How to Make and Use a “Zebra M Flag” for Flawless Product Photography

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Product photography may seem simple; you’re just taking pictures of stationary objects. However, this can be one of the most challenging forms of commercial photography if you don’t have the proper lighting. According to Nikonian Academy Director Andrew Boey, one of the toughest objects to photograph is a transparent bottle of perfume with a reflective top. In this tutorial, he explains how different flags and reflective surfaces can really make your product photos pop:

To make life easier, Boey combined a product photography favorite, the M-flag, with a zebra card to create the “zebra m-flag.” This hybrid card is designed to provide the sharp, black lines in the reflective surface of the product while bouncing a flash to illuminate the front of the transparent bottle.

product-lighting-flag

A zebra m flag is simple to make yourself.

After placing two slave lights to provide a bounced fill light and a light from below the bottle, Boey placed his zebra m-card in front of the product and shot through the open hole to create this photo:

product-lighting-m-flag

A homemade zebra m flag creates appealing light and shadows in product photography

“Any photographer can tell you if you’ve got a transparent item, you’ve got to light it up from the back.”

After demonstrating how to use the zebra m-card, Boey goes on to show you how to solve some common lighting issues photographers face when shooting objects with transparent and reflective surfaces.

In his first example, Boey set a slave flash behind the perfume bottle as the only light source. Notice the hot spots at the edges of the bottle and the flare off to the right:

backlighting

When photographed with only a flash behind it, the perfume bottle has unsightly hot spots.

In his second example, Boey placed a reflective card at an angle behind the bottle and angled his flash at a flag off to the left. The bouncing of the light softened the overall effect while the reflective card provided a nice, even fill to showcase the transparent bottle:

reflective lighting

Perfume bottle photographed using light bounced from a flag to a reflective card.

Boey said the top of the perfume bottle was too dark in the second picture, so he placed a second flash behind the photographer, aimed away from the product at a white flag. The light bouncing from this second flash illuminates the top of the bottle without hindering the rear illumination of the product:

Perfume bottle lighting

Perfume bottle illuminated by a rear flash bounced off a flag and reflective card, and by a second flash bounced off a flag in front of the product.

There are many challenges that go along with shooting transparent and reflective objects. But with a few lights and the right reflective surfaces, you can create impressive-looking images of even the most difficult-to-capture products.

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2 Comments

  1. He’s a really natural teacher. The cheat sheet is probably a bit excessive, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t just chimp to get the light right, but the zebra reflector is a brilliant idea.

  2. Ben @ Barcelona Photography Courses says:

    What a great teacher, will recommend this video to my students!

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