Product Photography the Easy Way


I have been doing some work for a business in Bangkok that sells healthy drinks based on wheatgrass. The owner asked me to take photographs of various drinks and also packages the company uses. They’ll be used in brochures and trade shows.

Product photography isn’t my forte and I don’t have a studio or professional lighting equipment. I made the simplest setup possible:

  • A table with a white matt art board as a base.
  • Another piece of art board on a chair behind the table to act as a backdrop.
  • My Canon EOS-30D on my 1980s (yes) Velbon tripod.
  • My Canon 580EX flash unit.
  • A cable release.

That’s it!

We shot outside under some trees outside my friend’s office. The diffused sunlight meant that I hardly needed the flash at all. I used it as a fill to try to eliminate shadows. I oriented the table and backdrop to minimize the shadows cast by the sun.

The only environmental challenge was that condensation formed on the cold glasses and I needed to keep wiping them so as not to spoil the image.

I used a Kodak Grey Card to set the manual white balance on the camera. I shot in Raw (CR2) so I could change it in post processing : but I think it is best to get the in-camera picture as good as possible.

I used the Adobe RGB colour profile and the “Neutral” Canon Picture Style. In a way that is a waste of time as I use Lightroom and Photoshop for post-processing. Neither understand Canon’s picture styles. I wanted to keep my options open and maybe later do some experiments with Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP) which of course does understand Picture Styles and lets you mix your own.

I set the camera to 100ASA for highest quality and stopped the lens down to F8 to get the maximum depth of field. My friend didn’t want any artistic effects – just the clearest and most flattering possible view of the product.

One benefit of product photography like this is that I got to drink the product when I finished a set of pictures. Delicious and very healthy!

I took several pictures of each drink with and without flash. The Canon ETTL flash produced just enough illumination to expose everything perfectly.

My ancient tripod is a bit stiff in its legs (like its owner) and it was a bit of a pain to keep moving it to photograph the drinks from different angles. I eventually settled on a view above the drinks which was quite pleasing.

I bought the images home on the camera’s CF card and imported them to Lightroom – being sure to make a backup before clearing the card. I selected to convert the CR2 files to DNG which of course lost all the settings for the Picture Styles. Lightroom also siubstitutes its own working profile: Pro Photo PGB. But I still had the CR2 files if I could not get the results I wanted in Lightroom.

I made a pass through the pictures (notice how I am trying to avoid my pet hate terms: image and workflow :-)) and Picked (keyboard shortcut P) the images I wanted to process further in Photoshop. I didn’t do any processing in Lightroom in this case. I am not confident enough with Lightroom’s Develop tools yet and I knew there were some things I had to do in Photoshop, so it made sense to do everything there.

I edited each image in Photoshop – invoking it from Lightroom (Ctrl+E). My first task was to separate the image of the drink from the white(ish) background. I should have used the Pen tool and made a Path but I am not good with that tool and I found that the Magnetic Lasso with some touch up of the selection in Quick Mask Mode was quite acceptable.

Once I had a good selection of the drink I made a new layer of it using New Layer by Cut. I then cleared the Background to white and imaginatively named the new layer Drink.

To check my selection I made a temporary fill layer above the background in 50% Grey. That’s a good way to see if the selection had any weirdness I had missed.

I adjusted the colour balance of the drink layer using a Levels Adjustment Layer. My new Compaq laptop has a good colour calibrated monitor so I was able to do it by eye. Leaving it as an adjustment layer meant that a printer could adjust the colours herself non-destructively.

Occasionally there were some air bubbles in the transparent logo label on the cup. I removed them very easily using the Patch tool in Photoshop. When the Patch tool works it is spectacular – like magic.

Photoshop Processing Drink Picture

I saved the Photoshop PSD file and Lightroom automatically recognized it and put it into a stack with the original.

I repeated this for the half dozen drinks and product packages my friend needed.

For delivery to the client I made a CD with three directories:

  • JPG – exported jpeg images of each drink. These were for my friend to check. I made them a small size 1800 x 1200, 300dpi.
  • PSD – the Photoshop files at full size and resolution. These were for the printer to perform her magic that I don’t fully understand: CMYK separations, converting to printer profiles, maybe some output sharpening. Note I did not apply any sharpening to the pictures in my post-processing.
  • DNG – all the Adobe Digital Negatives, including the pictures I did not use. That was insurance in case I am incapacitated and someone else needs to process the pictures again.

I burned a CD for the customer and printed a label on it using my Canon Pixma MP610 printer. That makes things look a lot more professional.



2 Responses to “Product Photography the Easy Way”

  1. GB-in-TH Says:

    See for how my pictures were used.

  2. Wheatgrass with Collagen « Bkkphotographer's Blog Says:

    […] As before I used the Canon EOS-30D outside on a tripod with a single flash to provide some fill light. We used a simple white web board as a backdrop. […]

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