6 techniques for taking product images using natural light
by 300cbt Team·
Natural light can be the best conditions for taking product photos, or vice versa. Lighting and camera settings determine the outcome of a product shot. So, even if you only have a little basic understanding of lighting, you can get good results that can be used in stores and marketing.
Most sellers probably think they have to go to a studio, have all the professional photography equipment, and create product photos. But in this article, we'll see how you can DIY natural light to create beautiful photos. This can be done with smartphones as well as professional-grade camera equipment.
1. Find the right lighting environment
Lighting is the most basic part of any photography setup, but it is also the most difficult to get right.
In fact, there's no quick setup or one-size-fits-all resolutions. Different products require different lighting, and it's up to you to figure out what works best for that product. Once you know how to control the basics, you can just go through trial and error until you find the perfect formula.
In particular, we will learn how to take good product photos using natural light.
Natural light coming through windows is ideal for several reasons: firstly, all the light is projected through the window, and secondly, it shines in one direction. This creates natural shadows, which create a 3D effect and add texture to the product, bringing it to life.
But there is something to consider here. Typically, if you're shooting next to a window, you'll want to take photos when it's brightest during the day, but a sunny day doesn't always produce good results. Depending on where you're shooting and how you want to present it, you'll need to consider the weather. As you can see in the image below, natural light plays very differently in the highlights and shadows of an image.
2. Use of natural light
Good natural light is essential for creating perfectly good images. By controlling the shadows created by natural light, you can create richer elements in your product photos. However, just as all nature is unpredictable, so is the weather and natural light, so it is necessary to prepare for the illumination that changes unpredictably from moment to moment while filming.
As sunlight changes and the sun moves throughout the day, it also affects the direction of natural light coming through your windows. In order to find the best light for product photography, shooting must be done at the optimal time for the task. You need to observe changes in light throughout the day to find the best times for the best spots in a particular location.
We've summarized three terms you need to know when your subject is illuminated by natural light when shooting.
· Front light : Indirect natural light reaching the front of the product
· Backlight : Natural light shining from behind the product
· Photometry : Light shining from the side of the product
Whatever your preferred lighting angle, keep in mind that there is shadow on the other side of the light.
To take advantage of natural light, place a table or chairs next to a large window and place a large white seat against the wall. You can create the right combination of good light and soft shadows. It is also a way to avoid direct sunlight that creates too dark shadows or dark results.
If the sunlight is too strong, you can use a thin white sheet and install it on the window to diffuse and soften the light. Strong light can saturate all colors and exaggerate even the smallest lines that are invisible to our eyes, so it is best to avoid it when taking pictures.
Fill in shade using reflectors
If the sun suddenly hides behind a cloud or natural light becomes low as the sun sets, use a reflector to strengthen the light and fill in the shadows. You can use a white foam pod or white screen as a reflector, and these days, you can easily get it online or at stationery stores.
If there is not enough natural light when shooting, the shadows of the jacket crease lines will stand out, as seen in the image above.
If you are using the reflector for the first time, you can adjust the amount of light reflected by moving the reflector further or closer to the product. The principle is that by using a white surface, natural light from the sun can be reflected back to the product.
By using a reflector to fill in the shaded areas caused by natural light, you can see that the wrinkles on the jacket are much reduced.
Watch which side the light comes from and bounce the light in the opposite direction. You need to shoot at a 90-degree angle right next to the light source and reflect that light back onto your subject. This will make the image as light as possible while eliminating as many shadows as possible.
When shooting a fashion model, if there is a window on the right, place the reflector on the left. This will bounce the light into areas where there is little light, giving the photo a much softer finish.
Play around with the angle of your reflector to find the right balance between shadows and lighting. When photographing a product with backlight, place a reflector in front of the product so that natural light can be reflected.
When shooting with metering, harsh shadows can appear on the product, so you can soften them by reflecting the light to the opposite side of the shadow using a reflector.
3. Setting up the product background
When taking product photos, another necessary preparation to get good photos using natural light is to set up the background in an open space.
The background should always be white because white reflects natural light onto the product and transmits light evenly. Using a white background makes it much easier to remove the background, which is also advantageous during post-shooting editing.
When photographing small-sized products, you can attach a white battery to the wall behind the product and place it on a table. You can also photograph a chair leaning against the wall under a large window. Use tape or pliers to secure the white background battery to the wall or chair to create the desired shooting angle.
If you are shooting a large product, you may need to purchase a roll of white background paper.
As you can see, if you set the white battery background leaning against the wall on a chair so that it is slightly curved without folding it, and then photograph the product, there will be no lines in the background and light will reflect all the way to the back of the product.
The point of the background is to secure it well with pliers or tape so that it does not move while taking pictures, and to maintain the curve of the background. These small changes can reflect light and change shadows.
4. Various angles of the product
Our goal is to visually show customers even the details that are not fully explained in the product description through product photos. So it is important to produce various angles of the camera.
You need to showcase the features of your product well by providing a showcase to customers from various angles. It delivers 360-degree visual information about the product as if the customer were encountering the product in person. Providing images from various angles like this is a great help in understanding products, especially fashion products, as customers would wear and use them themselves.
Shooting a product from different angles can bring a different personality and creativity to the product photo. The representative image should be the main shot of the product and something that can be seen directly with the eye. We recommend adding up to 12 secondary images that highlight the most important features.
If you're not sure which features to capture and showcase, focus on features that demonstrate the quality of your product. You can provide a close-up of the fabric, show print details or texture, or even show how to use or wear it. Highlight and clearly display the detailed elements of the product that customers would like to see.
At this time, when shooting from various angles, it is more important to move the product rather than move the camera. The camera and tripod are kept in the same spot, and instead of moving the camera, the angle of the product is changed. This also fixes the position of the product and only changes the direction according to the viewing angle.
This ensures that the product is consistently presented in the same size within the same frame in the finished image and is also good for photo editing.
If you are more experienced or comfortable shooting, you can shoot from various camera angles without a tripod. You can include more items in your photo by shooting from above rather than just in front of the product. This feature is very useful for showing products by line or flow. Conversely, taking a photo from a low angle can make the product appear larger.
5. Using the camera’s manual shooting mode
You can create a variety of effects by using the camera's manual mode. Install a tripod first before setting up and use the tripod as a default. If you don't have a tripod, I recommend using a book as a stand. This is because a tripod creates stable photos so that the frame does not shake even with small shakes or movements.
To get the best results, we recommend shooting in manual mode because it can be adapted to various lighting conditions that vary depending on the environment, whether outdoors or in a studio.
Shooting in manual mode gives you control over all settings and reduces errors caused by incorrect automatic settings.
Now, let’s take a quick look at the representative manual settings that can master most natural light.
Let’s look at the aperture first. It's a good idea to keep the aperture wide enough to keep everything in focus. To keep the entire product in focus without too much light, we recommend f/8 to f/14.
If you want to accurately focus the entire product, you should set it to f/12 or higher. Some cameras may not have it that high, so adjust it to suit the camera you are using. The higher the setting, the clearer the picture will be.
Next is sensitivity. ISO refers to the degree to which the camera reacts to light. A low sensitivity means the camera is not sensitive to light, so the photo quality is high. Conversely, the higher the ISO value, the more sensitive it is to light, making the photo brighter but rougher. When shooting in dark environments, you may need to increase ISO, but finding the optimal balance between light effects and image quality is key.
By setting the appropriate ISO for your environment, you can create nice, clear product photos. In conditions with sufficient natural light, I usually set the ISO between 300-500 depending on the weather outside. If the weather is particularly cloudy, you can increase the ISO and increase the sensitivity to produce a clear image.
White balance (WB)
Choosing the right white balance means accurately adjusting the color of the product when exposed to light. If you are a beginner, you will probably use the automatic white balance setting, where the camera automatically selects the appropriate setting depending on the light.
Once you feel more confident with your camera settings, I recommend manually adjusting the white balance as close to what you see as possible. This is the process of ensuring that what you see with your own eyes and what you see through the camera viewfinder look the same as possible.
When sunlight suddenly increases or becomes more intense, images can become overexposed. Because the product's details are not sufficiently expressed due to strong light, overexposed images are difficult to correct during editing. If you apply the advice so far using natural light, you can take good images.
When setting the aperture, ISO, and white balance, set the camera shutter speed last. Shutter speed determines how long the camera shutter stays open to take a picture. Long shutter speeds allow the camera to let in more light, creating beautiful, sharp photos.
The most important shutter speed tip is to use a tripod so that the camera can work stably and coordinate with all other settings.
Manual setting using smartphone camera
It is an undeniable fact that it is ideal to take product photos using a professional camera, but it is also true that smartphones these days are also equipped with cameras with excellent pixels and functions. It is possible to take photos of at least reasonable quality and edit the rest.
Let’s summarize some tips when taking product photos with a smartphone.
· Avoid shooting using the zoom function, which reduces image quality.
· Prevent shaking by using a tripod holder for smartphones
· Do not take pictures in selfie mode
· Avoid using flash to avoid overexposure or color change in photos.
· Avoid cluttered or dark backgrounds and always use a white background.
· Avoid excessive editing that reduces the quality of the image; use only fine adjustments.
Numerous applications allow you to achieve results similar to DSLR cameras. Among them, Adobe's Lightroom CC allows you to set file formats from JPEG to DNG, and DNG helps create better quality images by providing more information about the image. You can save more storage space on your device by reducing the size using DNG files.
Other things you can adjust are scale, timer, grid, levels, and highlight max to help you anticipate which parts of your image may be overexposed. After taking a photo, you can adjust color, exposure, tone, contrast, etc. with Lightroom CC.
We recommend downloading Lightroom CC on your desktop and linking the desktop and mobile apps, as it is much easier to edit and retouch photos on the larger screen desktop version.
6. Take product photos
Now everything is set up and all that remains is filming. Shooting settings also need to be perfected through practical practice while actually shooting. The person who understands the product he or she is selling better than anyone else is the seller. Show off the product’s features and advantages from various angles. At the same time, it's fun to use your own creativity and try different things. If you practice by taking note of the settings you made during filming along with the results you tried, you will find the settings that produce the perfect effect.