Last week we shared some tips on how to affordably photograph your products. Now it’s time to add the finishing touches.
Product photography doesn’t end with a click of your camera. It’s rare that the image right out of the camera is flawless. In this post we will help prepare you with the terminology and programs necessary to editing product photography.
You do not need to be computer-savvy or an editing expert to polish your images. Most professional photographers prefer to use expensive programs like Photoshop, but there are many free, simple options out there today that are much easier to obtain. If you are familiar with Photoshop and prefer Adobe’s products there is a cheaper alternative called Photoshop Elements that can be purchased on amazon.com starting at $60.
Here are a few free editing programs to get you started:
Don’t be nervous, almost every program uses similar vocabulary and editing tools making it easier to jump between programs. There is also a UNDO tool that can bring you back several steps if you are unhappy with the results. You will only need to learn a few primary tools to edit your photographs and these include: cropping, color balance, and level adjustment.
Before we jump into the necessary tools there are a couple of things you should know.
-Make sure the photos you’re using are in focus. Editing cannot fix a blurry, shaky, or poorly lit photo and it is not meant to replace good lighting or technique. For tips on photographing your work please visit our last post.
-It’s OK to experiment with the tools in these programs but make sure you don’t get carried away and distract from your product. The point of photo editing is to create the most accurate representation of your product. This also means that you shouldn’t use gimmicky pre-made filters.
-Your image should have a resolution of 300 dpi (dots per inch). It is always better to start with a higher resolution and then scale down. Image size can usually be found in the top menu bar in most programs and will allow you to check and change the dpi of your image. Changing the size can also be accomplished when saving your image. Remember starting bigger is always better. Once you have saved the image you can right click on the file to view the file properties. If the file is low resolution it will be a small file size.
The first step to editing your photo is to crop it. The crop tool allows you to select an area of an image and discard everything outside of that area. Cropping is important if you would like to change the composition/framing of your product. Perhaps you wanted a square instead of a rectangle, or you wanted your product positioned to the left so you have room for your company logo. Remember you can always undo a step if you have made a mistake. You can usually find the undo command under the menu tab “Edit.” There are keyboard shortcuts as well: you can press Ctrl+Z in Windows or Command+Z on a Mac.
Most modern cameras have default settings in place to correct any color balance issues. Color balance refers to the intensity of the colors that make up your image in relation to each other. Usually in digital images, your image file is a composite of red, green, and blue pixels. When you open the color balance adjuster, you will often see three sliders that you can use to manipulate each color’s presence in your image. Color balance is used to remove any odd temperature casts remaining, but can also be used to add such effects to an existing image. Most photo-editing programs also have an auto color correct button somewhere in the same panel, which will try to sense the best balance and do some of the work for you.
If you find that there are any issues with the brightness, contrast, or tonal range in your image, then you’ll want to find the “Levels” adjuster. The Levels adjuster is based on a slider that defines your white, midtone, and black range. Just like Color Balance tools tend to have an “Auto” option, Levels offers an automatic adjustment to compensate for photos that are lacking an even distribution of light and shadows.
Play around with the individual sliders, and preview the effects on your image. Barring an incredibly technical explanation, experimentation is the best way to learn Levels. Just remember that most of the lighting groundwork was laid out when you lit your product.
Once you are finished editing your image, it’s time to save or export your work. The format you save your image in will depend on how it is to be used (website, printed materials, etc.).
- JPEG files (also known as JPG) are the most common type of file, and have a small file size. They work about the same for digital and print media, but creating copies and saving new versions will eventually cause the image to degrade and look damaged.
- PNG files are a format specifically created for only digital material. All PNG files have an RGB color profile; that is, they only contain red, green, and blue pixels and are not meant for print production. If you are uploading an image to your website or an online catalogue, this is a size-efficient format.
- TIFF files are a format often used to store images without the risk of losing data over time. Because of their large size, they are primarily used for securely backing up images. When sending your photos to designers or editors TIFFs are an appropriate choice.
- PDF files are similar to TIFFs, and also have many design and storage applications. These files are an efficient way to store images or files containing both text and images, which is why so many official digital documents are stored and distributed in this format.
Here are some in-depth tutorials that will help you familiarize yourself with these programs: