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Lighting for Product Photography: Shoes on a White Background


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BY Allison Earnest September 10, 2014 · Published by Amherst Media

Allison Earnest demonstrates how to light and photograph a pair of athletic shoes for an online store in this excerpt from her Amherst Media book Lighting for Product Photography.

This excerpt from Lighting for Product Photography is provided courtesy of Amherst Media. To purchase the book and learn more about the publisher, visit the Amherst Media website.





Product: Field-hockey shoes

Directive: Photograph the shoes on a clean white background for use on a web site

I was commissioned to photograph products for a field-hockey company’s online store. The client requested a white background and a realistic depiction of the shoes’ attributes.

Flat lighting a product on a white background will not enhance its look—or its sales. I have often heard people say, “It’s only for a web site—it doesn’t have to look good.” In fact, when a product is placed online it is more important to show every characteristic of the subject. Many people who order items online are not equipped with calibrated monitors, so the photograph must convey the product’s attributes in their entirety. 

For this assignment (see the final image in plate 6-55, above: ISO 200; 80mm lens; f/14; 1/100 second), that meant the lighting had to show the protruding tread on the sole, as well as the silver (with black breathable fabric) at the top of the toe area.

How It Was Done

Plate 6-56 is well-exposed, though flatly lit. Unfortunately, you can’t see many of the different fabric textures and characteristics of the shoe. There are burned-out highlights as well as blocked-up shadows. If I saw this photo online I would probably perceive the shoes to be black, red, and white—when, in reality, they are black, red, and silver. Can you see why lighting products is critical for your clients?

Plate 6-56. This flat exposure doesn’t do the shoe justice—or help the viewer decide to buy it. (ISO 200; 80mm lens; f/14; 1/100 second)

In plate 6-57 you can see the auxiliary tools that were necessary to shape this image. The black finger blocked the reflected light from the white surface to help shape the metallic silver trim and “D” logo on the shoe and the back sole of the product. 

Plate 6-57. The tools needed to shape this product.

Plate 6-58 shows the final setup used to create plate 6-55. Let’s take a look at the diagram. A single monolight (A) with a 7-inch parabolic reflector was positioned high and angled down onto the back shoe as a hard source to show texture and depth on the treads. A double net cutter (B) was placed just in front of the monolight so that no additional light would fall onto the front of the shoe or the white surface. This would have added unwanted bounce light on the product. A second monolight with barn doors (C) was aimed at the white seamless paper to illuminate the background. (Note: To obtain a white background, the background exposure must be at least 1 stop brighter than the subject.) A 7-inch parabolic (D) was directed toward the background, metering about 1 stop brighter than the main light, ensuring a white background. A small stripbox (E) was placed to camera right as the main source of illumination on the product. Notice that this light was not on the camera axis, which would have produced flat lighting. It was placed at approximately a 90 degree angle to the product to create shadows and highlights and enhance the texture of the shoes’ black fabric. A small mirror (F) was used as an accent light, bouncing a highlight onto the silver fabric of the shoe. Another small mirror (G) was placed to add a highlight to the tip of one shoe and the logo on the back of the other. Remember that clients want to see their logo as clearly as possible, so don’t allow any highlight or shadow to run through any part of it. 

Plate 6-58. The final lighting setup.


Plates 6-59 and 6-60. Viewing the bad (left) with the good (right) gives you an idea of how a few small adjustments can enhance the overall image and show all the product’s realistic attributes.





Featured photographer: Allison Earnest

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