How To Shoot Reflective Surfaces For Product Photography

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Product photography is a great way to market new product lines, but it can be difficult when the product being photographed has reflective surfaces. It’s easy for your product to get lost in the glare or have distracting reflections on its surface.

Photographing reflective objects such as sunglasses or watches may be fairly complex, even more so when using natural lighting. However, like with any talent, you can master it by using expert approaches that are simple to learn.

In order to shoot reflective surfaces for product photography:

  1. Understand the law of reflection.
  2. Use diffusion materials.
  3. Use strobe lighting to cut out ambient lighting reflections.
  4. Light the objects your product will reflect.
  5. Angle your camera strategically.
  6. Spray the reflective surface with a clear matte coat.
  7. Use a polarizing filter on your lens.
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Although product photography with reflective surfaces can be intimidating, it is possible to produce amazing results quite easily. You just need the right knowledge and experience to do so.

This post will provide simple tips and product photography techniques to master product shots with reflective surfaces, so keep reading.

How Reflective Surfaces Respond To Lighting

Reflective/Polished gold watch we shot in our studio.

Understanding how reflective surfaces work is essential to product photography because you need to use different lighting techniques for different product types.

Reflective surfaces respond differently to light depending on how smooth the surface is. A product with a mirrored surface, for example, will reflect any surrounding lights and colors that hit it while still staying shiny and bright.

On the other hand, products with a matte finish absorb some light making them appear duller.

The Law of Reflection

When photographing reflective product surfaces, you need to remember the Law of Reflection. This law states that light reflects off a surface at an equal angle as it came in.

The light that reflects off of reflective surfaces is always at the opposite angle equal to its source, which means it goes straight back where it came from – just like when someone shines a flashlight on something and you see the beam reflecting.

When shooting product photography with shiny objects, this can be used to your advantage because you can strategically place your lights beyond the angle of your camera in order to light your product without seeing your lighting in the reflection.

The Right Equipment For Reflective Products

Photo of a product shoot behind the scenes

The way you approach reflective products is going to be substantially different than how you shoot products with matte surfaces. All of your equipment needs to be carefully considered, and that includes the lighting you use.

When dealing with reflections, instead of directly lighting your reflective objects you will want to light the objects that your subject will reflect instead. In order to get the best results, make sure you have the following:

Lighting: Continuous vs Strobe

When it comes to selecting the type of lighting you use, there will be two options: continuous lighting or strobe lighting.

  • Continuous lights is your natural lighting or lamps, and they are more common because they usually don’t require any extra equipment. But there are some limitations to these types of lights. This type of light provides a constant source of light that can make it difficult to create clean reflections on reflective surfaces without getting the glare from your surroundings, i.e. ambient light.
  • Strobe lights are more efficient for product shots with reflective surfaces because they can produce clean reflections by lighting the product faster than the surrounding light sources.

Check out our article on continuous vs strobe lighting for product photography in order to get a more in-depth look at this topic.

Tripod

Because the angle in which you shoot your product can determine whether or not you see a reflection, it’s very important to use a tripod in order to keep your camera in exactly the right spot.

It’s also critical to have your camera set on a tripod when locking onto a focus point and using manual settings, which is usually the case in product photography. Because even a slight movement in posture might result in blurry photographs, you should avoid holding your camera by hand during shoots as well.

Diffusion Material

Whether you use natural or artificial light, it is important to use diffusion material. The reason for this is that reflective surfaces tend to reflect everything around them which includes the lights and colors shining onto them as well as any objects in their surroundings.

For this reason, you will want to surround your product with diffusion material and set up your light sources to cast visually appealing gradients of light on that material.

You can use muslin fabric, a bed sheet, or even white paper to act as your diffusion material. However, we recommend using Savage Translum.

Polarizing Filter

Another important tool to use when shooting product photography with reflective surfaces is a polarizing filter. This can help you reduce the glare and reflection on your product, allowing for cleaner images in post-production.

You can find polarizing filters for your camera lens or for your lighting, however they are not going to completely cut out unwanted reflections and should only be used as a last resort.

Strip Box Light Modifier

The product we recommend for shooting reflective products is the strip box light modifier. It’s a versatile lighting equipment that can be used to create clean and visually appealing gradients of light on your product, as demonstrated in this video:

How To Shoot Product Photography With Reflective Surfaces

Highly polished metal barber scissors we shot in our studio.

Now that you understand what to look for in product photography equipment, it’s time to get down to the actual product.

First of all, make sure your product is clean and dry or else there will be an unwanted reflection from moisture on its surface. Next, decide how large you want your lighting gradients (if any) based off where you position your diffusion material.

You can create a sharp gradient or gradual lighting gradient depending on the angle of your lights and product.

Use A Light Box or Diffusion

Shooting a reflective product surrounded by diffusion material.

Light tents are portable studios explicitly designed for product photography. Some people also refer to these as lightboxes or photo tents.

Smooth polished surfaces predictably reflect light, which produces the gleaming sheen that is difficult to shoot. Investing in a light tent, which is a cube constructed of white, diffuse material, is one of the most straightforward solutions to address this.

The white material scatters light, softening the reflections. If you do not have a light tent, a roll of diffusion paper will suffice. 

Position Your Camera To Shoot From A Different Angle

Remember the Law of Reflection? In many cases, a reflective surface will capture unwanted reflections, such as your camera or light source on the product, and you can eliminate this by positioning your camera beyond the angle of incidence.

It will also come in handy if you need to light the front of your product and don’t want your lights to be seen.

In this case you can position your light at a 45-degree below the camera, for example.

Spray Your Product With A Clear Matte Coat

The transparent matte spray is available on Amazon or at hardware shops, such as Home Depot, and will momentarily reduce the glare from any shiny objects in your environment.

This usually isn’t the best way to deal with reflections compared to surrounding your product with diffusion material, and it would be beneficial to read the labels to confirm that the product is safe to use on your items.

Prior to spraying, tape off any areas you want to keep free. Additionally, the spray must completely dry before shooting; otherwise, the glossy sheen will remain.

You can quickly remove the spray with warm water and soap to restore the shine to your product once you’re done shooting.

Final Thoughts

Depending on the product you’re photographing, your lighting setup may vary.

Take into account that reflective product photography requires a lot of trial and error to create consistently good results. A little bit of experimentation with different methods is required if you want to achieve commercial quality product images every time!

This blog post has provided everything you need to know about product photography with reflective surfaces.

The method we recommend for shooting reflective objects is the strip box light modifier with diffusion material. It’s versatile lighting equipment that can be used to create clean and visually appealing gradients of light on your product, as demonstrated in our video.

Now that you understand what to look for in product photography equipment, it’s time to get down to business. For more tips and tricks on how to do product photography, check out the rest of our blog.

And if you need professional help for your next project, contact us today for a quote!

Benjamin

Benjamin

Hi, I'm Benjamin, Digital Media Strategist and product photographer for Skyline FBA. I have been involved in content creation for over 10 years and love helping people develop strategies to grow their business. My wife and I are Product Photographers that are experienced in Amazon FBA, eCommerce, Lifestyle, and Advertising photography.

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