Tag Archives: Photography

Photo Editing for Product Photography Using Elements 10

16 Oct

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):

Check Focus

Open Elements 10 to the Edit function and open your photograph:

Open in Elements

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:

Prepare to Fix Alignment

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:

Alignment Corrected

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.

Prepare to Crop

Now my photo is square and my product is nicely centered in the frame:

Cropped

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.

Prepare to Resize

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”.

Resizing Window

The photo has been resized!

Resized

But it’s too small to continue working; let’s make it bigger!  Click on the “Zoom Tool” and then click “Fill Screen”.

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:

Dirt TopDirt Bottom

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!

Dirt Top Gone Dirt Bottom Gone

Viola!  Let’s change to “Fit Screen” using the “Zoom Tool” so we can see the whole picture.

Fit Screen

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”.

Prepare to Fix Contrast

The change is subtle but powerful, and will become more so as we continue editing:

Contrast Fixed

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:

Prepare to Fix Color

The default for the Color Intensity is mid-range; let’s not be so drastic!

Mid-Range Color

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”::

Low-Range Color

Everything is a little warmer and more natural looking.

Color Corrected

Now let’s make this baby POP!  Change from “Full” to “Guided” and scroll down to and click “Lomo Camera Effect”:

Prepare to Apply Vignette

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”:

Apply Vignette

Here I have hit “Apply Vignette” three times.  The difference is fabulous, no?

Vignette Applied 3 Times

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”:

Prepare to Save

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”:

JPG Extension

An options window will now open.  I go for the full monty so I can get the best quality photo:

JPG Options

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!):

Close

And that is how this:

Original Image

Is turned into this:

Final Image

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!editorsign

The Purple Bane

19 May

Digital camera sensors have difficulty seeing, rendering and processing purple, rendering the color purple as a pure blue instead.  Most shades of purple actually are a mixture of red, blue and violet, and violet is right at the edge – or well outside – of the color gamut that the sensor can capture, and outside what your display can show or your printer print.  For those colors you will never be able to do more than just make an approximation.

You could take your photographs in the raw format, but you’ll need a raw converter.  A raw image file contains minimally processed data from the image sensor of either a digital camera, image scanner, or motion picture film scanner. Raw files are named so because they are not yet processed and are not ready to be printed or edited with a bitmap graphics editor.  The image must first be processed by a raw converter into a wide-gamut internal colorspace where precise adjustments can be made before conversion to a “positive” file format, such as JPEG, for storage, printing, or further manipulation, which often encodes the image in a device-dependent colorspace. There are dozens if not hundreds of raw formats in use by different models of digital equipment (like cameras or film scanners).

This is why the color purple is the bane of every amateur photographer, among whom I count myself.

My solution is post-editing my photos using Adobe Elements 10.

After much trial and error, I came up with the following steps, which can almost always get the color purple/violet set to rights:

Enhance → Adjust Lighting → set Lighten Shadows to 0 → set Darken Highlights to 50 (if you need to remove glare)

then

Enhance → Adjust Color → Adjust Hue/Saturation →change “Master” to “Blues” → set Hue to 25 → set Lightness to -50

Here are before and after photographs to which I applied these steps today:

Before

Before

After

After

The “after” is a very good approximation of the bejeweled dragonfly wing, but not perfect.  The micro-beads are a bit pinker than shown here, otherwise the colors (on my laptop) look great and are drastically better than the “before” in a few simple steps.

Now you, too, can banish the purple bane!

purplesign

Photography Studio

7 May

When I began to try to master the intricacies of photographing my jewelry, I started with this, a cardboard box and a set of regular bulbs in clip-on aluminum light shades:

Loving That Light Box of Mine

Then the roof leaked and destroyed my homemade box, so I broke down and bought this, the “Square Perfect SP500 Platinum Photo Studio In A Box”:

71rfYOgm3PL._SX342_

This set-up was in my library/spare room, and I went through many backgrounds, including a whole fairy-forest-in-a-box!

5988027205_3918cacc1f_o

I was still having problems with color and lighting, so I left the expensive lightbox rig in the garage after the house flooded and purchased a Canon EOS Rebel T3 Red EF-S 18-55mm IS II:

Rebel T3

On the advice of a friend who was a professional photographer at one point in his life I bought a collapsible reflector disk, and now this is my photography studio:

IMG_3959 copy

Looks a lot like a livingroom, heh?  Well, it is and it’s mine, sprinkled with bits of the yard tracked in by my pups.  To the left is a tall set of double doors that face west.  These doors let in a considerable amount of ambient light from morning until early afternoon, and have turned out to be a perfect light source.  To set up, I turn the ottoman on the left 90° and place one of the leather pillows on it:

IMG_3962

Then I unroll and lay a piece of chocolate suede over both (the leather of the ottoman is too shiny; I wanted matte):

IMG_3965

I push the other ottoman over against the first one, and stick the reflector in the gap:

IMG_3966

Add my handmade necklace display (made of the same suede) and I’m ready to set up my piece of jewelry.

IMG_3971

And here is my latest creation, waiting for me to sit down on the floor, or kneel as required, ready to shoot!

IMG_3978

Post-editing, this is one of the shots I uploaded to my boutique:

Raspberry Limeade Chain NecklaceB

Ta da!  No special lights, no special lightbox, no special room, and very little to tuck away out of sight when I’m done.

Simpler, in this case, really is better.  To read about my breakthrough “aha moment” in photography, start here.CameraFaerieSign

Kirsty’s Wonderland

15 Jan

A FAETeam feep turned me on to the incredible photography of Kirsty Mitchell.  As fascinating as her images are, her behind-the-scenes peeks into how it all came together are just as fascinating (click the photograph title to read the post for that shoot).

Welcome to Wonderland!

In the Beginning…


Source: flickr.com via Kat on Pinterest

Once Upon a Time…


Source: flickr.com via Kat on Pinterest

The Storyteller…


Source: flickr.com via Kat on Pinterest

The White Witch…


Source: flickr.com via Kat on Pinterest

The Secret Garden…


Source: flickr.com via Kat on Pinterest

An Ocean of Tales, Till the Shores of Home…


Source: flickr.com via Kat on Pinterest

The Distant Pull of Remembrance…


Source: flickr.com via Kat on Pinterest

The Briar Rose…


Source: flickr.com via Kat on Pinterest

The White Queen…


Source: flickr.com via Kat on Pinterest

The Queen’s Centurion…


Source: flickr.com via Kat on Pinterest

The Journey Home…


Source: flickr.com via Kat on Pinterest

A Photographic History Tells All

30 Oct

We who sell to the public on-line are constantly working on many aspects of our virtual shops to be visible to the greatest number of people possible, and we must constantly re-evaluate any strategies that we use to gauge their effectiveness.  When you sell on-line, your most important tool is the photographs of your items.

Taking great photographs, as I have learned the hard way, is not simple.  You have to consider staging, lighting, which features to highlight, and how to fix bogus colors in photography editing software.

The following photograph consists of screen shots of my Sold! Set on Flickr.  It provides a visual history of my photographic learning curve and lets me draw some conclusions about my photographic choices and their affect on sales.

Images below the green line were taken over a period of 41 months and an average of 3½ sales per month of photography.  As you can see, I was mostly trying to photograph against a white background, but was having difficulty with the white balance and getting true colors.  I experimented with scrapbook paper backgrounds, different objects around the house (a bunch of crystal grapes, book covers, a leather box, an iron cross, etc.), and even built a light tent and later bought a whole light box set up.  As you can see, there is no consistency in these photographs, and consistency is crucial to building a brand.  Simplified, this means when buyers see a photograph of one of my items, they easily recognize it as my work and not the work of a different artist.  Something is needed to give this cohesion.

Above the green line was my attempt to create a cohesive brand using a fairy forest background, and it failed miserably.  For the 8 months that I struggled with this set up, sales per month of photography dropped to 1.6, a problem I might have recognized earlier if I had compared a few months of sales from the “green” period to the earlier period.

As I have blogged before, I decided to undertake a complete overhaul of my boutique, starting with the photographs.  These photographs are above the grey line in the historical record above.  These images were all taken in a one month period against a dark background and document an increase in sales of 14 items per month of photography. The dark background provides the consistency and cohesion I previously missed, and the new images ZING!

The moral of this post?

While you must look at sales, revenue, and traffic as guidelines to the success of changes that you make to your shop, these are not the only indicators that can, and should, be used.  Although it seemed to me before that sales were slow, this photographic history, with the two evaluations of the aforementioned factors, provides ample evidence it is untrue.

How encouraging!  I think it’s time for a happy dance…

More Befores with Better Afters

9 Sep

I have only two more items to re-shoot and the light is bad today, very overcast and so cloudy the natural light is too dark.  In the meantime, here are some more comparisons of what my photos looked like and how they look now.

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My Etsy shop re-hab is nearly completed!!!  Woot!

 

Before and After

2 Sep

Each time I update the photographs for my Etsy shop, The Dream Faire (and it has to be done to keep product photos fresh and appealing), I always think I’ve finally figured out this photography thing.

I’ve only read just about everywhere that you should keep jewelry photograph backgrounds neutral, and for my first attempts in 2009 I used a sheet of gray poster board — and my pictures were horrible.  Then I started using scrapbook background pages and thought they looked pretty fine — until I came across items whose color I just could not capture.  Then I thought a woodsy background would best compliment my creations and re-photographed my whole shop.

In my latest reading I discovered that, when using a single color background, it should not be shiny or reflective (like that old gray poster board).  I had an “ah ha!” moment and dragged out my suede and leather collection (for all those books and bags I’m going to make one day). A rich dark chocolate piece (that photographs as dark gray) caught my eye and I tried it out with a few pieces using the recommended good old indirect morning light (instead of my light tent with “daylight” lamps).  That it has been overcast for most of the past week has been a stroke of luck; now I just have to get up earlier to catch the soft light.

So here are some before and after photographs from the past week:

“Black Night” Before and After

“Vines End” Before and After

“Love Those Peacock Peepers” Before and After

“Peacock Queen’s Eye” Before and After

“Celtic Water” Before and After

“Take the Red Eye” Before and After

“Lucky Peacock Eye” Before and After

“Believe in Twilight” Before and After

It’s pretty clear to me that the “before” photos were extremely overexposed; trying to look at them now makes me feel like I’m looking in to the sun (ouch!). The “after” photos, while not perfect (the short depth of field is making focusing the pieces exactly as I like a tad difficult), are clearly much more homogenous and (I think) sophisticated; plus, the colors just !POP! since they don’t have to compete with other colors.

It’s a heck of a lot of work, but I think it is so worth it.

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