A local collector wanted to put his guitars up for auction but felt that his photographs didn’t do justice to the high quality of craftsmanship and beautiful details of his guitars. We showed him how a few key changes in set up and lighting could create dramatic results in his images.

(Click on any image below for an enlarged view.)


Topics Coverered


This first photo (figure 1) is typical of most amateur product photos. The guitar’s value and beauty are diminished by the distracting backdrop and the harsh, on-camera flash.  By changing the backdrop and using a simple lighting set up, the guitar comes to life with rich detail and texture (figure 2).

Fig 1

Fig 2

Simple Techniques for Dramatic Product Shots

Our first step was to improve the backdrop. We chose a simple black fabric because it complemented the colors and style of the guitar (figure 3). For an easy and inexpensive set up, we clipped it directly to a Photoflex Boom mounted to a Boom Stand. We then arranged it in draped folds to add texture and separation. To position the guitar upright, we used just the bottom section of a small Photoflex Litestand and wrapped it in black fabric so it would not be seen (figure 4).

Fig 3

Fig 4

For our main light, we set up a Quantum Qflash (figure 5) powered by a Quantum Qpaq-X battery (figure 6). We set the flash to manual and dialed in the power, f-stop and film speed settings using the Mode, Set and up/down buttons. We find the Qpaq useful because it gives you the ability to add on extra battery packs for more power as you are shooting (figure 7). A medium Photoflex LiteDome was attached to the strobe unit to diffuse and soften the light.

Figure 5

Figure 5

Fig 6

Fig 7

We liked the result but felt that there was still too much light on the backdrop. To solve this, we added a set of Photoflex Grids to the LiteDome face (figure 8). The grids allowed us to direct the light onto the guitar and gradually fade it off the background (figure 9).

Fig 8

Fig 9

Lighting for Different Surfaces and Textures

To bring out the intricate detail of the guitar’s chrome cover plate, we set up a 39x39” Photoflex Litepanel frame with a white reflective fabric panel on it (figure 10). This fabric bounces the light from the main light into the front of the guitar to better illuminate the cover plate without creating harsh reflections and hot spots (figure 11).

Fig 10

Fig 11

The front now stood out clearly and in detail. However, the side of the guitar was dark in shadows and lacked depth and definition. To fill in the left side of the guitar we added a 42” gold Litedisc to reflect light on the side of the guitar (figure 12). The gold color added warm accents to the rich colors of the wood and the soft light source accented the curved shape of the body. The result shows a much-improved dimensionality to the shot that can now be used for posting on the web or auction site, or simply for making a great print (figure 13).

Fig 12

Fig 13

Figure 14

Figure 14

To better illustrate the details and show the fine condition of the piece, we brought the camera in closer and re-positioned our light source to a lower angle to partially reflect into the chrome (figure 14).

The result showed improved detail and texture of the wood and sound holes, but didn’t highlight so much of the faceplate, particularly the interesting bottom detail (figure 15). To include this feature, we repositioned the guitar on a wooden stool with the camera oriented toward the base of the guitar. This created an interesting angle that brings the viewers eye across the face of the guitar.

Figure 15

Figure 15

We brought out the detail of the faceplate by positioning our main light in close and moving it to a side angle so that it was directed across the face of the guitar rather than down onto it. Then we placed the white/silver Litedisc to the right to reflect light into contours of the right side of the guitar. The result shows the curves and cutaways of the face clearly illuminated (figure 16). To focus the viewer on the guitar grillwork, we reduced our cameras depth of field to throw the back of the guitar slightly out of focus. The result is pleasing and effective in showing general detail (figure 17).

Fig 16

Fig 17

Creating Extreme Close Ups

In order to achieve the “selective focus” look that is so popular in product photography today, we needed to come in closer to create a very shallow depth of field. To create this effect, we added a set of bellows to our Contax 645 camera and 80mm lens (figure 18). We placed the camera on a sturdy tripod to prevent any chance of motion blur due to camera movement (figure 19).

Fig 18

Fig 19

TIP: In a situation like this, it’s a good idea to proof your exposure and areas of selective focus with a Polaroid back on your camera.

Fig 20

Fig 21

Using these techniques with a single soft box and reflector (figure 20), you can easily create extreme close-ups that reveal the subtle details and craftsmanship of your product (figures 21, 22 and 23).

Fig 22

Fig 23


To view more lessons on-line, go to WebPhotoSchool and sign up for access to the Private Lessons section of the site.

© Copyright WebPhotoSchool 1995-2002 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED WORLDWIDE