Constructing product photography in-camera instead of in-Photoshop

Jan 23, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Constructing product photography in-camera instead of in-Photoshop

Jan 23, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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At some point, most of us will have to shoot a product. It may be for a paying client. Perhaps for a family member who wants to stick something on eBay. Or we might just want to show off our newest toy on Facebook. Whatever the reason, your life is generally going to be a lot easier if you can get things as close to the final image in-camera. It’s less time sitting at the computer, letting you get on with actually shoting.

This 20 minute video tutorial from Karl Taylor walks us through a cosmetics product photography shoot. The emphasis here is on lighting, and getting things as close to complete in camera as possible. There are, obviously, one or two tweaks that can still be made in Photoshop. But the differences between the image straight out of camera, and the final retouched shot are minimal.

YouTube video

Karl shows us exactly how the shot comes together. How each light builds upon the scene to enhance a very specific area. Karl’s using some pretty fancy gear for his 6 light setup. But he goes into detail in exactly how each contributes to the scene. While Broncolor may be out of reach to many of us, the principles can equally be applied to speedlights or other flash units.

As you can see in the straight out of camera result vs the final retouched image, there’s really not a lot of difference between them. Just some minor cleanup to remove a logo, a reflection, and round up the water drops.

Straight out of camera
Final retouched image

Karl isn’t condemning the use of Photoshop, though. He’s simply attempting to demonstrate how much work you can save in post when you execute the shoot well. The fewer things you need to retouch in post, the easier your life becomes.

Do you photograph products often? What other tips can you offer? Do you prefer to get everything as perfect as possible in-camera? Or do you prefer “good enough” with more time in Photoshop? Let us know in the comments.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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One response to “Constructing product photography in-camera instead of in-Photoshop”

  1. Doug Sundseth Avatar
    Doug Sundseth

    When I’m shooting products, I’m often shooting prototypes that may have parts that aren’t the final color or don’t fit precisely correctly. I’d love to be able to shoot hero products, but where I live in the product lifespan, that’s often not possible. For me, it’s less about getting everything right in the shot and more about shooting so that I can make everything right before publication.

    That said, fixing as much as possible before shooting saves a huge amount of time. That one small mark in the product that “I can clean up in post” may have to be “cleaned up in post” a dozen times and show up in reflections (that also need to be cleaned up). Similarly, a scratch or scuff in a piece of seamless that is barely noticeable in real life can become hugely annoying between shooting and publication.

    A few tips:

    * Try not to run any suspension lines parallel to strong edges in the scene when hanging products in space; Photoshop doesn’t clean those up as well as lines that cross strong edges.

    * Contrasty product supports are often easier to remove than supports that are close in color to the product.

    * Contrasty backgrounds are often easier to cut away, but be aware of reflections on the underside or edges of the product if you’re planning to do that.

    * Start building up a selection of things to support products early on. This is a good place to practice your ingenuity. IME, nothing commercial works very well, every product needs something different, and if you try to use Bluetac, it will always show up … and be a pain to remove in post.

    * Changing the color of the background in post is often easy, but if you have complex objects (plants, for instance), transparent objects, or reflective objects, that color change can be much more difficult. If possible, shoot on the right color background to begin with. (It’s not always possible.)

    * Shiny surfaces that curve in more than a single direction will reflect things you don’t want to see. Always. Think about it during the shoot and do what you can to minimize it. But be aware that you’ll almost certainly be retouching.

    * If you need to use liquids in a shot, be aware that they can damage many products, so be prepared to replace the product repeatedly.