Image credit: Future)
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Peter Fenech

As the Editor for  Digital Photographer magazine, Peter is a specialist in camera tutorials and creative projects to help you get the most out of your camera, lens, tripod, filters, gimbal, lighting and other imaging equipment.


After cutting his teeth working in retail for camera specialists like Jessops, he has spent 11 years as a photography journalist and freelance writer – and he is a Getty Images-registered photographer, to boot.


No matter what you want to shoot, Peter can help you sharpen your skills and elevate your ability, whether it’s taking portraits, capturing landscapes, shooting architecture, creating macro and still life, photographing action… he can help you learn and improve.