Commercial Photographs

by William Lulow

Even though I specialize in photographing people, I have always thought of myself as a “commercial” photographer because I’m often called upon to make many different kinds of images for commercial purposes. Part of my early experience involved making photographs for catalogs. Here are some examples:




One has to know quite a bit about lighting to make successful photographs like these. Most commercial photographs of products are usually shot with “softboxes” of various sizes rather than umbrellas. The same lessons are used, but with slightly different effects. For instance, you still need to have soft lighting, but because you are photographing objects, the reflections of the light need to be different. Notice how the highlights in the first image are all vertical. That is created by the use of large softboxes or lightbanks. The use of umbrellas for a shot like this would result in very specular highlights that would be very distracting. The same procedure was used in the rest of these shots as well. This is what a large softbox is:

6-foot softbox

It is basically a box that has a translucent front and a black back that contains the light. It produces a rectangular-shaped light which is soft enough for photographing products. The light is also directed more than it would be from an umbrella.

Many photographers use these softboxes for people as well, but I much prefer umbrellas because of the “wrap-around” nature of the light they produce. Softboxes are specifically designed for products. I have several softboxes ranging in size from 18″ long to 5 feet long.

Commercial photographers have to be able to use the right kind of light for the things or people they photograph. Yesterday (this was written on Wednesday), we were photographing printed invitations, so my studio set up was a softbox, much larger than the invitations themselves, but they were able to be filled in with an umbrella because they really didn’t have any reflective surfaces. Here’s an example:


Here is part of the setup for this image:


Here you can see my table top with a grey background set up, the medium sized softbox and the umbrella, all ready to make a series of images. Since the products (invitations) were fairly small, I was able to do the whole shoot in my office rather than in the larger studio area.

The take away here is that commercial photography can entail many different types of products and/or people. Therefore, true commercial photographers doing this type of work have to have the necessary equipment and knowledge to be able to handle various types of assignments because they are making images for “commerce.”