Lighting Terms That A Product Photographer Needs To Know – Part 1

There are countless terms out there in the world of photography that any commercial photographer or product photographer of any type should be aware of. When we narrow this down to lighting terms, there are many to get your head around and understand. We’ve put together a shortlist of some key terms that we feel you should know as a good product photographer. Here is part 1 of that list:


This is the light that is found in a particular scene, whether caused by natural light or artificial light. It is important for a product photographer to control this, particularly when combining it with flash lighting. Two tools that help with this are the shutter speed and aperture settings on a camera.


This is any kind of lighting created by a bulb or flash, not created via a natural source such as the sun. It is an invaluable tool for any commercial photographer and there is a wide range of options to choose from, as well as accessories to control the type of artificial light.


This is a relatively simple term that many will know, even if they haven’t been working as a product photographer. It is the difference between the shadows and highlights within a specific image and using the contrast correctly can have dramatic effects on the final product photograph.


Diffused lighting is when the lighting a product photographer has chosen, hits the product from a wide range of angles with the reflections bouncing off in all directions. The idea behind this is that no matter the angle you take the photo, the lighting should be the same and the lighting itself is softer.


The falloff is a measure of light losing its power as it travels a particular distance. This helps you to understand how powerful lighting you need for a particular project. For those commercial photographers interested in the science behind it, falloff follows the inverse square light law.


When a product photographer wants to create a softer transition from light to shadow, then they need to consider the gradient. This is the transition between light to dark and a smoother gradient involves diffused lighting, whereas hard light causes a harder gradient.

Hard light

The opposite of diffused light, in that it has a minimal gradient and is defined by sharp edges of the shadow. It is very useful for particular products and as a product photographer, you need to be an expert in both hard light and diffused light.

Inverse square law

This is a scientific term defining the relationship between the brightness of the light and the distance it travels. What this means is that the brightness of the light will reduce in an inverse proportion to the square of the distance that the light travels.


We hope these terms are useful and we will continue with part 2 of this lighting terms guide in the coming weeks. Understanding what the terms mean is only the first step in a long process in being efficient at using light as a product photographer. If you can master this topic, then you will create some truly elegant and creative product photographs for your clients.