Our most recent series of blog posts has been aimed at answering questions that we hear often from customers. One of those requests is about product photography. Online sellers call to ask for our recommendations on equipment they need to take great photos. After all, most online sellers know that sales can be made or lost depending on how good (or bad) your photos look. To be honest, most people overestimate what they need to make their photos look great, and they’re surprised when I tell them that with a bit of lighting, a touch of Photoshop, and just the camera on your phone, you can get great results.
Today, to illustrate that fact, I’m going to show you that you don’t need a super expensive studio setup. Using just the Dracast Product Photography Kit, a white sheet, and Photoshop, we’ll go from start to finish. This will be more of a Photoshop tutorial, but hopefully it will help you get listing online!
Step 1: Let’s get set up!
For this setup, I chose a basic coffee cup as our product. For the “stage” I put a white piece of folded canvas over a cardboard box and put that in front of a basic white wall. From there I used a three light kit with diffusion modifiers to soften the light output. The lights were placed slightly above the subject and angled down creating an even lighting effect.
*Side note – Many people think that having the right background is a crucial element. For product photography, it isn’t. In our next step we’ll be using photo editing software to craft the image we want.
Step 2: Import your photo into Photoshop
I’m shooting in raw using a Canon 5D Mark III. This isn’t necessary, but it does give a bit more flexibility when importing into Photoshop. With raw format I can make adjustments to the image before getting into the more intensive editing. If you’re not shooting in raw format and you’re using a jpeg from your phone, you can still make these basic adjustments inside of Photoshop under the Adjustments menu.
I made a few adjustments that you can see on the sliders on the right side of the image. Now that my main coffee cup image is looking nice and bright, I can move onto the more in-depth editing.
Step 3: Create a editable layer from the background layer
In the layers panel at the lower right hand corner of the screen, right click on the “Background” layer and select “Layer from Background” which should be the first option at the top of the fly out menu.
A dialog box will appear asking you to name the new layer. Photoshop will default to “Layer 0”.
Step 4: Remove the background
Converting the background layer into a new layer allows us to edit and erase parts of the image, leaving behind a transparent “alpha channel”. The alpha channel will look like a grey and white checkerboard which you’ll see shortly. Select either the Magic Wand tool (circled) or the Quick Selection tool. The Quick Selection tool can be found by clicking and holding on the Magic Wand tool until the list of secondary tools appears. Next, begin clicking on and selecting the parts of the image to be deleted. In this case that will be anywhere in the image that is not the coffee cup.
The next step is the most important step in this process: Getting the selection just right. These days, Photoshop is very good at detecting edges, including the edges of a coffee cup, but it isn’t perfect. This is where the Quick Select tool will be a better choice than the Magic Wand tool. Using the Quick Selection tool, you can add to your selection or remove from your selection by holding the alt key and deselecting areas if your selection cuts into the area of the image you want to keep.
Above, I’ve pointed out a few spots that need to be cleaned up and fine tuned. Using the zoom tool (magnifying glass icon on the toolbar) in conjunction with the Quick Selection tool can help you fine tune your edges.
Once you are happy with your selection work, press delete.
Presto! Your “Layer 0” background layer will allow you to remove the unwanted parts of the image leaving the alpha channel transparency behind.
Step 5: Crop your image
The Crop tool can be found directly underneath the selection tools on the toolbar.
Typically, for product photography, you’ll want to use a 1:1 square image ratio for most web listings including Amazon and eBay. This selector can be found in the upper left drop drop menu.
Now use the handles on the edges of the image to drag and crop your image to your preferred size. In our case, since we just have a single subject in the image, we want to center it and have the product take up most of the image while still leaving enough margin of white space.
Step 6: Create your new background.
Create a new layer by clicking the “add layer” icon in the lower right corner of the screen. I’ve pointed it out in the above image with a red arrow. Your new layer will appear at the top of your layers list. Click and drag the new layer to the bottom of the list so that is is underneath the layer containing your image. This is important, because we don’t want the new background we’re about to make to cover and hide our coffee cup!
Click to select and highlight the new layer in the layers panel. Now, select the Rectangle tool from the toolbar (circled on left). Once selected, bring your cursor to the upper left corner of your square transparency image. Starting in the upper left corner and just outside of the checkerboard pattern, click and drag your rectangle to the bottom-right corner ending just past the edge of the checkerboard. You’ll see your shape expand as a blue square line.
The default color might be set to something other than white. If necessary, change the color of your background rectangle by double clicking the thumbnail image of the rectangle in your layers panel (circled). Use the color picker to choose the white. If defining the color by hex code use #ffffff.
Step 7: Small touch-ups
From here, there are plenty of small touch ups you can do to your new product image. You can use the spot healing tool to erase and blemishes on the product itself. You can use the image adjustment menu to correct brightness, contrast, etc. But one that I always recommend is a very subtle drop shadow adjustment that is just barely visible. It’s purpose is to create a touch of separation from the white background.
To do this, select your coffee cup layer (should be your top layer) and then select the FX menu at the very bottom right of the screen underneath the layers panel (pictured above). Select Drop Shadow from the fly out menu.
A new options box will appear allowing you to customize your drop shadow. If you’re going to use this effect, the key here is to be very subtle. You can see from the image above, I have the transparency set at 10% and the other options are set to close to minimal levels. The result should be the hint of a thin grey haze around the edges of your product that create a lift away from the white background.
Step 8: Export it!
Since you’re going to be using this image on a web listing, you’ll need to export a properly compressed image. This won’t make your image look any different, but it will reduce the size of your image dramatically, allowing for much faster loading on your website. To do this, select File > Export > Save for Web (Legacy). Menu selections pictured above.
A new options box will open asking you to choose how you want your image to export. Start with JPEG High as your default preset. From there you can adjust the Quality slider and image size. For image size I use 2000 x 2000 which satisfies product photography requirements for most online marketplaces including Amazon and eBay. Next you’ll want to bring the Quality slider down while keeping an eye on the magnified image. Bring the slider to just before the point where you begin to notice loss of image quality, or to the point where you are happy with the size of the exported image (in the lower left of the options box pictured above). Click Save.
Step 9: You’re all done!
With a bit of practice, this process becomes second nature quickly. You’ll be snapping pics and editing product photos like a pro in no time, and the equipment doesn’t have to break the bank! For a perfect Setup we recomend the following products:
- Dracast Boltray Plus 600 5600K LED lights – x3
- Dome diffusion light modifiers to soften light. – x3
- Four-Way Barndoors – x3
- Power supplies – x3
- Light stands – x3
This kit was designed with the product photographer in mind, and a great price point too.