­Spotlights are one of the most
important lights in small product photography. They
produce light with a relatively high intensity and a
well-defined, sharp quality. The rays of light produced
by the Fresnel lens of the spotlight sharply separates the
highlights from the shadow areas. A spotlight can create
a visual sense of subject shape and bulk. When used in
a skimming or crosslighting fashion, it renders sharp,
crisp texture. Because the light rays are collimated, or
parallel, with little flare or spillover, a spotlight produces
high contrast. One great asset of spotlights in product
photography is the controllability of the lights. The light
can be controlled to highlight or isolate an area of the
subject. Unwanted spillover into other areas can easily
be avoided. Through proper use of accessories, such as
snoots and barn doors, the control can be greatly
extended. A disadvantage of spotlights is the harsh
quality of highlights produced on some subjects. Bright
spots on the subject may be pinpointed and hard to
avoid. Nonetheless, a spotlight is a most effective main
light for product photography.
­In product photography,
floodlights are used to cover a large area with relatively
even illumination. The quality of light from a floodlight
is very much dependent on the reflector surface.
Polished, metallic reflectors produce a specular,
sparkling quality, while matte-surface reflectors
produce a softer quality of illumination. The quality of
illumination from a floodlight is also dependent on its
distance from the subject. At a given distance, the spread
pattern for a given light unit is almost even. Some units
may produce hot spots when used too close or too far
from the subject. The larger the reflector and the closer
it is to the subject, the more diffused the light becomes.
­The use
of bounce light for product photography produces a
pleasant quality. The light, because it is coming from
one general direction, not an obvious source, surrounds
the subject with soft illumination, gently enhancing
curves and shapes while producing soft but distinct
shadows. Bounce light can be used for either overall
illumination or as fill illumination.
Umbrellas, being large and somewhat parabolic in
shape, are more efficient than plane or board reflectors.
Given a product assignment, you must determine
ways to photograph or present the subject best. Aside
from product arrangement and picture composition,
which must lead to an understanding of the purpose of
the picture, you must first deal with the lighting. By the
correct use of light, you can create a natural lighting,
which is attractive, and simulates outdoor light. In
product photography, you should always strive to
produce lighting that appears natural, as though the
product was illuminated by natural sunlight. After all, it
is natural daylight by which all light is judged.
Illumination from the main light should come from
above and somewhat behind the subject, usually from
about a 40- to 60-degree angle. In many commercial
texts the main light is also referred to as the key light;
these terms are used interchangeably by professional
photographers. There should be one definite light source
and only one set of dominant shadows, and the shadows
must be illuminated sufficiently so the shadow detail is
maintained in the film image. In a naturally lighted
outdoor scene, this shadow detail is preserved by
general skylight illumination. In the studio, this shadow
detail is preserved or created by the correct use of soft,
diffused, fill lights or reflectors.
In the studio, you can create the lighting effect of an
overcast sky with a light tent or by using indirect
lighting. This type of lighting is especially useful when
you are photographing shiny products, such as bare
metal and glass.
Backlighting is one of the essential tools in product
lighting. Establishing the main light behind the subject
often helps present three-dimensional form better than
frontlighting. Aside from the subject being rimmed with
light, which separates it from the background, the
foreground shadow duplicates the shape of the object,
making it easier to identify.
Most small product items fall under two basic or
general shapes: rectangular and spherical. The
illustrations in the following paragraphs show ways that
basic lighting can be used to present shape. Although a
perfect rectangle and a perfect circle are used in the
illustrations, they are not intended to limit your lighting
setups. You must, of course, make lighting adjustments,
depending on how rectangular or spherical the subject
is and the way you want to present it.
Lighting Rectangular Shapes
Rectangular- or box-shaped products can be lighted
with just three lights-a spotlight from the rear and two
floodlights, one on each side of the camera.

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