Level: Pro

Lighting the lights: Designer’s tabletop lamp product photography tutorial

I like to shoot products, working quietly in the studio, putting all my skills and creativity to get job done. There are three major types of product shots we are dealing with:

1. Sometimes it is ugly prototypes, where post-production and retouching may take ten times more efforts than photoshot itself. They are good challenge to work with, and it helps a lot:-)
2. Regular off the shell products, with shape and finish that can be very straight forward to shot or require hours of complicated setup built and very precise lighting to be done right.
3. Designers products, which are very unique and usually very interesting to work with.

In this article I’ll  show our recent photoshot with a third, most enjoyable to work type of product.

I am talking about the photo-shot we had recently for Doug James (StudioDoug.com). He brought very interesting and unusual products of his studio to be photographed: LED tabletop lamps along  with other cool stuff.

First lamp:

Atlanta product photographer image example

Atlanta product photographer image example

The requirement was to have all of them done on a seamless white background, therefore Manfrotto (Bogen) shooting table was used.

A little tricky part was to capture lamp’s own light: Each one uses a few hundreds of LED, and combined with the colorful beads it gives amazingly beautiful  light.
However, LED was not powerful enough to match the power of few hundred watt second strobes (I do not think that such powerful  LED exists at all), so we did this:

After we were done with regular shots with lamp off (1/250 sec shutter, F10 ISO 100) we turned off all the lights in the studio along with modeling lights for all moonlights used.
Then, shutter was set to 1/20 of a sec, exactly what  a 2° spot camera exposure meter suggested for a lamp’s LED head to be expose correctly. No other parameters was changed.

Mouseover on a shot below to see how it looks with 1/20 sec, turn on the lights!

studio product photographer atlanta tabletop lamp

On/Off lights example by changing exposure

tabletop lamp photography lighting tutorial example

tabletop lamp photography lighting tutorial example

Timehead man :-)?

art in product photography example

Time in the head

The lighting setup:

lighting setup for product photography lamp

Product photography lighting setup diagram

The lighting setup is quite simple : Medium-size softbox from the left  for the man light, right with a  strip box as a fill light. This can be easily reversed by changing light ratio, sometime it better for other side to be lighter (like we did for  this clock guy: fill light become a main (by increasing the power), and main became a fill light.
Beauty dish on the top mostly  for filling the background.

The hair light on the right is for a lamp’s head only: I did not want to be any edge on the lamp body.  Background light is to make it brighter and for overall brightness control, not relaying on a reflected light here.

Now, the most interesting part.

This is not what we do often, but this time I’ve asked Doug if we can use one of his lamp to create more dramatic and creative image, something to catch people attention. This shot was not a part of the original requirements, but something we will do for ourselves.

He agreed, and we did it: not only a producing an amazing photo, but also got a video behind the scene tutorial explained on how we did the whole shoot.
I really like this: we got a great image for the portfolio, gained experience and also created a video tutorial, all from the same shot!

Dramatic look of the same product:

studio product photographer atlanta

Dramatic lighting of the tabletop lamp

The lighting setup:

product photography lighting tutorial setup

The lighting setup for a product photography

Because of the shape of this lamp I’ve decided to use main light (2 AB 800, 30° grid) directly from the bottom, through the glass table.

Fill light from the left (1, WL 1600), only to add little shiny marks on a lamp’s head metal cap and the bottom. Hair light (4 AB400 through 20° grid) was used to get an edge on the lamp’s body, head was not exposed by it.
Number 3 (WL 1600 20 º grid) was for the background, to create a halo-like spot coming from a table..

This shot I’ve explained a lot in the video, better watch it and I’ll feel free of typing all this here again:-)

Before and after images of the lamp from our retoucher on post-production blog, check them out: you’ll like this!

Camera gear:

Lighting, light modifiers and accessories:

All shots were done with: shutter speed 1/250 sec, F10, ISO 100, Custom WB 6100K


Let me know what do you think, your feedback is always a good sign for me:-)

~Alex

About The Author: Alex Koloskov

The lighting magician, owner of AKELstudio, Inc.


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11 comments to Lighting the lights: Designer’s tabletop lamp product photography tutorial

  • Great tutorial, thank you for sharing. Those are pretty awesome lamps, your lighting complimented them nicely.

  • Hi! What is the name of the material you have hanging from the bars? The dark gray roll… Seems to be too thick to be paper.

    Thanks a lot..

  • Artemiy Terekhov

    Hello, Alex!

    Can you please explain a couple of things?

    1) wht did you use Beauty dish but not reflector with grid?
    I undestand, that it woulb be better for me to take a reflector and beauty dish, to light some stuff with it and to see the difference, but at this moment i dont have beauty dish.
    So, what is the difference of light given by beuaty dish and standart reflector?
    more concentrated light and more soft at the same time? more soft light spot edges?

    2) What is that beautiful glass surface you use, that doesnt give double reflections?
    You say it is a coffee table glass surface?
    What about using black glossy plexiglass for that purpose, do you have such expirience?

  • thank you for a great tutorial.

  • Alex, Great tutorial. I found this a week too late as I just finished photographing a sculptural torchiere that I built with a mica shade and your dragging the shutter approach was ingenious. Your approach would have saved me a lot of time layering images in PS. I am going to be photographing more lighting in the next two weeks and will make good use of your tutorial. Thanks[img]http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6138/6040399883_cf286950b3_b.jpg[/img]

  • Great tutorial! Amazing how different the image turns out with just some application of creative lighting! Thanks for sharing.

  • Just wanted to say thanks, I read all your tutorials and have incorporated several of your ideas into my work. Thanks for sharing and inspiring!

  • Mark

    Whenever I come to your blog hours just pass by…. I am learning so much here & this was another great tutorial, & I look forward to all your future releases, Thanks!

  • Hi Alex, what an excellent video documentary about your product shoot. It is very informative and inspiring. I’ve visited your website several times in the past and I am always blown away by the creativity and quality of your shots. I am just beginning to brake into professional photography (my second year of business) so I am a learning sponge and really appreciate people like you who are sharing their knowledge and mastery with us for free. I am really grateful for your blog and tutorials. Thank you.

  • Chris_H

    Very nice tutorial. How do you go about figuring out how many lights you’re going to use and where you’re going to use them? Is it something you have in mind before the shoot or do you start with one light and build from there? Thanks!

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