When it comes to product photography, light is key. The right light can make or break a photo and can be the difference between a good shot and a great one.
In this article, we will discuss 5 different light modifiers for product photography and how they can help you create beautiful and unique product photos. We will also answer some of the most frequently asked questions about lighting modifiers for product photography.
So whether you’re just starting out in product photography or you’re looking for new ways to improve your shots, read on for some must-have light modifiers!
Related article: What Product Photography Equipment Do You Really Need?
What Are The Essential Lighting Modifiers for Product Photography?
There are five essential lighting modifiers for commercial product photography, namely: softboxes, scrims, grids, snoots, and flags. There are many more light modifiers, but these five are essential for high-quality commercial product photography.
Now, let’s explore these five light modifiers in greater detail and also talk about a few additional light modifiers for creative photography.
1. Softboxes for Product Photography
A softbox is an essential light modifier for product photography. Softboxes create a diffused light that is perfect for shooting products. The light from a softbox is soft and flattering, making it ideal for product photos.
There are two main types of softboxes for product photography, namely:
- Rectangular softboxes
- Stripboxes (strip softboxes)
A rectangular softbox is by far the most commonly used light modifier for product photography. It is a very versatile light modifier because it offers great control of the light, high-quality light and it is relatively inexpensive.
Stripboxes are essentially rectangular softboxes, but with a much narrower width than a regular rectangular softbox. Stripboxes are commonly used to create a rim light on the subject.
Rim lighting, also known as edge lighting, is a popular lighting technique in product photography that is used to separate a subject from the background by using a thin rim of light around the edges of the subject. To achieve this effect, the light source, for example, stripbox is placed behind a subject that creates a beautiful outline of the subject with light.
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If you are interested to learn more about various types of softboxes, their advantages, disadvantages, and specific use cases, we’ve got a very in-depth material about softboxes vs. umbrellas for product photography.
- Affordable Rectangular Softbox: Godox 60x90cm / 24×36 inches Rectangular Portable Softbox
- Affordable Stripbox: Godox 9″x 35″ 22x90cm Honeycomb Grid Strip Softbox
2. Scrims for Product Photography
Scrims are light-modifying materials that are placed between the light source and the subject with the purpose of diffusing the light. Scrims may be made of different materials, such as diffusion rolls, textiles such as cotton or flux stretched across metal frames, sheets of acrylics or dense polystyrene, etc.
Scrims are especially important when photographing reflective objects, such as glass bottles, watches, beauty products with reflective packaging elements, etc. Scrims diffuse the light, make beautiful gradients, and eliminate glare on reflective surfaces.
Here is an example of the photo that was taken with the same camera and identical in-camera settings (with the scrim and without it):
The photo on the left was taken with the 2×3′ softbox but without the scrim. As you can see, there is a noticeable difference in how the light is diffused and the overall look of the photo. The light is harsher and there are more distracting reflections on the surface of the bottle and the label.
The photo on the right was taken with the same softbox and with the scrim placed between the softbox and the bottle. As you can see, the light is much softer, there are no distracting reflections on the surface of the bottle or the label, and the light is evenly diffused with a beautiful soft gradient on the left side of the bottle.
If you are shooting most of your product photography in a studio, it is a good idea to invest in a dedicated scrim frame:
Alternatively, you can make a scrim frame yourself.
As for the scrim material, we recommend using a Lee 216 White Diffusion Filter. This white diffusion filter is available in different sizes and rolls. It is a great material for softening light and creating beautiful light gradients on shiny and reflective objects.
3. Grids for Product Photography
Grids are light-modifying accessories that are placed in front of light sources to control light spills and light spread to the coverage area. Grids come in different shapes and sizes (measured in degrees), and the most common grids used in product photography are honeycomb grids.
Honeycomb grids have hexagonal cells that allow light to pass through while controlling light spill and light spread. They are available in different degrees, such as 10, 20, 30, etc. The lower the degree number is, the more light spill, and the light spread will be controlled.
For example, a honeycomb grid with a 10-degree beam angle will control light spill and light spread much better than a honeycomb grid with a 30-degree beam angle.
Honeycomb grids are especially useful when shooting with multiple light sources because they help to control light spill and light spread, and create more evenly lit photos.
Most professional product photographers use grids to control the light spillage in the end product. The more control of the light you have, the more creative you can be in product photography.
Honeycomb grids are made to work with a specific light source. Make sure you buy honeycomb grids specifically for your light source, otherwise you may not be able to use them.
4. Snoots for Product Photography
A snoot is a light modifier that looks like a tube that mounts on a strobe or studio light and creates a spotlight effect. A snoot blocks all light from escaping and leaves a small circular hole, which results in a very sharped edge circular with high contrast and harsh shadow.
The most common snoots used in the product photography are cone-shaped snoots. Cone-shaped snoots have a narrow opening that creates a sharp light with a hard edge.
Product photographers use snoots to highlight certain areas or objects in the photo and create more interest by adding contrast and dimension.
Snoots are made to work with a specific light source. When purchasing a snoot, make sure it’s suitable for your lighting equipment.
5. Flags for Product Photography
Flags are light-modifying accessories that block or cut light from a scene where it is unwanted. Flags can add dynamics to your photos and help you make boring product photos look much more creative and unique. Here is a good example of how a very simple product photo can be enhanced using flags:
They come in different shapes and sizes and can be made of different materials such as black foam board, cloth, or even paper.
Flags can be used together with other light modifiers or separately. For example, you can place flags on a stand similar to a scrim to block light from hitting a certain part of the subject or a scene.
Flags can also be used to change the size and form of other light modifiers. You may, for example, block off a portion of a softbox to convert it into a striplight. They’re also handy when dealing with shiny surfaces since they can be used to control or prevent unwanted reflections in an object.
Depending on the size and placement of your flags, you might need photo clamps or tape to keep them in place. Alternatively, you can simply fold your flag into a V-shape so that it can stand on its own on any surface.
The vast majority of flags are entirely black. Only some of the light may be blocked by a net flag, whereas a white flag will diffuse but not block the light. This is comparable to a scrim.
You can make your own flags from a standard foam board by spraying them with black spray paint. Alternatively, you can purchase a very inexpensive, highly versatile, and portable 3 in 1 photography reflector cardboard. This is exactly the same flag and reflector as the one we use, and the one shown in the photo above.
Creative Light Modifiers for Product Photography
With so much competition in almost every product niche, it becomes necessary to create unique and eye-catching product photos that stand out from the competition in the e-commerce space.
Creative light modifiers allow photographers to achieve interesting and unique lighting effects that make ordinary product shots look extraordinary.
Creative light modifiers include gobos, patterns, and gels.
1. Gobos and Patterns Light Modifiers for Product Photography
GOBO stands for (go-between object). Essentially it is a simple and in most cases handmade light modifier that goes between your light source and your object. It can be a stencil, greenery leaf, or any shape cut out of thick paper or cardboard that creates patterns using light.
Product photographers often use gobos to create shadows that look like window frames when in reality there aren’t any windows in the studio or room where the photo is taken. Other gobos are used to add shadows and depth to images that otherwise look too simple and flat.
Below are two examples of the photos that were taken with a palm tree leaf placed between the light source and the object:
As you can see, the shadows from the gobos in these two pictures provide a lot of interest and dynamics to them. Without the shadows, both of these photos would look very simple and uninteresting.
2. Gels for Product Photography
Gels are thin, transparent sheets of color that can be placed in front of light sources to change the color of light. Gels come in a wide variety of colors and they are relatively inexpensive.
Product photographers often use gels to change the color of light in their photos. For example, if you are photographing a white product and you want the light to be warmer, you can place a yellowish gel in front of your light source to change the color of the light and replicate a sunny day.
Gels can also be used to create interesting effects in your photos. For example, you can use a blue gel to make the light look like it’s coming from a neon sign.
Gels can be utilized with other modifiers such as grids, making a particular color effect in a defined location without causing an uncontrolled color shift throughout the photo.
Frequently Asked Questions About Light Modifiers For Product Photography
What are light modifiers?
Light modifiers are devices that are used to change the quality, direction, and intensity of light from the light source. The most commonly used light modifiers in the product photography are softboxes, scrims, snoots, grids, flags, gobos, and gels.
Do you need light modifiers for product photography?
While light modifiers are not strictly necessary for product photography, they can help you create unique and interesting lighting effects that will make your photos stand out from the competition.
Which light modifier should I buy first for product photography?
If you are just starting out in product photography, we recommend getting a softbox first. A softbox is a light modifier that diffuses light and creates a softer, more flattering light.
Are softboxes or umbrellas better for product photography?
In general, softboxes are a better choice for product photography because they provide more precise control of the light in comparison to umbrellas. If you want to learn more about softboxes vs. umbrellas, we recommend you to read the following article.
Can I use a speedlight with light modifiers?
Yes, light modifiers can be used with speedlights. However, keep in mind that some light modifiers (such as softboxes) require an adapter to be used with a speedlight. Before purchasing any light modifiers for your speedlight, double-check that they are compatible.
What are soft light modifiers?
Soft light modifiers are light modifiers that create a softer, more flattering light. Soft light modifiers include softboxes, umbrellas, and scrims. The most popular soft light modifier is the softbox.
What are hard and directional light modifiers?
Hard light modifiers are light modifiers that create more directional light. Hard light modifiers include snoots, grids, flags, barn doors, and beauty dishes. The most popular hard light modifier for product photography is the grid.
What are creative light modifiers?
Creative light modifiers are light modifiers that can be used to create unique and interesting lighting effects. Creative light modifiers include gels, gobos, and color filters. The most popular creative light modifier is the gel that attaches in front of light sources to change the color of light.
In this article, we discussed five essential product photography light modifiers as well as a few additional creative light modifiers. To recap, here are the essential light modifiers for product photography:
If you are just starting out in product photography, we recommend getting a softbox first. A softbox is a light modifier that diffuses light and creates a softer, more flattering light. However, keep in mind that some light modifiers (such as softboxes) require an adapter to be used with a speedlight.
Light modifiers can help you create unique and interesting lighting effects that will make your photos stand out from the competition. Do some research to figure out which light modifier is best for the type of product photography you want to achieve. And have fun experimenting!
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