Shooting with Natural Light and an Ironing Board

Before I start, I want to impart some wisdom: If anyone tells you that you can't use an ironing board in a product photography shoot, they're wrong.

The best thing in life are free, and that rule also applies to lighting. In the flat I share with my girlfriend, we're blessed with some big windows. Last week, I decided to make the most of them.

That same girlfriend runs a popular lifestyle blog called Daisily. With a backlog of products to photograph and review for the blog, I resolved to kill two birds with one stone and shoot some beauty products she had been sent. I figured my experiment would be welcomed with open arms.

As it turned out, I ended up shooting some products that had already been photographed. By me. The week before. Doh.

Anyway, I was pretty pleased with the photographs, so I thought I'd share my process of shooting the Miss Patisserie products.

lily brighter.jpg

The lighting, background and ironing board setup

You might have guessed by now, but I only used natural light for this shoot. It took place in the afternoon of an overcast day, so the light was nice and flat. To balance some of the shadows, I grabbed a piece of white card and manoeuvred it as I desired.

As luck had it, I had just done some ironing, so the ironing board was still erect. While I gathered the props, ferrying them between rooms, I placed them on the board. Then, instead of moving our heavy glass desk over to the window, I decided to use that as my surface. It worked pretty well, too - the adjustable height of an ironing board really helps when you're trying to shoot a flat lay!

For the background, I used a really cool marble chopping board that my girlfriend had picked up the week before. I placed a simple grey tea towel underneath the marble to keep the colours consistent (and hide the floral pattern of the ironing board).

Choice of lens and camera settings

My trusty 50mm gets me closest to the subject among my selection of lenses, so I stuck that on my recently acquired D600.

I stuck my camera on a tripod in an effort to keep things shake-free. For the clean look I was going for, I didn't want to use a high ISO and have loads of noise ruin the shot. I kept that at around 400 and relied on the tripod to keep my camera steady.

For the flat lay photos, I used a smaller aperture - around f6.3 to f8 - to keep everything in focus. For photos taken from a more horizontal angle, I wanted a shallower depth of field, so opted for f2.8 to f4. The latter was small enough to get both the pot and spoon in focus, but blur the flower in the background (see below). 

Product photography using a marble background.

A lighting lesson from the shoot

I sometimes overthink my photographs, and that's usually a surefire way to mess up a shoot. Sometimes I try to be too clever with lights and flashes, or use a certain lens because that's what other people would use. This time, I stripped things back and got some results I'm really happy with.

So the next time I'm looking for excuses about not having the right gear for a certain shoot, I'll remember when I used an ironing board to great effect.

Here's the equipment I used, in its entirety:

  • Nikon D600 + 50mm 1.8
  • Tripod
  • Ironing board
  • Window
  • Piece of white A4 card
  • Marble chopping board
  • Grey tea towel
Almost everything I used during the shoot (minus the camera and tripod, which I used to take this picture...obviously).

Almost everything I used during the shoot (minus the camera and tripod, which I used to take this picture...obviously).