Lighting – Let’s Start Simply

Where to begin?  Natural lighting, light boxes, flash photography, studio lighting, indoor versus outdoor lighting — the list goes on.  So much to learn, and all you’re trying to do is take a few decent photos of your recently-created jewelry or handbags or pottery so you can get them listed and sold.  Right?  Fear not, it’s not that difficult.  For today’s lesson, I’m going to tell you to just pick up your camera, your props (if you use any), your goods and get outside.  That’s right, there’s no simpler way to get good lighting than to use the natural light from our own sun.  But, as with everything, this comes with a few conditions and disclaimers, so read on.

For today, what we’re trying to accomplish are photos that have:

  • realistic and natural looking colors
  • no strong shadows
  • minimal glare
  • minimal reflections
  • correct exposures

Yes, I know, there are times when we want some cool effects or want a shadow or reflection to add some interest to a photo.  But this isn’t one of those times.  Here’s an example of a shot I found while browsing for pottery.  I think it takes full advantage of the characteristics of natural lighting.  It’s from Kim at Etsy shop KbOriginalsetc.  Nice shot, isn’t it?

Now take a closer look, and see if it meets the five criteria I listed above.

  • Are the colors realistic and natural? Absolutely.
  • Are there any harsh shadows?  Nope, just some soft shadowing under the plate.
  • Is there any glare?  Nope.
  • Are there any reflections?  A few, but they’re nothing offensive, and they don’t distract (and there’s not much that can be done to completely prevent reflections from glazed surfaces).
  • Is the exposure correct?  Yes, of course.  But Kim didn’t need to be  a professional photographer to get this one right.  Since the lighting is natural and diffused, even the cheapest camera in full auto mode is going to meter this lighting correctly.

As an aside, Kim’s photo would have just as easily fit in my earlier “Setting the Scene” post.

For another example, here’s one of my shots that I just took this morning.  It’s some hardware from an old mill.  What do you think?  Does it meet the five criteria?  Of course it does, or I wouldn’t have chosen it!  But seriously, it was so easy to get this shot because the lighting was about as good as it gets for foolproof photography.

So what kind of lighting conditions am I talking about?  Well, as the title says, let’s start simply.  And it doesn’t get much simpler than taking your photographs outside on a moderately bright, overcast day.  Not a bright, sunny, blue-sky day.  Not a day where you can see distinct shadows under the trees.  Not a day with big, white, puffy clouds in the sky.  Not  a dark day, with storm clouds in the sky, either.  Nope, just a plain-old cloudy (but bright) day.  Once you try it and see for yourself what kind of day I’m talking about, you may very well end up saving all your Etsy product photography for these days.  It really is that simple!

If you really do need to get some photos, and it is one of those beautiful blue-sky days, all hope is not lost.  Just wait until late in the day, right around sunset.  You can get some beautiful shots at this time, but you’ve got to move fast.  And you have to be careful – this time of day can give such beautiful, warm glow to your photos that you may actually end up with some unrealistic colors.

I hope I was able to help some of you, and be sure to come back for my next lighting post – “Moving Indoors.”

Happy shooting!

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6 thoughts on “Lighting – Let’s Start Simply

  1. Thanks for the information. I have had difficulties with outdoor photography because I took them when it was too sunny. Now I know to get outside on cloudy days. And we have plenty of those here in the UK!

  2. Great article. One question. I see some of the jewelry sellers taking their photos of a necklace wrapped around a bottle. I tried that but the glare ruined the pic. Is there a trick to this? thx!

    • Hi Deb,

      Here’s a tip that may really surprise you. On a day when it’s CLOUDY outside, put the bottle on a window sill and shoot INTO the light. Be careful though — this only works if the bottle takes up a large portion of the frame. That’s what I did here:

      http://www.etsy.com/listing/45789584/ayinger-celebrator-dopplebock-8-x-12

      You still need to be careful of reflections from other windows in the room (and don’t use a flash), but if you do it right you might actually find a small reflection that you want to keep because it adds to the character of the photo.

      Stay tuned for upcoming posts – I’m actually planning one on controlling reflections.

      Good luck!

  3. Priceless info, especially the last part. It’s easier to win a jackpot than to get a cloudy day here in Vegas, so I’ll try taking photos on sunset time.

  4. Thank you for the blue sky comment. I live in Reno, Nevada, and we have A LOT of wind and LOTS of blue, sunny days, like today. I’m going to wait until sunset to take my photos tonight. I’ve wanted an answer to this question for so long.

  5. Pingback: High Contrast Scenes « Greenpix – Great Photos, One Step at a Time

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