Yanik's Photo School

Lighting Products Outside With Small Flashes

After shooting in Cancun, I went back to the author’s home in Miami to finish off a few shots and also to take advantage of the Florida sun. The longer I can stay warm the better! 🙂

All my studio gear was shipped directly from Cancun to Montreal so I used my trusty SB-800s to light the final images. I figured with 4 of them plus my built-in flash, plus natural light, I could do a great job. In the end, I mostly used 2 and on occasion, 3.

One of the shots was a bunch of lotions and creams. The idea, since this is for a Spa book, was to capture natural elements in the shot. Luckily Steve (the author and good friend) has a perfect setting right in his own backyard! Lots of trees, bushes and a pool with a small waterfall! How cool is that! Oh, and the post shoot jacuzzi! 😉


The first thing was to set up the products on the table. It was a sunny day and the sun lit the background beautifully. I put the table in the shade so that I could have complete control of the lighting. If you’ve seen some of my other lighting tutorials like the Rockband shoot or the windmill shot, you’ll remember that the first thing you need to do is the get the proper exposure for your background. In this case, the sun lit the background and since I can’t control the sun’s power, I basically got the correct exposure as you can see in this shot. ISO 100, f7.1, 1/250 sec., WB: sunny.

Now that my background was just the way I liked it, it was time to add some lights. I placed a first SB-800 on camera left about a foot above the products. I always shoot with my flashes in manual mode. I usually use my Pocket Wizzards to trigger the flashes but since I was shooting close to my flashes, I used my D300’s built-in flash in Commander mode to trigger them. After trial and error, my correct output for my SB-800 was at 1/4 power.

As you can see, we’re getting somewhere now. I found the shadows a bit strong. I thought about putting one of my Gary Fong Lightsphere’s on it to diffuse the light but then I would have to redo all my light tests and, being lazy in the Miami sun, I decide to use my built-in flash as a fill light. I found that setting it at 1/8 power did the trick. I didn’t want to kill the shadows, just tone them down a bit.

I could have called it a day because the shot was good but it lacked separation from the background and some dimension. It looked really flat. So I took another Sb-800 and put it on camera right 45 degrees in back of the products. I wanted to reproduce the sun’s effect so I needed good power. I found that 1/2 power made the shot.

You can see how the orchid just pops and the light on the orchid branch and the products creates separation. The backlight added a third dimension to them as well. Now I was happy. I got the shot I had envisioned.

Here’s a shot of the setup to give you a general view of the lighting.

To sum it up, here were my lighting steps:
1- Expose for the background
2- Setup main light on camera left
3- Use built-in flash as fill light
4- Add backlight for separation

9 responses on "Lighting Products Outside With Small Flashes"

  1. Just want to clarify the exposure. During all the shots, camera settings stays at :
    ISO 100, f7.1, 1/250 sec., WB: sunny?

  2. Cool! Love reading about speedlights setups 🙂 Now all I need is to buy 2 or 3 of them and start shooting myself :>

  3. Profile photo of Yanik

    @ Drew

    nope, no stofen. Just the regular SB-800 diffuser. 🙂

  4. BTW, I love it when you share the thought process along with the setup pics!!

  5. Yanik

    It looks like your main has a Stofen on it? Or is it just the flash intensity?

  6. thanks for the walk thru. I never thought of lighting the subject from the back to add depth and separation. Now i have to go thru all my shots and re imagine the shot with 3d lighting. A++ on this step by step walk thru

  7. Great stuff. Thanks for the tips! I hope there’s tips on bikini babe shots with small flashes in your next post.

  8. Great post, thanks Yanik. As pictures say more than 1000 words, the last pictures is especially helpful.

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