Nicole Hanna, whose designs and techniques I greatly admire, recently wrote an article for her jewelry website entitled “Photo Editing (For Product Photography)“. While I understood the tools she recommended using in the editing program, Photoscape, I could not quite figure out how she got from point A to point B because she didn’t give information or screenshots of her manipulation of the tools. Additionally, it was clear from the comments that everyone was “afraid” of Photoshop.
So I am here to say that the step-child of Photoshop, Adobe’s Elements 10 editing software, is definitely not scary, and I’ll show you exactly how I use it to edit photos for my on-line boutique.
I think Nicole’s introduction is important for both of our methods, which I have repeated here in part:
“This article will not discuss the intricacies of operating a camera, or capturing an image.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about product photography, as concerns the self-employed, internet-based business owner, is that the image is perfect, or at the very least acceptable, in camera every single time. However, what is often misunderstood is that the image, not the product, is the backbone behind the successful or failing internet business. Because a customer cannot touch, taste or smell the product before purchasing, the image is its own salesperson, and as much care should be taken towards producing a powerful image as in producing a powerful product. Though some consideration needs to be given towards the photographic equipment used, the goal of producing a great image doesn’t stop with ones camera, setting or props. Unless every condition is ideal, most images will need to be processed through editing software.”
I use a Canon EOS Rebel T3 camera with an EFS 18-55mm lens. I shoot in natural light from a west-facing window in my work room and use a large piece of charcoal grey faux suede for my background and prop coverings. Most days I can cheat and use the “Creative Auto” function with the “Darker” setting, Background Blur one point to the left , and no flash. Using natural light, however, restricts my photography to the morning hours.
Now for a step-by-step tutorial of my method using Elements 10!
The first thing I do is look through each shot and discard any that are not in focus. To do this, I open the file location where my photographs are stored, and then enlarge each shot to 100%. If your photograph is not in focus, no amount of editing software will fix it. I use the Picassa Photo Viewer, which allows me to double-click the first photo and then zoom it out to 100% using the 1:1 ratio button. This photo is nicely focused and will be used throughout the rest of this tutorial (to view any of the following photographs at their full size, right click on the image and choose “View Image”; you’ll need to use your browser’s back arrow to return to the post):
Open Elements 10 to the Edit function and open your photograph:
Looking a little lopsided there, eh? Let’s correct that with the Straighten Tool. Click on the tool and then hold down the mouse button to start the beginning of a line and continue to hold down the button while you drag your mouse across the photo to create a line establishing the new orientation of the photo:
When you release the mouse button, the photograph will automatically straighten. Areas of the photograph that were outside the frame of the picture are filled in with black:
Next, I want my resulting photograph to be square and to contain only the parts of the photograph needed to display my product. I use the Crop Tool to do this. When the tool is selected, options appear below the menu at the top of the screen; the Aspect Ratio should be “5 x 5 in” so your Crop is square, and the Overlay should be set to “Rule of Thirds”.
Click and hold down the mouse button to draw a square around the part of the photo you want to keep. When you release the button, you can adjust the outline using the drag handles to expand the box, contract the box, and even rotate if your photo needs a bit more straightening. You can also click on the very center of the box and move the whole box around. The dotted lines that divide the image into nine sections (the “Rule of Thirds” overlay) are helpful for precision placement of your product within the frame. When you are happy with the placement, click the green check-sign; if you want to start over, click the red null sign.
Now my photo is square and my product is nicely centered in the frame:
My photo is still overly large (since I shoot using 4272 x 2848) and I want to both keep the photo large enough so customers can view the details, but small enough that it doesn’t take an eternity to upload or display. This means the photo needs to be re-sized. I like to use Ctrl-Alt-I to open the Image or you can click on Image -> Resize -> Image Resize to open the Image Size window.
I chose to make my photos 800 x 800, most on-line venues recommend between 500 and 1000 square. The width is already highlighted for you when you open this window, so simply type in the size you want. As long as “Constrain Proportions” is clicked, the length automatically fills itself in. Click “OK”.
The photo has been resized!
But it’s too small to continue working; let’s make it bigger! Click on the “Zoom Tool” and then click “Fill Screen”.
Ah, that’s better! Now is a good time to inspect your image to see if there is any “dirt” (i.e., lint, hairs, scuffs) on your prop or background. I can see some distracting white specks that detract from my product:
Elements 10 has a nifty tool to make these blend into the surrounding area called the “Spot Healing Brush Tool”. Click on the tool, use the “[” key to make the circle smaller and the “]” to make it bigger, center the circle over the blemish and just click!
Viola! Let’s change to “Fit Screen” using the “Zoom Tool” so we can see the whole picture.
As Nicole noted in her article, contrast is probably your best friend at this point, and Elements 10 has an auto-contrast function that’s pretty good. So let’s use it. Simply click on “Enhance” and then “Auto Contrast”.
The change is subtle but powerful, and will become more so as we continue editing:
When working with a grey background, your photos are often slightly tinted into the blue range. Elements 10 has an easy was to fix that, so let’s click on Enhance -> Adjust Color -> Color Variations:
The default for the Color Intensity is mid-range; let’s not be so drastic!
Move the slider towards the left, making the changes incrementally smaller (one you change this, it will stay at the new intensity until you close the program). This lets us make more subtle changes. Leaving the area of the image to adjust at the default of “Midtones”, let’s click once on the “Decrease Blue” option, then click “OK”::
Everything is a little warmer and more natural looking.
Now let’s make this baby POP! Change from “Full” to “Guided” and scroll down to and click “Lomo Camera Effect”:
This effect lets us apply graduated shading around the edges of the photograph, drawing the light and the attention to the center of the photo, and making your product really stand out! Just click on the second option, “Apply Vignette”:
Here I have hit “Apply Vignette” three times. The difference is fabulous, no?
Now let’s save our photo so we can move on to the next one. Switch back to “Full” and click “File” and “Save As”:
Oh, no! Elements 10 wants to save the file in the Photoshop format. That won’t work; we need the photo to be in a format like JPG. Click on the format arrow and change the format to JPEG, and click “Save”:
An options window will now open. I go for the full monty so I can get the best quality photo:
To clear the workspace, click on the “X” button and choose not to save again (because it will try to save it again in the Photoshop format and we’ve just been there, done that!):
And that is how this:
Is turned into this:
It takes me about 3 minutes from start to finish. Once you get used to the controls and the sequences, you’ll be speeding along too!