If you remember a few months ago I wrote a short tutorial called One Light Product Photography which described the setup I generally use when photographing small products such as firearms. After publishing that post in June I received a lot of email asking for a more detailed explanation of how I performed my post-capture “magic” to make these products look so clean and sharp. And while none of these techniques are magic, I thought I’d share a bit more detail about the tools I use in my digital darkroom.
Most small products are photographed up close using a medium zoom lens or with a macro lens. Making a product look “clean” at this resolution means eliminating all dust, dirt and microscopic debris from the product before your shoot, during your shoot and after your shoot. On the set, this means using a microfiber cloth and compressed air.
In the digital darkroom this means using the new Content Aware Spot Healing Brush in Photoshop CS5 just like you do to retouch a portrait. In fact, all of your portrait retouching techniques can be applied to the post-capture processing of product images including dodging, burning, cloning and blurring. But the most widely used tool today is the incredibly powerful content aware healing brush.
Take this image below for example. After processing normally in Lightroom 3 there was still a lot of dust, dirt and debris clinging to this all black firearm. Click on the “After” photo below to see a larger version where you can see in detail just how well the content aware spot healing brush really works in this situation.
Before “Cleaning” in CS5
Kimber Super Carry Pro Series 1911 Pistol – Sugar Land, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on manual using an EF 24-105m f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. Lighting was provided by natural light through a 1-stop diffuser and with a single 580EX II with a soft-box for fill and highlight. Post capture processing was done n Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Adobe Photoshop CS5.
Click on the image above for a larger version.
Post Capture Processing
- My first step is to choose an image that is tack sharp and well exposed and to set the proper White Balance for the overall scene. A gray card is the best tool use for this.
- My next step is to increase the images contrast using Lightroom’s Tone Curve settings and by adding significant sharpness using the Detail settings. The goal is to add definition to the handgun’s lines and highlights without creating digital noise in the background.
- My next step is to export the image to Adobe Photoshop CS5 and to use the Content Aware Spot Healing Brush to clean up the surfaces of the objects, removing any white specks of dust, dirt or other debris.
- The final step is to clone the background layer and sharpen it using the High-Pass Filter settings and then blend the layer into the background by selecting the Overlay mode. This adds an “edgy” quality to the images and brings out much of the texture and details in the firearm.
Every product shot requires significant post capture processing and photographing firearms is no exception. Luckily, between Adobe Lightroom 3’s develop module and Photoshop CS5’s content-aware retouching tools, this doesn’t have to take hours and hours.