Product photography lighting can be very complex. My first consideration, the basis from which I build my lighting upon, revolves around the surface of the object being photographed. Namely, its texture, color, and shape. Once you understand how to treat different surfaces, you’ll be able to create flattering light on any subject. Today we’ll be covering how to add gradients to glossy surfaces. When done correctly, the use of gradients can lift your product photography significantly, instantly creating a higher-end look.
Product Photography Lighting And The Angle Of Reflection
If you’re more used to photographing people than products, reflections are probably something you try to avoid. Except of course for that singular coveted reflection, the catch light. The video below from Adorama TV contains an excellent explanation of the angle of reflection / incidence. If you want to create gradients within your product photography, it is vital that you first understand this concept.
We’ve learned two things from that video. Firstly, next time you’re photographing people with big ugly glasses, you’ll know how to avoid reflections. Secondly, and far more importantly for us, you’ve come to realize how to cause reflections to appear. Put simply, by placing your light at the correct angle (or incorrect depending on how you look at it) you can create a scenario for your camera to see a reflection of your light.
A glossy surface acts in the same way as glasses do. As such, if we apply the same technique we can cause our light to be reflected on the glossy surface. Some of you may already be beginning to understand how this technique is accomplished, but there is a little more to explain. For that, I’d like you to watch an extract from one of our premium courses called Lighting 101.
The Inverse Square Law
Pye gave a great explanation of the inverse square law there. It sounds so confusing, but once you get your head around it, you’ll realize its simplicity. On a side note, this is what I love about the premium content that we’ve created; it’s so well explained and structured that anyone can grasp it, find it all in the SLR Lounge Store here.
Most people, including Pye, talk about the inverse square law in terms of portraits. As such, the distances they refer to tend to be quite large. With product photography, everything is usually on a far smaller scale, though despite the size, the inverse square law still works in the same way. If your light source is one inch away, if moved to two inches, it will have lost 75% of its power and so on.
How Can We Use This To Create Gradients?
By using a combination of these two principles, we can manipulate our product photography lighting to create gradients. Our first step is to think about the shape of our product and thus where we position our light. Use your newly gained knowledge of the angle of reflection here.
Having found the correct angle, we use the inverse square law to create a gradient onto a scrim. That scrim, and gradient, are then reflected by the glossy surface of your product and picked up by the camera. In the photo above you can see a demonstration of a gradient being created on a scrim, I have upped the contrast to make it fairly obvious what’s going on.
By having the light source close to the scrim, the light falls off as it moves down the length of it; inverse square law.
Depending on the modifier you use and its angle in relation to the scrim, you can control the intensity of that gradient. A sharp angle will create a short gradient with a quick cut off, whereas a wider angle will produce a more subtle gradient.
The final result of this gradient can be seen on the knife below. The smoother gradient can be seen camera left. On camera right, you’ll notice a much sharper light, and that light is created when the same modifier is pointed directly at the subject.
I absolutely love lighting products; It’s very technical, but once you understand the inverse square law and the angle of reflection, you can create about anything. It becomes a bit of a puzzle as you analyze your subject, find the angles and place your lights, but when solved it’s hugely gratifying.
As we’ve already discussed, those two concepts can also be applied to all kinds of photography. Grasp angle of reflection fully and the creation of catch lights in your portraits will be a breeze. Want to evenly light a large group, create gradients on a background? Easy. Even if you don’t plan to become a product photographer, I encourage you to grab a few glossy objects and give this a go. By the end of it, you’ll find that you have a far better grasp of these concepts which you can then carry into many genres of photography.