Why a lack of photography equipment shouldn't be an excuse

1 Light vs 6 Light Product Shoot

I hear a lot of negativity from photographers claiming not to have enough equipment to get good results. This is particularly relevant to product photography, but as you’ll see from my recent one light challenge product shoot — it is completely untrue.

With the right knowledge, you can get top-end, professional-quality results using just one light. Yes, you might be able to get even better results with two, three, or even four lights, but what you have to understand, and what I repeatedly find myself having to explain, is that it’s not about what equipment you have, but rather how you use that equipment.

As I said, my one light challenge live show is a perfect example of how with just one light you can get great results. In the show you’ll see how I used just a single softbox combined with a few reflectors and some diffusion material to create the image below.

One light product photography example

One Light Challenge Product Shoot

Now available to watch on replay

Karl shows the step-by-step process of photographing lipsticks, making a one-light setup look like a three-light setup.

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Lipsticks product photography one light setup
The final product image, straight out of camera with no retouching, taken using one light. © Karl Taylor

Looking at this image (which is the un-retouched, straight-out-of-camera result), any aspiring photographer (and even many pro photographers) would be more than happy with the result. In fact, a lot of clients would also be thrilled with the final photo. This just goes to show how it is knowledge rather than just equipment that helps you get results.

Some of the key things to understand when it came to creating this shot were what lenses are best for product photography; how to light metallic and matte surfaces; how to create and control gradient lighting; how to adjust the hardness or softness of a light; how to control light in a small space and how long exposures can be used for product photography. Without having this knowledge, creating the end result would have seemed impossible and definitely would have been far more difficult, even if I was using multiple lights.

None of these concepts rely on having multiple lights or endless equipment. Instead, your ability to achieve this depends of your understanding of light. Many of these concepts are covered in our ‘Introduction and Understanding Studio Light’ class, which, if you haven’t already, I strongly suggest you watch.

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Although I was happy with the final result achieved during the live show, as a professional commercial photographer I knew I could further improve on the result if I were to have more freedom with my lighting (remember, the purpose of this first shot was purely to demonstrate what was possible with just one light), so I decided to go back and re-do the shot the following day, this time doing it exactly how I would have done it if I were shooting for a client.

Lipsticks product photography one light setup
The final image taken using six lights. © Karl Taylor

In the end I used a total of six lights, instead of the original one. Why? Not because I wanted to use more equipment, but simply because that’s how many lights were required to get the very best result. I could have used four lights, even seven or nine, but if I didn’t understand lighting and how to apply this knowledge I wouldn’t have been able to create anything like this. You can give any cook the finest ingredients in the world, but if they don’t know how to use them, they’ll never be able to produce anything good. It’s the same with photography.

Portrait by Tom Oldham
One light lipstick product shot.
Portrait by Tom Oldham
Six lights lipstick product shot.

When you look at these images side-by-side, can you spot the differences between them? Part of understanding light is knowing how to identify it. Looking at these two images you should notice the extra catchlights on the top of the lipstick applicator on the right-hand image, as well as the additional stripe of light on the vertical gold cylinder. Do you have the expertise in lighting to recognise and understand how one light was used to achieve what looks like multiple lights in the one light version or to identify where and what lights were used in this six light version? These are key skills for photographers to have.

They say a bad workman always blames his tools… By doing these two shots, I wanted to show you that a ‘lack of equipment’ really shouldn’t be an excuse. If you take anything away from this, it should be that knowledge is the most important thing, not equipment. The key thing is to have a good understanding of light and how control it. Once you understand this, you’ll be able to get a lot more creative.

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