Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Digital Photography

Mastering Nikon Speedlights: Product Photography Examples

  • Print
  • + Share This
You can create great product photos using the Nikon Speedlights. This chapter from Mastering Nikon Speedlights: A Complete Guide to Small Flash Photography and the Creative Lighting System shows what is possible, whether using a single flash or many. Alan Hess walks you through the gear you need, shows how to set up the shot, and even discusses suggested camera and flash settings.
This chapter is from the book

For all the example images, I used the Creative Lighting System’s Advanced Wireless Lighting to trigger the remote flashes. You can use the built-in flash to trigger the remote units, or you can even use a TTL cord to trigger them from the camera. For all the photos, I used at least one light modifier, such as a softbox to diffuse the main light, or a Rogue Grid to control the spill of light on the background. Although you may never need to photograph splashing fruit, shinning knives, or glistening beer, the techniques required for the example shots will help you with many common photographic challenges.

Strawberry Splash

Sometimes the easiest photos to take look the most impressive and complicated. For instance, suppose you want to capture a strawberry splashing into milk at the moment the berry breaks the surface of the liquid. This action sounds difficult to capture, but it really isn’t. The hardest part is having the patience to drop the strawberry into the milk over and over again.

Gear

This shoot does not need a lot of gear because it uses just one light. The real issue with this shoot is that it can get messy—a side effect of those splashing milk drops. The gear needed for this photo is as follows:

  • Strawberries: You need some good-looking strawberries to drop in the milk. For the example shot, I spent a few minutes in the supermarket picking out the best pint of strawberries. Not all the strawberries need to be perfect, just two of three that have that proper strawberry shape. The color is also important; you are looking for a deep red because the image will be very bright. If your strawberry is on the lighter side to start with, it will look washed out in the final photo.
  • Milk: The cheapest gallon of milk at the local supermarket works great. You can also add a little cold water, if you need to stretch the amount out.
  • Plastic tub: You need a tub to hold the milk, one that’s deep enough to hold enough milk to create a good splash as the strawberry hits it. A white plastic tub works the best, but you can also use a clear one, as long as it is big enough so that you don’t see the edges (you don’t want to see anything that doesn’t look like milk). Once again, the supermarket offers inexpensive options.
  • Speedlight: The image will be lit by a single Speedlight in a softbox. I used an SB-910, but you can use any Speedlight that can act as a remote.
  • Softbox: The Speedlight needs to be diffused so that you don’t get hard shadows when the milk splashes up. I used the 26-inch Westcott Rapid Box Octa, which was the perfect size to light up the splash.
  • Boom or Century Stand: The light needs to be placed above the tub of milk and aimed down so that it can light the splash from above. To do this, you need a way to hold the light in place. A boom or a century stand can handle the job with ease. I prefer to use the century stand because it takes up less space, and I don’t have a lot of room to begin with.
  • Commander unit: You will need a way to trigger the light from the camera. I used the SU-800, but you can use another Speedlight or the built-in flash to trigger the flash.
  • Camera and lens: For the example photo, I used the Nikon D4 and a 105mm macro lens. You will want to use a lens that allows you to shoot a little wide so that you don’t miss the splash. You can always crop the image later.
  • Tripod: For this shot to work, the camera needs to be set in a tripod that can hold it at a downward angle above the plastic tub.
  • Towels: You can’t have too many towels handy on a messy shoot. I placed one towel under the plastic tub to catch any of the milk drops that made it over the edge but quickly realized I needed another towel to dry the milk from the strawberries I used as models. Each time I dropped a strawberry into the milk, I needed to fish it out and gently dry it for the next take.

Taking the Photo

The setup for this photo is simple: Place the tub full of milk on the work surface and the Speedlight in the softbox above it so the light aims straight down on the milk. Then, you drop the strawberry and press the shutter release button as the strawberry hits the milk (Figure 19.1).

Figure 19.1

Figure 19.1 The goal with this shot is to have the strawberry in focus and to capture the instant it breaks the surface of the milk.

NIKON D4 ISO 1600 1/2000 SEC. F/7.1

The first step is to get the exposure right using a shutter speed that will freeze the action. With the camera set to Manual exposure mode, I tried setting the shutter speed to 1/2000 and the aperture to f/7.1. This gave me a shutter speed that froze the splash and enough of depth of field to keep the strawberry and splash in focus. I set the Speedlight to act as a remote in Manual flash mode at 1/8 power.

The final step is to adjust the ISO. You want the white milk to look white, so I suggest starting at an ISO of 800 and taking a photo. If the milk is not white enough, you can move the ISO to 1600. If the milk is still not white enough, you can either increase the ISO or increase the output of the flash. For Figure 19.2, for example, a setting of 1/2000 second, f/7.1, and ISO 1600 with a Manual 1/8 power on the flash was still a little dull. I increased the power to 1/4, and that worked perfectly. Because the milk is white, it tends to reflect the light so it acts as a second light source.

Figure 19.2

Figure 19.2 Here is how the milk looked before I got the exposure dialed in. (I didn’t need to drop a strawberry until I had the proper exposure, but a photo of just milk here would have been dull in more ways than one.) To help whiten the milk, I ended up increasing the output of the flash from 1/8 to 1/4 while keeping the camera settings the same.

NIKON D4 ISO 1600 1/2000 SEC. F/7.1

The next step is to set the cameras focus on where you believe the strawberry is going to land. If you keep the camera on the Continuous Auto-Focus setting, the camera will try to focus as you press the shutter release button. This can cause a delay when you try to take the photo. You want to use Manual focus and pre-focus on the spot where the splash will happen. I just floated a clothespin and used auto-focus to get focus set; then I turned the camera to Manual focus and made sure I didn’t move the camera, lens, or milk (Figure 19.3).

Figure 19.3

Figure 19.3 I used a clothespin to act as the strawberry while I adjusted the focus. Because it was right on the surface, I could easily focus on it.

NIKON D4 ISO 1600 1/2000 SEC. F/7.1

The next steps are to actually drop the strawberry and take the photo. I held the strawberry over the milk with my right hand and put my left on the shutter release button. Then it was just a matter of dropping the strawberry, quickly moving my hand out of the way, and pressing the shutter release button as the strawberry hit the milk—over and over and over again.

You can see in Figure 19.4 that you not only have to press the shutter release button at the right moment but also need to move your hand out of the way to avoid a shadow of the hand in the milk. Press the shutter release button too early, and the strawberry is frozen in mid-air and out of focus; press the shutter release button too late, and the strawberry is covered in milk. You also need to pay attention to the look of the strawberry; for example, the middle image is ruined by a bruise on the berry.

Figure 19.4

Figure 19.4 The sequence of the strawberry drop proves timing is everything and practice is vital.

NIKON D4 ISO 1600 1/2000 SEC. F/7.1

I probably dropped the two best-looking strawberries into the same tub of milk more than 50 times before I got a shot I really liked. Between each drop, I waited until the milk was flat, and I dried off the strawberry. The final image (Figure 19.5) was the one where I could see the strawberry clearly and the splash looked the best.

Figure 19.5

Figure 19.5 Here’s the final strawberry splash image, which was my favorite of the shots I took.

NIKON D4 ISO 1600 1/2000 SEC. F/7.1

The setup for this shot is simple, and the results are fantastic. It’s easy to try with a minimum of gear—just have a towel handy.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email ask@peachpit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.peachpit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020