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One Light, Big Impact: Mastering Catalog Photography on a Budget

6/10/2024 ISO 1200 Magazine 0 Comments

 Creating professional-looking catalog photos often conjures images of expansive studios, high-end equipment, and a team of lighting specialists. But what if you're an aspiring product photographer working with limited resources? Fear not! In this blog post,  we'll embark on a lighting adventure, proving that stunning catalog shots are achievable with just one light and a budget-friendly setup.

Mark Wallace, a renowned photographer, takes on the "one-light challenge," demonstrating the transformative power of light modifiers.  We'll witness firsthand how a simple switch from a bare flash to a giant, translucent umbrella elevates product photography from flat and uninspired to captivating and commercially viable.

The Challenge: Bare Flash and Harsh Reality

Mark sets his camera to manual mode with specific settings (ISO 160, 200th of a second shutter speed, f6.3 aperture) to capture Tasiana Igondjo, the model, in motion while minimizing the influence of ambient light.

The initial approach involves using the flash directly on Tasi. While this achieves a well-lit subject, the results are far from ideal. The harsh light creates unflattering shadows on Tasi's face and background, detracting from the overall professionalism of the image. This scenario perfectly illustrates the limitations of using a bare flash, a common pitfall for beginner photographers.

Softening the Blow: Introducing the Light Modifier

Recognizing the need for a more diffused light source, Mark transitions to using the same flash with a diffuser attached.  This diffuser helps to scatter the light, creating a softer effect on the subject. However, the improvement is marginal. The background still suffers from harsh shadows, and the overall look remains unpolished.

The Game Changer: Enter the Giant Shoot-Through Umbrella

This is where the magic truly happens! Mark introduces the hero of the video: a giant, 49-inch translucent shoot-through umbrella. This light modifier acts as a giant softbox, diffusing the flash significantly and spreading the light over a wider area. The impact is dramatic. The harsh shadows on Tasi and the background vanish, replaced by a soft, even light that illuminates the subject beautifully.

Mark adjusts the camera settings slightly (ISO 160, 1/1200th of a second shutter speed, f6.3 aperture) to compensate for the increased light diffusion.  The final results are a testament to the power of the shoot-through umbrella. The catalog photos are clean, professional, and visually appealing, showcasing the product effectively.

Beyond the Challenge: Valuable Takeaways

Mark Wallace's one-light challenge offers valuable insights for aspiring product photographers:

  • The Magic of Light Modifiers: Don't underestimate the transformative power of light modifiers. A simple diffuser or, as demonstrated in the video, a giant shoot-through umbrella, can dramatically improve the quality of your product photos.
  • Understanding Light and Shadow: Harsh light creates unflattering shadows. By diffusing the light source, you can achieve a more even and visually pleasing illumination.
  • Experimentation is Key: Don't be afraid to experiment with different light placements and modifiers to achieve the desired results.
  • Maximizing Limited Resources: Even with a single light source, you can create professional-looking catalog photos by implementing the right techniques and equipment.

Feeling inspired by Mark Wallace's one-light mastery? Take your product photography to the next level! 

About Mark Wallace:

Mark Wallace is a photographer based in the United States. Best known for his web-based video series “Digital Photography One on One” and “Exploring Photography”. In 2014, Mark left the United States to embark on a 2 year worldwide adventure. He visited 28 countries and captured thousands of unique photographs across the globe. Visit

Images, text and video via Mark Wallace |  Model: Tasi