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Product Photography Lighting Guide

Product photography lighting options are plentiful these days thanks to the freedom that digital cameras now provide. Auto white balance (AWB) is so good on most recent digital cameras that almost any light source can be utilized. Here we’ll run through the main lighting options and their pros and cons.product-photography-lighting

We’ll start with the simplest and cheapest and work up to the more complex and expensive product photography lighting.

Product Photography Lighting with Daylight



Product photography using daylight gives you the advantage of using natural light from the outset. This means your lighting is closely in tune with your cameras default settings. However daylight can be variable and short lived depending on the time of year and your location. You can’t control prevailing daylight but you can quickly learn how to harness and modify it to suit your needs. A bright but overcast day can be ideal for a product photography shoot as this light will likely be even and consistent. Bright direct sunlight can often be a nuisance but on occasion it can give you just the right atmosphere you’re looking for. To harness daylight you want to position and orientate your tabletop studio near a door or window so the light is coming in from the ideal direction – this direction will vary depending on your subject. Place one of the white backdrops on the far side of your tabletop studio to bounce light back on to your subject. Use the Modahaus Smartcase as a light diffusing and reflection control enclosure.


  • Natural light, naturally ūüėČ
  • No cost


  • Variable and inconsistent
  • Limited to daylight hours

Hot Tip – Never mix artificial light with daylight.


Product Photography Lighting with LED household lamps

These Gooseneck LED Table lamps from Ikea were a great find for us! They are called JANSJO in all their stores worldwide and cost £10/$10 each. What we like about these lamps is with the goosenecks you can easily reposition the light direction, height and angle using just one hand. The light beam is quite sharp and you can vary the light cast from a spotlight to a floodlight by varying the distance from your subject and tabletop studio.


We use two or three of these on a typical shoot and have recently used these on a vintage jewelry and watch catalogue shoot. They are very portable and robust. They’re not daylight color temperature so if your AWB does not cope, you’ll need to set custom white balance on your camera which is very straightforward. This is our favorite product photography lighting set up right now! We recently used these lights in this focus stacking tutorial.


  • Easily position light direction, angle and height
  • Low cost
  • Long life – Up to 50,000 hours!
  • Low operating temperature
  • Robust
  • Sharp beam of light – variable with distance
  • Consistent, continuous light source
  • Useful lamps for other tasks
  • Portable


  • Not daylight color temperature – easily overcome

Hot Tip РNever mix LED lights with other artificial lights or daylight.

The ring below was lit with the LED gooseneck lamps.


Product Photography Lighting with CFL daylight lamps

There are many professional photo outlets that sell¬†daylight balanced CFL lighting units. Some of these units can accommodate multiple bulbs each with high output levels. These units are very useful for general large studio work such as portraiture especially when used with a softbox housing. They’ll work equally as well for tabletop product photography albiet a bit of overkill.

CFL-daylight-bulbYou can buy the individual Daylight CFL bulbs from many outlets online and they typically have the common E27 bulb mount. We’ve used these on many occasions with a couple of angle poise lamps from Ikea (again) called TERTIAL. The direction of light from these bulbs is more of a flood light and it’s difficult to use a directional beam although some of the larger studio units can have barn doors attached.


  • Low cost options available
  • Easily position light direction and height with angle poise lamps
  • Long life – Around 10,000 hours!
  • Low operating temperature
  • Daylight color balanced
  • Consistent, continuous light source
  • Useful lamps for other tasks


  • Delicate and easily broken
  • If broken, open all doors and windows and evacuate room for 15 minutes! Advice on UK Gov site DEFRA on using these “green” bulbs!
  • Can cause interference on images captured with Smartphones – To avoid this – increase distance from camera

Hot Tip РIf you break one, run for it!

Modahaus TS216 studio upright with CFL lights

Product Photography Lighting with LED Lightboxes

These daylight LED lightboxes from Artograph called Lightpad have proved a great asset for us when travelling to shoot jewelry and vintage watches on location at client premises. They are relatively lightweight, and robust and have survived intact through airport baggage handling.


We have used three of these for this vintage watch shoot. One underneath the Modahaus Tabletop Studio TS216 for uplighting and the other two positioned on either side to suit the subject. They use the ‘edge lit’ LED configuration and provide an even ‘wall of light’ which is great for reflective subjects. They’re effectively a compact flat soft box. These Light boxes are often used for crafting tasks and viewing film transparencies so if you’re also into these activities it can help justify the cost. A4/US Letter size around ¬£130/$200.


  • Flat, compact and portable
  • flat, even ‘soft box’ light
  • Long life – Around 50,000 hours!
  • Low operating temperature
  • Robust
  • Daylight color balanced
  • Consistent, continuous light source
  • Useful light box for other tasks


  • Only good for lighting at close proximity to small subjects
  • A bit pricey unless you have regular need to shoot only small subjects

Hot Tip РUse a couple of clamps to prop up light boxes on either side.


Product Photography Lighting with LED Photographic lights

These daylight LED light banks come in a variety of sizes and are relatively new to the market. There seems to be new models coming on the market every week and this is because of the rapidly expanding use of DSLR’s to shoot video footage.


The larger unit shown we bought on Ebay from South Korea a few years ago and they have served us well for both video and larger product photography shoots. Most photo equipment retailers now sell similar models. The smaller unit shown is from Manfrotto and is designed for hot shoe mounting for shooting video. We’ve not tried the Manfrotto LED light yet for product photography but have on good authority from a Modahaus customer that he has had some excellent results using it. Both models have variable light output. Avoid using the small LED light on your hot shoe. Better to position elsewhere.


  • Long life – Around 50,000 hours!
  • Low operating temperature
  • Robust
  • Daylight color balanced
  • Consistent, continuous light source
  • Useful for video lighting
  • Variable light output


  • Without diffusion you’ll have hundreds of specular highlights in reflective subjects from all those LEDs

Hot Tip РUse a Modahaus Tabletop Studio Smartcase to eliminate unwanted specular highlights

This was the first image we shot using the 500 LED light bank back in 2011 using an iPhone 4 , just for fun!

led light bank and TS216

Product Photography Lighting with Speedlight Flashguns

Speedlight flashguns are very compact, portable, powerful and versatile. Ideally you want to have your Speedlight(s) off the camera’s hotshoe or at the minimum, use flash bounced off a wall or ceiling. The least expensive method for taking your Speedlight ‘off shoe’ is investing in an off shoe cord – the longer the better. These cords for Canon Speedlights cost around ¬£50/$75. There may be cheaper options I’m unaware of.


Next step up is using a couple of Speedlights that can be remotely triggered by an on-shoe transmitter. I use a Canon Speedlight 580 EX,¬†a Canon Speedlight 580 EX MKII and a Canon STE2 Wireless transmitter. This ST-E2 allows you to vary the output from each flashgun. Flash can be tabletop mounted or mounted on light stands. You can bounce the flash off ceilings or walls. You can light your Modahaus Tabletop Studio from behind or below using the translucent white backdrop or the translucent colored backdrops. There are also snoot and grid attachments available for these Speedlights. Canon’s latest Speedlight The 600EX RT uses radio control triggering. This has the advantage that you don’t need ‘line of sight’ between the radio transmitter and Speedlight which is useful for architectural location photography. This is a sea change for Canon Speedlights. What this does mean though is the older Wireless Speedlights and transmitters, that are perfect for product photography, have come down in price in the used market. Sorry I’ve no knowledge of other brand Speedlights. There’s one main difference in using Speedlights for product photography lighting compared to the above continuous lighting set ups. With continuous lighting you can see the results of re-positioning lighting before taking your shot. With Speedlights you’ll have to evaluate the results after taking the shot. Not a big issue with digital photography. You just take a test shot and check your lighting and adjust if needed.


  • Long life – I’ve never had a Speedlight give up on me!
  • No heat output
  • Robust, compact, lightweight and portable
  • Daylight color balanced
  • Variable light output
  • High light output
  • Good range of snoots and grids available
  • You can shoot without tripod if needed
  • You can shoot (and freeze) moving subjects – such as pouring a dram of Glenmorangie Single Malt Scotch Whisky ūüėČ


  • No preview of lighting adjustments

Hot Tip РGive your Speedlight a rest for a few minutes РCanon recommend a rest after only 20 flashes!


Product Photography Lighting with Studio Flash

Monobloc Studio Flash units are very powerful mains powered (typically) flash heads.


The term Monobloc (first created by Bowens) means all the electronic gubbins are contained inside the flash head rather than in a separate box. These units would provide an abundance of lighting power for tabletop product photography lighting. However, if the scope of your photography is going to encompass portraiture and very large products such as cars and furniture and you have the space for these Studio Flashes, and their stands, they will give you excellent results time after time for tabletop product photography as well. One of the main benefits that Studio Flash has over Speedlight flash is they include modeling lamps. These are small output continuous lamps incorporated in the flash head that give you a preview of the direction and shape of the light the flash head will deliver. Thus giving you the advantage of both studio continous light and flash studio light.


  • Long life
  • Little heat output
  • Robust
  • Daylight color balanced
  • Variable light output
  • High light output
  • Good range of modifiers, snoots and grids available
  • You can shoot without tripod if needed
  • You can shoot (and freeze) moving subjects


  • Big, bulky and heavy

Hot Tip¬†– If you’re fortunate enough to have Studio Flash heads you’ll appreciate the value of studio space. Consider investing in a compact, flat pack Modahaus Tabletop Studio.

Wrap up

Digital photography has been a complete game changer when it comes to product photography lighting. Whether you shoot with a DSLR, a Compact Camera or indeed a Smartphone, lighting is still very important but the choices open to you are far greater now. Cameras can now see a variety of light sources in much the same way as we can, Thankfully!

See our other Guides and Blog posts for more tips on product photography and the versatile Modahaus system. Connect with us via RSS, Email signup, Twitter or Facebook to keep fully up to date.

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  • Great Article!!! Thanks for sharing. I’m going to experiment with the LED Gooseneck Lamps and Multi CFL Lamps.

  • If

    Absolutely fantastic. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

  • When shooting with off camera flash gun, what sort of ambient light should be there?

    • lex

      Thanks for your question. When using off camera flash, any ambient light is better to be daylight. If you’re shooting indoors, turn off all artificial light as that would be a different colour temperature to the flash. Hope that helps, Lex

  • modahaus

    With off camera flashgun lighting (Speedlight) you are best to limit any ambient to daylight as this will be closest to the colour temperature of the flash lighting. Best to turn off all artificial lighting if you’re shooting indoors. However, if your off camera flash lighting is coming from the same direction as ambient artificial light, the off camera flash light should overcome and eliminate any colour cast from the artificial light. This would enable you to shoot out of daylight hours. Best to use minimal artificial light in this case – you only want sufficient artificial light to see and compose your subject and aid auto focus if you’re using it. Hope that helps, Lex

  • Andy Smith

    That was a good bunch of info. Besides, I have a question. I can see white background has been extensively used to showcase the products which I also have been doing with these led high bay lights ; isn’t there any other way [apart from using the white background] to showcase our products?

  • Justin

    Finally a posting that gives some solutions for those of us without windows in our home!!! Had to hunt for a while to find your site, thanks!

  • snappir

    in picture #7, the watch with golden outline. Is it one of the Bended backdrops included in TS216 ? Thanks!

  • modahaus

    Thanks for your question snappir, Yes the bended backdrop in that watch image is the opaque white backdrop which is part of the set of 6 polymer backdrops included with all the tabletop studios. There’s more detail on that technique shown here –
    Hope that helps, Lex

  • I know something about product photography and want to more, So I found your article most helpful. On the other hand this is very important to adjust proper lighting during product photo shot which you described well. Thanks

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