How to Enhance Product Photos Using Reflections

Are product photos with white backgrounds starting to get boring for you or your clients? Don’t worry, it’s not your only option. Today we’ll look at a different take on product photography.

Just creating a dark background would be easy enough—for that we’d use black paper or a black plastic sheet (or the black felt that’s supplied with some diffusion boxes). But let’s set our sights higher—let’s try to get a reflection, and what’s more, to keep it undeformed.

We can get the most perfect reflection from glass. But careful, there’s a catch! Normal glass actually creates two reflections. One appears on its upper surface, and one on the lower surface. You can see this effect on an ordinary bathroom mirror, but not if you look at it head on—in that case, the two reflections lie on top of each other. But you’ll notice them if you enter the bathroom and look past the mirror at something at a sharp angle, as if you were photographing along the glass.

When you use glass in product photography, you have to work around this problem: you either get black glass, or paint the back of normal clear glass using black paint (the cheaper option). I’ve done wonders with the second of these variants for years.

A scene set up in advance, with black glass.

A scene set up in advance, with black glass.

The final photo.

The final photo.

Because the glass is not bent gradually upwards like the paper and plastic in our earlier articles were, we now have to pay attention to the background. Sometimes we’ll need to shoot from a higher angle so that the edge of the glass doesn’t appear in the shot. We can also move the table far enough away from the wall to turn it black and make the edge of the glass invisible. Or admit its presence, leave it in the picture, and make it look deliberate.

If you have a chance to make use of a “honeycomb” (a softbox grid), you can use that to diffuse light onto the walls as well.

Even though it looks like we’ve only switched from a white background to a dark one here, we’ve actually opened up the route to a whole new and powerful way of arranging the scene. This opens up new possibilities:

black_glass_honeycomb

A white or colored background with a perfect reflection

The base under the product from the previous example wasn’t black because of the black glass. It was black because nothing was reflected inside it! If we move in a little closer to the wall that we’re lighting in white with a second light, this gives the base the same color, and our black glass turns white.

The black glass has taken on the whiteness of the white-lighted wall.

The black glass has taken on the whiteness of the white-lighted wall.

If you’re not a fan of pure white, you can also use a color gradient.

Here the gradient is formed by a reflection off of the wall.

Here the gradient is formed by a reflection off of the wall.

With colored filters on your lights, you can fine-tune the color as needed. Another useful trick is to light only a part of the wall or to shape the light—typically into a circle—and align its reflection with the object.

This time the wall is lighted blue.

This time the wall is lighted blue.

A blue-lighted circle on the wall. In front of the wall is an unhidden horizon.

A blue-lighted circle on the wall. In front of the wall is an unhidden horizon.

Another major advantage is that the product can now be lighted separately, and that this light will not ruin the base.

Here the circle on the wall is only visible via a reflection, not directly. It’s present on the base for the visual effect only; the actual product is lighted by two other lights (just as in the preceding pictures).

Here the circle on the wall is only visible via a reflection, not directly. It’s present on the base for the visual effect only; the actual product is lighted by two other lights (just as in the preceding pictures).

More to Come

Now we’ve looked at some more complex product lighting, but there’s still one more lighting article to come. It will answer the question of how to do product lighting when the product itself is reflective.

Last updated 3. June 2015

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Author: Vit Kovalcik

I’ve been a freelancer since early 2012; photography is my living. I acquired my photography experience, both inside and outside the studio, during the previous years—when I was working all day and taking pictures every evening and weekend. I don’t have just one clearly defined topic; I like photographing people, but also cityscapes and landscapes.

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Comments

  • TerryB

    Nice. All done with the magic of light. It shows what the eye sees isn’t necessarily true! Thanks for the demonstration.

    • Aja Vorackova

      You’re welcome, we’re happy you like it. :)

  • Fantastic article! As a photographer who primarily shoots people and nature, this is VERY helpful to better understand still life and product photography. Thanks so much!!