Practical Ecommerce

How to Take Gorgeous Product Photos

Editor’s Note: We welcome Jason Lawrence as our newest contributor. He is a computer scientist, researcher, educator, and entrepreneur, having co-founded Arqspin, a mobile phone-based platform for creating 360 spins. He is also an associate professor in the Computer Science Department at the University of Virginia.

The way you present your products online has a significant impact on sales. Amateur-looking product shots erode consumers’ trust and could send them fleeing. Fortunately, you don’t need to spend $10,000 on equipment or hire a professional to create beautiful product photography that will instill faith in your online store and get results.

In this article, I’ll show you, in eight simple steps, how to save money on product photography and improve your store’s look and performance.

1. Camera

It’s important to use a nice camera. Fortunately, they have become very affordable. You can’t go wrong with a modern digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) model. I prefer the Nikon D7000 in terms of its price vs. performance tradeoff. Be sure to choose a camera that can capture video, and invest in decent lenses. I normally use a 50mm lens — here’s an example — which can accommodate mid-range and portrait work. A 105mm lens — here’s one from Adorama — while a bit expensive, is great for close-up work and jewelry product photography.

Although it used to be that having a DSLR was necessary for taking quality product photographs, smartphones have dramatically changed the game. The iPhone 5 has an 8-megapixel sensor and can produce professional grade shots. It’s received glowing reviews, like this one from The Sydney Morning Herald. I strongly encourage you to explore using your smartphone after you have the proper setup before committing to purchasing a higher-end camera. You may be surprised.

You may be surprised at the quality similarities between an iPhone and DSLR photo.

You may be surprised at the quality similarities between an iPhone and DSLR photo.

2. Lights

You will need some good lights. Of course, Mother Nature has a built-in option, which can produce great results. But the Sun is fickle. I like the Elinchrom D-Lite 4 Kit, which includes two lights, tripods, and attachable diffuser squares. While there are many photography lighting kits available, what’s most important for your setup is to get lights that operate in “continuous” mode — versus flash only — as this allows using them for video as well. In fact, I prefer to shoot even still photographs with my lights in continuous mode as I find this makes previewing the shot easier and adds depth to the result.

3. Tripod

You need to take longer exposures; holding your camera by hand will produce blurry images that shoppers will not like. I prefer Manfrotto tripod products. There are also some very functional tripods for smartphones such as the Woxom Slingshot.

4. Photo Setup

I like to shoot products in front of a continuous background — often white or neutral grey. It’s a simple and professional look that is often used by major online retailers. Fortunately, it’s simple to achieve.

Just purchase a few rolls of craft paper and some metal clamps. Roll the craft paper down a long and wide table and use the clamps to attach one end of the paper to something a few feet above the table. This will produce a smooth ramp. Place your product on the craft paper just after it comes into contact with the table.

Craft paper and clips can make a nice do-it-yourself product shoot setup.

Craft paper and clips can make a nice do-it-yourself product shoot setup.

Place your setup near a big, sunny window if you want natural light, or in a dark room if you want to use your photo lights. For about $50 you have a professional studio like my setup below. If you’re looking for a ready-made setup, Modahaus carries a good line of all-in-one tabletop photography studios.

The author's custom photography setup.

The author’s custom photography setup.

5. Use a Wide Aperture

The aperture is the opening that lets light into your camera and is specified by an “f-number” like “f/16” or “f/4”. A wide aperture (small f-number) produces a narrow depth of field that makes your photos look richer and more professional. I’ve found that shooting with a narrow depth of field works particularly well for product photos of electronics. Set the aperture on your DSLR to something like “f/1.8” or “f/2”. You will need to have your camera in “aperture priority” mode to do this. Check your manual.

These images below are from my iPad app, “Bokeh: A Book About Cameras.” The images illustrate the effect of a camera’s aperture on the final shot. The image on the left was captured with a wide aperture and has a narrow depth of field. The image on the right was from a narrow aperture and has a wide depth of field. In short, use a wide aperture to produce product photos with a more professional look.

Zoom Enlarge This Image

Wide aperture settings produce a narrow depth of field, such as the image on the left. Narrow apertures produce a wider depth, as in the image on the right.

Wide aperture settings produce a narrow depth of field, such as the image on the left. Narrow apertures produce a wider depth, as in the image on the right.

6. Pay Attention to Shadows

Avoid harsh backlighting and other setups that cast shadows on the surface of the object. Keep the lights on the same side of the object as your camera, or slightly off to one side.

7. Clean Up

A big fingerprint on your product or dust on your lens produce poor, amateur results. Buy some microfiber rags and wipe everything down carefully before shooting.

8. Don’t be Afraid

The biggest obstacle to doing something new is often ourselves. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Be creative. You will make a few mistakes on your way to gaining a deeper understanding of the process. Not only will your sales increase, you will likely develop a new hobby along the way. When you’re ready to delve deeper there are many wonderful books. I like The Art of Photography, by Bruce Barnbaum.


You are well on your way to having an outstanding photography studio. Your product photos will appear as if you spent thousands on them. But really you did it all yourself.


Jason Lawrence

Jason Lawrence

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  1. Marv Conn January 29, 2013 Reply

    "You are well on your way to having an outstanding photography studio. Your product photos will appear as if you spent thousands on them. But really you did it all yourself. "

    So, buy a $900 light kit, a $1000 DSLR camera, $300 lens and a $100 photo editing software, and then if you can use the three of them proficiently, you can do it all yourself for cheap!

    Sound good!

    Customer generated product photos that I’ve normally get suffer from two problems. First lighting issues (Low light noise, color balance issues) and second product placement issues (Poor background, too close to the background, poor shot angles, trying to shoot in too small of a space).

    I agree that buying all of that equipment and learning how to use it would greatly increase the quality of most images, but beyond the quality of the photography, the setup of the products is normally lacking. When I shoot products, I normally bring an assistant to do the actual shooting and spend my time setting up the products, which is very important.

  2. Mary Wilkinson January 29, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for all the tips. I am a bit confused in regards to the aperture. The ipad photo above on the right looks much more crisp & clean, the one on the left is blurry, less defined. You said the left one is how it should be done, but how is a blurry photo more professional?

  3. Jason Lawrence January 29, 2013 Reply

    Marv, Thanks for the feedback, but don’t overlook the quality of the product photo I shot with my iPhone. That one required sunlight (free) + iPhone 4S ($400 that you might already own) + craft paper and clamps ($40). You are correct: a good backdrop and composition are often the most important aspect of producing nice product photos (and the two things most commonly overlooked). I wanted to emphasize that investing in a nice camera will only get you part of the way home and that smartphone cameras are getting quite good.

  4. Jason Lawrence January 29, 2013 Reply

    Mary, That may not have been the best image comparison to make my point.

    Here is a better example.:


    Notice that the narrow depth of field leaves only a thin part of the shoe in sharp focus. Other parts are rendered blurry. This has the effect of drawing the viewers’ attention to a specific feature (in this case, the brand name of the item) while creating, in my opinion, a more interesting and professional look.

    Thanks for asking me to clarify.

  5. Shocked September 29, 2013 Reply

    Well intentioned but simply misguided article. The author knows enough to be dangerous, but not enough to teach you anything.

    Beware anyone that says that an iphone will be just as good – notice the distortion of the product in the iphone shot? No one selling a product will want their product distorted, and no one buying photography will want the file from an iphone! Also, his aperture advice is far from true.

    I could go on – but I’ll just give you a word of advice. Get more opinions on lighting before spending $$$ based on this articles advice.

  6. sam October 8, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for the article Jason.

    As someone who does quite a bit of product photography I must say it’s perplexing to see you recommending a wide aperture.

    Usually the goal with the product photography is for it to be crystal clear and sharp all over. E.g. F8 – F32 range. That’s half the reason to light it artificially too, so that you can have that deep focus and a low ISO for maximum sharpness and zero image noise. After all F/2 (like you recommended) lets in so much light that you’d hardly need two big lights pointing at your product, you could get away with a diffused flash or natural light.

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents.

  7. k Kelly October 28, 2013 Reply

    I personally use Stock.XCHNG has a more complex image licence agreement than some of the competition, though, so read that carefully before you start.

    But here are some product photos for mock ups

  8. nikhil November 11, 2013 Reply

    You can check out all your elinchrom studio lights equipment for online shopping @

  9. Mark November 19, 2013 Reply

    I have to disagree with the Aperture. I always use f/10 – f/16. What you can do to bring somewhat more detail is shoot two pictures and blend them together (f/2) and (f/16). This will give even more detail and richness.

  10. Jan Hanus November 27, 2013 Reply

    I agree with Marv. Shooting product photography is not that easy. If you want to get good photos it demands some skills not just in shooting but lighting, Photoshop and so on. If I need good affordable product photos I go to and I get clean color accurate images for my clients.

  11. Alex Choi January 15, 2014 Reply

    I think everyone makes a valid point but it’s all relevant to the degree in which you need the photos. I’m a graphic designer of almost 2 decades and you simply cannot substitute a reliable, professional product photography service with a quick FPO work. On numerous occasions, I’ve done what the author describes but not for my final print/online product image. Although I use Photoshop everyday, I am by no means an expert like my photographer is. They have color calibrated monitors that help them achieve color correctness that I simply cannot achieve… reliable photographers know how to use their tools of trade. And I like to leave the tast to the expert. Like couple of the reviewers above, I use 123 Product Photos… They’ve been very reliable and cost effective for my design shop. We ship the products we need photographed and in a few days, we have high-resolution images that we can use for our clients.

  12. Greg Dorney March 1, 2014 Reply

    I am a professional product photographer and I am currently writing a book on this subject. The information above is not at all accurate, Please do not invest in equipment based on its advice.

    It mentions that Jason Lawrence ‘ is a computer scientist, researcher, educator, and entrepreneur, having co-founded Arqspin, a mobile phone-based platform for creating 360 spins. He is also an associate professor in the Computer Science Department at the University of Virginia.’

    It does not mention anywhere that he is a product photographer.

    Taking high quality product shots at home is most definitely achievable, but the kit and methods required to do so are based on the type of products your shooting and how big you require the images to be.

    Without getting into too much detail, corrections to the above article:

    Do not feel the need to buy Manfrotto tripods. Buy the cheapest tripod that will hold your camera steady. 20 bucks might well do the job, instead of $150. Your not shooting in a hurricane, in your home, keeping the kids from knocking the camera over will more likely be the issue. Even an expensive manfrotto can’t overcome stuff like that!

    On a camera phone, this does generally not apply (it probably will soon enough though), this is to achieve MAXIMUM DETAIL throughout the image. Focus 1/3rd the way into your product and shoot it at maximum aperture and you have the most detailed shot you can get of it. FACT!
    Technical reasons make this happen, but its the same with every camera, every lens and every product, so make sure to do it!

    Lighting: Goodness, if only it was so simple!
    Lighting your product depends on your product. I have lit literally hundreds of thousands of shots and believe me, lighting can come from any and every angle.

    I would love to be able to explain all about product photography in eight simple points, but it is taking me a long, illustrated book to do so. As there are may products, there are in turn, many ways to shoot them.

    Jason, I applaud you trying to help retailers get their images online, but next time please consult a subject matter expert before throwing in some expensive brands, bad information and leading people in the wrong direction.

  13. John March 9, 2014 Reply

    Going to disagree on the f-stop. F10 would be my recommendation if you want the details of the product preserved. Small f-stops are for arty shots and blur effects (bokeh). Otherwise good advice.

  14. Jeff Delacruz May 29, 2014 Reply

    Hey Jason,

    I think the article is great! I don’t nessesarily agree with everything (ie using continuous light, fstop), but what I do think is that most people would get pretty good shot from this and would definitely learn something.

    I think some people have been a little heavy handed here but I appreciate what your doing.

    Jeff Delacruz

  15. ZCasavant June 18, 2014 Reply

    I found it interesting that you start out talking about DSLR cameras then switch to smartphone cameras. There’s a HUGE world in between! There’s are a ton of mid-range cameras that produce amazing images (compared to smartphones) but are WAY cheaper than a SLR. A 12-mpx zoom camera will smoke a smartphone in image quality and-especially- zoom capability… and cost in the mid-$300 range. These cameras have the advantage of having REAL apertures, OPTICAL (not digital) zoom and shutter control. so you can play with them and learn the relationship. This is very important if you want to be serious about photographing. Smartphone cameras are not designed for professional photographs, although I agree their quality has gone up dramatically.

    Also, all of the technology going into smartphone lenses/image software will obviously go into cameras too, so a good camera is a worthy investment for much less $. The only advantage I can see for a smartphone is the potential for photo-editing apps that you can use in real-time… but then, on that tiny screen, I’d say that might be a risk if you really care about your images!

    Anyway, for those with a more limited budget who really truly want to learn to photograph… get a midrange camera! Just my 2 cents :)

  16. safak karaca November 26, 2014 Reply

    Dear Jason;

    My name is Safak and I am living istanbul turkey. I have been searching for building a home based prodcut photography studio. I have two questions. If you answer me, I would be appreciated.

    My first question is about the strobe power. I am planning to but an elinchrom strobe kit. But I don’t know how much power do I need.
    I am gonna shoot prodcut photographs and still life photographys. There is a 500watt kit . elincyhrom BRx 500. Is it too much for me? Please advice me.

    And my second question is about the aperture. I read your article and you are talking about suing wide aperture is better. But on the other hand, if you apply narrow aperture, then you get more depth of field. and it means you have bigger focused area in your pictures. Am I right?
    let’s pretent, I wanna shoot a wrist watch with my 105mm macro lens . And I need the whole face of this watch to be sharp. If I use a wide aperture, then I could get sharpness on only a part of the face. right? So it would be bad for me.
    can you explain me this?

    I am waitng your reply

    thank you


  17. Clipping Path December 14, 2014 Reply

    Hi, you listed a point “Don’t Be afraid”. I feel enjoy to take photos but why I will be afraid LOL. Excellent writing, really I enjoyed.

  18. Lexi January 8, 2015 Reply

    Love any product photo advise… Always helps, and products deserve the best face forward!! If anyone needs easy, budget friendly help, check out my website, or email me anytime:) Love helping with product photos especially with my ecommerce buyer background!


  19. Jonathan Ivy April 2, 2015 Reply

    Great tips! I would just add, dont be afraid of photoshop. Sometimes you just need to take away minor blemishes or clean up a dirty background. A little touch up can go a long way!

    Jonathan Ivy

  20. Ula Kurambayev April 23, 2015 Reply

    I have recently bought Nikon 50mm f/1.8G AF-S lense for my Nikon D3100. Would you guys help to set up right settings to do product photography

  21. robert May 19, 2015 Reply

    Elinchrom D-Lite 4 Kit is rather pricey.You have any hints on what I can gather up at home or cheap prices to make a studio for taking product pics for a online store site I,am starting. I have outta my cameras… a Samsung nx1000 which may fit the purpose.i assume the lighting home made setup is the most concern . whats your suggestion as I,am pretty good on making things outta stuff one thinks is no good for anything. macgyver I guess I,ll await your reply thank you Robert.

  22. Spinthiras Media October 27, 2015 Reply

    Great tutorial! It’s true that the right lighting and perfect click will surely going improve your online store’s look and performance.

  23. Jenah November 29, 2015 Reply

    So for this exact kind of set up….using the soft light boxes, white craft paper, and setting it in or close to natural light…there’s a lot of light to work with. What settings would I set my camera on? Would auto work? I’m totally confused. I have a Canon Rebel EOS. Thanks! :) I also have an Etsy shop and take product photos of vintage t shirts. I’m having the hardest time getting my photos to look clear when they’re blown up (like if you have a touchscreen computer or an ipad and you want to blow them up for more detail.) They look clear in the small photos and blurry in the large ones. I’ve tried everything and it’s driving me CRAZY! I’m a vintage buyer and otherwise artist, but NOT a professional photographer, which so often is almost required of being a successful Etsy seller. Help!

  24. Luke February 25, 2016 Reply

    Great little tutorial for product shots, thank you for sharing. If I had to be picky, rule 5 shouldn’t be a rule at all as only certain types of product pics benefit from bokeh. The rule is completely backwards for most of my product shots.

  25. Robert May 15, 2016 Reply


    Is there any room in the market for any more Placement photographs ?

  26. Jessica June 12, 2016 Reply

    Hey, I agree with your quick tutorial here and the other commenters who think you’re a hack. The commenters obviously have not been trolling the bargain basements of blurry flash-photo ebay. I totally get what you’re trying to go for, and I think your advice is GREAT for the true photo hacks who clutter my ebay screen with unintelligible images. I’ve got a professional-enough setup myself now for, like, I’m thinking ten bucks with a free tripod. It looks exactly like yours without the lamps (I love sunlight and refuse to do any kind of color balancing). And I have an art (painting) degree, and college coursework in photo. Nice work.

  27. Rosalind September 26, 2016 Reply

    Thank you so much I appreciate the fact that you took the time to help a person trying to make it work. I am new at all of this and your comments have helped me greatly. I didn’t have a clue as to what kind of camera to buy someone told me to buy a D90 and get a lens that’s from 18 to 200. what that meant I had no clue. you helped me greatly thank you so very much I left my email if you want to drop any other comments. be blessed thank you so much I appreciate

  28. Nichole November 17, 2016 Reply

    Hi thank for your blog it has been a blessing! Where would I get the lights that u show in your picture?

  29. Jessie November 24, 2016 Reply

    Love this! Thank you!!!

  30. Mary.D Hamdan December 3, 2016 Reply

    Much Appreciate! Very Helpful Article. Check out Post-Processing Tips & Help for Beginners.

  31. Carolyn December 4, 2016 Reply

    Hi Jason do you have a suggestion for clothing laying flat. It’s a larger area. What would you suggest if I was trying to shoot pants and a top together?

  32. iamkarenschmidt December 26, 2016 Reply

    To be honest, If you want to get more sells and CTR then you have to optimize your product image. If you optimize properly your product image you will definitely get better sells. any clipping path experts could help you for them. Thanks a lot for sharing your nice content.

    Search on Google clipping path experts or photoshop clipping path experts then they will help you to optimize your product photography.

  33. Sherry January 27, 2017 Reply

    Is there any app I can use to have the same size photos?

    Thank you

  34. Karen January 30, 2017 Reply

    Hi Jason, very nice article. To improve my existing photo I also use a PS Action, like this one:

  35. Koren Schmedith April 9, 2017 Reply

    The mixture of all the sufficient elements create an amazing photo. Quality camera, lights, white box,tripods, zooming, focus is all collectively make an awesome photographs. Thanks for your tips

  36. Steven May 22, 2017 Reply

    Check out George Sekonda’s book, ‘Product Photography Tips for Ecommerce’. It’s packed full of really useful information.

  37. Rhys George October 17, 2017 Reply

    This article is completely incorrect, I was browsing alternative lighting set ups, its always good to look at other mindsets (if valid) before you completely commit to image feel, or a particular lighting style on a first time set up for a certain product but boy oh boy is this guy completely wrong.

    1. camera. A camera with interchangeable lenses and full manual control is a must, a longer lens gives a good representation of the product, (I use either an 85 or 100mm prime- depending on how much space I have, the longer the lens the better) unlike your iPhone example above which gives a distorted perspective owing to its wider focal length.

    2. Lights. Mother nature does not have a good built in option daylight is not consistent enough in colour or intensity, making it fine for anything that doesn’t require consistency, unfortunately thats exactly what product photography does require.

    Even if I were in a north facing room for a day I’d still use strobes to compliment the daylight and ensure consistency, which is also why “continuous mode” or as its correctly termed a modelling light – shouldn’t be used, the reason professionals use flash light rather than continuous lighting (other than some exceptions such as black out studios) is the same reason manual control is more important than auto in any photography. Complete control and consistency.

    If you think about it exposing for continuous lighting is the same as exposing for daylight; your shutter speed equates to the quantity of gain over time. Using for example 1/125th of a second (or faster with a leaf shutter or HSS) with flash light means you can remove the effects of almost all of the ambient light in a room and have full control over the exposure and the lighting ratios. Do not use continuous lighting unless you’re shooting in complete blackout conditions, additionally capturing movement would be nigh on impossible with continuous lighting, you simply don’t have enough power in a modelling bulb to balance the shutter speed. Finally strobes with modelling lights are not designed to have halogen modelling lights on all the time, this can cause damage to the flash tube and the flash head itself and at the very worst could cause a fire in a small soft box (just like the D-lites you recommended) its dangerous and should be removed from your article, Profoto mono lights especially get VERY hot when the modelling light is on; a closed medium bounce parabolic would melt using your “method” thats why Profoto now make separate continuous monobloc style heads with a VERY different ventilation system.

    3. tripod. Correct, a solid tripod is a must.

    4. Seamless background. Correct, a smooth background means less retouching and a cleaner image. However looking at your example image, bring your product closer to camera and light it separately to the background, this means any wrinkles in the background won’t be in focus/will be blasted out by light intensity and you’re not having to compromise between the right light on the background and the right light on the product.

    5. Use a wide aperture. Absolutely not, your images are a visual description of a product for a customer, the use of shallow depth of field means the consumer could claim they need to return products for any number of reasons. Simply because they didn’t know what they were purchasing Shallow depth of field in product photography is for a cameo detail shot to demonstrate fine details such as texture as an additional image in a gallery not for a main shot or representation of a product. Nobody is going to buy a shoe photographed at F1.8 when all they can see is the damn laces in focus. F8 and smaller is a must, again you’d struggle with this if you were using continuous lighting with limited power, which I suspect is the real reason you’ve never gone beyond F4.

    6. Pay Attention to Shadows. Yes absolutely, lighting is a balance between illumination and light fall off, which used correctly can enhance the look of the product. However, “Keep the lighting on the same side as the camera” ABSOLUTELY NOT!! NEVER EVER EVER. The number one rule for off camera lighting is to keep it off axis never ever point your light source in the same direction as the camera, by doing this you lose all of the texture detail and shape. Say your photographing something which has a coarse grain leather you are filling in all of the detail with flat light, trust me move the key lights to the sides of the product or flat above it zoom in and compare the texture before and after, excessive fill creates a flat image with no texture or shape its atrocious that is photography 101 in any professional photography NEVER ever front light, I can’t emphasise enough. Its only used in certain editorial fashion scenarios for effect but you have to know what your doing to pull off that punchy look correctly.

    7. clean up. yep nothing wrong with that

    8. Experiment. initially yes but once you have a light set up come back to it for the sake of your client, you don’t want a page full of products lit completely differently.

    Basically my advice to anyone reading this, don’t pay attention to any of it, this guy hasn’t got a clue.

  38. Aarti Asthana January 24, 2018 Reply

    Movense is an online platform that allows anyone to create interactive 360 product photography using their smartphone or camera. Movense makes creating collective media for several application fabulously easy and accessible by providing the turntable, software, editing tools and web hosting abilities to support and increase in online business.
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  39. ziggy March 21, 2018 Reply

    Complete nonsense.

    Just a few points:
    1: The iPhone photo of shoe is VERY distorted. If you rely on an iPhone your colors will vary from shot to shot with little or no consistent way of correcting. Just ignore this and use a real camera.

    2: Unfortunately the writer doesn’t know how to use this equipment.

    Elinchrom D Lites are Flashes ONLY, they are NOT both continuous and flash. What you call ‘continuous mode’ are the modeling lights intended only to help setup the position the lights relative to the subject and ‘model’ what shadows the flashes will create – they are NOT color balanced and are NOT intended to be used as photo lights.

    There are plenty of continuous light options, but D Lites are NOT one of them.
    ‘Diffusor squares’ is not a term any photography would recognize. They are called ‘soft boxes.’

    3: Yes you need a tripod or some other way of holding your camera steady. I use Manfrotto for my DSLRs but if you’re using a smaller camera you can usually use a lighter, cheaper tripod.

    4: Backgrounds like the one described are called ‘seamless.’ If you’re going for a white background you best get your paper from a photography store or the white may not actually be white which could throw off some other things. If you follow the author’s lighting advice your colors are going to be inaccurate anyway, so I guess it wouldn’t matter.

    5: Wide aperture in product photos? I almost fell off my chair. Ignore this completely. Why would someone want to see a photo where most of the product was out of focus? Just. Ignore. This. Advice. Completely.

    6: I have no idea what he is recommending here by ‘on the same side as the camera’… is he saying not to put the lights behind the product? Just look for lighting diagrams online and ignore this bit, too.

    7: Don’t know why he waited until #7 to say this. Yes clean EVERYTHING. Canned air helps here, as do clothes, cleaning supplies, and in some cases wearing rubber gloves.

    8: Don’t be afraid of ignoring this article. And if you want a really excellent book to describe lighting (easy to follow for non-photographers) try Light Science and Magic

    Hope this helps!