Shooting Steel and Clear Products on a White Background
From one challenge to another.. We recently shot some product photography for a golf club manufacturer, photographing stainless steel which meant no studio reflections and blown out contrast. This week we took on small transparent in-ear monitoring systems and ear protectors, again on a white background.
We were tasked with photographing our clients entire product range for inclusion in a shopping cart system. Also, various ear protectors located in a silicon ear, further shots of product packaging and creative shots for banners and advertising.
Photography Studio Lighting - Clear products on white background
Firstly, the direct background needs to be lit. This is done using two soft boxes to the sides with an eventual aim of this area to be over exposed by around 1 stop. The centre is filled by a soft box above. Both sides and above lighting will feather in light output to the rear of the product. Two roof to floor polystyrene panels are also used in the background area to help distribute the light source evenly. Additionally, creating some ambient/overspill light that is very soft (due to distance) and welcome in the shooting area.
A second set of full-height panels are used to the sides of the product, again a very soft feathered overspill light that creates ambient light again.
When photographing products such as these, any harsh, or even fairly bright light will cause blow-out's on the product which once captured like that are areas of the image that are not only undesirable but the RAW image file will not contain any data allowing for recovery using actual captured content.
Another serious problem we came up against was the oh so easy to blow out jack pins the in ear monitors use in the leads. Variations on the lighting included the pictured umbrellas, usually used for flash reflection but in this product photoshoot being used to reflect a soft light across the shooting table.
Using the Atomas Shogun has been great for recording clean hdmi video but used when we shoot product photography it gives us a few superb additional features that really help. Firstly, a full HD screen at 7", which, when you have a grid imposed on allows for precise positioning in live view.. One finger tiny-tapping products into line and zooming in 10x to manually tweak a razor sharp focus (also selecting the important focal point, such as the branding). The Shogun has an excellent zebra feature which will show over exposure.. This feature is invaluable.
Keeping the product background white
Over exposing the background is easy of course but trying to keep a product such as these transparent in-ear monitors looking good is certainly a challenge. The biggest issue being the defined edges, especially to the back of something so small.
The solution is not all in the camera unfortunately , the answer is to play with the soft lighting until you have it balanced and as even as possible, keeping the featured item 'just' under over-exposing, so as bright as possible. At this stage the background should have a large patch in the middle blown, also to the sides ideally. So, this is right on the edge as it were. At this capture stage I would expect the image background to be blown out but perhaps about half the image (as you look top to bottom).
Once the image has been captured directly (tethered) into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom software an immediate analysis can be observed. Following camera/lens profile being added by default , the colour picker can be used to check out where the white level is set at 100%.. Visually this is easy to see using the white level slider and holding alt at the same time, clearly showing what's 'gone'.
So at this stage half the image still looks dull (foreground) and the product looks about right. Bringing up the white level on the overall image is likely to ruin the product as it was 'on the edge' of exposure when taken. So the answer may be to use a feathered masked brush and spray in over-exposure of max 4 stops. That's fine but the problem is that the area where the product is in the middle still looks dull, especially to the bottom.. The answer to this is to basically paint the bright parts of the product with a light feathered under exposed brush, working it so it looks smooth, unnoticeable in graduation. Doing this at between minus 1-3 stops, at various percentage settings gives us the opportunity to then pull up the exposure on the whole image. This allows the not quite white areas we've painted with over exposure to carry on being lifted up to 100%. This will pull the product up in brightness.. but we've already under exposed it, so this combination can get us to where we need to be.
Of course there is a whole heap of other edits we need to perform. The first being spot removal.
When you take product images at such a high resolution you'd be surprised at all the junk that sits on them, not actually visible to the eye but not ideal when zoomed in to full resolution on a computer.
As you can see from our image, on the table is a soft paint brush and lens cloth, we also used compressed air for a quick blast seconds before taking the picture.
Going on from there with clarity, colour balance, contrast, sharpening and other elements.. well that's perhaps another article in itself!
All our photography studio images are 'snapped' on an iPhone, so excuse the quality..