Product Photography Using Small Strobes

If you recall from my post a few weeks ago, I’m involved in a corporate facility / product shoot that will be going on for the next several months. Not having a lot of experience with small strobes like the Canon Speedlites I decided to start out doing some product photography in my office / studio at home. I spent the better part of a week doing online research, watching Joe McNally‘s lighting videos on Kelby Training and getting to know my Canon 580EX II Speedlites a little better.

Small Products Single Light

I also bought a 24″ Lastolite CubeLite, some clear Plexiglas (Perspex for UK readers or acrylic sheet) and some background materials. I wanted to create a high-key lighting scheme using a white background and the CubeLite makes this really simple. The CubeLite is made from the same material that Lastolite makes their TriGrip diffusers out of so it does a great job of diffusing the light from a small strobe. A reflector is included with the CubeLite to add fill. I used the PlexiGlas sheet as a base on which to set the products I’m shooting.

Single Light Product Shot

Canon’s EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 85mm, f/9.5 for 8 seconds at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 using Nik Software’s Viveza. Click on the image above for a larger version.

The lighting for this shot was very simple. One 580EX II Speedlite was positioned to the right of the CubeLite facing the subject. A single reflector directly left of the subject was used to add fill where needed. I used the Canon ST-E2 SpeedLite Transmitter on the camera’s hot-shoe to wirelessly control the 580EX II Speedlite directly from the camera’s LCD. I set everything to E-TTL and took a few test exposures, adjusting the FEC (Flash Exposure Compensation) from my 50D’s LCD screen until the histogram looked good.

As you can see in the image above, this basic single light product setup does a fairly good job lighting my Canon 60mm macro lens but the image looks a little flat and the clear PlexiGlas is creating two reflections of the lens. Not too bad for a first attempt but not quite the look I wanted.

I really like using the PlexiGlas to create the reflection (a technique that Scott Kelby suggests in his digital photography books) but the double-reflection issue really had me stumped until another photographer suggested sanding down the back side of the acrylic sheet to prevent the second reflection from forming. The dull, flat look to the image was also pretty easy to correct by adding another 580EX II Speedlite as a top light. This added a little “punch” (directional light) to my lighting scheme and really made the subject stand out from the background.

Small Product Lighting

Canon’s EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 73mm, f/11 for 0.3 seconds at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 using Nik Software’s Viveza. Click on the image above for a larger version.

The final result is shown in the image above. The lighting is even, diffuse and pleasing to the eye. The subject looks really nice with its deep reflection. I decided to use a lens as my test subject since there are lots of really great product shots of lenses on the Internet and I could use these to benchmark my results. I also found that this basic one or two light setup works great with a variety of small products like those shown below.

Machined Steel Parts

Machined Metal Parts
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 60mm, f/16 for 1 second at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 using Nik Software’s Viveza. Click on the image above for a larger version.

10 thoughts on “Product Photography Using Small Strobes

  1. I guess you got busy and forgot to post the photo of the two Speedlite setup. Could you do that when you have time?

    Thanks

  2. Hi,

    Thanks for this information. I have been trying to add in reflections using photoshop but its time consuming and often tricky with say shoes placed at an angle. This will save me loads of time.

    Thanks!

  3. Jeff thanks for the post on product small strobe lighting and pointing out solution for the double reflection problem …it is always nice to see set up as well

  4. Thank you for sharing. The setup photo, is that of the final setup, or is it the first shoot? I can’t see the second speedlite.

    How much sanding did you do tho the sheet of plexiglass?

    Cheers,
    George A.

    • George,

      Thanks for reading! The setup shot was my first single-light attempt. I’ll post my two-light setup later this week. As for sanding the PlexiGlas, I started by just hand-sanding with some fine grit but ended up using an orbital sander with really fine grit paper. I’ve also got some opaque, white PlexiGlas sheet on order to see if that works better. I’ll keep you posted on the results.

      Jeff

  5. Looking good. And thanks for showing the set-up.

    On another point…I had the chance to shoot two clicks with someone else’s 50D at the tunnel run I covered. Man, that thing felt big compared to my 20D. Loved the LCD screen though..

    • Hey Mark,

      The 50D with battery grip is just about the same size and weight as a 1D Mark III. It fits my hands perfectly and feels well balanced with the 24-105mm. Its definitely larger and heavier than a Rebel and 20D and it does take some getting used to. The 40D with 28mm lens is my walk-around rig and I’m taking after you and carrying it around almost everywhere.

      Have a great weekend!

      Jeff

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