Beginning photographer, first post- I'm trying to merchandize and shoot a product composition with a lot of beef jerky packages. The crinkly reflective packaging is proving really difficult to light.

so many shadows and reflections :(

We're using a Cannon T4I with two strobes on a table with a backdrop.

I've read about dulling spray on some other forums- could this be a solution? Anyone have specific product recommendations?

  • If you don't blow out the highlights, having some brighter spots isn't really a problem because they provide some depth to the image. You don't want it to be flat!
    – Joanne C
    Apr 3 '13 at 2:15
  • 2
    What, if anything are you using to soften the strobes?
    – Michael C
    Apr 3 '13 at 2:16
  • I'd like to see some general answers for highly reflective materials because I do have that issuer happen often. While we wait, use a polarizer. It diminishes the highlights and may be enough in your situation. For some object it just does not help enough.
    – Itai
    Apr 3 '13 at 2:20
  • @MichaelClark we've got them going through white umbrellas right now.
    – RSG
    Apr 3 '13 at 2:20
  • 2
    Dulling sprays can be useful, but I can't give a recommendation; they've been illegal in Canada for years now. The actual pro trick is to avoid real (finished) production packaging like the plague, and make ideal packages from the raw printed packaging materials/labels. Failing that, select ideal samples with as few wrinkles, etc., as possible (which may mean going through the entire stock at several stores to find suitable candidates if you can't grab them from the production line) and treat them like irreplaceable archaeological artifacts until the shoot is finished.
    – user2719
    Apr 3 '13 at 6:06

I think the main problem is your packaging, as Stan mentions in his comment. The packaging is wrinkled such that, no matter where you place your lights, you are going to have some surfaces reflecting onto the camera. If you try to move your lights closer, to make the light softer, you'll have light bouncing off those things at literally every possible angle.

A few ideas.

  • Open the packaging from the back and remove the contents and attempt to flatten out those wrinkles. Carefully refill the packaging with something stiff and flat to give it some shape, but at the same time keeping the wrinkles at a minimum.

  • If you have modelling lights, you may be able to carefully tweak the position and angle of each package to reduce the amount of glare.

  • As Jim mentioned you do have some harsh shadows, so you must have pretty strong lighting from both sides. Perhaps use a key light right over the camera and lower the power on the lights to the side - keep enough side-lighting to give some depth, but not too much depth, which might be the problem here. Can't be sure that will work at all, and you may need to angle some of the packages because if they are square to the camera, of course they'll just reflect back.

  • If all else fails, shoot a number of shots, moving your lights around, so in post processing you have a variety of shots to choose from. Any problem areas, mask in areas from other images that have less glare on that particular package. In this case I think it might be far easier to "head swap" a few problematic packages in post than try to perfect the lighting.

And if you haven't read Light, Science and Magic, that's the bible of doing this sort of thing - reflective surfaces, angle of incidence = angle of reflection, all that good stuff.

  • @MikeW- Thanks for providing so many things to try. I think we've got a lot to work with here from package selection to post production. I'll look for that book.
    – RSG
    Apr 3 '13 at 17:16

I took a look at your picture in Lightroom. It looks a little overexposed, but not too badly:

enter image description here

Lightroom showed some blowouts in the original picture below. You can tell this from the white triangle in the upper right corner of the histogram. But clicking on that triangle highlights the blowouts (in red), and there really aren't many pixels blown out.

enter image description here

Here, I have adjusted some settings to reduced the washed-out overexposed look. Exposure at -0.3 EV. Highlights reduced (-36). Shadows darkened (-60). Clarity increased (+73, might be a bit high). Vibrance increased (+44). I still has about the same blow outs (which weren't many to begin with). I think this looks better. The point is that your image looks easily usable. (You would probably do better than I did with a raw image.)

enter image description here

If you wanted to change the lighting, you might try more diffusion/softening. Some of your shadows are still pretty sharp. The two bright spots on your back drop suggest there might be some leakage around your umbrellas (maybe?). You might try backing the lights away and/or bouncing off of the umbrellas (rather than through them). If you can use a diffuser and a reflector on each light, you should be able to soften it further. (Joe McNally uses two layers of diffusion a lot, from what I've seen, but he uses high power strobes and big batteries to make up for the extra work the lights have to do to penetrate the diffusers.)

  • Good try, but unfortunately, I don't think you have solved the real problem here, here there is simply loss of detail. For example, look at the Bull logo on the 'Real Steak' product on the right hand side: I don't think you will ever get the logo to be correct, no matter the edits.
    – cmason
    Apr 3 '13 at 15:00
  • I wouldn't recommend any more diffusion / softening, as that will only make the problem worse!
    – Matt Grum
    Apr 3 '13 at 15:11
  • @Jim - thanks for the walkthrough. We've done a lot of post-production work in Photoshop- I think combining the corrections you've applied with the composited approach Mike describes we'll get there.
    – RSG
    Apr 3 '13 at 17:17

For product shots, I have in the past, been in the 'customer' situation vs the photographer. In most cases, the photographer did two things that are different than your approach:

1) use of massive scrims: the photographer had the entire set covered in scrims, to create exceptionally soft light everywhere.

2) mock up packaging. We used mockup packaging. It was easier, and you can vary the size/color etc. In any case, we printed mockups from the original Illustrator files, and created our own boxes. This might be more difficult in the case of the bags here, but you can fake it, making it look like a bag.

  • The two pieces of advice here must be done together, you need mock-up packaging, printed on matt not gloss materials if you're going to use massive scrims, otherwise the effect will be much worse!
    – Matt Grum
    Apr 3 '13 at 15:13

A solution might be to put polarizing filters on the lights and shoot through a filter on the camera. You can cancel out specular highlights this way (it's often used for shooting artwork with uneven reflective surfaces).

I don't know if this will work when using an umbrella, though...

If you're shooting with more than one light make sure you set up one light at a time so their filters are 'aligned'.

If you want a hint of reflection for dimensionality you can adjust the filter on the camera to cancel less of the reflected light...


I work in the motion picture industry, I stopped using dulling spray due to toxicity. Especially around actors and crew. I have found using spray deodorant to be safer and easier to clean off. Smells better also. Find one that doesn't leave a white residue. arrid XX works best for me. It's also a lot cheaper than dulling spray

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