Amazon Patent Shows Common Seamless Background Lighting Technique


Is Amazon attempting to patent an age old photography lighting technique? A recently published patent seems to suggest that, and it’s getting some photographers up in arms.

Multiple readers have sent us (rather angry and bewildered) tips about the patent, which was first reported on by Shoot the Centerfold. The document itself was published on March 18, 2014, is titled “Studio Arrangement,” and features the diagram above showing a lighting setup.

Here’s the description of the patent:

Disclosed are various embodiments of a studio arrangement and a method of capturing images and/or video. One embodiment of the disclosure includes a front light source aimed at a background, an image capture position located between the background and the front light source, an elevated platform positioned between the image capture position and the background, and at least one rear light source positioned between the elevated platform and the background. A subject can be photographed and/or filmed on the elevated platform to achieve a desired effect of a substantially seamless background where a rear edge of the elevated platform is imperceptible to an image capture device positioned at the image capture position [emphasis ours].

Here’s the patent itself embedded into this page:

Sound familiar? Shoot the Centerfold writes that many photographers “will recognize this lighting set-up and method as being a very old, very common and very widely used lighting technique to photograph a subject against a white cyclorama background.”

An example of a studio product photograph utilizing a seamless background

An example of a studio product photograph utilizing a seamless background



How controversial the patent really is depends on how wide-reaching it is when it comes to the technique. Among comments on Shoot the Centerfold calling the patent “BS” and asking fellow photographers to boycott Amazon, a reader named Gwo offers a more thoughtful explanation:

[…] this patent claim 1 only applies if you have ALL of
4 rear light sources, in a 10:3 intensity ratio, in exactly
An 85mm lens at f/5.6
ISO 320 set
An elevated platform with the object on it, and a reflective top surface on that platform

So, it appears that Amazon is attempting to protect its “secret sauce” for creating product photographs in front of a seamless background, perhaps in order to prevent competitors’ photographs from looking 100% identical in terms of lighting.

Still, it’s not often that we hear of a patent for a specific lighting setup and/or technique, so this particular one is definitely worth looking into and discussing.

Thanks to everyone who sent this in!

Image credit: Product photo example by Carl Berkeley

  • faloc

    Americans patenting this and that….. I dont think I care about this one ^^ Patents like this r pretty annoying

  • Richard Brown


  • joshsouzaphotos

    Don’t blame them, just getting it in before Apple does. Smart guys!

  • arkhunter

    How would they prove you used that setup anyway? How common is the raised platform part of that setup also?

  • Virginia Smith

    Any patent can be challenged during the application process. If there are catalog companies using a very similar way of photographing their items, it would behoove them to challenge the patent. There are lawyers who would love the publicity of such a challenge. If this goes viral, it would attract those in a position to challenge it, don’t you think?

  • Brad Snyder

    This is entertaining. Kudos to the patent attorney billing hours on this—I’m sure he/she is laughing it to the bank. But this is going to run into some serious §102 novelty and §103 non-obviousness hurdles, no matter how many times the claims are narrowed.

  • bennetthall

    This is part of the “Full Employment for Lawyers Act”, known as FELA, passed by Congress some years back when they were apparently bored and oblivious.

  • Craig Minielly

    Interesting and bizarre at the same time. How would someone log an objection to this? Where would they send it to?

  • Julien

    Wow… If big companies start patenting photography techniques… well… I don’t know what to say… I think it’s a pretty horrible thing… It’s a good thing this didn’t start happening a hundred years ago or only one company would be allowed to take portraits, landscapes, …

  • Josh Freedman

    The first claim in a patent is usually an “illustrative” claim that is purposefully a detailed instantiation of the invention. Subsequent claims make the more general cases. Only claims that specifically reference claim 1 or its children would be subject to its conditions. Read the rest of the claims and you’ll see that’s the case here, though they’re still relatively specific.

  • Rob Elliott

    It is fairly specific… but… patenting a lighting set up? really?

  • Oj0

    No matter how specific and/or unusual their patent application is, if granted it can set a horrible precedent.

  • Andrew

    go home amazon, you’re drunk.

  • Ralph Hightower

    Breaking News!
    Amazon patents film photography!

  • Julien

    Can you imagine if the patent war had been going on a hundred years ago what a crappy world we’d be living in? We problably wouldn’t even have digital photography because the guy who would have patented digital images wouldn’t be allowed access to the patent for photography.

  • Edgar Allan Bro

    Time to patent ‘blast model in face with built in flash on your 35mm compact’.

  • no secret

    secret sauce? not any more, lol

  • kassim

    Patent system has become a joke, apparently.

  • Ítalo Brito

    That picture isn’t exactly seamless.

  • Damean Ravichandra

    So… who wants to help me patent my amazing new product? It consists of a circular (most likely cylindrical) object that can feature a centre point attachment for attaching more cylinders. I foresee amazing uses for it in mobility! And death to whoever steals it from me.

  • OtterMatt

    That’s it, I’m patenting a method of autonomous locomotion, comprising two (2) or more human legs utilized specifically in an alternating, rhythmic motion. I think I’ll call it “Cha-Ching”.

    If that doesn’t take, then I’m at least applying for a patent on John Cleese’s silly walk.

  • Buho Con Anteojos

    I need to patent water…

  • Jim Holmes

    How does the patent office grant this for a lighting setup that has been in general use for more than a Century?

  • Matt King

    Mouse photo is fake. You can see the horrible mask job where the mouse is pasted on a solid layer color.

    Here’s the image with a BW Gradient Map and a levels layer adjusted to dramatize the gradation.

  • Samuel Hiser


  • apmarina

    Already been granted. Read the article again.

  • apmarina

    I just want to know how they’re going to know if we use this technique? Pay our photo assistants a bounty for turning us in using behind-the-scenes cellphone shots?

  • Theo Lubbe

    If they’re awarded this patent, they can move onto another lighting setup. And another. Then another. Eventually, they can patent a wide variety of lighting setups, equipment configurations and settings, causing unnecessary grief for those wanting to create a studio shot using what they think will be an ideal setup of their own imagining, experimentation and planning, but which is really close enough to some obscure patent that they risk being sued for it.

    You could liken it to someone deciding to take a standard upright 5-point star and moving the top point to the left till the left of its two lines is straight, and using this as a component of a logo design. Just as I’ve just now thought of this, there are no doubt countless people who have thought of doing exactly the same thing, and it would be nothing short of moronic for any one of us to patent it.

  • apmarina

    Already awarded, its in the article.

  • Happy Tinfoil Cat

    I find it patently offensive.

  • ChuckyD

    What brain-dead asshole thought up this scheme? This lighting and layout arrangement has been in the public domain from the beginning of photography, which should automatically disqualify it from patenting or trademarking. Ridiculous, to say the least.

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  • dustin dowell

    So… I’ll just set my ISO to 100 and get an even better shot while also not getting fined? Okay. Thanks for showing me how to get perfect product shots.

  • Harri Wickstrand

    Amazon=amazing idiots!

  • Daniel Walldorf

    So.. Are they better than Apple? Or is Apple worse because they might do the same?

  • Daniel Walldorf

    As far as I know, this patent is not confirmed yet. You can try to patent anything and I don’t think they will get through with this one. Don’t worry

  • Bolkey

    Not while you’re violating my patent (pend.): ordering letters in any order into groups to create meaning has just been patented (pend.) by me.

  • Lukas Prochazka

    and other thing when you sue somebody you need to prove he used it excacly same settings

  • bob cooley

    I think Terry Richardson already cornered the market on that – him, and most 1st year photography students who don’t know how to light yet…

  • Bill Binns

    Richard Avedon is rolling over in his grave…

  • Mike

    I don’t remember selling you guys the usage of pixels at the end of “ordering letters in any order into groups to create meaning has just been patented (pend.)”.

  • Mike

    Not only that!
    They made unnatural changes to the model!

  • Rose Sisto

    My Uncle Jack
    recently got a stunning silver Porsche Cayman by working part time off of a
    laptop. look at here W­ o­ r­ k­ s­ 7­ 7­ .­ C­ O­ M­

  • Keith Hopkin

    I just patented patents. BOOOM! Whaddaya gonna do about it???!!!

  • Cinekpol

    Nothing better than an anti-Apple troll in the morning

  • hugh crawford

    The patent apparently only applies to using 10,000 watt 3200k tungsten lights, so if you are using strobes or LEDs I guess you are home free

  • Rob Elliott

    This patent is issued it was submitted in 2011. it’s also not the first Patent by these folks.

    patent 8462206

    Is basically a light box.

  • joshsouzaphotos

    Every morning a new lawsuit is born thanks to Apple. Lawyers rejoice!

  • Joe

    Problem is it will set a precedent that may be difficult to reverse.