Home Photography Ideas: Take Product Shots with a Single Strobe

Product photography is a great genre to practice while we’re all shooting from home, but it’s a deceptively complex genre. In order to create the kind of professional level you would see in magazines and advertisements, the lighting must be tightly controlled.

In many cases, product photography professionals use a multi-light setup. However, when space is limited or when working on a limited budget, a single strobe may suffice. In fact, in some cases a single light may be desirable to create a strong directional look, where using a second strobe would introduce too much light into the scene and add unnecessary complication to the photographer’s workflow.

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Before: A combination of a misplaced strobe and excessive power produced blown highlights, dark shadows and a distracting background, with lack of focus on the subject (Image credit: future)

After: By repositioning the strobe, less light falls on the background, shifting focus to the subject, while better control of light balance accentuates bright edges (Image credit: future)

However, the main challenge with this approach is that one side of the product can appear underexposed, especially with dark and shiny materials. When this happens, it is important to add fill light, reflecting some of the light onto surfaces that do not face the light source. This provides a more subtle accent light effect than even the lowest power setting on a second strobe could achieve.

With a creative approach to lighting angles and a good understanding of the relationship between exposure and lighting power, a magazine-style result can be achieved with minimal investment of time and potentially expensive studio equipment.

Best camera for product photography

Step 1: Place the light

(Image credit: future)

Attach a large softbox to your strobe. Although we want a fairly tight light spread, the background lighting can be tweaked later, while product highlights will be softened by the large light source.

Step 2: Arrange the products

(Image credit: future)

Arrange the elements to introduce a sense of depth. Offset the objects to avoid too much linearity, which does not produce an interesting perspective. Ensure good separation from the background.

Step 3: Choose a focal length

(Image credit: future)

Depending on the size of your studio, a longer focal length will compress the scene, bringing elements closer together, minimizing optical distortion and reducing negative space in the frame.

Step 4: Set the aperture

(Image credit: future)

To keep all your subjects sharp, stop at at least f/11. You may need to use a higher f-number to manage image brightness, so moving background elements away reduces unwanted detail.

Step 5: Adjust the strobe power

(Image credit: future)

If your shot is too bright, with blown highlights on one side of the product, keep the camera settings the same and reduce the strobe output. Don’t back the light – it can create too much directionality.

Step 6: Use a reflector

(Image credit: future)

Use a piece of white cardboard or Plexiglas to bounce light back to the dark side of objects. This will create a look similar to a second softbox, but with a more manageable output. Vary the position and angle.

The best reflectors for photography

Step 7: Adjust settings

(Image credit: future)

If your scene is still too bright, increase the shutter speed to around 1/200s. This will cut out ambient light without exceeding the maximum sync speed with the strobe. Fluorescent white balance adds a cool tone.

Step 8: Adjust the position of the light

(Image credit: future)

If your background is too bright, aim the light at 45° towards the camera, slightly behind the products, to reduce scatter and fall-off of subject illumination. Pay attention to reflections and reduced contrast.

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