Post-Processing: The Final Phase of Studio Product Photography

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For the final installation of this series we will be exploring the third and final cog to the product photography studio. We will discuss the system that will allow you to catalog and edit your images to get them web ready in a hurry. For this we are going to deploy Lightroom. I am sure that there are other programs that can be inserted here since we are only doing some minor adjustments and renaming. If you have Lightroom fire it up and follow along.

SHOOTING TETHERED

I like to shoot tethered whenever I work in studio for a few reasons. The first being that I can see the image I just shot on a large monitor. I can zoom in and see details that are difficult to get to on the back of a camera screen. The second reason is that I have all the shots automatically sorted into the correct folders.

SETUP THE TETHER

To get started with tethering in Lightroom go to File > Tethered Capture > Start Tether Capture.

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From there you will enter the tethered settings. I always put the product name as the session name, in this case “Stan Lee” since I am shooting action figures. Next is the naming, I let the filename remain the part number (or product name) but add a number sequence to the end. You can do whatever works for you to differentiate the shots.

Next choose the location where you want Lightroom to store your images. In this case I am going to have all of the shots go into the folder for my client “XYZ” so I make a folder called “XYZ Product Images”. Lastly add the metadata information, in this case my contact and copyright information. Then hit OK.

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Next you will get a little display that you can position anywhere on your Lightroom screen, I like to put it up at the top. It shows that the camera is connected.

*TIP* If nothing is showing up check that you camera is turned on and that the cable is connected. If that fails, reboot your camera, reboot Lightroom and remove and reconnect the cable. This usually clears up 99% of tether issues. Below the camera make is the part number and the rest of your camera settings.

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(You can read all about my camera setting on my other DPS article here; Tips for Fast and Effective Studio Product Photography. Now that you have your tether capture all setup you can begin taking photos.

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THE PHOTO SHOOT

For this shoot my client wants two angles of this Stan Lee action figure. So I use our basic lighting setup (discussed in this article; Equipment Tips for Quick and Efficient Studio Product Photography) and take the first shot.

Let’s take a look at this shot in Lightroom Develop module. Hit the D key to enter the develop module, or click Develop at the top of Lightroom. Make sure your clipping detection is turned on by hitting the J key.

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What I am trying to accomplish here is to blow out the background. If it were blown out we would be showing red (clipped) in Lightroom. We aren’t seeing that, which means I need to decrease the shutter speed to let in more light. Let’s try 1/3 of a stop for a bit more additional light and shoot again.

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Set the exposure

Now we are cooking with fire. All of our subsequent shots will be dialled in making less work. It is not necessary to have the entire background clipping. In fact, for some subjects it will likely mean you have lost a ton of contrast in the image. This amount of red is okay for this subject.

Keep in mind white and reflective products will become overexposed must sooner than darker ones, so set your exposure accordingly. Even if you have zero red on the background it is okay, there Lightroom tools that will make quick work of the background. But remember that every bit of extra work you do later in Lightroom costs time so try to get it right in camera.

*TIP* With this product photography studio setup it is so easy to get many product angles in such a short amount of time. It’s always wiser to shoot extra angles now rather than have a client ask for others later. Now that we have four angles of Stan Lee let’s switch to the next product.

Change the product

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Click the little gear icon on the tether tool which will bring up the Tether Capture Settings and you can change your session name to the new product number, in this case, “Wookiee”. Hit the tab key twice, because, as you can see the sequence number is retained from the last shot and it reads shot number 5. Hit the number 1 key and then hit OK or Enter.

You are now setup to take the next shot and all of these new images will go into the “Wookie” folder but stay in the main project for XYZ Products.

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Just as before, we will take four angles for the client to make sure we have enough.

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If we expand the navigator pane you can see that we have two product folders, “Stan Lee” and “Wookie” and there are four images in each. We can view all the images by selecting the “XYZ Product Images” folder. We are now done with the tether tool so you can close it.

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THE EDIT

Typically this is where I will grab all the images from the shoot and export them as small files for client proofs. The client chooses the images they want and then we edit those. Let’s pretend they’ve already given us their list and begin the edits.

Make the background white

Hit the D key to enter the develop module, or click Develop at the top of Lightroom. The first thing I like to do is make sure that the background is blown out (pure white with no detail). To do this, make sure your clipping highlight feature is turned on, (hit J on the keyboard if it’s not).

Since our shot could use a little help at the bottom we will increase the whites with an adjustment brush. Hit the K key and with a new brush enter +1.00 on exposure and +40 on whites (I have saved this preset as its own brush called “blowout”). Turn on Auto Mask, it does a good job of keeping these settings from inadvertently bleeding onto the subject if you get a little too close. Now simply paint the white background and it will clip the whites. If it doesn’t, finish painting, then add a new brush and paint again.

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Global adjustments

Hit your K key once more to return to image adjustments. Turn off clipping highlights by hitting the J key. This helps you to focus on the subject during the adjustments. For this image I added +20 contrast, -30 blacks, +30 clarity and +20 saturation.

You can easily sync these settings to the rest of the product image by bringing up the filmstrip at the bottom of Lightroom. If you don’t see your filmstrip, click the little up arrow at the bottom of the develop module. Now select your first image, hold you Shift key and click the last image. Click the Sync button in Lightroom to apply the settings to all the selected images.

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We will select Basic Tone, Clarity and Color to sync just those effects to the rest of the images.

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Click Synchronize and the rest of the products will get the same adjustments. Keep in mind you still need to go back to each image and ensure their backgrounds are properly clipped as well. You can use the Adjustment Brush feature as before. Our Stan Lee products are now on completely white backgrounds and they look great.

Alternate method

For the Wookie products I will show you a slightly faster albeit sometimes not as accurate method. Enter the Develop module, and instead of using an Adjustment Brush let’s see if the Whites slider will clip the background. For this image I added +93 to the Whites slider.

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Worked like a charm. Now let’s finish giving this little guy some additional love. I added +20 contrast, -30 blacks, and +20 clarity. Additionally I added some sharpness found in the Detail pane. This time, when we select all of our Wookie products and synchronize I will click the Check All button.

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When I do a quick look at the rest of my Wookie products they all look great. These are ready to export and it took me less than two minutes to edit all four images.

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Conclusion

Assuming you already have a calibrated monitor, the only other thing you might want to do is add a custom color profile for you camera to Lightroom. This will ensure that your product colors remain true, which is very important. You can see how to do that with this dPS article; How to Use the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport to Obtain Perfect Color.

This concludes my three part series for studio photography and how to inject some speed into it. I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you for reading.

Read more from our Post Production category

Jacob Macias

lives and works in Northern California. He specializes in real estate and product photography. In his spare time he develops a travel photography site BackflipPhoto.com, that introduces travel photography to the masses. You can see more of his professional work at ShotByJacob.com and by following him on Instagram

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