I was supposed to go to a photography workshop tomorrow but it's been postponed. Not such a bad thing as it's nearly 2am and I'm up, and I was supposed to be there at 8:30am. Note to self - just because you sell coffee and espresso for a living does not mean you need to drink it like water.
Since I'm up and tomorrow I can sleep in, I thought I'd take a few minutes to talk about something I see a lot on the forums on Etsy.com. That is, how to get decent lighting for product photography when you don't have professional lights or a great camera.
Every product is going to be different of course but I think I can come up with some basics that most people can use effectively for better shots. The size of your product, the color, the shape, etc is all going to play a part but this should give decent results.
First, if you're using a typical point and shoot digital camera like a Nikon Coolpix or a Canon Powershot, forget the flash. On-camera flashes produce flat, harsh light and you'll most likely get a nasty looking hot spot on your product or background.
Shooting with natural light will give you colors that are more true to real life than if you shot with tungsten (regular household lamps) or fluerescent. I spelled that wrong, I never could spell it.
All natural light is not the same though. Try your best to wait for a day that is completely overcast but still very bright. One of those "white sky" days. They make your vacation shots look boring but that's the kind of sky that's really going to help your product shots. The cloud cover acts as one giant softbox, diffusing and softening the light. If you shoot on a bright, sunny day you are going to get harsh light, hot spots and bad shadows.
Position your product close to the window at about a 45 degree angle so the light is coming from a bit in front and above. set up your camera and try out different angles and set ups, depending what you are photographing.
On the opposite side of your product, place something large, white and reflective. If you go to a craft store you can usually find a big piece of white foam-core board. That's perfect. It will reflect some of the light from the window back onto your product and fill in those shadows.
Your background really depends what you're trying to achieve. If you want to include as a real element of the photo and have it in focus, place the background close to your product. If you want it to be less intrusive and out of focus, place it farther back.
Here is the basic set up in a shoddy little diagram I drew:
If you are shooting outside, try to shoot in the same type of conditions - bright but overcast. you may want to then try to move your background very far back to give it a nice blur. Try to choose a background with colors that compliment your product and you can create a nice blurred paint-like look.
Remember to check the white balance setting on your camera before you shoot. Most cameras will do OK with the white balance set to auto. If you are using window light or are outside in overcast conditions, typically the daylight setting still works better than the "cloudy" setting. Try both, but the cloudy setting might produce an orange color.
I hope this helped. If anyone has questions or suggestions, feel free to chime in.