Colordance Design

Photographing Your Artistry For Online Shopping Carts

Since the advent of photography over 180 years ago, photographic image making has served both practical and aesthetic purposes. With the popularity of online shopping, artists and craftspeople have an additional venue to market their artistic creations. Photographing your work in optimal studio conditions highlights your careful craftsmanship, which in turn increases sales. However, contracting with a studio that specializes in product photography may be beyond the reach of many small businesses. Nevertheless, with minimal investment in equipment and time, you can take reasonably good product shots yourself.

High Key Lighting on White Glass

Four Seasons – High Key Lighting on White Glass

High Key Lighting on White Glass

One effective photography technique involves high key lighting on white Plexiglas to reveal an object and its captivating reflection. This is a popular solution to photograph jewelry, ornaments, china, artwork, and various glass objects. High key refers to a brightly lit white background that is achieved with several diffusion panels and white Plexiglas.

Bead necklace suspended over white glass

Bead necklace suspended over white glass

It is possible to create this studio setup without a lot of expense if you have an SLR camera set on manual mode with a tripod. A light meter will be helpful to ensure your background is sufficiently bright as compared to the product. Your studio setup is complete with a tabletop, sheet of white Plexiglas, white towel or board to lay underneath the Plexiglas, at least two white diffusion panels, and four full spectrum utility lights. A small amount of post production work in a photo editor (e.g. Photoshop Elements or Photoshop) will complete your finished image.

In this technique, the lighting is placed to insure that the white background is roughly 4 times (2 f-stops) brighter than the object to be photographed.  This “washes out” the background providing the appearance of a properly exposed product on a white background.  Additionally, the Plexiglas base provides an effective reflection.

Positioning Objects on White Glass

Jewelry can be suspended from a pole with fish line over the white glass so it barely touches the surface of the glass, midway between the background and the camera.  Other objects can be positioned on top of the glass. If the object is small, moving the camera closer and composing the image so it is in the center and fills the camera frame will help.  Some objects may require several exposures to capture the texture, contour, shape, and spectacular highlights. Merging these shots later in Photoshop is easy if you have positioned your camera on a tripod, maintaining the same distance from the object for each exposure.

Studio Setup

To create the studio set you will need the following:

  • Tabletop (two saw horses and a flat board for a top will work fine.)
  • A sheet of clear Plexiglas available at most large hardware stores.  The size of the Plexiglas depends on the size of the product you are photographing.
  • A white towel or cloth (e.g. a white sheet) to place between Plexiglas and table top to ensure a bright reflection in the glass.
  • Two or three white diffusion screens (One or two for the back of the set and one for the front light. These can be purchased at a camera store or, if you are handy, can be made from white nylon and PVC pipe. Instructions to make these are easy to find on the internet. )
  • Four compact fluorescent or LED full spectrum utility lights (three to light the back diffusion screen and one to light the object directly 45 degrees to the left of the camera).
  • Camera on tripod, usually directly in front or 45 degrees to object, approximately 3 to 4 feet from the object (closer if object is small.)
  • Light meter to ensure the background is two f-stops brighter than the main light near the camera. (See lighting diagram). Alternatively, you can use the light meter in your camera by noting the meter reading of the camera when it is zoomed onto the background and making sure this reading is 2 f-stops brighter than when you zoom in on the product itself.  You will likely need to adjust the lighting, moving lights forward or back, to achieve the desired exposure ratio.
  • Set your camera to manual exposure so that the product is perfectly exposed.  Your camera light meter will be fooled by the white background and will naturally underexpose the product. You want the white background to be overexposed making the white a very flat uniform white.

Different product shots will require some adjustments so take a number of images with different exposure settings.

Lighting Diagram

High Key Lighting Diagram on White Glass

An Alternative Setup

Alternatively, if you don’t want a shadow effect you can also drape a white cloth (e.g. a sheet) from the top of the back diffusion screen down across the table top.  By draping the cloth, you avoid showing the horizontal line that normally occurs where the back meets the top of the table.

Post Production in Photoshop

Post production work of your image in Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements) involves several simple steps once your image is opened and saved as a .psd document. Remember to float the background layer of the .psd file by double clicking on the locked background layer and selecting “OK” in the New Layer dialog box which appears on your screen.

Stained Glass Window Handcrafted by A Touch of Glass

Stained Glass Window handcrafted by Amy Potvin, A Touch of Glass,

Copy this layer by selecting Layer | Copy This Layer. It is important to preserve your original image if you need to start over. Now you are ready to begin your work.

  1. Fine tune the white background with the Magic Wand tool by selecting the Magic Wand Tool in the toolbar. Set the tolerance to low (15 to 25%).  Click on the background surrounding your object with the Magic Wand.  You can increase the selection by holding down the shift key while you click on the background.  Make sure the marching ants do not go into the shadow underneath the object in the reflection.
  2. Fill your selection with white by going to Edit | Fill with white. Your background should be bright white except for the grey shadow and reflection underneath the object.
  3. Select a medium size paintbrush in the toolbar. Set the brush color to white and  the opacity to 60 to 85%.
  4. Hold down the Shift key and paint with the brush straight across the reflection underneath the object, so approximately ¾ of the reflection is eliminated.
  5. Save your .psd file with the layers intact. This file can be cropped as needed. To create a jpg of your image go to File | Save As and choose jpg as your file format.

The Key Points!

There are many variations that can be used but there are a few key points to remember.

  1. For this type of product shot, you want the background of the item to be completely white with no texture showing.  We do this by adjusting the lighting to “light up” the background (plexiglas, diffusion screen or white sheet)  so that this background is over exposed as compared to the item.  This clearly isolates the item from the background making it easy to turn the white into a transparency in photoshop allowing the item to be displayed on any color background that the website may use.  It also makes it easier to combine items in photoshop.
  2. You will need the camera on manual so that you expose for the item, not the background. It is also useful then to use a tripod as it makes it easy to shoot many similar items.
  3. Make sure the item is completely captured in the frame (don’t cutoff any part of the item) and remove any labels or price tags that may appear.
  4. If you don’t have full spectrum lights, you can always use a gray card with a custom white balance adjustment for your camera.  Its important to get the item colors as accurate as possible.

Voila! There you have it – enticing photography of your artistic endeavors for your online shopping cart.


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