I wanted to get some photos of a small product; the sort of shots you get with a totally white background around it. Luckily Shareef has a flashy camera, so a homebrew attempt was on the cards!
Although I know you can basically “fix” pretty much anything in photoshop, i’m not convinced by it. I think bad attempts to mask out a background look worse that if it was just presented on a dirty kitchen table. I think you basically have to *really* know what you are doing to pull it off properly, and to be honest, most of us don’t. Stick to simple limited global adjustments, like normalisation and croping!
It is very similar to my brief experience in music recording; don’t think you can fix the sound in the mix. If you want a good sounding snare drum, spend time fiddling with the tuning, tension and mic position/type. If you record it crap, it’ll sound crap. Doesn’t matter how much EQ and reverb you chuck at it. The trap that is easy to fall in to is overdoing it by focusing on the aspect you are tweaking; a louder stereo usually “sounds” better in a snap comparison.
So the challenge was to get it right at the point of taking the photo, to leave as little post-processing as possible.
The first attempts centered around a white piece of card with as many lights as we had around. We quickly found that pointing lights cast harsh shadows, which were pretty much impossible to “fill” with light from the other side. Conclusion 1; no direct lighting.
We moved to firing lights anywhere but at the point we wanted, mostly firing the lights at the ceiling. This had better results, but still fairly dark and with some shadows, meaning the quality was not that great…
After trying to fix the results in photoshop and failing (metal parts becoming white etc), it became clear we had to try harder to get it right before hitting photoshop.
Some googling convinced us we needed something a little more adventurous, so a box, white tablecloth and the white card was quickly combined to make a light box. Slightly more challenging to get the uplighters firing in the right direction (they are about 2 meters tall, so lying down required openning the patio doors to fit!). Firing all the lights in to the box gave immediately much better results.
We were still getting some shadows, and reflections on the floor off some metal parts so the results weren’t perfect. The final inspiration came when realising that lifting it a few cm off the floor was enough to disperse all shadows. So a little bit of magic (pencil/bluetack) and the solution was complete…
The photos we got out of this were great, and just needed some normalisation (or whatever it is called in image-speak; basically shift where is full white/saturation) to make the whites whiter than white!
The only problem was we were croping a lot of the background of the final images, so weren’t ending up with the full resolution potential. So time to find a macro lens to borrow…