I posted a question a few months ago regarding a light-box setup, and it seemed the general consensus was that I didn't have enough light...

I've gone ahead and purchased 2 x 55w 3000lm 5500K 90+CRI Bulbs, but still failing to get the results I would hope for. Everything I have read about product photography says that I should have a very low aperture setting, but the best results I found has been F36 and shutter of 1/10s.

Please see below a picture of my setup now. My iPhone doesn't show the lighting too well, but it is pretty bright! I've also tried putting the lamps either side of the box to soften it, but the result is a less bright photo. Hope you guys can advise on how I can improve, as my results are nothing like professional product photography. I'm using a Nikon D40X.

Example Photo 1 (f36): https://i.sstatic.net/z9viN.jpg

Example Photo 2 (f5.6): https://i.sstatic.net/sQGgc.jpg

Setup 1. https://i.sstatic.net/Tmcfe.jpg

Setup 2. https://i.sstatic.net/hmzrj.jpg

EDIT: So I've listened to the answers and tried to light the background as much as possible. I used 1/200 shutter at F/11 to get these results, and although they are improved, they still aren't as I want, and the side of the bottle is blurred. Any suggestions? I used the camera flash too this time.


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    \$\begingroup\$ Show a sample image and describe what you'd like to be different. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 19:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you mean f/3.6? Rather than f/36? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 20:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Nope - you can see I took a screenshot in EXAMPLE PHOTO 1, and at the bottom it shows the Exposure is f/36 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 20:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you want the background to be blown out white, setup 2 isn't going to do it without also blowing out the product. Try the lights at different positions beside and behind the box. Bracket your shots by +/- 1,2 stops by aperture and by time and show us the whole brackets. \$\endgroup\$
    – Skaperen
    Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 3:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm afraid you've been given some bad advice, you absolutely do not need more powerful lights. Continuous lights are exactly that, continuous. As long as your subject isn't moving then you can simply increase the exposure time and get all the light you could ever want! What you absolutely do need though is more control over your light. You need to stop the subject light hitting the background and vice versa. This is easiest accomplished by separation, see the sheet of glass trick in Nir's answer (but ignore the part about buying a flash!) \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Sep 16, 2013 at 13:22

4 Answers 4


Getting a white background (or black background, or just about any other background effect) is about lighting the background and the subject separately.

So my advice is:

  1. Dump the lightbox - it simply isn't a good fit for white background photography (too small and doesn't let you light the background).

  2. Get a cheap flash like the YN-460 (about $40) + some way to trigger it off camera (a cheap set of radio triggers will be less than $20, a cable may cost less) + a small sheet of glass or clear plastic

  3. Attach the glass to something so you can use it like a shelf, but the bottle on the glass, position the camera so all you see is the bottle, the glass and the wall behind it.

  4. If the wall is dark you may want put cover it with something that is lighter in color, it doesn't have to be white, just a light color.

  5. Set the camera to manual mode, set a nice middle of the road aperture (around f/8) and set your shutter speed to something equally mid-range-ish (1/50-1/100)

  6. Put the flash near the back wall pointing at the wall, take a test shot, dial down the power until the minimal power that still over exposes the background (the bottle should be too dark at this point)

  7. Add your lights, set them to light the bottle as much as you want, adjust shutter speed (and not the aperture or ISO) to make the lights lighter or darker - the shutter speed will effect your continues lights but will no effect the flash, as long as you stay below the sync speed (typically, 1/200-1/250, depending on camera) - if you need to adjust aperture or ISO you will need to also change the flash power to compensate.

I blogged about it a while ago at: http://www.usefulphototips.com/2011/12/20/making-the-background-white/ you can see examples and setup pictures there

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is there a way he could do it without buying another flash? \$\endgroup\$
    – Unapiedra
    Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 9:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Unapiedra - It's all about power, normal continues lights just aren't powerful enough - you need to get the background to be about 8 times (approx 3 stops, depending on camera) brighter than the subject - you just can't get that power without a flash. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nir
    Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 11:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nir Power is irrelevant for static subjects with continuous lighting, kill the ambient (shoot at night with the room lights off) and expose the shot for as long as you need. If the subject light is too bright relative to the background light, turn it down or move it further away. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Sep 16, 2013 at 13:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's possible, but challenging to achieve a blown out white background with a single light source: put the light source behind a white diffuser behind the subject, and a white reflector card in front of the subject. By controlling the power of the light source, and the relative distances of the subject, diffuser, and reflector, you can have properly exposed subject and two stop overexposed background. But it's much easier just to use two or three light sources. \$\endgroup\$
    – Icycle
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 16:45

5400 is a reference to the temperature, not the amount of light. In general continuous lighting will not be as powerful as strobe lighting will be. You still need not only more light, but an additional light on the back of the box to raise the exposure of the background in relation to the product so that you can intentionally blow the white background without blowing out the product. You also need to make sure the light is soft enough to avoid specular highlights on reflective products.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I made a mistake with the bulbs, specs are actually 2 x 55w 3000lm 5500K 90+CRI Bulbs \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 20:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your problem is still that you are putting more light on the product than on the background, when you need the reverse if you want a solid white background. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 20:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ A small studio strobe is 400W. You don't need that much for product photography, but two 55w continuous bulbs may not be enough. You still need more light on the background than on the product to do what you are trying to do. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 20:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ why cant you place a huge light behind the box? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 21:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JamesBriggs - Michael is right, a lot of light hitting the product, not a lot on the background. When that happens, the background will actually look darker as a result. Before I bought one, I built one, but what I did ensure in both cases was the ability to light from all directions, that's pretty important. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joanne C
    Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 13:08

Your images both look underexposed. If you want to blow out the background with the setup you have, I'd start with the first setup, with lights on either side, and block the front half of each side of the lightbox so that most of the light coming through is in the back half so the background is lit more than the product.

To light the product you may need an additional light, or you could use some white reflectors to bounce light where you need it.

You'll also want an intermediate aperture, around f/8 to f/11, for maximum sharpness. You want some depth of field, but not so much that you get diffraction - and you don't want too much DOF anyway or else every wrinkle in your background will show.


Here are some things that will lend professionalism to your images.

The images are high-quality. The focus is optimal. The noise is minimal. The contrast is optimal with pure neutral highlights and no overall colour cast. The exposure is perfect*.

You are shooting a portrait of the product, in effect. You want the subject to look attractive.

The subject looks three-dimensional and vivid. The lighting is not flat and uninteresting. The subject has an interesting and attractive position. (Pick your lightbox up, off the floor, and position it high enough so that you can shoot the subject at "eye level" or slightly below (Camera inferior position) so that you "look up" to the subject.

Set-up 1 looks the most promising at this point; start with that. Move one of the lights a slightly different distance from the tent than the other by about half a foot to give one side a slightly lower value to make it look "rounder and three-dimensional." Instead of the spray head staring directly at the camera like a mug-shot, treat it more like a portrait. Have your "subject" look to one side so that it's not so confrontational. Find a nice pose for your subject.

Now, you're ready to begin the adjustment of the lights to get the lighting effect you want. The closer the light is to the tent, the harder the shadows will be. Make adjustments. Keep the distances slightly different to get the roundness you want.

When you've got the right camera height and angle, use a white card large enough to cover the entire front of the tent. Cut a hole in it and shoot through the hole so that broad reflected light illuminates the front of the subject.

Try a range of exposures to "nail" the cap, bottle, and background exposure. Make adjustments to the lighting. If the tent prevents you from getting the effect you strive to achieve, trash the setup and improvise. The goal is to get the shot not give up because the circumstances don't go your way. You're a pro, now.

TIP: In advertising, we cheat. We'll use a composite of several shots combined to make a perfect subject. Each shot optimizes one component of the package.

*The exposure has a few components. The transparent cover and aerosol cap is high value and wants to be white but not glaring-that's one exposure. The background wants to be peak white to drop out the subject-that's another exposure. (Why, if you are going to use it close-cut?). Lastly, there's the special sauce in the bottle. When you determine what's most important, you'll make adjustments to show that to best advantage.

As your subject is small, you can move reflectors quite close to get the effect you want. Play. Experiment a bit. You're going to close-cut the subject from the background, anyway. Either way, iron or steam the fold from the background; it looks shabby. If the fold shows through the liquid, there's more work to do to make the subject look clean. The background should be featureless for this type of shot, no matter the colour chosen.

Good luck.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The lamps you are using need a long warm-up time to reach the maximum output. They take a good half hour to reach peak and stabilize. Once you turn them on, try to leave them on for the duration of the session. \$\endgroup\$
    – Stan
    Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 17:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for such a detailed answer Stan. Should I use the camera flash for added light? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 18:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JamesBriggs You're welcome. Even if I was there, I'd have to try it. This is the point where some experimentation will help. Keep track of what you do and the result. If you find that the direction is wrong, continuing what you do can be wronger. :) Watch what the effect is on your subject. Use camera exposure to capture the effect you create with the lighting and subject placement. The creative is you and your eye. The photograph isn't the creative tool. Your brain and eyes are. Now, get in there and PLAY. \$\endgroup\$
    – Stan
    Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 20:23

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