Lighting setup tips for professional-looking product images

Post by
Chrizelle Monique Sta. Cruz
Lighting setup tips for professional-looking product images

One of the most common questions we get from photographers in our creator community is about what type of lighting setup to use. Working with an artificial light source is a popular choice among food and product photographers because it significantly expands your creative capabilities and output. Not needing to rely on natural light from the sun gives you more control over your photos and the freedom to choose any time of day (or night!) to take them.

You may have also come to the point in your creative journey where you are interested in investing in lighting equipment and be asking yourself how much it should cost, what to buy and how steep is the learning curve?

To find out the answers to these questions we asked some members of our community about their lighting equipment choices and recommendations.

The Self-taught Photographer

Based in Ontario, Canada, Ruth Robinson has pursued her passion for product photography since 2021. As a self-taught photographer, she educates herself by watching tutorials on Youtube, learning from Creatively Squared, and taking online photography courses.

Ruth loves experimenting with her product photos by creating her own props, using mobile apps to create composite images, and applying all the tips and tricks she learns from her resources.

What prompted you to invest in artificial lighting?

I needed to find an alternative light source because I work all day and when I get home and want to practice photography the natural light from the sun is gone. Even when shooting during daylight hours my windows at home don’t help so I decided to invest in artificial light. I love using artificial light and I think the results look amazing.

What lighting equipment do you use?

Godox SL200ii - USD$439

I chose Godox because they sold many Godox products at the camera store. I wanted a high-powered light source, and have paid a good price for it but it’s comparable to others.

What I love about my Godox SL200i light is that it’s super bright, I also have two Godox flash units and a trigger but I don’t use them too often. I just think it’s more fiddling around when I can just turn in my light.

Would you recommend this equipment to others?

For both beginners and professional product photographers, I would recommend getting a Godox SL200ii because it is super powerful. Two lights are best if you have the space and budget or one powerful light works too.

If you only have one light like myself, note that I usually have it in full power, you can use a diffuser to control the brightness, reduce harsh shadows and create soft light.

The Part-Time Photographer

Karen Baker is a product photographer from Brisbane, Australia who also works as a Graphic Designer. Karen has been working on her freelance styling and photography side-hustle for some time and contributes many creative ideas and techniques to the Creatively Squared community. Karen often shares her creative journey and what she learns along the way through behind the scenes videos and DIY prop ideas.

What prompted you to invest in artificial lighting?

When I started out in photography I only used natural lighting. I’m lucky to have an abundance of sunshine where I live. Building a set up close to a window or outside was a good start for me. After some time I knew I had to invest in lighting to create sharper images and I also wanted to experience taking product photos with different lighting effects.

What lighting equipment do you use?

Godox SL60 - USD$140

I chose this lighting equipment because it’s reasonably priced, had great reviews, and was easy to use. I use this in my home studio and mainly without a softbox. Usually I reflect the light from a wall or the ceiling to create even lighting without shadow or through a diffuser panel. But I have also used this to create harsh shadows. I use this now for all my product photography work except when it’s outside and I’m using natural light.

Profoto A1X Air TTL - USD$1,199.22

I bought this light because it has an easy click on filters and a diffuser which I love, I use it on a stand so I can position it anywhere in the room, super portable and can also be used as a flashlight on my camera, but I prefer to use is it on the stand connected to my camera using their air connect device.

Again I use this in the studio mainly but I have used this on lifestyle shoots interior and exterior. I use this all the time!

Would you recommend this equipment to others?

I’m still learning how to use my lighting equipment but I have found that using both lights makes such a difference to the quality of your work! My go-to is using the Godox pointing upwards to bounce the light off a wall or the ceiling and using the Profoto A1X with Clic Dome diffuser for off-camera, pointing it at the product from a distance.

Because it’s handheld you can easily manipulate the shadow and it creates a nice crisp image.

If you want to explore with artificial light, I could say that I’m really happy with my Godox SL60W LED light. It’s easy to use, well priced and it’s versatile. If you have a bigger budget, this combined with the Profoto flashlight can help in producing sharper and cleaner images.

The Professional Photographer

Hailing from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Jitz is Creatively Squared’s in-house creative guru who is responsible for many of our tutorials and supporting our aspiring creators to get the most out of their equipment. His endless list of tips and hacks in product photography has been a valuable resource in the community.

What prompted you to invest in artificial lighting?

When I started doing product photography, I only worked with natural lighting. That allowed me to only shoot when the sun is up and usually it’s a very short time frame. It also affected my shooting schedule as it depends very much on the weather. I’m also a night owl so I feel more productive and creative at night. Because of all these, I went out to get my first speedlight which was the Godox TT685 and never looked back ever since.

What lighting equipment do you use?

Godox SL150ii - USD$339

I use this light the most in the studio. Initially, I used it to shoot videos as the fan is completely silent and comes with a handy remote control so I don’t have to constantly go to it to make small adjustments. Then, I discovered that this light made a great photography light as well as it produces pretty accurate colour and I also love that it has bowen mount which makes it really easy to put on almost any modifiers available out there. It is also a very powerful light which I always use to simulate a morning sun/look.

Mini RGB LED light panel - USD$80

This small form factor and lightweight RGB light panel has become one of my favorites! For video, I use it to highlight the edge of the product and also as an accent light for the background. For photo, I usually use it as a backlight to create that beautiful glow in beverage bottles.

I also have continuous lights GVM1000D x2 and a Godox V860ii x 3 flashlight and softboxes NiceFoto 120cm Parabolic Grid Softbox x1 and Godox SB-FW 90cm Softbox with Grid.

What would you recommend for others?

My top tips when using on-body flashlight and softbox:

  1. When using an on-body flashlight, try to use it in ways that it’s not directly pointed at the subject but instead try bouncing it from the ceiling or the wall beside the camera. This creates soft and even lighting across the entire image.
  2. When using a softbox, move it near the subject to create softer light and further away to create harsher light.

For beginners, I recommend using continuous lighting such as the affordable Godox SL60s. With the Bowen mount, you can practically mount most of the softboxes available in the market.

For photographers who want to get into more professional photography, I’d suggest investing in a good flash system. Godox's lineup is pretty good and reliable to start with. I'd recommend the Godox AD200 for its compact form factor and more than enough power to light up any scene.

I regret selling off my AD200s. I really miss them now!


The Food Photographer

Highly regarded Australian photographer and educator Rachel Korinek follows her creative passions for crafting delectable food imagery from her home base in Vancouver. An aspirational figure to photographers at all stages of their creative journeys, Rachel teaches practical skills and techniques that inspire her followers to lead a more creative life.

What prompted you to invest in artificial lighting?

At this stage of my photography journey I shoot with both natural and artificial light, but I love the flexibility that artificial light gives me - especially for client work. I prefer strobe because I love the quality of the light and being able to fully control and craft light to any style I have in mind to tell my food story.

What lighting equipment do you use?

Profoto B10 (250 w/s) - USD$1,795

The Profoto B10 is what I use most of the time. I primarily got the B10 for portability and size. It’s so compact I can take it on location. The light can also be plugged in so I have limitless power and it has a modelling light that you can change the temperature and power so I can use it as a continuous video light.

I also have an old Profoto B1 (model discontinued). I have their Air Remote TTL-N trigger and use a Manfrotto 420B Combi Boom (highly recommend) lighting stand for most of my modifiers.

The main modifiers I have are the 2′ x 3′ soft box, a 1′ x 4′ strip box (I have a second hand discontinued model) and a 2′ octa box.

What artificial light set up would you recommend for others?

My go-to artificial lighting setup is to recreate the look of natural light from the window by using a simple setup coming from the same direction that mimics the same amount of light. If you are shooting with lots of light already in your room, you want to try and remove the ambient light or use blackout blinds so you can see what the artificial light is doing on your scene.

To test this, you can turn off the flash and take a shoot. If it's black, we know there is no light from the room getting into our shot. Another tip is going to the max sync speed of your light. This way, you can shoot in bright light or in darkness and the image will always look the same because the only light that is getting onto the camera sensor is from the flash.

Backlight is also a great way to get a ‘wow effect’ in your food photos because there is something magical about it. This technique is when light shines from behind the subject of an image from the camera’s perspective. It’s most magical when your subject is shiny, transparent, or translucent. I wrote a blog on how to set this up yourself properly in your food photography.

The Product Photographer

Aidan Hughes is a Hampshire-based photographer specialising in advertising, product, and still life photography. His commercial work requires a high-end lighting to ensure that items such as reflective glass bottles have a flawless finish.

What prompted you to invest in artificial lighting?

I did try using natural light to begin with but found that I prefer to have more control over exactly which part of the subject or scene is being lit. Plus I am constantly striving to reach the level of the photographers that I take inspiration from such as Karl Taylor, David Lund and Timothy Hogan, to do this without artificial lighting would be extremely difficult.

What lighting equipment do you use?

Pixapro Storm II strobes - £499.99

I am currently using the Pixapro Storm II strobes for my lighting. They are made by Godox and rebranded by a UK company. The main reason for choosing this brand was value for money and they come with a warranty, something you do not get with Godox in the UK.

They also have a good reputation for quality and consistency. Fair enough they are not in the same league as brands like Broncolor or Profoto but then they are considerably more budget-friendly.

The reason for choosing the Storm model was due to them having a fast flash duration. I knew that I wanted to start incorporating dynamic elements into my photography such as water splashes so a fast flash duration was imperative for achieving this.

I use artificial lighting for 100% of my product and still life photography. I find the lighting aspect to be the most interesting. I love the challenge of painting a scene with light and using it to help convey the emotion of an image.

What artificial light set up would you recommend for others?

My top tip to help get more from your lighting is to use reflectors as another light source. If you do not have enough lights this is a very useful alternative. A mirror, a silver reflector or even some white foam core can all be used to help light a subject.

More often than not if I am lighting a bottle in a simple scene then I will only use 2 lights. One for the background and one for the key light on the bottle, I will then use mirrors and bounce cards for anything else. This works great if you do not have access to loads of lights or if you just don't have the space for them.

If you are considering levelling up your product photography skills, investing in lighting equipment and learning how to use them should be on top of your list. Having the ability to work with artificial light gives you endless photographic possibilities. Not only does it offer you absolute control over your images but it also gives you more creative freedom from what natural light can offer.

Thank you to Ruth, Jitz, Karen, Rachel, and Aidan for sharing with us their personal choices and recommendations for using artificial light. We hope that these contributions will help guide you through real life use-cases of specific equipment and how its used. It’s not an easy decision with so many options but ultimately the lighting equipment you invest in depends on your budget and individual requirements.

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