Use Photoshop’s Lighten blend mode to shoot high end product composites
Shooting product photography is a whole lot of fun. Often, though, it can require a surprisingly high number of lights and modifiers to get the job done in a single shot. But what if you don’t have a ton of gear? What if you just want to give it a go without having to spend on a bunch of new flashes? Compositing is the answer.
In this video, Dustin Dolby from Workphlo uses just a single speedlight to show one process for creating composited product photographs. It’s a great technique for creating product composites with a perfectly clean white background with whatever subject light you need. As well as the basic shooting process, Dustin also goes over his entire post workflow.
The basic principle is fairly simple. The first step is to create a silhouette of the product. Here, all you’re doing is lighting the background to blow it out to pure white, while the subject becomes solid black. The white background doesn’t need to stretch all the way to the edge of the frame, it just needs to encompass the product.
In Photoshop, just cut out the surrounding area and make it pure white. Then move your light around the product to highlight different surfaces and edges, and lay them on top as a new layer. With the blending layer mode set to Lighten, the only thing that will change is the black silhouette. You can’t light something that’s already pure white.
I’ve seen a lot of light painters and landscape shooters work this way, creating multiple images of the scene in order to get the detail just where they want it. I’ve actually used this technique myself to photograph fireworks. With the camera locked off on a tripod, one long exposure gets a good shot of the environment. The shorter bursts of fireworks have a dark environment, so when you add using Lighten blending mode, only the fireworks are added to the background layer.
When it all comes together, it just looks like a well-lit shot. Now you can add in whatever background you want, a bit of a drop shadow, and you’re done.
It’s a fun technique when you’re limited on gear, or just want to try something a little different.
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.