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Product Photography – How To Set Up A Home Studio

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I am sure that the self isolation announcement didn’t come as a shock to most people. At Awesome we are lucky to have invested in photography equipment over the past few years, but do you really need to? A lot of us have found ourselves working from home, it is true to say that many of us will be getting to know our own four walls intimately over the next three weeks or so.

 

Because of this we thought it would be a great time to show you that you don’t need to spend loads of money (or even time) setting up a small corner of your home to get those all important white background product shots for your Etsy, website or Instagram. We will also take you step by step through our process of refining the images to get the best results using photoshop – on a budget.

Ok, so firstly a little disclaimer, this isn’t the right way to do things, there are so many ways of achieving similar outcomes. You will need a couple of things to get started.

Items Needed

A window, the bigger the better – preferably with some soft light coming in. I have been shooting at midday when the sun is much higher in the sky, finding this is the best time for the strong but indirect light we need.

A table at a comfortable height – this will be our staging point, make sure it’s at a comfortable working height, a kitchen table will do great.

White matte finish foam board – We picked up some A1 sheets from Hobbycraft for around £2.50 each, they have a brilliant white finish which will be important for us to get the white balance of our photos correct (more about this later).

Something to keep the backboard at nearly 90 degrees – you can use your favourite design reference books like I have, just something heavy.

A camera or smartphone – I am going to show you the difference between using an industry standard digital camera and a smartphone.

Photoshop – I’m yet to find a program that does a better job of background removal than photoshop. If you haven’t got it, Photopea is as close as we have ever found to a free version.

Nice to haves

A tripod – you might be working on products that you want to keep all the same size on your product page. A tripod will speed things up by not having to adjust the size and placement too much.

A reflector – we managed to find one for around £10 on Amazon, this will help maximise the window light and help balance your photos by getting rid of harsh shadows.

Step 1 – Setting it up

Have a look at this plan view of things, as you can see here I have set up our little area next to the window with the light source coming from the right. I like to keep roughly a 45 degree angle between the light source and the thing I am shooting (A) it creates some nice shadows that once you get into the editing stage, can add depth.

Set up the books behind 1 sheet of the foam board to stop it falling over and the other one flat on the table, make sure there is as little gap between the sheets of foam board as possible, this will make it much easier when we get to editing this fold out.

Next thing to do is get your product in the centre of the foam board, this will make it easier to see the dark shadows you want to eliminate when you set the reflector up on the other side. Have a look at these 2 images, the one on the left is shot not using a reflector and the one on the right has the reflector on the silver side set up directly next to the table. By using the silver side of the reflector it bounces the maximum amount of light back onto the other side of the item you are shooting. Some people might prefer the moodier lighting but for this purpose let’s keep it as bright and as fresh as possible.

Tip: if you don’t have a reflector to hand then just use another sheet of foam board to bounce the light onto the item, the white surface of the foam board will give you a great overall fill light and eliminate those harsh shadows.

Step 2 – Lets set up the camera!

Once you are happy that the scene looks bright and there is a nice overall light to the scene we are ready to shoot.

If you are using an iphone or android you will be able to jump past this section, but when using a DSLR it’s important to get some settings right before we start.

Understanding White Balance – for DSLR users

If you want, just leave the camera on automatic but make sure the flash is turned off, and also if you don’t want to read some waffling about white balance please feel free to skip this bit.

The human eye and the way it processes colours is amazing, no need for adjusting when you go from daylight to indoors it just happens. For our DSLR’s it’s not as simple, we have to tell them the lighting environment we are in, this is measured in Kelvin (colour temperature value of K) ranging from candle light which starts around 1800K to a clear blue sky over 6500K.

The most common environment will be daylight, 5200K-5700K. The standard setting on your camera will be Automatic White Balance. If it’s a sunny day outside the camera will set the white balance to 5500K automatically. Because we are working indoors not in direct sunlight we need to tell the camera what white is in our scene to make sure we get the same colour results in each photo

For this example I am using a Canon DSLR, have a look at this image and notice the colour differences between these images and telling the camera what type of lighting conditions we are in. From the far left at 3200K to the far right at 10000K. For this exercise we are going to choose a value around 7000K because the light temperature is cooler indoors than it is outside. Remember that daylight is around 5500K so I’m going to set the white balance to ‘Shade’ – you can do this in the menu, I’m sure you know where this is 👍.

If you have a tripod at the ready then now’s the time to get it in position. If you are using a zoom lens then 50-100mm is a good range to get some great results so set your camera up on the tripod and fill the frame so none of the area outside of the white background is in view. Get as much of that product or item you are shooting in the frame.

Step 3 – Lets shoot!

You will have placed the item you want to shoot in the scene already, today we are going to shoot these Awesome Koozies. It reminds us of summer and the great outdoors, something I know everyone is looking forward to in 2020 whether its a Magic Rock Brew or a can of Coke, these will keep your drink cool while not freezing your hand clean off. You can get some of your own printed here.

I shot the 1st image below on a Huawei P30, remember we are wanting to use the ambient light so turn that pesky flash off. The 2nd image below was taken with a Canon DSLR, notice the difference in these images? The aperture on the lens of the DSLR was much bigger so the background is more out of focus, but this doesn’t matter too much as we won’t be using the white of this background in the final image.

Step 4 – Lets edit!

Here is what we want to achieve, a really clean pure white background image that retains some of the shadows that make the image feel more real.

Part 1 – Head over to Photopea the free photoshop we mentioned earlier. It’s great, and has many of the features you could want in Adobe Photoshop.

Part 2 – Go to file and open the image you want to edit.

Part 3 – For the effect we are going to use to remove the background you need to duplicate your layer twice. Go to the layer panel > right click on the image and duplicate > rename this layer ‘Shadow’ this layer will become our soft shadow. Repeat the process and rename that new duplicate ‘Detail’ this will be our product in full detail. Hide the ‘Detail’ layer.

Part 4 – Now we are going to use a couple of filters to get the shadow layer smooth and ready to go. Click on your ‘Shadow’ layer and head to the top menu, go Filter > Noise > Dust and Scratches. Set the top slider to around 5-10 and the bottom one to 25. We are using this to blend some of the tones of the shadows on the foam board to get the softest shadow possible. The next filter we are going to use is surface blur, this is used to further increase the softness of the shadow but without blending the image together like a standard blur would do. Go to Filter > Blur > Surface Blur. Set the sliders to around 15 pixels each.

Part 5 – Next we are going to isolate the can from the background, we don’t need to be too accurate here so just use the lasso tool in your tools panel on the left. Once you have the object selected, create a layer mask from the selection by clicking on the icon at the bottom of your layer panel, the rectangle with the circle inside it. This will create a nondestructive mask around our object.

Part 6 – Holding down the ctrl key, or command on a mac, copy the selection and click on your ‘Detail’ layer. Now go to Select > Inverse to create the negative selection. We want to fill this with 100% pure white so go to Edit > Fill and fill this selection with 100% White. Now deselect.

Part 7 – This is the pretty cool part. Go to your tools on the left hand side and find the dodge tool (it looks like a lollipop) and at the top of the screen some options will appear. We want to set these options to highlights and the slider to 30%. Now with the Detail layer selected and a soft brush selected (right click on your image and set the hardness to 0) start painting the dodge brush over the remaining background getting as close to your object as possible. Dodging the image increases the exposure to just the highlights so your image won’t be affected however the background will be removed. Pretty cool hey?!

Part 8 – Now once that’s done select the white area using the magic wand tool the one just under the lasso tool we used earlier. Select the now white background and delete the layer mask on your ‘Shadow’ layer. The new selection we have made by dodging out the background is much better. With your white background from the ‘Detail’ layer still selected click on your ‘Shadow’ layer and create a new layer mask from this selection.

Step 9 – Click on your ‘Detail’ layer and create a layer mask. We are now going to brush back in some of those smooth shadows we created before in Part 4. Grab the brush tool from your tool panel and bring the hardness right down as you did before with the dodge tool. Head up to the top left of the screen again and some brush options will appear, set the ‘Opacity’ slider to around 20 and with the Detail layer mask you just created selected, slowly brush back in some of the ground shadows near your object. Don’t worry if you go too far you can set your brush to white and brush them back, that’s the beauty of layer masks.

Part 10 – Once you are happy with the results it’s time to crop and resize it for the web. Select the crop tool from the left and head to the options above, for most product shots you want to be cropping at 1×1 (a square) Next, draw the square and move it until the object is in the centre. Hit enter and there you have it, read for exporting to your computer.

Part 11 – Lets save this for later, just in case you want to do anything else to it. Go File > Save As PSD and it will automatically download to your computer.

Part 12 – Exporting an image is simple, Go File > Export > Export PNG. A png file is the best file format for web use.

Part 12 – There you have it. A really simple and cost effective way of getting professional photos of your products and getting them out there online.

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