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Three Tips For Lighting Product Shots On A White Backdrop

Noam Kroll

Shooting product shots on a seamless white backdrop calls for a very specific approach to lighting. Here are some tips on how to get it right next time you’re in the studio.

Top image from Shutterstock

Many cinematographers and shooters mistakenly assume that shooting product shots is simple. They often feel that, because they’re effectively shooting a still object, they’ll be able to get good results with their eyes closed — even if they have little or no experience in that realm.

The reality, of course, is that lighting product shots is as complex as anything else. Each product will have its own unique challenges and needs to be approached as its own entity. At the same time, there are some universal principles that come into play when shooting just about any type of product.

If you regularly shoot commercial content, there’s a very good chance at some point you’re going to need to step up to the plate and deliver clean product shots. Here are some crucial lighting tips to take into account when you get there.

1. Always Use Soft Lighting

Three Tips For Lighting Product Shots On A White Backdrop - Use Soft Lighting
Image via Shutterstock

Commercial and product photography is all about beauty, and we all know that soft light is far more conducive to a beauty shot than hard light. This is true across the board, whether you’re shooting products or talent.

While there may be some exceptions to this rule (depending on the type of product you’re shooting), you’re almost always better off using soft light sources. This will not only help you get more pleasing results on the product itself, but will also help you control the spill on the white background, which can save you a lot of time on set.

2. Use Flat Lighting if Necessary

Three Tips For Lighting Product Shots On A White Backdrop - Use Flat Lighting
Image via Shutterstock

If you come from a cinematic background, you probably have it drilled into your head that you should never light a scene so that it appears flat. Film is all about finding pockets of light and shadows to add dramatic effect, and flat lighting of course does the exact opposite of that.

With products however, you generally aren’t trying to dramatize anything. You’re almost always trying to capture the most realistic and neutral version of the product that you can, and in order to achieve that end result, flat lighting may be critical.

I typically recommend lighting your product shots very evenly with one source directly in front or overhead (depending on your product) and two additional sources  — one on each side of your background. This will help you to not only achieve a very flat look, but also will help you to avoid shadows, which can become problematic when working with certain types of material.

3. Know When to Backlight

Three Tips For Lighting Product Shots On A White Backdrop - Know when to backlight
Image via Shutterstock 

There are many scenarios where a backlight isn’t necessary when shooting products on a white seamless, but in some cases a backlight can actually be very helpful. For instance, if you’re shooting a light-colored product against white (or a transparent/clear product) and needs it to stand out more obviously, backlighting is a great solution.

That said, you need to be careful with how and where you place your backlight to maintain the consistency of a polished, neutral look. A singular backlight placed above and behind the product is usually an optimal location, as placing your backlight off to one side or another might throw off the symmetry.

The video below from Zack Arias offers some great insight into lighting a white seamless backdrop. This tutorial isn’t specifically based around product shots, but many of the same principles will apply.

Got any more studio tips you can share? We’d love to hear them in the comments below!