A Product Photography Guide to Reflections

We often write about lighting and its importance in the world of product photography. What we haven’t discussed quite as much is the topic of reflections and the role they play in photography, particularly in more challenging areas such as jewellery photography.

Overview of reflections

Let’s start with the fundamental rule of reflection. Should a ray of light hit a particular surface at an angle, then that ray of light will reflect back at the same angle to what is known as the normal line (this is the 90-degree angle from the surface of the mirror). All objects reflect some level of light because if they only absorb light then they would be invisible.

To deliver results in the world of product photography, you need to be aware of how positioning your light source will influence the way the light reflects on your object. Positioning your lighting correctly makes managing reflections easy, with poorly positioned lighting significantly impacting the quality of your product image.

Types of reflection

There are three main types of reflection that we wish to touch on today and whichever the type of product photography you work in, such as fashion or jewellery photography it is important to understand. If you can get this right, then lighting setups become easier to deal with and master.

Diffuse

One of the most commonly used types of reflection in product photography, diffuse light is the concept of having light hit a surface from a wide range of angles. This allows the photographer to have the same level of reflection no matter the angle the shot is taken from, as the same amount of light is reflected in each direction.

Direct

The next type we will touch on is direct reflection, another one commonly found in the world of product photography, particularly jewellery photography. This most closely relates to the law of reflection covered in the overview and focuses on a small range of angles reflecting the light. A key point here is that the size of the light source in question will affect the angles, so think carefully about the type of product and how you wish it to appear in the photograph.

Direct Polarized

The third reflection we wish to discuss today is direct polarized, very similar to direct reflection but with an added layer to it. Polarization in its simplest form means oscillating a light wave in a direction and will often have the characteristic of being dimmer than direct light reflection. You can utilise filters to investigate this further and even remove this type of polarization if it doesn’t suit the photograph you’re trying to take.

Summary

When we discuss reflection within the world of product photography, it is vital to remember that no light source is perfect. Whether working on a product photography shoot indoors or relying on natural light there will be a mix of reflections to deal with.

If you understand them, learn how to use them and where needed remove them you can get creative with your photographs. Specific products will require a specific lighting set up and professional photography is all about harnessing this power to deliver results.