Cosmetic Product Photography Using a Simple 1-Light Setup by Vadim Chiline

Large yellow diamond engagement ring tutorial: how to get your diamonds to pop

Large yellow diamond engagement ring tutorial: how to get your diamonds to pop

Cosmetic photography using a relatively simple setup. I decided to have some fun just recently and decided to step away from my daily jewellery photography work and do (finally) a new blog entry. This past weekend I was shopping with my wife and found myself in the makeup section of The Bay department store. My wife decided to buy some makeup by Yves St-Laurent. I saw an ad for the item she bought - a product called Metal Eyes. I told my wife that if I bought it for her the only condition was that I could shoot it before she used it (hehe). I decided to recreate an image similar to the one I saw.

YSL makeup ad

YSL makeup ad

The ad that inspired this blog entry

The image has a nice graded light painting it; something that immediately tells me it’s not simply a softbox bouncing light onto it. Softboxes generally give an even diffused light across a surface, and to get it to graduate is much tougher than some other methods.

As I only had one makeup kit at my disposal, I decided to reproduce the lower portion of the ad. Doing the top part would require risking ruining the makeup with water and as this was my only kit, my couch would be my best friend should my wife’s temper be raised (hehe). During real shoots, clients normally have several kits at our disposal, where the nicest one is selected, and budgets are allotted for this sort of mishap.

The Setup!

Image out of camera, stacked

Image out of camera, stacked

Out-of-camera, stacked image.

This was the simplest setup possible I’ve used recently. I used 1 strobe mounted with a 30°grid. The object was shot laying flat on the shooting table sitting on white foamcore. Behind the object, I had a 20”x30” white foamcore at a slight angle held by a clamp. The strobe was pointing towards the center (this is where the work goes, placing the light to get a nice gradient on the object). You might have to play a little to get the light to shimmer nicely on your object. It will come with experience (and more play).

To the immediate left of the object and camera, was a 18”x20” black foamcore. This added some black delineation to the object by bouncing back some black. Finally, at the front of the object, was a small 4”x8” piece of silver card that filled in the shadows on the hinge of the little makeup box.

When I shot the image, I first shot without any water droplets to get the right shimmer across the gold cover. Once satisfied, I spritzed some water with a bottle. On a real shoot, the droplets would be critical, and most often several dozen images are made with various droplet configurations and selected by the art director and client. For my demo/blog purpose, this was adequate.

I used focus-stacking comprising of 4 shots exporting to tiff. Color, contrast, and other tweaks were done in Photoshop.

The actual ad for Yves St-Laurent was photographed using 2 light sources reflecting on a card. You can see the 2 sources by looking at the droplets. This brief tutorial was to give you some insights for you to try at your own studio. The sky’s the limit! Stop surfing and go shoot!

Lighting diagram for single light cosmetic image

Lighting diagram for single light cosmetic image

Here's the lighting diagram for this image. Quite simple no?

Jewelry Photography Tutorial – How to make your image pop by keeping it simple by Vadim Chiline

Rollover the image to see the original, as shot.

The task was to create a holiday-themed ad and I was given a diverse set of jewelry items to work with: various pearl items, diamond key pendants, and a diamond sapphire ring. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to incorporate so many unrelated pieces onto a festive background and maintain a professional tone. In marketing, less is more and a common theme is an important starting point.

A mistake many jewelers make is to request too many items with incongruent styles in a single ad. Their goal is to please every type of client with one ad, but this often backfires and ultimately cheapens the ad.

Ads should have one focal point, not 10. That doesn’t mean you’re limited to one ring. You can group a few pieces together in an interesting composition, carefully placing each object. I chose three key-shaped, diamond pendants.

The holiday theme presents a setup challenge since festive props tend to be quite colorful and, if used in the wrong way, steal the spotlight away from the jewelry. An additional obstacle when photographing jewelry is its small size relative to other props. If you do manage to find small enough props not to overshadow the main subject, when photographed close up, the props are more likely to show production faults and ruin a beautiful photo.

I visited a few stores, collecting a number of props that could set the right mood—but once I got to the shooting table, I realized they simply didn’t work with the pendants. I had bought fabrics, artisanal papers, ornaments—heck, even a bottle of wine! Sometimes an idea is only good on paper and when you actually prep the scene, it fails miserably. Who said ad design was easy?

I finally settled on light-colored Christmas tree ornaments. I blurred them slightly by shooting at a wider aperture of f8 for a shallower depth of field so that the ornament was recognizable, but didn’t detract from the diamond pendants. The setup included a total of 4 lights. 3 lights had 24x36 softboxes mounted, and one light with a 20-degree grid. If you aren't familiar with certain light modifiers, check my previous blog post here. Pendants where hung via flexible arm clamp. I retouched the image in Photoshop, de-saturating the pendants to remove some of the color cast, adding saturation and color to both the paper background and ornaments, and finally darkening above and below the image to accommodate the text and logo. Overall, retouching was minor. The text and logo were added in InDesign for a final press version delivered as a PDF.

Jewellery Photography Lighting Diagram

Jewellery Photography Lighting Diagram

The setup included a total of 4 lights. 3 lights had 24x36 softboxes mounted, and one light with a 20-degree grid. Pendants where hung via flexible arm clamp.

If you have questions or suggestions for this and other blogs, please contact me.

9 Popular Studio Light Modifiers Explained by Vadim Chiline

As a follow-up to last week’s survey of studio light sources, today we’ll focus on light modifiers, which can be used to modify the light’s strength, direction, color, pattern, and shadow falloff. Before I talk about the equipment, let me explain the importance of the relative size of the light source to the subject. The smaller the light source, the harsher the shadows and contrasts will be. Take the Sun on a clear day, for example. Though the Sun is huge in reality, it’s a small, bright light source shining on the much larger Earth. Consequently, when you look at your object, you’ll see strong contrast and dark shadows and harsh edges. When the clouds roll in, look at the shadows again: They’ve softened and have more attractive, gentle feathering at the edges. Contrast has also been reduced. The clouds have scattered the light rays, diffusing and softening the light. Note that the clouds have effectively increased the size of the light source relative to the subject. See the diagram:


Softer light is generally a desired effect when working with all subjects, from people to highly reflective objects like jewelry, which is my specialty. The specular highlight-- the bright spot on an object--is usually more pleasant when created by soft lights.


Similar to rain umbrellas, but without the handle, umbrella modifiers are very affordable and are found in most studios. They come in several sizes and varieties: black outside with white or silver interiors, all white (called shoot-thru), and specialized ones with gold or zebra patterns (white-silver-white-silver) on the interior. The basic concept is that when a light is pointed at the center of the umbrella, the light rays are reflected back and scattered or diffused. Umbrellas are the ultimate in portability and speedy setup. Common for people photography, they’re great for group coverage when two are used.

In the product photography studio however, the umbrella generally isn’t your best choice. The inherent problem is light spill—lack of control over the light. Since the diffused light spreads out over a large surface, you would need to use “flags” or black cards to block the light from certain areas of your image.



Softboxes produce soft controlled directional light. The image above demonstrates the effect of moving the light source away from the subject. As stated in the beginning, the larger the light source appears to the subject, the softer and more diffused the light becomes. Take a look at the shadows and contrasts in the above images.

Softer light is generally a desired effect when working with all subjects, from people to highly reflective objects like jewelry, which is my specialty. The specular highlight-- the bright spot on an object--is usually more pleasant when created by soft lights.

These light modifiers are the workhorses in our studio. Softboxes work similarly to umbrellas by scattering and softening the light, but in quite a different manner. They are rectangular boxes made of opaque, black material on the outside, lined with diffusion material on the inside (white or silver), and usually have an additional white diffusion panel called a baffle, which sits several inches away from light. The front of the softbox is open but kept covered with one more layer of white diffusion material. This produces a very soft light source and, because of the design, light is directional and therefore controlled. Should a photographer need additional control, most good brands have a grid that can be fastened with Velcro at the front. Softboxes produce a rectangular catchlight on the subject.

On the negative side, softboxes are big and bulky. For onsite shoots, you’ll have to take them apart, unless you have a minivan or SUV. Some brands are easier than other to assemble, but generally they’re a pain in the neck and since time is money, might not be worth the effort. They cost substantially more than umbrellas and can strain a beginner’s budget, depending on the brand and size. Softboxes come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from small ones that can be mounted on camera flash guns to enormous ones used to illuminate cars and trucks. Our studio is equipped with several 24" x 36" and 30" x 60" softboxes.


They are basically the same as a softbox except they have eight sides rather than four. They are very popular in fashion and portrait photography. Quite large, they can be unwieldy, measuring from five to seven feet. The catchlight they produce is similar to the umbrella’, multi-sided and octagonal.

Beauty dishes:

A very simple device, a beauty dish looks like a bowl that fits onto your light with a small plate that reflects the light back onto the sides of the dish. It is used most often in beauty/cosmetic and glamour shoots. It produces a light that is in between a bare studio light and a softbox: the shadow/highlight transition is more abrupt, giving it higher contrast. Because of this, the beauty dish tends accentuate flaws in your model's skin, so attention must be given when placing the light. It works best between three and four feet from the model, giving what many call a "liquid wrap-around lighting." The beauty dish produces a circular catchlight. In my jewelry photography, I sometimes use them when shooting pearls because they produce round highlights.


The above image compares the contrasts, highlights and shadows created by the different modifiers. Notice how harsh and contrasty the bare studio light image is.

Color gels:

A color gel is a transparent, colored sheet placed in front of a light or used in combination with other modifiers such as a grid. Used extensively in all areas of studio work, color gels give depth, dimension, and a mood to images. Available in just about every color on the spectrum, they are an essential part of a functioning studio. They’re also cheap, so have fun experimenting. I love them!


In jewelry photography, I have to try to give more life, or apparent depth to the products: A touch of colour can go a long way. Here are two beauty shots for


Grids are modifiers that attach directly to the front of the studio light's small, conical reflector. They focus the light into tighter beams and change the shadow edge feathering. They usually come in 10°, 20°, 30° and 40° hole-patterns. A 10° grid produces a very narrow beam of light with sharp shadows, while a 40° grid produces a broader beam and softer edges. We use grids frequently in the studio. They can be used to add a bright highlight to a particular area of the subject or, when mounted onto a background light, to create a circle of light on a background. In fashion/people photography, they are often used to light the model’s hair.

Barn doors:

Barn doors have been around for decades and are simple black, metallic flaps that you mount at the front of your light to control the direction and width of the beam. They produce somewhat harder shadow edges than grids do. You can manually change the size of the beam by opening and closing the doors. The light shape produced is rectangular. They are commonly used for background lighting and sometimes to light a model’s hair.


This fixed cone-shaped device also mounts to the front of your light. It creates hard shadow edges and, when used on backgrounds, produces circular shapes. A snoot is sometimes used to give a spotlight effect on objects or highlight a specific region of your image. We have rarely used them in our studio.


A gobo is modifier that creates a light pattern. They are usually metallic or glass-etched and are available in a multitude of different sizes and shapes. They’re mostly used on background lights to create interesting backdrops, such as light passing through a window or a mottled effect. The Batman spotlight is a famous gobo example.

Here's an image where multiple modifiers are interacting together

Here's an image where multiple modifiers are interacting together

What happens when you put some of the above together? You can paint your subject in gorgeous light. The above photo's details: 5D Mark II, 50mm f1.4 lens; 2 sofboxes; 1 background light with grid creating backlighting into the veil; and 1 hair light with barn doors.

That concludes this part of Beginner's Corner. In my next blog, I will share a conversation I had with a Facebook user about what it takes for a career in Photography and/or Design.