A stunning product photo is worth a thousand website visits. A staple of every set of product photos is the standalone showcase – the picture of your product against a seamless white background that blends into the rest of your webpage, making it seem like your product is almost floating on the page. While contextual photos of your product in use is important, it is the standalone showcase that customers use to decipher the features of your product and judge its quality because it brings your product into full focus without distracting backgrounds.
The standalone showcase is also one of the harder pictures to take for a few reasons:
- It takes technical expertise to set up studio lights at the right angles to achieve even illumination.
- Normal lamps without high-CRI do not have enough color range. This makes certain colors on your product look dull and illustrates your product inaccurately.
- Without reflectors, most lamps and camera flashes illuminate your product harshly, which means ugly sharp shadows, high contrast, and glare that makes your picture look cheap.
- While natural sunlight has high-CRI and soft diffused lighting, it is inconsistent and may even change as you are halfway though your photography session.
Fortunately, WhiteBox™ already takes care of all of that for you, and all you have to do is place your product in it and snap! In this really short guide, we’ll be be showing you how to put some finishing touches to perfect product photos taken in your WhiteBox™. Because the lighting is already so great, it takes just about 1 – 2 minutes to do so using free photo editing software, which is a ridiculously short amount of time compared to the hours you might otherwise spend with a poorer setup.
If you haven’t already, pick up your very own WhiteBox™ now for just a fraction of the price for a single photography session.
For this demonstration, we’ve picked a product that is notoriously hard to photograph – jewellery. They require great lighting to highlight their colour and luster, and their shiny reflective surfaces make glare and uneven lighting all the more obvious. To up the ante, the piece of jewellery we’ve picked is a pair of watch movement cufflinks rich in intricate details.
Download the photo below and follow along!
Step 1: Taking the photo
WhiteBox™ makes the hardest step the easiest. No messing around with positioning of your lights, just place and snap! This photo was taken in WhiteBox™ with an entry-level DSLR without any fancy settings. You could easily take the same photo with a modern smartphone camera.
Notice how WhiteBox™ has already given the photo many desirable traits:
- Evenly lit white background, which is easy to adjust later.
- Soft, natural looking shadows rather than harsh, sharp ones.
- Metallic surface is evenly lit with no glare.
A word on point-and-shoot cameras: If you’re using a smartphone or one of the automatic modes on a DSLR, you might notice that the resulting picture taken looks dark even though your subject is being illuminated very brightly. This is because these modes try to deliver a simple point-and-shoot experience, and the software sometimes gets ‘too smart’. These modes automatically adjust the camera exposure until the average color in your picture is ‘middle-gray’. This works relatively well for getting an appropriate brightness and white balance for most day-to-day photos (e.g a picture of your lunch). However, this becomes a problem when taking product photos against a predominantly white background. The software drastically reduces exposure to force the image average into a ‘middle-gray’, which causes the entire photo to look dark and dull.
Fortunately, this is easy to overcome: simply crank up the exposure compensation to the max when using these modes to shoot product photos!
Step 2: Calibrating the background to pure white
While the background of the raw picture is already very close to white, the difference is discernible when placed on a webpage with a truly white background, so we’ll have to do a quick touch up. Don’t fear – it is just a one-click process (made possible by WhiteBox™).
The photo editing software we’ll be using is a free open-sourced one called GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). No need for fancy photoshop tools here! Let’s go ahead an open up my_product.jpg on the GIMP interface:
In case we want to come back to the original image, we’ll make our edits on a duplicate layer which we’ll call “white adjustment”. Right-click on the “my_product.JPG” layer and select the “Duplicate layer” option.
Now, setting the background to white is a one-click process. Navigate to Colors >> Levels, and bring up this pop-up window. Click on the dropper icon with a white box, then click on an area of the photo that is supposed to be white. What we’re doing is telling GIMP how pure white looks in our product picture, and the algorithm will do the rest. Note that such a simple adjustment is not possible had the background not been so evenly lit as each area will have to be calibrated separately.
Voila! You’re done in one click! This photo is now ready to go onto your website once you’ve cropped it down to size.
Everything after this is optional double-checking of the “whiteness” of the background. Feel free to stop here if don’t have OCD.
Step 3 (Optional): Checking background whiteness
We’ll duplicate our “white adjustment” layer and apply a really useful filter to check if there are any indiscernible non-whites in the background. Go to Color >> Threshold. On the resulting pop-up window, set the left value to 255.
As you can see, the entire background is indeed pure white from our one-click adjustment, as expected of WhiteBox™. The only non-whites are the cufflinks and their shadows, which show up as black. We want to keep these shadows as it gives a sense of tangibility to the product, as if the customer can reach out and touch them.
Switch off this layer once you’re done with the checks by clicking on the corresponding eye icon on the Layers panel.
Step 4 (Optional): Taking care of photo edges
If you are photographing a larger object, the walls of your WhiteBox™ might creep into the photo frame, and that’s alright. The restore the full white background, we’ll simply crop out the area of interest and paste it over a white background.
A nice way of doing it is to crop out just the product using layer masks, and creating a new pure white layer underneath.
Bad lighting makes your product look cheap
This photo was taken with high-CRI flash and put through the same editing process. Compared to our first result, the shadows are sharp and unnatural, almost like they’ve been pasted on. The intricate details of the watch movement gears are also distracted from by high contrast between the bright surface and dark interiors. Overall, the metal has a ‘cheap’ looking quality to it.
In fact, this result is already better than what you might expect with a normal DIY setup since the high-CRI flash already gives great color accuracy, and the photo was also taken with the microtextured backdrop of the WhiteBox™.
If you had fun with this tutorial, check out some other product pictures made possible with WhiteBox™! These pictures have only had their white points adjusted, with no other enhancements done.