Photographing reflective objects can be tricky even for experienced photographers. And for those displaying these products for sale online, it’s critical that the customer gets not only an accurate portrayal of the products, but one that is not distracting or unflattering.
In this tutorial, we’ll be using a chrome watch to show the basics of lighting reflective products. You’ll then be able to avoid photos like the one on the left below and elevate the professionalism of your website or E-store imagery.
This photo on the left was taken with the camera’s built-in flash, which should be avoided for reflective surfaces.
The primary challenge with photographing reflective or shiny surfaces is that they don’t absorb light. And as a result, reflective areas can show up in photographs too dark, too bright, or with relics of the environment.
To address these issues, you should focus on removing other objects from the scene and filling the space around the object with as much light as possible.
There are three primary ways to achieve this:
- Photograph in a room with white walls — you want to avoid having the color of the walls or wallpaper being reflected and appearing in the product photograph.
- Use a continuous light source — continuous lighting is beneficial for two reasons. It allows you to not only see your adjustments and their impact on reflections ‘on the fly.’ You can use continuous light in combination with Arqspin to create 360 product videos.
- Utilize a diffusor — a diffusor takes a single light source and spreads it across a surface, effectively creating a much larger light. This will help fill the space around the object with more light, “softening” the light and making the shadows in the resulting image less harsh
Here’s an example set-up:
In this example, I have used a studio flash unit’s modeling light as a continuous light source and a soft box as a diffusor. Instead of a soft box, you could also use a sheet of diffusion material like nylon or translucent papers and place them in front of the light. Soft boxes are much easier to set up, but the advantage of using a sheet of material is that with the right rig, you can position the sheet nearer of further away from the light source to create different degrees of diffusion. I’ve set the camera at an angle around 45 degrees to the side and looking down slightly on the product.
To reduce reflections of the environment on the object we are photographing, we need to replace them with reflections from the light source. To do this, we need to know where to place the light.
We work out this positioning by placing the light at the same angle and position as the camera but on the ‘opposite side,’ like a mirror image. In the example, I set the lights at the same angle as the camera [45 degrees and pointing down] but on the opposite side.
If, however, we were photographing straight on at a 0 degree angle, then our diffusor would need to be as close to the front of the item as possible. This is because the surface will be acting like a mirror and anything in front of the item will show up. It can also be beneficial to have two lights with diffusion on either side with a small gap for the camera as shown in the diagram below. Setting up above the camera can also work, but remember the aim here is to block all the reflections from the surroundings. Whichever method you choose, make sure to get the diffusion panels in nice and close.
Check how the object looks on your camera — you should be able to see the white diffusion panel reflected onto the object. Feel free to adjust the angle of the diffusion panels to change the results. For a more in-depth breakdown on what lighting is best for your photography purposes, take a look at our post It’s The Lighting Not The Camera.
When doing any kind of product photography, I would highly recommend the use of a tripod for your camera to get the sharpest possible images. Since we are using continuous light for reflective objects, we have to make a fairly long exposure. This makes a tripod even more important.
Set your camera to aperture priority mode [AV] and choose a setting for the aperture. It’s generally a good idea to get as much of the item in focus as possible, so an aperture of around f/8, f/11, or f/16 will work to get good depth of field. If you want the shallow depth of field look for a product, then use f/2.8 or wider. Then set the ISO to around 100 – 400 for the best image quality. Once set, the camera will select an appropriate shutter speed for the exposure. This will depend on the power of your light source.
Most e-commerce photography is done on a plain white background. If however, you have a different background color in mind for your images, that won’t be a problem. Simply make sure the item is further away from the background as some of the light reflecting from it could tint the object.
If you do plan to use a plain white background and are photographing an item ‘straight on,’ then you can ‘blow the background out’ by using another light pointed at the area behind the object. A flash is preferable for this, as it will deliver a high strength burst of light.
If you follow these steps, you should end up with something like image below, or even better! As mentioned, this technique and setup will also work well if you want to create a 360 product photo or video using Arqspin. Setting up lighting correctly on a reflective product will really give a customer a feel for how the product looks and reacts to light. With a 360 spin, the customer can see the item sparkle as it turns.
Sometimes you can still end up with a harsh or unwanted highlights in areas. One trick to help solve this is to light the object from behind as shown below. You still have to obey the angle rule, and please note, this only tends to work with flatter objects like cutlery or objects that can be laid flat.
If you’re still having problems, try moving your diffusion panel closer to your object. This will help block out any unwanted reflections that might be caused by other objects behind you in your room. Look closely at the object to identify what is being caught in the reflection and cover it up or move it from view.
Best of luck. As always, please let us know if you have any questions or ideas.