I am starting my own business and need to take photos of my products. However, the lighting in my apartment is not that great and it is also cloudy and rainy outside, so no sunlight in here or anything. The only thing that remotely works is the flash on my camera, however in most cases it alters the color of my products.

I just took a picture of a headband (without flash) and the shadows looks so bad. The flower casts a huge shadow on the headband. I know I can't edit it in Photoshop either.

sample photo

I am on a budget so I can't afford any fancy equipment. All I have is an iPhone camera and a white tablecloth to use as the background.

Any suggestions?

I'm chiming in to introduce you to: the tub trick.

Tubs are great:

  • they're white
  • they're shiny

Combined, you get a place to set things that'll bounce around the light and provide for a mostly white background.

Here's my tub complete with window lighting:

enter image description here

And here's the shot, placing the item on the rail and cropping out the rest:

enter image description here

I did use the Snapseed App to slightly brighten the whole image and to do the crop. As you can see, shadows are soft (go window light go!) and the tub made for a decently white background.

More work and different technique will be required if you want the uber-white background type of product photo.

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    That's pretty good, I'd have never thought of that one! Of course, my bathroom is so dark that I've unloaded a partially exposed roll of film in there and had no fogging, so there's that... – FreeMan Oct 16 at 16:47
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    Is this a plot of my wife to make me clean the tub? – PlasmaHH Oct 17 at 6:25
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    this is quite possibly one of my favourite answers I've seen on here! – Crazy Dino Oct 17 at 10:14
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    Damn, that tip is so good it makes me wish I had a bathtub. – Baptiste Candellier Oct 17 at 12:16
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    "It's not that easy bein' green..." - Kermit – Michael C Oct 18 at 4:45

Let's assume you have no equipment at all & are not going to be able to get any right now - then a cloudy day is the best you can hope for.
A sunny day will make hard shadows, cloudy days don't.
Cloudy days are also a 'good white'. Artificial light is a bit of an unknown factor, which your camera will have a harder time guessing at, especially if you use more than one light source.

If it's not actually raining, then take your setup outdoors, where there will be almost no shadows at all. If you can't do that, then get as close to the window as you can.
'Broad light is good light'.
If your window has net curtains or similar, use those to further diffuse the light from outside.
Orient your backcloth & product so that any minimal shadows fall behind the product, rather than across it.

This was taken on an iPhone, next to the window. Not perfect, but an improvement on shadowing.

Two minutes in photoshop & the happy chap is ready to go...

If your product is on your backcloth & you have no controllable light source, you are never going to be able to knock it out easily, but you can work with it.
The trick to knocking out to white is to have your backdrop lit from behind - which you're not going to easily be able to do without more equipment - & also to get it to blur you need to elevate the product on something clear, so the product is in focus, but the backdrop is not.

[very] quick attempt at knockout, you could do far better with more care & attention than I took...

The bear was too big for this one - this little guy is only about 8cm [3"] tall

  • As for blurring the background, did portrait mode make any difference? – Hueco Oct 16 at 16:01
  • Interesting thought, but I don't have a dual lens iPhone, only a 6S, so not an option unfortunately. Would be interesting to see what one could do, though, if anyone has access to a dual lens, a cloudy day & a small soft toy on a cheap photographer's backdrop laid on the sofa ;) – Tetsujin Oct 16 at 16:04
  • Yea me neither. My wife does though...I'll have to see if it makes a diff. And yea, living in the pac nw this time of year...I've got clouds for days – Hueco Oct 16 at 16:06
  • Windows work great on bright, sunny days too, as long as you have one that doesn't have sunlight directly streaming into it... AKA "north lighting". – junkyardsparkle Oct 16 at 18:26
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    @junkyardsparkle even direct sun through a window can be softened with a simple white sheet. No reason to get the architects involved in the solution. :-) – Hueco Oct 16 at 19:44

Construct an omnidirectional chamber. This can be a tent constructed using a bedsheet or a rectangular cavity constructed using snow-white Styrofoam sheets from Home Depot or white poster paper. You place the object to be photographed under the tent on inside the cavity. In your case, a tent might be better. You then purchase several R-30 reflector flood bulbs with pin-up fixture. Light the tent from the outside. The tent disperses and diffused the light. Such a lash-up can exclude shadows.

One flag on the field: For the most part, photography is a 2-dimention media. Often shadows are necessary as they provide an illusion of depth.

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    To add to this: PVC is pretty cheap and can be a quick and cheap way to build a more rigid structure, if you need it. – Hueco Oct 16 at 17:23

Product photography is an independent and broad field of photography so if you want to achieve profesional results you should invest in learning how to do it, a camera that can control an external flash and couple of flashes with umbrellas and tripod.... or pay someone who knows and have the equipment to do it.

However, you may try two tricks and could be good enough for a small online shop:

1st: Take your products to your local printing / xerox shop and ask the clerk to scan them. Depending on the size of the product and the width it can render very nice results with soft and uniform light and strong defocus towards a black background. Google it to see samples.

2nd: Get a flashlight that gives you a white light. Any cheap one works, just try to get one that has white light like a the ones with a led bulb. Download a camera app for your iphone that allows you to take slow shuter pictures, meaning pictures that last for at least 5 sec. Check in the app store, there are plenty of them that are free.

Place your phone over something that holds it on the top while your product is on the bottom so you dont hold the iphone with your hands, like a shoebox or the border of a table, being your phone at the edge of the table with the camera over it and the product in the floor.

Then turn off the light of the room and be sure to be in darkness.

Set the exposure in the camera app at 5 sec, press the shoot button and turn on your flashlight and move it during the 5 sec over the top and sides of your product. Move your flashlight all the time around the product.

Experiment with different shutter speed setting, try lighting the product from different angles and distances from the flashlight to the product.

This is a field of photography named flashpainting and it is fun, so enjoy it!!

Good luck and... share samples of the pics! :)

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    Unfortunately, most LED flashlights give very poor color rendering, which may be important for the type of products in question... – junkyardsparkle Oct 16 at 18:23

Macro ring light, or large ringlight, depending on the size of your product. A ring light makes object setup easier than a ring flash. A macro ring flash is sort-of required for live-animal (such as insects and other arthropods) closeups since a ring light stresses the animals out, leading to no useful shot. But for product placement, constant bright illumination is great and helps you set up the scene. Use a product that can run off the mains in some manner rather than batteries.

If you want to use your existing flash, there are diffuser boxes for strong flashes which also help to avoid hard shadows. They are of little use for popup flashes, though.

Here is an example mostly without hard shadows (but some shading) using a macro ring light:

An arbitrary product photograph using a macro ringlight

To put this into context, old superzoom camera for this photograph was bought for EUR25, used macro ringlight for about EUR15, preowned macro lens for EUR20. You want to start a business. All you have is an iPhone. What does an iPhone cost?

The intellectual challenge of getting by without using any suitable equipment is nice, but at some point of time you'll do a whole lot better getting old equipment intended for that sort of thing from the scrapyard of brutally fast "outdated" technology than trying to fudge your way along with much more expensive unsuitable equipment.

If you run all your business through photographs, they are your entry card into the business.

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    OP has a phone & no additional equipment or budget. – Tetsujin Oct 16 at 18:07
  • @user78355 register your account so you don't have to worry about losing cookies in the future. – xiota Oct 16 at 20:42

Rudimentary light reflectors can be made by putting white paper in regular photo/picture frames. Position them so that the object you're filming is between the light source and the reflectors, and experiment with distances and angles until you see a satisfactory result.

I ran across the same problem when photographing ceramic items for sale on Ebay. My wife found a portable light cage for about $22 and that works great. It is nylon fabric and looks like a tiny 3' x 3' tent. All surfaces are the same material supported by a frame and two spring steel supports for the dome top. If you use something to support your item, the kit comes with an extra piece of material you can cover your props with. This kit also has a navy blue and a black cage. I found the blue nice for jewelry. Set up the cage, place a light or two to shine on the outside of the cage, wherever you find conducive to your shot, and fire away. You can use a separate flash unit(s) with this setup. Good luck, and I really liked the bathtub trick also!

You can put normal white bulb in 4-6 side of the product and don't forget to put a white sheet in front of those light source(bulb/lamp) to soften the shadow now the setup should be like each bulb should have another one focusing towards it like this you will be able to cross-fade each others shadow(which will be very soft as you kept defuser). Now take photo without flash.

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