Cosmetic products are some of the hardest things to photograph. The combination of reflective, translucent, opaque and shiny surfaces makes it an absolute nightmare. Below you will find my quick and dirty method for dealing with those hard to shoot subjects.
What you will need:
- A Camera and triggers
- Tripod (optional)
- Scrim (DIY or store bought)
- Softbox or stripbox
- 3 lights
- A reflective surface – Tile board or Formica
- Black cloth or black illustration board for flagging
- White background – Seamless paper of another illustration board
The DIY Scrims
For this setup I used two different types of DI Scrims, the first one is the DIY scrim that I made out of Portable clothes hanger, you can check out the tutorial here.
The second scrim I used is a quick simple DIY scrim made out of tracing paper: The basic idea is to use a regular sheet of tracing paper and to make it a little better. This is something you can do if you ever need a quick and dirty scrim. I placed 2 strips of illustration board on the sides of the tracing paper to make it easier to handle. To keep it standing up, I hooked two clamps on the sides.
1. Start by placing your subject on a reflective white surface and in front of a white background. For this Setup I used a piece of Formica on top of a table. I placed the table about 2-3 feet away from the background so you can have space in between the two and this is where you will set your lights.
2. Start by using one light and adding more lights until you get the all the three lights properly lighting the subject. You can start by either using the left or right main light first. I started by placing a scrim in front of the camera and diagonal to the subject, then placed a strobe with a softbox behind the scrim.
3. Play around with the angle of your flash to get the gradient effect on the subject that you want. I placed my light almost at the side of the scrim and angled it diagonally.
4. Get a proper exposure with your first light. For the photo above, I was shooting with a Fuji Xe-2 at ISO 200 | 1/180 | f14, but mileage may vary.
5. After getting the gradient that you want and nailing the correct exposure with the first light. Place your second light with a scrim on the opposite side of the subject. Here is the trick, all you have to do is mirror the setup for your first light. You should get the same gradient reflection or play around with the light and angle to get a different effect on the object.
The Scrim between the softbox and subject is very important in this technique because it’s the one that gives the gradient effect.
6. The silver reflective surface of the subject was reflecting me so I placed a black cloth in front of the camera to get a black reflection on the surface of the subject. You can also use an illustration board for this.
7. After correctly setting the two main, add a third light on the bottom of the table pointing at the background. The background light was about 2 stops higher than my 2 main lights. This will give you that white look. Make sure you don’t over expose and burn the back.
8.(Optional) I had some problems on the right side of the subject – I wasn’t getting the same black outline on the left side. So I got a piece of illustration board and placed it on the back right side of the subject to get the same black outline.
9. A quick editing before the final image.
For the final touches I just cleaned the white parts of Formica using the Dodge tool and selecting Highlights for the cleaning. I also made another layer with brightness and pumped up the brightness and only brushed on the reflection part to make the reflections lighter. For the contrast I just used dodge and burn tool to for more details on the subject.
I used the same lighting and editing technique for the 3 products.