Correct lighting is key to a great photo but understanding how to set up the perfect lighting with the tools you have can be a challenge.

In this post we will explore the important factors to consider when planning your lighting set up

  • Natural light vs Studio Light vs Tungsten
  • Lighting Set Ups
  • Quality of Light

The Light Source:

  • Natural light is the most affordable and easiest to access light source. It is simply the light that comes from the sun or the sky. Depending on the time of day, the direction of the sun, and the weather, natural light can vary widely in its colour so if you need consistency in your photos this may not be the best choice.
  • Studio light is an artificial light source that is perfect for photographers who desire more control over the lighting of their photos. Studio lights come in different types and sizes, so depending on your  budget and preference, you can choose from continuous light or flash, which comes in both monolights (also called strobes) and flash heads (also called speed lights).
  • Tungsten or room lights emit a very warm orange glow. Not recommended for product or food photography, where colours may not render true to life and food can look unappetising. In fact you should turn off any overhead lights so their colour cast does not interfere with your main light source.

    Light Set Up:

    • A good way to ensure a well light scene is by using a 2 or 3 light setup. A key light is the primary light source used to illuminate the subject. This could be a large window or your strongest studio light. Place this at the side or angled at 45 degrees for good coverage of the scene. The second light, called the fill light is there to reduce harsh shadows. This could be as simple as a white board to bounce light back in, so placed opposite the key light, or another studio light. Some scenes then benefit from a 3rd light called a backlight. This lights the back of the scene, angled towards the camera and can create a stunning halo effect to really emphasise the products.

    • Some scenes, typically in food photography, do really well when backlit, with the main light source behind the subject, angled towards the subject This enhances shape and textures, an important quality of food photos.


      Quality of Light:

      • When setting up lighting, understanding the difference between hard light and soft light is essential. A hard light source produces sharp, defined shadows and a high-contrast image, which makes the edges of the subject appear crisp. It is a bold, stylistic choice for product and food photography and creates dramatic effects. Hard light comes form full sun and bare studio lights.
      • Soft light, on the other hand, produces shadows with gradual edges, which tends to make the whole subject appear more evenly lit. It is often used in portraiture and product photography. If your light source is too hard, use a diffuser to soften it. For natural lighting conditions this may just involve waiting for cloud cover, but an owning a diffuser makes things much easier. This come in different shapes, from flat, pop up circles to light boxes with sheer sides. At CM Props & Backdrops we use our own cone diffuser for small products and  jewellery.  A Light Cone softens the light source by scattering light in many directions, reducing shadows and glare.

      interesting hard light shadows from window

      Understanding light sources, set up, and controlling your light can be challenging, but through practice and experimentation, you can develop your skills and achieve high-quality results. Remember, lighting plays a crucial role in showcasing your product.

      See what others think about studio light vs natural light!

      Happy shooting!

      March 24, 2023 — Catherine Main