FAQ: Product Photography (Part Two)

In part one, I discussed a few different options for product photography. Here, I’ll focus on taking a good photo against a white background. That’s what I’m (fairly) good at, and I think that’s where most people have trouble.

The Setup

I use a homemade light box, a tripod, four adjustable lamps from IKEA, and daylight bulbs.

My Light Box Setup

Three of the lamps have 100 watt daylight bulbs, which is often enough. If there are harsh shadows, I’ll also turn on the 60 watt lamp to add a little overall illumination. The light box is a clear plastic container with some fabric batting wrapped around it to soften the light. The white background inside is just a piece of poster board.

Getting the Picture

As I mentioned in part one, I am not an expert photographer by any means. I am however, quite good at Photoshop.

Here’s my photo straight out of the camera.

Photo Tutorial: Step 1

It’s not great, but it’s as good as I get. The colors are actually accurate, even if the photo is too gray. The tungsten white balance on my camera is the best for me, but you’ll have to experiment to see what works for you.

Next I adjust the levels in Photoshop. I always try “auto” first, but sometimes you get a pretty bad result (like the photo below).

Photo Tutorial: Step 2

By adjusting the levels manually, you can get the photo looking pretty good.

Photo Tutorial: Step 3

The photo won’t blend seamlessly into a white background yet though – the edges are still a little gray. See where I scribbled with pure white below?

Photo Tutorial: Step 4

Here’s what I do. I use a white paintbrush to go all the way around the edges. This way, I know the edges will be pure white. Here’s what the photo looks like with the levels off:

Photo Tutorial: Step 5

Next I go in and blend the edges a bit with the paintbrush set at a lower opacity. I use a Wacom Tablet, so I have pretty good control over the brush. If you’re using a mouse, it’s a little harder to be accurate, so it may help to select your object with the lasso or make a work path with the pen, and then select the inverse so that you’re only working on the background.

With the levels turned on again, here’s the finished photo:

Photo Tutorial: Step 6

I hope you found this helpful! If you’d like to try a different technique, there are a ton of tutorials out there. Lindsay Landis also wrote an excellent guide over at The Switchboards. Happy photo-taking!

48 Responses to “FAQ: Product Photography (Part Two)”

  1. elizabeth October 16, 2008 at 9:42 am #

    Excellent tutorial! Straight forward and eacy to understand.
    Thanks!

  2. chhavy October 16, 2008 at 10:18 am #

    We’ve been thinking about setting up a tiny photo spot in the corner for all our completed floral arrangements. I’ll be sure to test this out for all our blooms art. Thanks so much for the tips!

  3. goody-goody October 16, 2008 at 11:10 am #

    Thanks so much for sharing your set-up! I’ve heard people describe light boxes before, but it helps to see it and have my hand held through the Photoshop editing!

  4. minnie October 16, 2008 at 11:39 am #

    I love the drapes in the photo. Where did you get them?

  5. jannypie October 16, 2008 at 12:17 pm #

    This is awesome, thank you so much for sharing. I always thought that the final photo was something you got straight from the camera, and that I was failing miserably! I’ll try fixing up some of my shots in Photoshop now. Thanks again!

  6. Benita October 16, 2008 at 12:52 pm #

    Thanks so much for part two! I have the box, batting and poster board. Next time I go to IKEA I’m getting four lamps!

  7. TranquilityKnots October 16, 2008 at 2:08 pm #

    Great tutorial! I will try it tonight. Thanks a lot!

  8. Rachel October 16, 2008 at 3:32 pm #

    This is really great information. I’ll be linking to this.

  9. 315thomas October 16, 2008 at 3:44 pm #

    thanks for the tips!

  10. themostfantastic October 16, 2008 at 3:45 pm #

    hi! i posted my comment in the nursery post, but i just wanted to let you know that land of nod and target both carry the same jenny lind crib/changing table brand…except land of nod marks up the price. they are by da vinci. i read about it in baby bargains. good luck!

  11. Jerry October 16, 2008 at 5:26 pm #

    “I am not an expert photographer by any means. I am however, quite good at Photoshop.”
    Feh. Potato – potahto. =)
    If knowing Photoshop leads to results like those, who needs a pro? I mean, yeah, you might spring for one to have the added insurance of a professional on your wedding day, or whatever, but you’re doing something right for the day-to-day stuff, it looks like!
    Jerry

  12. michelle b October 16, 2008 at 5:53 pm #

    Thanks so much! You make it look so easy ;-) – I’ll have to try the lighting. I’ve been using natural lighting so far- with a dash of photoshop.
    btw, pretty cup!

  13. TranquilityKnots October 17, 2008 at 10:13 am #

    Thank you so much, Nicole. I tried your technique on one of my bracelet this morning, and it totally worked. I am very happy with the result. I have been struggling with this for several months now, I really cannot thank you enough. I just blogged about it this morning, so if you want to see what your ‘student’ did, please stop by and take a look. MY blog is at http://sallyzblog.blogspot.com

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  14. Jeanee October 17, 2008 at 10:23 am #

    I’m loving your suggestions.

    Most of the time I take my photos in natural daylight near a window. Especially when I’m taking photos of larger items like my aprons. But I find that as it’s getting darker outside it’s too dark to take photos when I get get home from work. I hate the flash.

    Maybe I’ll try your lighting suggestion.

  15. barb October 17, 2008 at 2:24 pm #

    we made a great booth that folds down using white coreplast (plastic sheets) and duct tape. we also us the clip lights from home depot and the daylight bulbs! it stores flat under our work tables!

  16. ashley crim October 17, 2008 at 2:58 pm #

    this is fabulous and so generous of your time to share! I need to start incorporating some of your oh so useful tips…and the picture of your light box…hugely helpful!

  17. ashley crim October 17, 2008 at 2:59 pm #

    {i just ventured over to TSB…those gals {including you!} are so giving of their experience…I must immerse myself in tsb again!}

  18. Shashi October 17, 2008 at 3:26 pm #

    Great tutorial!

  19. TWan October 18, 2008 at 9:23 pm #

    Great information and thanks for sharing.

  20. Cotton Heart October 20, 2008 at 4:26 am #

    Very good setup, especially because it includes back lights which people so often forget – and are so very helpful.

    Dark shadows can also be removed by bouncing the light, a white cardboard or very thick white paper can do the trick.

  21. Jan October 21, 2008 at 4:25 pm #

    Thanks for the helpful info. Just curious, what is TSB?

  22. Michelle October 21, 2008 at 5:07 pm #

    Thank you for sharing that most valuable tip! We want more of your tips and tricks!

  23. hsp October 25, 2008 at 7:23 pm #

    You’re getting a grey image because your camera is averaging the ambient light for a percentage of grey. If you’re using M mode, over expose by 1 stop. If you’re shooting in Av, set the Exposure Compensation for +1.

    Alternatively, shooting fully manual, meter off a grey card and then take the photo using those exposure settings.

    From there you shouldn’t need to do as much PS manipulation.

  24. Katie October 31, 2008 at 11:13 am #

    Great tutorial! I’ve been meaning to set up a box like this for ages… you make it seem easy enough, so I might as well! ;)

  25. Kate November 6, 2008 at 10:35 am #

    i didn’t read the other comments but you can also put tracing paper over the lights to diffuse it a little bit! great tutorial!

  26. chezus November 12, 2008 at 1:24 am #

    Great piece. What kind of daylight bulbs are you using?? Thanks!

  27. Misha Ashton March 27, 2009 at 6:49 pm #

    great tutorial, just as a tip to help reduce the amount of photoshop work, go to a camera store and buy a grey card. If you can meter off of that, it will make your whites…white. All cameras are set up to meter 18% grey and whether you are shooting on pure black or pure white, with out the grey card, it will always turn out grey!!
    : )
    lovely work!!!

  28. Katie June 6, 2009 at 9:46 am #

    Nicole-
    I’m sorry to bother you but I’m trying to put one of these together and I’m having a hard time finding “daylight bulbs” are they the energy efficient spiral kind? Thanks so much for your time.

  29. Making it Lovely June 6, 2009 at 9:52 am #

    I think the ones I used were ‘GE Reveal’ bulbs (they’re blue incandescent bulbs).

  30. Ishrath October 28, 2009 at 6:30 am #

    I like your use of a plastic box. I tried couple of shoots with IKEA lamps before… but they deteriorate over a period of time. Bad quality.

  31. Karen LePage May 21, 2010 at 10:20 am #

    This is a fabulous tutorial. Thanks for sharing your process flow between actual/digital realms.

  32. Carrie Atkins April 13, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    I so much appreciate this great information! I will definitely give you the credit due when I repost on my website! THANKS!!!

  33. Crystal February 22, 2013 at 8:24 am #

    Very impressive! I’ve tried this before and it works well.

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