High-end Cosmetics Product Photography

How do you make a small, everyday object look like a work of art? Empowering your subject to give it presence and desirability is what makes successful advertising photography and there are lighting considerations, camera angles and techniques that will help make it work.

In this product photography class Karl creates a powerful, dramatic advertising image of a pair of lipsticks as he demonstrates how to photograph small products, what impact background choice can have on the final shot, and how to create beautiful gradient lighting for products with metallic textures.

Shooting small objects such as this requires precision and patience, and as Karl builds his shot up light-by-light you’ll see how even the smallest changes can have a big impact.

Class objectives:

  • How to photograph cosmetics
  • Techniques for photographing small products
  • Using extension tubes for close-up macro photography
  • How to create gradient lighting for metallic textures
  • Demonstrate the importance of background choice

You can view the post-production for this image in our ‘Retouching for high-end cosmetic product photography’ class.

To learn more about cosmetics photography and how to photograph lipsticks, take a look at the following recommended classes:

If you have any questions about this class please post in the comment section below.

NOTE: This class is available with English subtitles and automatic translations.


  1. I see I am a few years late to see this!
    Great to see your approaches with a 2 light setup and bounce cards and it has me wondering how you make the decision to aim for a close to complete one shot in camera using more lights and a more complicated setup versus fewer lights and multiple exposures that will be pieced together in post?

    Kind regards
    john leigh London UK

    1. Hi John, I guess my decisions on those things come down to efficiency and how effective I think the result will be. As you know wherever I feel it possible to get the result in camera then I will go down that route if it makes sense. Obviously there are some scenarios such as the other cosmetic pots shot where I can’t get gradients on the lids and hard shadows in camera at the same time so it has to be planned as a comp but still trying to limit the amount required.

  2. Thanks so much for including BTS to show camera angles, etc. Hugely helpful for the novice (me)! What about shooting on black plexi? The reflection would be more muted, but would that help eliminate the double/mirroring on the product? Thanks again! This has been the best investment yet!

  3. Hi Akansh, the key light is coming from the right so the left side of the product is in shadow? At around 11:45 you also see where I show versions with a fill light on the left side.

  4. Hi Karl Thank you for your feedback.
    You never seem to be too concerned about any diffraction limitations in your product photography especially when it appears that on a full frame camera you sometimes shoot products in the f16 to f22 range to achieve the required depth of field referred to above.
    Are diffraction limits are not really something that we need to be too worried about or are they quite negligible and not really worth worrying about?

    Kind regards

  5. Hi Karl

    With using extension tubes and / or macro and being that close to the subject and with the second lipstick somewhat further behind the first, please talk us through your depth of field considerations for this kind of shot.


    1. Hi Peter, I believe f16 (maybe f22) was required to acheive the depth of field. If it’s not achievable then I’d revert to a tilt and shift lens, or even better a technical view camera or often I revert to focus stacking as demonstrated in the ‘watch’ shoot in the product section. I check my DOF tethered and experiment with slightly different focus points to determine best DOF. My focus is also always done manually for this sort of work.

  6. Hi karl,
    Thank you very much for the great tutorial.
    May i use a srip box behind the deffuser pannel to give the same effect of right side graduated highlights?
    Thank you in advance

    1. Hi, we just know it as polished metal or polished stainless steel and usually purchase from hardware/diy stores or metal workshops.

      1. Hello Karl. Do you know a website where we can find this polish metal cardboard ? I’m french and its difficult to obtain a good translate to purchase this item !
        Kind regards

        1. Hi Alexandre I don’t know a website, although we get it from a hardware store called B&Q in the UK and they have a website. But you should be able to get it from metal working companies or sign making companies. It’s just polished stainless steel.

  7. hi sir, please suggest some good quality tracing paper name. Local made tracing paper not giving me satisfied result.

  8. Hi Karl, for someone who is relatively new to product/advertising photography, what turnaround time would you suggest quoting on different jobs? Giving yourself enough time to get the job done, but still quick enough to be competitive. Thanks Karl. Kyle

    1. Hi Kyle, most product photographers working on what I would call ‘serious’ projects work only on a half day or full day rate. This is where the client understand the complexity of the work involved to produce the result, not simply a ‘pack shot’. Consideration also needs to be given to the post production time to. Some shoots might take one or two days such as this: https://karltaylorportfolio.com/objects/wx5adl2itn1lpmj42p62yfy0as8l04 other shoots might take a day, such as this https://karltaylorportfolio.com/objects/ym7sl549urkmrv1u5qjul50ji5sprg but also required a couple of days of planning and props and other shoots might just take a few hours https://karltaylorportfolio.com/objects/aa8ql7jkbrg5mzqgbfmkfevn6rqcfu

  9. Hi Karl you do use extension tube, what do you think about macro lenses I also saw that you do not use Focus Rail Slider I was planning to by these would you tell me if their are a necessity??

    1. Hi Cheick, I generally only use extension tubes with my Hasselblad glass and the quality is perfect. If I was using 35mm then I’d consider using a dedicated macro lens, like the one we use in the food tutorials on the berries for example. I’ve never used a focus rail slider so I can’t see the necessity.

  10. What about placing a small piece of black gaffer tape in the back of the first lipstick to avoid the reflection on the second? I think it would work right?

    1. Hi Gerardo, yes but it would have to be textureless. Spraying it with matt black paint would be even better.

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