One-Light Lipstick Product Shoot

In this product photography class Karl demonstrates how to shoot a close up product shot of lipsticks in red paint using a one light setup.

Meticulous thought and planning were required for this shoot as there would only be one opportunity to get the shot. You’ll see each stage of this shoot, including planning, testing, lighting and shooting. You’ll also learn more about tilt-shift photography and how to use tilt-shift for product photography.

Course objectives:

  • Learn product photography
  • Product photography lighting
  • One light product photography setups
  • Learn how to photograph lipsticks
  • How to create gradient lighting using softboxes
  • Tilt-shift product photography

For this cosmetics product shoot I wanted to create a close-up image of Chanel lipsticks in red liquid, but I knew I’d only have once chance to get the shot. This meant every stage of the shoot had to be carefully thought through and planned.

To start, I had to determine my composition. It was crucial that I get this right because the lipsticks, in order to prevent them floating in the liquid, would be stuck down. Once they were stuck, there would be no changing my composition.

Product photography composition.

I had to decide on my composition before introducing the liquid.

Once I’d finalised this, I started working on the lighting. The setup for this shoot was very simple — one large softbox from overhead.

To see the lighting on the product, I used a test plate with a single lipstick in red paint. This stage was important as it allowed me to figure out my lighting before I started adding liquid to the final arrangement of lipsticks.

Product photography planning


Once I was satisfied with the lighting, I swapped out the test plate for the final arrangement. Then, very gradually, we started pouring the paint. This was done in gradual stages as I wanted to see how the paint interacted and wrapped around the lipsticks. I had to find a balance where the lipsticks looked good in the liquid but weren’t overwhelmed.

Product photography with liquid

I gradually added the paint to ensure I achieved a good balance between the product and the liquid.

Pouring the liquid was the final stage of the shoot, having already determine the composition and lighting, and once it had reached a point I was happy with, I knew I had my shot.

The final image:

Chanel lipsticks product photo

The final lipsticks in red paint shot.

To learn more about product photography and how to photograph cosmetics, visit our Product section, where you’ll find a range of classes detailing all you need to know about product photography. To help you get started, I’ve put together a list of popular classes and articles that you’ll find useful.

Product photography classes:
Product photography articles:

If you have any questions, please post in the comment section below.


  1. Hello Karl,
    Thanks as always for another prime example of your work and how you tackle it. Quick question for you… When focus stacking, in general, do you do your editing on each of the raw files of your stack or after you blend them together? Also, if you do your editing including color correction before you blend your stack is your final image a raw file?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi, I would do colour correction, contrast etc to all the raw files for the focus stack before exporting them. Then for Helicon they need to be exported as Tiffs, then I do the focus stack in Helicon and then the retouching on the final focus stacked and flattened image. There is often some bits to fix from the helicon stack anyway as it doesn’t always get it perfect so you have to occassionally revert back to a bit from one file and a bit from another and paste them in.

  2. Hi Karl:
    Due to the DOF depends more from the distance than the aperture, in order to obtain the biggest DOF, wouldn’t be a solution use a telephoto and take the picture with more distance?

    1. Hi, no unfortunately. DOF is affected mostly by one key factor: Magnification. The more magnification the less DOF, bigger sensor equals more magnification less DOF which is why medium format has less DOF than 35mm. If you also magnify the image more with a lens then less DOF.

  3. Hi Karl,

    Do you have any previous video’s using a Sinar P2 5 x 4 inch with film for product photography?


    1. Hi, no I’m afraid I don’t. I stopped using my Sinar in 2005 and we started the education platform in 2008.

  4. The studio I rent doesn’t have scrims (but they have all the other lighting and modifiers I’ll need). I’m considering buying something like a westcott scrim jim. Although, I’ve also considered a super cheap option like a 6 ft oval diffusion panel from a 5 in 1 bounce kit.

    Would there be any issues with either of those that you could foresee?


  5. Hi Karl

    I was wondering if you’ve ever tried/considered using a butane torch or heat gun to pop all the bubbles in the paint. I do paint pour paintings and find that using these techniques really pops the bubbles. though one would of course have to be cautious not to get to close to the lipstick so as not to melt it 😉

    I can’t wait to try this style of shot

    1. Thanks Jacqueline, I’ll keep that in mind. That would probably work well on this as it was water based paint but a sidenote for anyone reading this it would not be advisable to do that on cellulose based paint as it might ignite.

  6. Gary Stasiuk

    I have a question about photographing something I can best describe as a liquid surface similar to nail polish where you want to retain that smooth wet liquid gloss in the surface. I have three cans.. red, white and black that have a finish like rich wet nail polish, similar to the paint in this shot and I am wondering about the best approach. They are cans, so usually I would start with scrims and strip softboxes, but perhaps bare bulb or p70 on a scrim. Thoughts on this Karl?

    1. Hi Gary, sorry I wasn’t quite sure from this if it was Cans you were photographing that have a liquid finish look or if it is Liquid that you are photographig? If it is Cans then yes scrim and stripbox sounds the way to go but you might also want to consider the ‘cut off’ technique on the gradient that I used in this live show – that will give it more of a ‘gloss’ look.

      1. Gary Stasiuk

        Thanks .. yes, I remember seeing that cut off technique but was having trouble finding it again. The cans have this finish when I move them that reminds me of wet nail polish and I wanted a go at somehow working with that.

  7. Hi Karl, Great tutorial.

    For portfolio building, can i use brand names as Chanel etc. I have many of my own items as props but wasn’t sure should I keep their logo or not, since they are not my clients.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi, yes you can and I don’t think brands mind their products being shown as long as it is not in a negative way or with bad photography. The only thing you shouldn’t do is put a brand logo as text or an icon on top of your image as that would be falsifying that you actually shot it for the brand. Of course you can only do this if you actually did shoot it for the brand at that is the context in which it was used.

  8. Hello Karl,

    I just ordered the Manfrotto 085BS Boom Stand, it says the maximum load capacity for maximum arm extension is 6.8kg, If the load capacity exceeded the maximum weight, will the Boom stand simply fall off or (worse) the arm extension may bend? should I simply add some sandbag or not take the risk?

    Broncolor Siros 800 S = 4.9KG
    Softbox 120 X 180 = 2.4KG
    Total= 7.3 KG

    Manfrotto 058BS Max. Extension is 6.8KG

    1. Hi, they will tip over so sandbags are essential. You will also find you can take out one of the extension poles if it bends too much. I’ve overloaded mine many times with no problems.

  9. Hello Karl, my name is Christian, thanks for the great content…. I am very happy for the knowledge. I do not speak english 100% but it is not a problem, I want to learn from the best! Regards from Colombia

    1. Thank you. Remember we have English captions if that helps and we are adding other languages soon.

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