Use natural resources to create pleasing light. One of the easiest and most efficient lighting setups for apparel photography can be created with a large window and natural sunlight streaming through it. Below is an example of this setup as a bird’s-eye-view diagram so that you can visualize the setup before you try it.
It’s important to allow yourself enough room for your equipment, but also to keep yourself comfortable and safe in the process. Nothing is worse than a cramped space. Once you set up your equipment, it should be easy to tear down and repeat if needed, or leave your equipment in place if you have the space to do so.
First, find a large window that filters plenty of light into the room at a 90-degree angle in relation to your product. If the light streaming through the window is rather harsh, try hanging up a sheer, white sheet as a curtain to soften the light and distribute it evenly onto your product.
Second, create a backdrop for your product. It doesn’t need to be incredibly wide, but do leave enough space around and above your subject to fill your frame. Don’t have a readymade backdrop? Not a problem. Try a few of these simple solutions:
- A large, white sheet or canvas works great and always can be washed and reused.
- Plain, white walls are always budget and time friendly.
- Large, white foam boards or white, seamless paper rolls are amazing options because they will reflect some of the light back onto your product, but these will most likely cost more and need to be replaced from time to time.
You may also need a stand to hold your backdrop in place. You can buy readymade backdrop holders or be a little more savvy with your spending and try a DIY option.
No matter the method you choose, remember to keep your background white, which will allow your product to stand out without any distractions and give your images a clean and professional look. This will help your post process run more efficiently as well.
If you want to learn more about how to create your own setup, read our DIY post on how to build your own photo studio on a bootstrapped budget.
Last, but not least, use a tripod mount for your camera. Whether you’re using a model or a mannequin to model your apparel products, using a tripod will keep your image compositions consistent from frame to frame, even when you turn turn your product to display different angles. Tripods also help to minimize camera shake and maximize the efficiency of your post processing workflow to save you time later. Make sure to position your camera and tripod directly in front of your background to utilize the entire space.
Now, it’s your turn to try out this setup using natural light. Remember, no matter how creative or obscure your setup becomes, all that matters is showcasing your product in a simplistic, beautiful way. If you still need a little help understanding the setup, take a peek below.
Ready to try a more advanced approach that requires a little more budget freedom? Read on to discover more great options to utilize when photographing apparel.
A large white sheet or canvas works great as a backdrop and always can be washed and reused.
Single Mono Light Setup
If you have the means, we highly recommend that you rent or invest in an easy-to-use lighting kit. Having artificial lighting equipment at your disposal will allow you to be a little more versatile by enabling you to shoot when there simply isn’t enough light coming in through the window. Below is a diagram of a bird’s-eye view to help define the set up.
Place one light source and umbrella at a 45-degree angle to the product so that the lighting on the product is soft and even throughout. Keep your camera directly in front of your subject and utilize a tripod if you prefer to. Although you don’t have to use a tripod with a mono strobe light, you may find it more efficient and consistent to leave your camera framed and ready to go as you position each new product to be photographed.
If you have placed the product too close to the background, you may get some shadowing; if this happens, you can do one of two things: (1) simply move the subject farther away from the backdrop to achieve a clean, white background instead, or (2) select the product in post and place it onto a purely white backdrop of your own making.
Next, set your light source’s power to about half. In our case, our strobe had 1 to 5 power settings, so we set the power to 3 in order to allow enough light without overdoing it. We also recommend using your camera in manual shooting mode because you have the most versatility and control over how your images turn out when you control the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and other settings rather than relying on the camera’s auto exposure functionality.
Manually exposing your image properly is usually just a matter of using your camera’s light meter, which you can find by looking through your camera’s viewfinder, and adjusting settings to make the meter notches reach 0. It isn’t so simple when you’re using a strobe, since there is no lighting for the camera to read until the flash fires. However, a handheld light meter will help you to read the light with ease and accuracy. By syncing it to the light system and placing it in front of the subject, it will give you accurate readings so that you can know what to expect.
If you don’t have a light meter, then start with your shutter speed set at 1/200 or below and your aperture set at f/11 or higher. From there, you will need to take test shots and tweak your camera settings as you see fit to achieve optimal exposure and focusing.
As you shoot, remember that post-production can help with any lighting adjustments that you can’t fix on the spot, but exposing properly during a shoot can shave off valuable time from your post-production workflow. Also, don’t forget to allow your sync to recharge between flashes. You may find that, if you shoot too quickly between each shot, your light source won’t fire on time. Patience is key in apparel photography.
Now it’s time for you to give it a go! Below is an example setup for your reference.
If you feel like one mono light is just not enough light for you, try this next setup, which is even more advanced and can put a slight strain on a small budget.
Dual Mono Light Setup
If you rent or invest in a lighting kit, you should make sure to get two mono lights to maximize the versatility of your shooting setup options. Having two flashes also helps in low light situations. There are plenty of affordable two-light kits out there, so it’s just a matter of finding one that suits your needs. For now, let’s talk about how to use two mono strobes together. Check out the diagram of a bird’s-eye view of the setup below.
Make sure to get two mono lights to maximize the versatility of your shooting setup options.
In the single light setup, we recommended placing a light at a 45-degree angle from your subject. Start with that and position your second light slightly closer to your product on the opposite side, also at a 45-degree angle in relation to your product. This new light will be your “fill light.” The two lights should be tethered manually or wirelessly so they both fire at the same time.
Since your first light is already set to half power (e.g. 3 of 5), you will probably want to set your second light lower than your first (e.g. 2 of 5). Depending on your style of product photography, you might not want to fill the product’s darker side completely with light in order to create shape in the product with the shadows. However, some people relish the extra color saturation and sparkle provided by evenly exposing both sides of the product, so keep your strobes set to even powers if even light is more your style.
Again, remember to allow your sync to recharge between flashes because, if you shoot too quickly between each shot, one or both light sources won’t fire on time.
This lighting setup also works with a reflector instead of a second mono light. In that case, just place the reflector board, which you can create out of foam core board or buy readymade, at a 90-degree angle close to your subject. The light from your first mono light will bounce back into your space thus filling your darker side to a lesser degree. However, if you have the means to do both lights, try it—the professional appearance of images lit by two strobes is worth it.
Try creating this setup on your own by using our setup below as a guide.
Sync to recharge between flashes in case you shoot quickly between images.
By now, you may be wondering what types of strobes and other related photography lighting equipment are best and which companies you should consider buying from. Follow this link for an informational guide to budget-friendly lighting options.
We’re confident that if you use these three simple, cost-effective lighting setups, then your images will look professional and consistent, provided that you used the appropriate camera settings. As an added bonus, great product photos provide customers with more fulfilling shopping experiences, which leads to customer loyalty, better reviews and, ultimately, more sales.