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Different Light Sources

There are many light sources available and I am going to go into the main types here, starting from the most available and working towards those that need a bit more experience and take a while longer to set up – in my opinion of course.

1 Natural Daylight

Some would argue that here in the UK perhaps this isn’t the most available, none the less, ideally what you are looking for is a north facing window. This is because light from the north is usually not so bright and more diffuse, resulting in a softer light with softer shadows which helps to show texture and form.

Be aware that the time of day can affect both the colour of the light and the intensity (covered in another post coming soon)

2 Continuous Light 

Whilst these come at a cost, they are probably the best for amateurs taking their own product photos.  This is because the lighting they provide is exactly what the camera sees.  You can move them around the product and see the light they throw on the subject and the resulting shadows.

Continuous lights can come in many forms.  The most common are lit with bulbs.

Continuous light. Each bulb is controlled by switches
Continuous light with the diffusion cover removed to show the bulbs

One step up are LED lights. These are usually dimmable giving you far more control over your lighting.

Continuous light, lit by LED lights
Continuous light back showing the dimmer control, mains power supply and optional battery adapter

There are other sources of continuous lights which give even lighting over their surface area such as lightboxes which are used to view transparencies on.

3 Lamps

This is a last-resort option for use as an overall light. It tends to be patchy with a brighter spot in the middle.  Enough said.

4 Independent Camera Flash or Speedlite

Not recommended for use on the top of your camera as this gives “flat lighting” which means it removes all the shadows showing the shape and texture of your product. They should be placed around the subject to give the best effect.  The light they emit is in the form of a short burst.  They can be aimed directly at your product or fired against a white wall or ceiling so the light is reflected back off the surface onto the subject giving a more diffused light.

Speedlites can be fired via a trigger which is fitted on the hotshoe on your camera, so when you press the shutter on your camera its sets off the trigger and fires the flash.

Some of the most useful things about this form of lighting is their portability, the fact you can adjust the brightness of the flash from the trigger, but – my favourite – it can be used to freeze motion such as splashes more effectively than studio flash.

A drawback is you cannot preview the effects of the flashlight on your product.

Speedlite trigger and flash
Speedlite trigger and flash showing flash duration

5 Strobe or Studio Flash

These work in a similar way to the speedlites by providing a short burst of light.  The differences are they are much larger and give a larger area of light and have an optional “modelling light”.  This light is like a dull continuous light in that it allows you to see how the light on your product will look.  This light will be overpowered by the flash when fired.

Strobe showing the inner modelling light and outer flash ring
Strobe showing the diffuser and inner baffle – a second diffuser
Strobe showing the controls

To summarise

This provides an overview of the main lights available to you.  Each have their merits, whether it be cost, availability or to freeze motion.  Some take up lots of room, some only provide a small area of lighting.

I suggest if you don’t currently have any lights, you start with the window and take it from there, but of course, this depends on the size of your product.

If you are using a mobile phone to take photos of your products, the window and continous lights are your main options.  Some speedlites can be triggered using the flash from your mobile phone’s flash.

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