Product Photography Tips

3 Lighting Basics To Understand When It Comes To Photographing Your Handmade Products

When it comes to photographing your products, lighting is everything. Lighting can create dramatic, moody photos or it can create bright, fun photos. 

The type of lighting you want will depend on the look you’re going for, your budget, and the product you’re photographing.

Whether you’re just starting out selling your handmade products online or you’ve been selling online for years, it’s always good to figure out what type of product photos you want to achieve before you start taking photos.

You might be saying, “Well, I just want them to look good!”

That’s fine, but what does that mean? What does “look good” mean to you when it comes to how your product looks in a photo?

Knowing what you’re aiming to achieve when photographing your products is important. This is where I encourage you to do some research on Etsy, Pinterest, Instagram or Google and find product photos that you like. Look at your competition and see how other brands and makers are photographing their products.

In my previous post, I shared with you some lighting exercises you can do to better understand how lighting can change the way your product looks.

This week, I’ll share with you different types of lighting you’ll need to consider when it comes to photographing your products.

Artificial vs natural light

When searching for resources for product photography, chances are you’re going to come across information about what type of lighting to use.

There are 2 sources of lighting in product photography, natural and artificial.

Natural lighting (aka, the sun) is great because you can take photos anywhere as long as the sun’s out! It’s also free which is a big plus and it can give your product photos a beautiful, airy feel to them. 

But one of the biggest challenges with using natural light is you can only take photos during the daytime and the weather can make your product photography challenging. There might be only certain time windows where you can take photos which isn’t always practical. Plus, winter can be a difficult time of year to take photos due to the lack of daylight hours and stormy weather. 

Now, artificial lighting is done with different types of light sources like ring lights, flash, strobes, LEDs, and so on. The beauty of artificial lighting is you have complete control over how your product is lit and it gives you much more creative freedom than with do with natural light, Plus, if you want to take product photos at 10 pm, you can!

But artificial lighting has its own drawbacks. There’s usually a steep learning curve to figuring out the best lighting setup for your products. It can also get expensive and take up a lot of space, especially if you don’t have a lot of space to store equipment.

If you’re just starting out or don’t mind some of the drawbacks that come with natural lighting, I’d recommend going that route. Plus, you honestly can create some really beautiful photos that can be hard to recreate with studio lighting.

If you want to look into studio lighting, I’d recommend doing your research to figure out what equipment you’ll need to create the type of product photos you want.

Light Boxes

I wanted to briefly mention light boxes because they are quite popular with online sellers. While in theory, they sound great, I’m not the biggest fan of them.

Why?

They’re quite restrictive. Your product is confined to a box and you can’t move your camera around your product easily. And because it floods your product with light at all angles, it can create very flat-looking product photos (think Amazon). Too much light could also be problematic if you have a product with a reflective, shiny surface. 

If you like using your light box, then by all means keep using it if you like the results it’s giving you. But if you want to have more freedom to play around with light, I’d recommend experimenting and using artificial or natural lighting. It can really bring your product to life.

Hard light vs. soft light

Lighting in product photography can make a product look attractive or it can make it look unappealing. This is where hard and soft lighting comes into play.

What’s soft lighting? Soft lighting is when the light is balanced throughout the photo and there are very few hard shadows. This type of lighting makes it easy to see details and gives a subject a flattering appearance. This type of lighting is often seen in portrait photography and standard product photography like on e-commerce websites. 

You get this type of lighting when the light source is filtered with a softbox or umbrella (artificial lighting) or on a cloudy day (natural light).

Hard lighting on the other hand is when you have dark shadows and bright highlights in a photo. Sometimes the contrast between light and dark can be distracting, especially if the shadows make it difficult to see any details. This type of lighting can also be difficult to work with and control, depending on what type of photo you’re going for but can create strong, dramatic product photos. 

You find this type of lighting when the light source is unfiltered, like a bare lightbulb or the sun on a bright sunny day. 

You’ll find product photography using both hard and soft lighting. Generally, when selling products online, you want your customer to easily see your products and the details, so soft lighting is ideal for that. Using hard lighting is great for social media and for lifestyle-type photos too. There’s no hard-fast rule on what to use, but whatever light source you decide to go with, be consistent with it.

Light Color Casting

When photographing your products, it’s super important that you capture your product’s color accurately. You probably don’t want your blue knit hat to look gray or some other odd color. 

One thing makers often miss when photographing their products is white balancing their camera before taking photos. Or if they miss doing that, they miss correcting the color after when editing their photos. Depending on how off the colors are, color correcting might be difficult so it’s always best to white balance your camera prior to photographing your products.

To learn more about white balancing, you can click here to read a post all about it.

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to lighting in product photography. 

Lighting gives you the freedom to create beautiful photos of your handmade products as long as you know how to work with it.

Whether you’re looking to take standard product photos or want to experiment with different types of lighting, it’s about figuring out what works best for your products and the look you’re going for.