Complex Lighting in a Professional Product Shoot

Photographs in advertisements can be deceptive. Though an ad may appear to be a simple image of a product on a solid background, there is often an incredible amount of work that goes into making the product look perfect. Take, for instance, this four-day shoot for Baileys Irish Cream, which photographer Rob Grimm guides us through:

Grimm is one of the top names in his profession, and he’s no stranger to the effort that goes into making food and beverages look alluring. However, even he must admit that the Baileys shoot is singularly complex.

What about this shoot is so challenging? The bottles themselves are a super-high-gloss black, and they are shot on a black background. The glossiness of the material means that any light shone on the bottle will be exactly mirrored in it, creating ugly highlights and reflections. To solve this problem, Grimm and his team assemble a tent of sorts, using nine different lights and various filters. The two key lights, for example, though used with strip bank diffusers, must be diffused even further so that the rectangle shapes will not be reflected in the bottle.

The black background also presents its own set of challenges, since every edge and contour of the bottle must be defined well enough to stand out from it. Grimm has a light reflecting softly off of the background itself to make it “glow,” as well as a light specifically aimed to glint off the cap of the bottle.

product shoot

From this angle, most of the nine lights of this complicated setup can be seen, each with a distinct placement and purpose.

Watching this video makes one wonder at how much equipment and finesse goes into every advertisement. The next time you see a polished product photo, try to imagine how it was lit–perhaps even more than nine lights were used!

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