How to photograph cosmetics on a black gloss backdrop

In this insightful product photography class Karl shows you exactly what can be captured straight out of camera without resorting to post-production to resolve what, in fact, are easily fixable problems.

The techniques demonstrated in this class include how to precisely control light, common misconception about lighting ratios, how to visually asses lighting requirements without a light meter and how to gradually build a lighting setup for product photography.

Cosmetic Product Photography Image

In this product photography class we cover the following:

  • Product photography: How to photograph cosmetics
  • Product photography tips
  • How to photograph liquids
  • Visually assessing light without a light meter
  • Lighting setups for product photography
  • How to achieve gradated light in product photography


  1. Karl
    I am trying to replicate this image. The lipstick is Estee Lauder not Chanel. Why?
    I dont get it. Why not use Chanel?
    The brush is not Chanel and I cannot source it. What brand is it? Where can I buy one

  2. I haven’t the budget for 5 picolights.. although I’m optimistic for future prospects ;)… However, I work hard to create my own custom modifiers. For my snoots, which at first I was constantly adding hoods and funnels, I now have a couple of adapters that hold an adjustable aperture so I can make a very fine light and adjustable beams. I also have another adapter I designed to attach a fibre optic cable using one of my snoot modifiers. It has a lens added inside to focus the strobe and intensify the light onto the fibre optic connection. I am also working of adding a projector lens (designed for heat) onto a light, and I’m currently designing the adjustable blades very similar to those within a picolight. It may not give as good a result, but I am slowly getting to something quite useable to light some of those difficult to attain places. As you said, it is about being creative and solving problems.

  3. Is anything applied to the acrylic to help the water ‘bead’ so shape of water can be controlled easier. Or is anything added to the water?

    1. You could do this Sidar, some of the equipment is a bit specialist when it comes to the projection attachements, but as I also demonstrated in my recent live focus stacking show on the Lancome lipstick, great results can also be achieved with much more basic equipment.

  4. Fantastic walk through the lighting setup. I like the projection attachments you used to control the light spill. I will try to recreate it to fine-tune my skills and try to add my twist. I love your vision. You see the picture in your mind before it happens in real life. Thanks for sharing this class with all the details you showed.

    1. Hi Rebbeca, this was just plain water but the surface was wax polished first which helps the water sit proud.

  5. Hi Karl, great video.

    I was wondering why you favour the scrim/diffusion material over a large softbox?
    Are they similar? Could I use a softbox when a scrim isnt available?


      1. Karl, from solid white, to mirror, to black acrylic sheets that you use for product photography – what are the minimum length and width sheets do you use?

        Judging from the videos I would guess those sheets are anywhere from 24 inch width to 36 inch length. Perhaps even 47 inch length.

        I ran some tests just with 20 inch wide and 30-36 inch long boards with a 50mm length and they seem to work for shots like bottle photography, packshot, even some ‘flat lay’ angles. Was wondering if you have a recommended dimensions when investing into these sheets? I want to buy 1 of each aforementioned surface – but it’ll be a pretty penny. Wanted to get your thoughts before I pull the trigger – or more testing should be done on my end on basic boards?

        I guess if those dimensions work ok for those angles – I should be fine. It’s when doing food photography type work where there’s gotta be a lot of space is where I’d run into problems in fitting things in.

        1. Hi Iggzee
          1. Most of my sheets are a minimum 1m x 1m, I only have small ones for jewellery work, most of them are around 1.2m x 1.2m as they are cut from full sheets which are 1.2m wide.
          2. For some horizontal low level shots such as bottles where I need the horizon line well out of focus and in the distance then I’d use 1.2m wide by 2m long (but not often)

  6. Hi Karl, great tutorial! At one point, talking about the diffusion material, you said that we could find on the website, I believe available to buy. In which section? can you please attach a link to it? Thanks Luigi

  7. Karl, thanks so much for sharing! Definitely interesting to see how to pull off this type of image with such high production value. One thing that I have been curious about since watching your videos is how you used to make shoots like this work in the days of film. It seems like so much of your workflow relies on this frequent visual inspection. Do you think its fair to say that shoots that require this much fine grained control were just not possible in those days?

    1. Hi Nassredean, that’s a very good question. In the days of film we use to shoot this sort of shot on 5×4 inch cameras and we also used to have a ‘polaroid’ back for the camera so we shot several polaroids first and used a light meter to get to the result quicker. When we were happy with how it looked on the polaroid we would then swap the back to the film back and shoot the final shot. The process was a lot longer and the inspection was less detailed but the process similar.

  8. Amazing job! I love the intention to get it all in one shot. Truly inspiring! I am assured this will help take my product work up a notch.

  9. I used to make so many items myself to use in studio when I was a photography student. It’s always best to know more..
    Amazing tutorial, it was great meeting you at the Metropole Hotel in London.
    All the best and look forward to lean more from you.
    Have a great weekend

  10. hahahaha, you make it look so easy, im not even think about do one of this works but this is like a tv show i can watch this all day and smile just because its amazing what you doing, and yes i learned a lot from essentials and i still subscribed because is fascinating just watch this courses, thx for share this knowledge…..

  11. This was an amazing shoot! Great insight to professional product photography. Some of the fun will be trying to figure out lighting with the equipment I have. If not, then I know what I need equipment wise to begin to achieve these results.

  12. I think this tutorial demonstrates the value of high-end professional product photography. It shows why a photographer with 20+ years experience and all the correct tools for the job can (and must) charge accordingly for his/her work.

    Whilst doing a DIY low budget version of this shot might appeal to some, I don’t think it’s necessary because this is a lesson in what it takes to be a true ‘premier league’ professional.

    1. It’s a good result and good practise, especially if you only used 3 lights. As you are shooting lower then you have more black reflections which have started to dominate a little so you might want to thing about shooting more from above or adding fill light into some of those shadows.

      1. Additionally – would using glucose water help control the droplets better? I used tap water and it was runny and didn’t have enough surface tension to “curve” into itself to form nice drops and rounded corners. Very unhappy with how the water turned out in the shot.

      2. Great feedback Karl! Thank you so much. I was trying to understand why the image wasn’t popping. Now all I can look at are those darker areas. Fixing the shooting angle requires a different sort of tripod/saloon stand. I have a very basic tripod. What is important is that I spot these problems and try to work around them. I thank you for nailing the issue with this image! 🙂

  13. thanks again Karl it always good form to have the tools to do the job .as it gave you a better chance of getting the job done right as ex mechanic I would like to see a few sample on how you would make a few lighting for small pockets of lights, thanks again Karl for some much detail , frank garvan

    1. Hi Frank, thank you. To see alternative tools check out the ‘Duck Leg’ food shoot in the ‘Product’ section, cheers Karl.

  14. Hi karl, I would like to understand how to stitch all the photos with theyr best part in a single one. I know how to shoot with focus stacking but with this solution I will be happy to see a lesson on mask layer. Could you do this? thanks

    1. Hi Cristiano, you should find that covered in our ‘product’ section on the watch shoot and the extra chapter on the stacking. Alternatively head to our ‘post production’ section.

  15. Great tutorial/ image made with expensive gear as you said. I believe we are many of us with a tighter budget that would love an example/tutorial of an equal image done with cheaper equipment. Maybe with some DIY equipment, cheaper strobes/speedlights/snoots/grids etc. ?

    1. Done with an Elinchrom FRX-400, a pair of Quadra 400ws heads, a few light stands and elinchrom modifiers like strip boxes, standard reflector and a square soft-box. A LOT more compositing than Karl’s shot but when you can’t afford enough lights (let alone expensive lights), you kind of have to make do.

      Hope you like it. I am not happy with the water but hey…

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