Shooting cosmetic brushes: simple tips to help dealing with chrome finish

I like to tell you how we deal with reflection when shooting glossy objects. Usually we can fix “external” reflections by placing diffuser panels, softboxes and cardboard panels around our shiny object. It works fine (not always  easy though) when we shoot a single product.
Things gets more complicated when we have a group of reflective objects to be shot together: objects will reflect each other, and there is no way we can fix it by using reflectors or panels.

There are two ways to make it work: a heavy post-production (we call it retouching) to fix those reflections, or (and) a combination of separate shoot of each (or group) of the objects to eliminate that “self” reflection.

Below is “as-is” photo of the group of the brushes with pouch we did recently for Anisa International. The angle and lighting exactly the way I wanted (except those reflections):

atlanta photographer product photoshot for anisa international non retouched

Single shoot of the group, not retouched

As you see, a magnetic handle with 2 brushes attached (BTW, cool solution, simple and strong) gets reflected on those 3 standing brushes. There is no way (at least I do not know it for a given composition :-) how to overcome this without some image manipulations.
So, what we separated the composition in 2 shoots: one with  and one without that horizontal handle with brushes:

product photoshot separate image cosmetic brushes atlanta photographer

Separate image of first group of cosmetic brushes

Such simple solution saves us some time on post-production, plus, gives one more benefit: a focus stacking.

It may not be really visible due to a web-size, but on a first, as-is image, I have focus on that large lying brush (brush heads is most important pieces to be in focus). The rest of the brushes is out of focus, and company name on a pouch is way out of focus. Shooting at F20 (did not want to go further with F-stops to  preserve sharpness and details)  with Canon macro 100mm F2.8 IS L lens,  DOF was not enough to have everything as sharp as I wanted.
So, for a second photo I had focusing point on the middle brush: with given DOF I’ve got all the important things (including company’ name on a pouch) sharp as I wanted.

When we combined both images together, with a little retouch for a 3 brushes (they were reflecting each other), the final image looks like this:

atlanta photographer product photoshot combined layers

The final look

Shooting setup (I so love my new studio stand!):

lighting setup atlanta product photographer photigy cosmetic brushes

The only one main light was used, a large softbox from a top. The left 10º  spot was not playing a big role in the lighitng: I’ve only “touched” tips of the brushes with intense light from that WL1600 to make brush’s hair more brighter.

The shoot seems to be not really complicated (easy when you know how ? :-), but there was a hiccup, a real big (at some point) hiccup which cost us 30 minutes of the shooting time:
I am talking about that nice vertical (usually dark) reflection I try to have on the chrome objects.

Let me explain this:

When I shoot something completely chrome (exactly like these brush handles), there is no other way to show that this is a mirror-like surface is to have some distinctive reflection in it. Something which will unmistakably tell our eye that this is a 100% reflective object.

For our brushes I was planing to have some sort of narrow vertical black line, while the rest will be reflecting white background.
However, at given range of the acceptable shooting angles, it was not possible to do it!  Look at this diagram, it should give you the idea of what I am talking about:

product photography reflective brushes lighting diagram explained

The lighting diagram, explanation why vertical brushes are white

The brush is not a cylinder but a little cone with a squeezed bubble on the bottom and  squeezed cone on top. So, at any working angle I was getting  a reflection from a shooting table (red dotted line), regardless how close i get them to the end of the table.
There was no way I can “draw” a vertical reflection on those brushes.
Yes, I possibly could use a narrow line of a dark paper stuck under each brush to make such reflection, but every other brush will reflect all the “neighbors” the lines as well. Shoot each brush individually combine all together and wipe those line from the table? Too much post production (and shooting as well) will be involved to accomplish this, throwing us out of the shoot budget. But most of all, I do not believe all this manipulations will make the image significantly better.

The bubble at the bottom was reflecting the whole studio (blue line), so it was easy to get some parts of it covered with reflectors (on both sides of the table0 and some to be dark.
The squeezed upper portion of the handle was reflecting (green line) the front of the table (white reflection) and surrounding areas (black reflection). However, the dark piece of that reflection was not looking good, so I’ve eliminated it with the reflector (did not captured it) placed between bottom of the camera and the shooting table.

I was lucky to have a very nice reflection on a horizontal brush. If you take closer look at the brush, there are visible separate reflections: dark area, coming from the ceiling  behind the softbox, bright softbox, dim reflector placed  between the table and the camera and a white shooting table itself.

This all saved the whole thing; there is clearly visible that the brushes are chrome.

UPDATE: We got a second set of a similar brush set here.

Thank you for attention:-)

Camera gear:

Lighting, light modifiers and accessories:

Exposure specification: shutter speed 1/250 sec, F20, ISO 100


About The Author: Alex Koloskov

The lighting magician, owner of AKELstudio, Inc.

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11 comments to Shooting cosmetic brushes: simple tips to help dealing with chrome finish

  • This is so great! I really like it especially the way you have described the process.

  • Debbi

    Nice tip on the stand adapter

  • Debbi

    Please tell me what holds up the overhead strobe? Does not look like a boom.
    Love your blog!

    • Debbi,
      This is a boom, a very old broken and re-assembled with other parts (from other broken stands) boom from ebay. I’ve bought it about 6 years ago, still waiting when it will break apart completely so I can get a new (probably Manfrotto) one.
      I have Chimera Single Axis Stand Adapter connected to a strobe, this way it is easier to tilt large softboxes or a beauty dish..

      Thank you!

  • monika

    Hi Alex,
    I was wondering how would you setup the lighting to get PURE white background (isolated on white)???

    • Monika,
      You never can get pure white background off from a camera, unless you overexpose the whole thing, which will make the image ugly because of the light spills.
      We do get close to white color by using a shooting table with matte finish, the rest is done in a photoshop: basically we clipping off all the objects and apply a digital pure white background.
      This is why we quote customer for such job prior to the shoot, if they need a pure white background.

  • Alex, your lighting techniques are just spot on dude!!

    And I agree with Milan. I spent years asking so called “experts” and “Big name” photographers for help and advice, but always got the cold shoulder. Only recently have I come across a handful of photographers who are willing to share information. You are amongst that handful.. :-)

    And although I’m a wedding & portrait photographer, I always turn to your blog for lighting tips. Your posts help a lot when I’m stuck with a particular look I’m trying to achieve.

    Keep it up buddy.. and wish you all the success. You definately deserve it! :D

  • Milan

    Over the years I have found out that the “big shot” photographers keep information about their photography “secret”. Never got a single word out of anybody. So your openness and willingness to share is hard to be overlooked. And we all thank you for that. Hope you’ll make it big and make lots (lots) money in process. You deserve it. Best of luck, Alex !

    • @Milan,
      Thank you, Milan!
      I do believe in “open source”, believe that sharing of information will make this world better place to live for all of us.
      And money.. Money should not be a problem at some point, I know this for sure :-)))

  • Melindros

    Whenever I see your name I make sure to click on it. Your posts are always interesting and very helpful, Thanks for what you do.

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