Big Results of Small Product Photography with Speedlites

November 21, 2016

In my last article “Top Tips for Small Product Photography” I shared with you some very simple techniques and ideas centered around making your product photography stand out from the pack.  Whether you’re selling your products online or in person, it’s helpful to have great product photos. The problem for many is that hiring a professional photographer to do this type of work can be costly, time consuming and even more importantly, the final images may not convey your artistic vision.  So the old adage of “if you want something done right, do it yourself” comes into play.

The focus of my last article was predominantly based on the premise of using natural light to illuminate your product. It’s free and you can accomplish a lot by simply using window light and reflectors.

This time around I want to expand your palette by introducing flash into the mix. There are several advantages to using flash over window light including the ability to work just about anywhere, anytime and shape the light in limitless ways to enhance your product. There’s no need to rely on daylight so for those of you who “burn the midnight oil,” this is a perfect option for you. In addition, using flash will significantly reduce the chance of blur from camera shake and with the wireless flash options that exist in the Canon system and a plethora of light modifiers available, you’ve got plenty of opportunity to be creative with your lighting.

I want to start by sharing what flashes I use for this sort of thing:

The Canon 600EX II-RT or 430EX III-RT are my “go to” flashes in the Canon line.

The Canon 600EX II-RT or 430EX III-RT are terrific flashes for more than a few reasons...

1. Plenty of power for product photography
2. Wireless capability
3. Automatic flash or manual flash mode (nice to have options)
4. Works with numerous light modifiers
5. Portable and powered by AA batteries

While there are many light modifiers out there on the market, I tend to use Westcott and Rogue mods regularly for the purpose of small product photography.  I also use a cheap white shower curtain to shoot light through for a very soft diffused look.

While there are no shortage of light mods out there, I generally use Westcott, Rogue FlashBenders and MagMod modifiers.

Let’s start off with a very simple hand-made wrapped wine bottle.  I like this product for teaching because its rounded shape enables you to see more dimensionally as we add additional lights to the mix.

Placing an ST-E3-RT (Canon radio transmitter) on my camera, I have the power to work with up to 15 different radio controlled flashes.  That may be a bit overboard for our purposes here but it’s nice to know its capabilities.

For the first setup I used a cheap white shower curtain as my light modifier and placed one 600EX II-RT on the opposite site of the product so the light coming through the curtain would be very soft and diffused.  I also added a white piece of foam core as a reflector on the opposite side of the light source to fill in the shadows.  Here’s the setup and the resulting photo:

The light is soft and diffused coming through the shower curtain but lacks the drama to make it stand apart from other images.

As you can see it’s fairly basic and the product looks good.  

To add a bit more shape to the bottle, I added a second light, again shooting the light through the shower curtain.  This light was placed towards the back and as you can see in the photo below, there’s a highlight on the bottle from behind, giving it more shape. At this point I’m using automatic E-TTL II flash with no flash power adjustments such as flash exposure compensation.  You may notice the flash coming from the back looks more powerful yet I mentioned that the two lights are equal in power. This is because angular light coming from behind a subject back toward camera position will look twice as bright than front-lit subjects at the same power setting.

Notice with the addition of a second light from the back, the bottle starts to reveal its shape.

Next, I changed the light modifier to a Westcott softbox and placed the light overhead and angled slightly down.  Again, the lighting is very soft, the product looks good but it’s not very exciting.

Speedlite placed in a Westcott softbox and lit from the front.

Now let’s try backlighting the bottle with the same softbox and see what happens.

Speedlite placed in a Westcott softbox and lit from the high and behind.

As you can see there’s a little more drama with this lighting position.  I added a white foam core reflector beneath the bottle angled back up slightly to catch the light coming from behind to fill in some detail in front.  While there’s some detail in the front of the bottle, it looks like a mistake with little to no “spunk!”  I need to add some light in front to accentuate the burlap flower.

Here’s where the image starts to come alive!  I wanted to highlight just the area around the burlap flower so I took the MagMod snoot (seen in the set photo below) and focused the light directly where I wanted it.  A snoot is basically a cone shaped light modifier and concentrates the light into small areas as you can see by the image below. This was accomplished with only two Speedlites!

The addition of a snooted light from the front features an area of interest and adds more drama to the image.

For another variation of the last photo, I wanted to create a rim of light along each side of the bottle.  To do this I took two Rogue FlashBender 2XL Strip grids and placed them behind and to the right and left of the bottle for backlighting.  The MagMod Snoot again provided the frontal illumination on the burlap flower.  This variation required three Speedlites and the end result is pleasing to the eye all while showing the product’s details nicely.

Similar to the last photo but instead of one softbox aimed behind the bottle, I’ve added two Rogue FlashBender strip modifiers from the back on each side to add more definition to its shape.

The last product photo I’ll share with you today is a hand-made scarf.  I started off with just one Speedlite in a Rogue FlashBender XL placed to the left and some white and silver reflectors to the right to fill in the shadows.  The resulting shot starts off as a bit boring as you see below.

This scene was lit with a Rogue FlashBender XL from the left side and a white foam core reflector to the right.

I needed something to spice it up a bit and I thought some sort of shadowed pattern on the background might fit the bill.  I went outside and plucked some weeds from my yard to act as the pattern for the shadows.  I made what’s called a gobo or “go between” – it’s nothing more than something to pass light through for projecting shadows.   I bunched up the weeds and taped them together on a light stand with a Speedlite and MagMod grid to shoot the light through to hit the background fabric.  This is the result:

Adding a Gobo (go between) to shoot light through can add interesting textures to the background.

It looks similar to sunlight coming through a window however I wanted it to look warmer to emulate the sun so I added a warming gel to the flash, and that made the difference for me. It’s just warm enough light to look real.

The addition of a warming gel to the Gobo speedlite finishes off the image.

By moving the light closer and further away from the gobo, the pattern changes so experiment and have fun with it.

This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg so to speak, so play around, use your imagination and have fun with your Speedlites!

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.

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