Retouching products

Occasionally I receive a nice compliment about how good my product photos look. What people may not realise is that quite a bit of work goes into arriving at the finished result, and what they see on a web page is not exactly what comes out of the camera.

Jokingly great photographers do not need to rework their images, but the rest of us do a lot of processing. Retouching, also referred to as post processing or photoshop, is when you make a photo pop. The tool that I use for this is GIMP, but commonly it is done with Photoshop. The example above illustrates how much of an improvement this makes. The ultimate objective is to inspire the prospective buyer to purchase your product, so looking good kinda helps out.

These are my guidelines:
  1. Check that the main reference edge is level, and straighten the image if necessary.
  2. Separate the product from the background by cutting out the background and placing a white layer underneath. This tends to be time consuming, especially if there are shadows and irregular edges.
  3. Make corrections to any imperfections like blemishes, dust, or inappropriate shine.
  4. Adjust the color curve to get good contrast.
The basic process takes about an hour.

What takes more than an hour is a more advanced composed product shot. If time or budget allows it then composing is preferred -- glasses, bottles and background boxes each need their own lighting setup to look symmetrical, emphasised, uniform, and avoid unwanted shadows or other interaction. Just be sure to put back good interaction, like making glass transparent and show what's behind it.

  • Glassware: put a black panel on each side, to prevent washed out edges
  • White wine bottle: back light, to illuminate the whole bottle from within 
  • Red wine bottle: soft box on each side to give it nice symmetry without bad front flash reflection
  • Box: soft light from a good distance above; if you use a white box then under expose it so it stands out from your white background in the final shot
  • Product: whatever works, usually soft lights, but watch out for transparent wrappers like (remove them if possible, or they may cause you a world of pain in post) and metallic labels (undesirable reflection, like gold and silver panels appearing black caused by reflecting something dark or distant in the room; present it with a white body or spend time retouching in post)