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by evan-pak

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I am a self-trained amateur and shoot product photography for my clothing company. My typical set-up is 2 500-watt continuous softboxes, lighting a product from above with each light just to the left and right of the camera.

I usually add contrast in post, but would like to modify my light set-up to provide a little more contrast and shadowing (under the collar area of the shirt, for example) while still lighting the shirt evenly.

My thought was a different type of light source or perhaps a honeycomb-style grid to make the light a little 'harder.'

An example photo of on of MY images can be seen here (contrast added in post):

An similar style with better contrast can be seen here:

I can tell the second image uses light that is a little more "directional", so a lighting placement change is needed as well, I'd be curious to hear those thoughts as well.

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

You didn't say what size softboxes you were using but the size matters. You can reduce the size of the softboxes and you will get harder light. Put eggcrate/grid modifiers on the softbox to add some directionality. Here's an example of eggcrate.

Somewhere in the middle, you'll find octabanks with and without grids.

If you are still looking for harder light, a beauty dish with a sock is harder, and then a beauty dish without a sock is still harder. Dish with a grid is very directional.

Why I steer clear of umbrellas is that they focus the light in a dispersion pattern I don't particularly like. If it works for you, an umbrella is a good lightweight solution.

My recommendation is that you rent one of the mods you think might work and leave the other softbox alone. Because, really, aren't you trying to affect the directionality of the light? I.e., create some shadows that define texture. So use a somewhat directional light for your main and the softbox to fill at about 2:1 main:fill ratio. If you find a mod that really makes a difference, then you might consider buying one.

I do a lot of product shots with strip lights, softboxes, grid spots, and beauty dishes. It all depends on what I'm trying for. There are cases where shadows just look crummy and the color defines the objects. In more cases, a dish or grid sauces up the image quite a bit.

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Thank you for the informative response. I'm using these at a distance of about 4-5':… If I used something like a beauty dish for my main light and a softbox for fill, how do I ensure even exposure over the full item? For example, If I used the harder/main light source from above the shirt to add shadow below the collar, I suspect, even with fill coming from the bottom, the bottom area of the shirt would be less exposed. Regardless, I will rent and experiment with different setups. – Eric Powell Sep 25 '12 at 13:17
Contrast is the difference in luminosity between different adjoining elements in the photograph. Because you are lighting everything the same, you have a relatively low contrast image. You're adding this contrast back in post-processing. The shadow doesn't have to be black, it just has to define the texture or shape. Fill opens the shadows without completely removing them. Why don't you try dialing back the intensity of one of your softboxes and see how it works. – Steve Ross Sep 25 '12 at 18:18

I think the simplest solution to get more contrast is to just pull the lights back a bit. Can't get much easier than that!

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I would suggest using a silvered umbrella instead of a soft box.

You may be able to remove the white front cover from your soft box too, this has a similar effect or making the light slightly less diffuse.

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