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Product photography: Jewelry post-processing tips.


anttielei

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Hello everyone!


Jewelry product photography has proven out to be very hard as the products themselves reflect everything, easily become smudged and on top of that are very small. My current job involves photographing lots of small jewelry for e-commerce purposes. I have gotten a bit better on it on my own, but am still having a problem with getting everything looking clean and crispy on hot white background.


I have very little time for each piece, as they come in low volume batches but with new kind of models almost daily.


Here is a sample of a small silver pendant with stone. Only ~10mm height.


Straight out of camera:
IMG_0486.JPG

After basic post-procesing CS6:
IMG_0486_processed.1.jpg


I think my main problem is all the tiny scratches, dust and grain. If you look it with relatively small resolution like 640*640 or something like that - It's "okay" but when you enlarge it, all the imperfections get very obvious. What is best way of cleaning them in post? Using clone / healing tools takes ages to finish one small piece. Is there some sort of smart blur / filter tool which would get the job done?


Other suggestions regarding photography and post-processing of these is highly welcome and appreciated.


Setup: Canon 750D, Canon 100m f.2.8 macro, Sanoto "jewelry" photography box, tripod.


Current workflow:
1. Levels -> Quickly make the background hot white, with white selector.
2. Roughly cut the object out with some feather and add it to in own layer.
3. Create white background layer under it.
4. Adjust object with shadows / highlights tool until the look it pleases eye.
5. Remove any strange color casts from silver with replace color tool.


Thank you very much for any help and pointers you can give! (and sorry for weak English, greetings from Finland)
 
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Tom Mann

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I don't have time to compose a full response at the moment, but in short, your problem almost certainly arises because you are using such flat lighting. No bricks and mortar jewelry store would EVER have flat white walls lit uniformly. Instead, the better stores have lots of tiny, very intense lights in the ceiling so as to produce catch lights (i.e., brilliant reflections) as the gem is inspected by the customer. Of course, there is also a background level of diffuse illumination present.

You need to light your gems exactly the same way when photographing them.

When you use only the flat light inside a light box, to get an appropriate degree of sparkle, you have to increase the contrast artificially in PS. This brings out every little smudge, every striation from the polishing operation, and every other flaw. In contrast (pun intended), when you start with high contrast lighting, you don't need to artificially increase the contrast in post production, and the flaws become less visible.

I've got to run now, but there is a superb book on lighting for product photography. When I remember the title, I'll post it.

More later,

Tom M
 

Tom Mann

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I ran upstairs and looked: The title of the book is, "Lighting: Science and Magic - An introduction to Photographic Lighting"

It should be on the bookshelf of every product photographer.

HTH,

Tom M
 

anttielei

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Thanks for your comprehensive response Tom. I'll try to find a copy of that book and get into it.

In the mean time. Any quick tips on how to make the contrast higher in the lightning? Simply more light easily casts shadows or blows out highlights, essentially making them brighter than "background". Black cards can make ugly reflections. Shadows are problematic when you have to isolate the object to white background.

Would love to buy / get an easy solution to get decent results. I guess there isn't one.
 
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I agree fully with Tom Mann. The lighting is the main problem.

But here is my quick tip to get a little better result from your original file.

1.jpg
1. Select the highlight here.

2.jpg
2. Make a selection of the diamond.
Go to filter> Unsharp masking .Put in these values. Apply this filter twice. (Sorry German Photoshop version)

IMG_0486 chrisdesign.jpg
This is my result, without masking the BG, or any retouching.
 

anttielei

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Thanks for the tip with the gemstone sharpness and clarity Chris. Will definitely implement that technique to my work.

Still I don't think that the gemstone is the main troublemaker here. It's the silver or lightning of the silver for that matter. It's so dirty looking and grey. Full of minor color changes (fifty shades of grey (on 50pixel area) if you will). Smooth and diffused but still much more aggressive gradients would make it look actually shiny... instead of this dull mess of grey.

Based on Tom's post I think that the more of a high contrast lightning would be the solution - but as this is a photoshop forum was wondering if that effect is something you can mimic in photoshop (and how to).

... I mean of-course you can, simply by redrawing the whole piece, but that's not the easy no-time consuming solution i'm looking for. Hell, I don't even have time to go through the pieces with heal brush and clone tool looking for every blemish to be fixed.

But by any means if there is a setup which produces the needed lightning solution please recommend. I'm willing to buy the tools for the job.



pendant_beforefinal.jpg

Up here is something I usually end up with before upload. What do you think of the end result?

Here's the extra workflow:
1. Cut the rock out and make specific adjustments to it, adding sharpness (Chris style) + contrast.
2. For the silver part I use "Shadows and highlights" to get it more evenly coloured and more "punchy".
3. After that, still working on the "silver layer". I actually used the "Accented edges" filter to smooth out the blemishes and such - the end result came out a bit blurry on the edges, but I sharpened it back up with some harsh use of the Smart sharpen tool.
4. Naturally in full resolution it looked terribly artificial. Then I resized it to 500px - because well it actually is a very small pendant and that's still "ok" size for e-commerce purposes.

Of course something less of a "artificial and drawn" look and in higher resolution would be ideal - but to get to the "next level" it seems like a lot of more time with each piece would have to be used. Maybe not worth the extra effort if these things sell for like ~10€ for 5 pieces and then the model is a goner.(?)
 

anttielei

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I also now tried all the different light combinations which are easy to produce with my current setup. There's pros and cons to everything. Although straight from the camera options with more contrast look better, the desired white background becomes hard to achieve. Should I just leave background slightly grey instead and go with one of these.

lightning.differences.jpg
 

Tom Mann

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You are fighting an uphill battle by hanging on to your current lighting setup and trying to fix the resulting problems in PS.

You are being asked to do pro level product work, so you need a better, more versatile lighting setup. It's that simple. No professional product photographer would EVER attempt to use a lighting setup like you are currently using. It would be professional suicide. In addition, don't think for a moment that product photography is easy. Typically people just getting into this business will work as assistants to pros for a year or more before striking out on their own.

With respect to specific suggestions, for example, as in any professional studio photography, portrait or product, you absolutely MUST have separate control over the lighting of the background. Set the background to be 2 - 2.5 stops brighter than the main exposure, and the background becomes white without the danger of veiling lens flare or the need to use PS to make a selection and then artificially make the background brighter in every single image you take. In addition, should you ever want a different color background or a gradient, you can simply gel your background lights.

To bring character to the silver sections, all you need are a few small strip lights that you can position and rotate easily. These can be something as simple as goose-neck desk lights covered by a metal gobo with a single rectangular strip to let light through. Of course, be careful of the danger of overheating continuous lights. (...that is why they call them, "hot lights'", after all, LOL).

For the point sources of light, to bring sparkle and glitter to the gems, you might be able to get away with some more desk lamps covered by gobos with lots of pinholes, but you would be much better served by using some tiny Fresnel lights that actually project a reduced size version of the gobo on the object being photographed. I have even heard of photographers who use cheap student microscope illuminators for this -- others that try to get away with LED-lit fiber optic bundles from novelty stores, etc.

Since all of your products are roughly the same size, once you have the lighting set up, you will likely only have to make very small tweaks to it as you go from one item to the next. You will save yourself a huge amount of time in PS by getting a decent image in-camera.

Tom M
 

anttielei

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To clarify the situation. I'm not being asked or getting "paid" for these product images. I'm not making them for the manufacturer. I work as an e-commerce entrepreneur (single person setup) and have decided my self to photograph even the cheaper silver jewelry which comes to the main store from various suppliers without photos. Having these "unique" products gives some edge in stiff competition. The real money of-course comes from major brands which already have perfect product photos. It's something which I do when everything else is already done. So more of a hobby for entrepreneur as I've always been keen on photography, graphic design and that sort of thing. Nothing too serious of a work - but of-course something which i'm always looking forward to advance in.

I do highly appreciate all the possible tips and advice from more experienced people. I'm not expecting perfect results overnight. I'm all humble and ears. Still it sounds like you are getting angry with me only for representing what kind of results I'm currently getting and asking if there's any possibility to salvage anything usable from them.

Like I already said. I'm willing to invest in more elaborate / different lightning setup and learn more by reading the book you recommended. I just need some pointers, because I have no idea where to start. What are the excact "must have" products and accessories to buy to start seeing results. It's easy to say "get better lightning" but telling what kind of lightning / setup should I exactly get or build seems to be hard for everyone.

Maybe a clear plexiglas desk (or shooting table) to place the product, with a remote flash overexposing the "background" (in this case floor with large piece of white paper). There needs to be enough room between the "product" and the background so that the background light/flash doesn't cast light to the product itself, which can be tricky as the surface is a "mirror" of sorts. Couple of goose neck desk-lamps (from a basic furniture store) with some grills / diy modifiers could be sufficient? How does this sound?

Have you Tom yourself tried to photograph jewelry products and what have the results been like. Always nice to see other results and hear from the maker.

Still just for the heck of it. Here's the same piece from a different angle. I think it already looks a lot more commercially tempting like this.. I think :)
angle.2.jpg
 
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Tom Mann

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Oh, my apologies, if you thought I was gettting mad -- I'm simply rushed trying to get out of the house.

Also, thanks for clarifying your situation. IMHO, no matter if you are a 1 person operation or a someone trying to break into product photography, I still think you will save yourself a lot of time in the long run by investing in a better lighting setup, and as you can tell from some of my suggestions, with a bit of DIY work, it's possible to do it on the cheap using household lights and other items (eg, thick aluminum foil for the gobos, etc.). Yes, goose neck lamps + a little DIY work will almost certainly work, but make sure you do things like allow for easy rotation of the slit gobos around the center of the slit.

With respect to my own examples, most of my product work has been small technical items like integrated circuits, and onto-electronics. The challenges in photographing them partially overlaps that of photographing jewelry (eg, transparency, glints, backgrounds, undesired self shadowing, etc.). When I get home, I'll try to find some of my own images that used the techniques I recommended. Superficially, they will look very different from jewelry, but the basics are all the same.

Sorry ... Got to run...

More later,

Tom M
 

Tom Mann

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PS - for tthe background, I would suggest shooting through a piece of frosted glass / plastic. I would also suggest using hot lights instead of flashes. It becomes very tedious to make small adjustments and then have to examine a test shot after each such adjustment. With hot lights, you can see the effects of lighting tweaks just by looking through your viewfinder.
 

anttielei

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Okay, thanks for the tip again. But doesn't frosted glass like "take" all the light to itself - which would mean that if on you shoot - say a mirror ball (or silver ball) the object itself would mirror the "frosted glass" below it and essentially over-expose or become the same colour as the frosted glass below it. Clear glass would let the light through thus not creating this problem. (?)

On the other hand frosted glass would diffuse the possible background light leaks and make some things easier.. possibly. Phew, these things are complicated. Especially when you're basically shooting round three-dimensional mirrors and trying to make them look good.

And for the objects "hot lights" surely are much more comfortable to work with. With the flash I was thinking of over-exposing the background. Here's something I thought would make a pretty cool shooting table for small things like these. What do you think?

shootingtable_hmm.jpg
 

Tom Mann

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Sorry, but once again my reply has to be shorter than I would like because I'm just about to leave on a paying assignment, LOL. Also, the most bizarre thing happened at home last night: A fire extinguisher that we keep in the upstairs linen closet exploded and deposited a huge amount of talcum-like powder over everything upstairs, and I've been running around dealing with the situation ... Arghhh!

On to your questions ...

I like your layout, but have some suggestions:

a) Add two more goose neck lamps - 2 are not enough.

b) I presume that the window glass or plexiglass that is directly under the jewelry (i.e.,, the green material in your sketch) is transparent, but the lowest layer in your drawing is just some white seamless paper or something like that, right?

c) You show the transparent layer as curved like a cyclorama. From what you have said thusfar, I see no reason it can't be flat plexi or window glass which would be much less expensive and simplify problems with reflections of the lights from that layer.

d) Don't mix hot lights with strobes. Doing so will add needless complexity w.r.t. color matching and intensity adjustments. Instead, replace the single strobe background light with 2 or 3 more gooseneck lamps. You will almost certainly need at least 2 or 3 lights to illuminate the background uniformly.

e) Get yourself a right angle finder or shoot in tethered mode. You'll rapidly tire of bending over to tweak each shot, especially if you have a lot of pieces to do.

f) Figure out how you are going to make your pinhole gobos. If you are good with a drill and have some pieces of thin stock Aluminum, this should be no problem. Also, plan on having some shaded vents on the top of your gooseneck lamp reflectors to let the heat escape without introducing light leaks and raising the minimum ambient light level.

g) With weak hot lights like gooseneck lamps, and very high f-numbers to give you adequate depth of field, plan on long exposures ... Possibly as much as several seconds. This means having a tripod that can point downwards, and the ability to bring down the ambient room light level to ABSOLUTE DARKNESS in cases where you need it.

h) Don't worry about diffraction blurring at very high f-numbers for web-sized / catalog final viewing the effect will be negligible.

i) If you have a small sensor camera, use it instead of a full-frame DSLR. The enhanced depth of field of crop-sensor cameras is your friend. Obviously, ALWAYS set it on the lowest ISO setting to reduce noise, even if it means a 30 second exposure.

Gotta run,

Tom

PS - I just re-read your post. I have no idea what you are talking about when you mentioned "taking all the light to itself". If u want to expand on that question, we can.
 

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