1. The Forum Rules have undergone some minor changes and updates.  Please take the time to read them; it will only take a couple of minutes of your time. By doing so, you lessen the chance of incurring the wrath of the moderation team or making yourself look foolish to other members.

    90% of users posting adverts in the Sales forums need to be reminded to read the rules as their posts are wrong.  This is unnecessarily time-consuming and will no longer happen - if your advert doesn't follow the Sales Rules it will be deleted and you'll have to start all over again.

    To close this box once you've read it (and the Rules), click on the X in the top right-hand corner.

    Thank you.

    AGF Staff



    Dismiss Notice
  2. A reminder of one of the Forum Rules:

    'Behaviour

    Do not make inappropriate or offensive posts - including threats, harassment, swearing, prejudice, defamation, deliberate insults or name-calling, other negative remarks about this forum, its moderators and administrators or your fellow members. Even if this is just your own personal opinion, RESPECT YOUR FELLOW MEMBERS.'

    There have been changes made to our censoring software in an attempt to help with this growing problem.

    Click the X in the top-right-hand corner to dismiss this notice.
    Dismiss Notice
  3. Dear members,

    Our membership (like our country) consists of people from all walks of life; different in far more ways than can be listed here and each with a different view based on their experience of life - regardless of their colour, religion or cultural heritage. Every single person in the UK has been born of mixed race – we are a multi-coloured and multi-cultural country.

    As many of you are aware there are a handful of individuals amongst this membership that persist in making provocative, inflammatory, racist and otherwise offensive comments. This has been happening across the forum to a certain degree but is most especially prevalent in the Adult section.

    The moderation team has tried to stay on top of this, however unfortunately because of the ‘offensive’ nature of much of its content we don’t monitor the Adult section quite as much as perhaps we should. As a result much of this behaviour has gone unnoticed unless it has been reported to us. While the team always intended to take a "light touch" approach to the Adult section it would seem that some people aren’t quite adult enough to be left unmonitored after all.

    This behaviour is, and always has been against Forum Rules as well as the specific stipulations of the Adults forum and it will no longer be tolerated. We feel it's time to draw a line in the sand and as such from this point onward offenders will receive an immediate and permanent ban from the forum.

    In order for us to achieve our goal of restoring the forum to the friendly and tolerant place it once was, we ask that ALL members be mindful of the content they post and help us to stop unacceptable behaviour by using the 'Report' tool at the bottom of any offending post - the results of which can be seen only by Admin/Moderators.

    You should all receive a copy of this message by PM. 

    To close this message box, click on the 'X' in the top-right-hand corner.

    Dismiss Notice
  4. Hotmail block emails from us entering your inbox. Unless you can setup a safe sender you will not get activation emails from the forum. Please use an alternative provider or complain to Hotmail.
    Hotmail addresses include.

    @Hotmail.co.uk @Hotmail.com @outlook.com @Live.com
    Dismiss Notice
  5. Postings on Politics, Religion & Controversial Off-Topic Material

    The majority of users do not want to read about these subjects and people have left the forum as a result of it – this is after all an 'Airgun' Forum. It’s all very well to say they don’t have to read it if they don't want to, but as most of us use the ‘New Posts’ button there is no easy way to avoid it.

    All AGF staff members are in favour of people being able to discuss what they want, but we have to draw the line somewhere if it is upsetting other users. We don’t want to read about these topics either.

    IMPORTANT- The discussion of politics and religion is no longer allowed anywhere on the forum (including the Adult section).  The only exception is if it's airgun related - they must be put in the Airgun Related Politics section..

    We will not tolerate bullying or personal attacks, racism or any other offensive 'isms'. we will remove these topics from the forum, we will not give you an area where you can abuse each other. We will not hesitate to ban offenders.

    To clear this text box, click on the 'X' in the top right-hand corner.

    Dismiss Notice

The Cloverleaf guide to taking half-decent white-background photos

Discussion in 'General chit chat' started by cloverleaf, Apr 12, 2014.

  1. cloverleaf

    cloverleaf Super Moderator Staff Member Mod/Admin

    Messages:
    21,795
    Likes Received:
    30,098
    Location:
    Oxfordshire
    While not wanting to blow one's own trumpet, I get a steady flow of comments about photos I've posted on the forum - usually along the lines of "nice pics" / "how do you shoot your images?" / "what camera do you use" etc..

    I'm always happy that people like the shots and I appreciate the positive comments - a bit of encouragement is always great if you're trying to do something to a decent standard :)

    So, in an effort to thank those who've commented and educate those who've asked how (plus give me a thread to point them towards as opposed to writing it all out again :p), I present to you the cloverleaf guide to taking acceptable white-background shots...

    The vast majority of shots I post to AGF are of rifles on a pure white background; a useful format for displaying an item in isolation and with maximum detail & clarity. Such images are the mainstay of much product and stock photography; and to be able to shoot pretty much anything, lit well on a white background is an absolute art form in its own right.

    Thankfully for us, items that are inherently dark and un-reflective are relatively easy to shoot on a white background in an informative if not-particularly-creative way. This guide gives a general overview of the kit required and procedures used - I won't explain all the specifics as you literally could write a book on the subject. If you'd like to learn more about something I've mentioned there's plenty on the net to quench your thirst for knowledge.

    In answer to some peoples' questions I have no formal training and am not a pro-photographer, although I have done the odd bit of (low) paid work, and spent several years sucking up every bit of information and knowledge I could find on the subject. I haven't shot anything "creative" for years now (my one-track mind currently being consumed by all things shooting), but I still have all the gear which comes in handy when shooting stuff to post on the net.

    I hope to get back into photography in future however I'm not the most creative of people and often struggle for worthy subject matter, but I digress - back to the subject in hand.


    Gear

    A lot of people ask about the gear. In many ways photography is analogous to shooting - a fine commonality in this case being that "gear maketh not the man". To shoot decent white background shots you'll need some half decent kit, but it needn't cost more than your car. Below is a list of the gear I use for all my shots, plus a rough idea of cost, alternatives and an overview of why this gear is important.


    Camera; Canon EOS 40D DSLR:

    Around £700 new (6-7yrs ago), current new equivalent £600-900, used value around £250. New entry-level DSLR around £300.

    You need a half-decent DSLR for three main reasons:

    1) DSLRs afford far more control than compacts, which can be absolutely infuriating to use for anything other than taking a picture of your cat outside on a nice bright day..
    2) All DSLRs have the ability to use and control a separate standalone flash; which is essential for bouncing the light off surfaces instead of pointing it directly towards the subject and nuking it in the process.
    3) The sensors are much larger in DSLRs than in compacts / bridge cameras and hence are far more sensitive - allowing the use of more ambient light and less flash for more natural looking shots with softer shadows.


    Lens; Canon efs 17-55/2.8:

    Around £650 new, used value around £450, New slow zoom or decent prime around £100-150.

    Tbh most lenses will do for this job; zooms will afford more flexibility but will usually be slower and a lot more expensive. Primes give excellent image quality and speed at relatively low prices, but are less versatile. If you bought an entry level DSLR the kit lens that came with it would be more than sufficient for tasks such as this.


    Flash; Canon 580EX II:

    Around £300 new, current equivalent £300-400, used value £200-250. New generic flash around £150.

    Perhaps the most important part of the kit.. a decent "accessory flash" will have far, far more capability than the one on the camera, for three reasons:

    1) The flash head can be oriented to bounce the light off surfaces to avoid the uneven lighting and harsh shadows created by direct flash.
    2) Accessory flashes are usually more powerful than those on the camera, adding more flexibility with regard to ISO speeds and aperture settings.
    3) Accessory flashes usually afford more control over flash settings / manual use than those on the camera.

    A set of studio lights or additional off-camera flashes will always give you far more control than a single flash, however this has always proven adequate for me and is a lot less expensive for those who aren't otherwise particularly interested in studio photography.


    Flash Diffuser; Sto-fen (or copy)

    Around £10-20 new off ebay..

    Diffuses the light slightly; probably more useful for holding the flash gel in place.


    Flash Gel; Orange, Lee Filter:

    £5-10 for a big roll that's cut to size to suit your application.

    The gel is important for colour-balancing the (orange) ambient indoor lighting with the (bluish) light from the flash. Failing to do this would unsurprisingly result in an image that can't really be colour balanced correctly - since the bits lit by the flash will have a blue hue, while those lit by ambient (shadows) will look orange.


    Macro tubes; Kenko:

    Around £30-120 new per set, a lot cheaper than a dedicated macro lens at £400+!

    Used with a decent prime lens (I usually use the venerable 50/1.8) these allow the shooting of close-up subjects. I use these for shots of pellets, groups, details on guns.. anything that my standard zoom won't focus on as it's too close.


    Background; White A0 Card (2 off):

    £5-10 from local art shop.

    Used as a background and occasionally as a reflector. My two pieces are looking a bit tatty now, but they've quietly and invisibly helped me shoot thousands of white-background shots.


    Environment; Fairly evenly-lit dining room with white ceiling and table:

    If you're within a 50 mile radius of London or Oxford, about £50k per square foot and rising :mad:

    Here's a pic of a similar setup - I couldn't quite be arsed to shoot the exact setup (since it's what I wanted to use to take the photos :p) so shot one like it instead. This shot consists of a Canon 5DII, Canon EF 35/2 lens, 430EX flash, diffuser (the gel would be inside the diffuser) and Kenko macro tubes. The shadows aren't too clever in this shot as it was taken in portrait orientation which doesn't work so well with bounce flash in my experience..

    full.jpg


    Much like shooting, nice gear helps but it doesn't need to be super-expensive and won't help if you can't use it properly ;)

    By going used / to entry level gear you'd get a decent setup for £400-500 - probably not a great investment just to take the odd shot of your rifle, but a nice excuse if you want to get into photography anyway.


    Procedure

    The procedure is pretty simple - bang your subject on the card, take some shots, edit them, job done :D


    Camera Settings


    Just as it's useless for one to try and use the hold-over figures from another's rifle & 'scope setup, there's limited value to posting specific values for camera settings. That said example are given below along with reasons why it's probably a good idea to be in this ballpark.

    Camera Mode; Manual:

    I like to shoot on manual for this kind of stuff. Not only does it give you extra smug points over mere mortals who only use Av or Tv (the former of which is better than manual for most other stuff IME) but it affords you absolute control and doesn't leave you having to second-guess the camera's meter while it sets the exposure for you.


    ISO; 1250-1600:

    You want the ISO to be as high as possible to record a lot of ambient light - this helps reduce the effects of shadows caused by the flash. As ISO increases image quality degrades; every camera will have its limits. My 40D goes to ISO3200, but it's pretty shoddy. 1600 is usually my cutoff point, newer / full frame cameras will run faster before image quality becomes an issue.


    Aperture; f/2.8-f/5.6:

    On a crop-sensor camera this is a reasonable range to get adequate depth of field without reducing the light entering the lens too much. Smaller apertures may be required if DOF is insufficient, but for shooting stuff laid flat on a white background from a distance, these are fine.


    Shutter Speed; Usually around 1/40-1/80sec:

    Not too slow to risk blurring the ambient light, but slow enough to let as much light in as possible.


    Colour Balance; Tungsten setting:

    Set to match the ambient lighting and gel on the flash reasonably well. Could shoot manual, but it's quicker to correct it in photoshop than to shoot a test exposure.


    Focal Length:

    Whatever is required to properly frame the subject. Don't go too wide as this will cause distortion.. I probably shoot most at 25-55mm.


    Flash; Full Manual:

    Usually somewhere between 1/4 and full power, depending on the aperture and subject. The aim is to blow out (over-expose) the white background, while keeping the detail in the subject within the exposure range of the camera. This is what you'll adjust most on the fly to get stuff right - the joy of digital!


    Method - Shooting

    The subject is laid on the white card background and an appropriate composition selected. The head on the flash is oriented away from the subject so that the light it emits bounces off a nearby white surface and onto the subject - usually the ceiling is the best bet. This is the key to the lighting - direct flash will give dark shadows with harsh borders, while bounce flash will give softer, more even and less obtrusive shadows.

    Images are reviewed on camera using the histogram function to check exposure - ideally you want to blow as much of the white background as possible without over-exposing any of the subject - this is why shooting transparent / reflective / lightly-coloured stuff is a pain and requires a lot of skill (more than I have) to get right.


    Method - Post-Processing

    Once the images are shot (as 16-bit RAW files) they're uploaded to the PC, saved as 16-bit TIFF files and opened in photoshop for tweaking.. again using Photoshop is an art form in itself (on the Photoshop scale of achievement I've just about mastered crayons) so again a book could be (and has been) written on the subject - if you want to learn more, Google is your friend :)

    Once in photoshop the image is manipulated in various ways; this is a brief overview of what is a semi-automated process in my case, as I sometimes have to process multiple images and this speeds it up considerably.


    Colour Balance:

    It's rare to get colour balance perfect in-camera. As an example, dodgy colour balance is why shots in incandescent indoor lighting often look orange, or shots in the snow look blue. This is corrected in PS using a curves layer with blending mode set to colour. the highlight eye-dropper tool is used to set the colour balance from the outside edge of one of the shadows, where the potentially slightly mis-matched colour temperatures of the flash and ambient light meet. The discrepency between the two shouldn't be too much though if the correct flash gel has been used to match the colour temperature of the flash output light to that of the ambient light.


    Tonality:

    Basically the tonality adjustment ensures that the darkest bits of the image are pure black and the lightest bits are pure white. Failing to do this would make the image look flat, dull and low-contrast, since the entire tonal capacity of the file / monitor is not being used by the image. This is sorted by using the "auto" function in a luminosity curves layer with a few tweaks to adjust the contrast as necessary.


    Blowing the Background Highlights:

    A standard image has 256 levels of tonal range; expressed in R,G,B (Red, Green, Blue) format pure black has a value of 0,0,0, pure white of 255,255,255. In any normal image you usually want every part of the image to be within this range, however for our uses we want the white background pure white. This is achieved using a luminosity levels layer and moving the white point slider to "blow out" as much of the white background as possible while still retaining detail in the subject.

    With very dark, un-reflective subjects it's possible to blow out all of a white background using this method, some subjects might require lighter parts to be masked to prevent them being overexposed by the white point adjustment.


    Image Touch Up:

    Sometimes darker parts of the white background might not be able to be overexposed without affecting a significant part of the subject - in this case the background can be manually coloured pure white with the brush tool. Similarly marks, dust, stains, hairs etc can be removed from the image using the clone stamp tool. Usually I don't bother with this (and never with items I'm selling, for obvious reasons), however it's the way to go if aiming for a really clean image.


    Example

    So, here's an example of shooting some typical images of my lovely old S410.

    The white card sheets are laid on top of my dining room table, and the rifle positioned on its side on top of them. The image is shot directly from above at a focal length of around 35mm (or whatever is appropriate). The flash head is reversed so that it's pointing directly upwards; causing the light to be reflected off the ceiling onto the subject in a more diffused form. The live-view function of the camera is great for shooting stuff like this as it allows the camera to be held directly above the subject, while the photographer can view the image from one side without having to be looking straight through the viewfinder - meaning I don't get in the way of the flash and don't have to straddle the table :p.

    Below is a super-wide (10mm) shot showing the general setup:

    full.jpg


    Note how underexposed the image looks compared to the usual pure-white backgrounds, plus the slightly orange tint to the card due to incorrect white balance.


    Here's an out-of-camera image of the same subject, shot using the method decribed:

    full.jpg


    The first job is to adjust the colour balance in PS, as described previously - note how the background now has no colour; looking like graduations of grey rather than orange:

    full.jpg


    Next the tonality is set using auto curves. Note that the rifle looks a bit darker as the black point has been correctly set; ensuring that the darkest bits of the image are approaching pure black while the lightest are approaching pure white:

    full.jpg


    Now the background highlights are blown out as much as possible using a levels layer. Note that the whole image looks brighter, but there are still some darker background areas - particularly in the bottom RHS of the image. I had to mask the levels layer a bit on the rifle's cylinder as it was a bit over-exposed after adjustment:

    full.jpg


    Finally the under-exposed areas of background are painted pure white and any touching-up done to give a finished image:

    full.jpg


    Here's a bonus, slightly squiffy gif of the process ;)

    full.gif


    And there we have it - a passable white-background shot achievable with some half-decent kit and a bit of knowledge.


    I hope some find this guide useful - any questions please ask (preferably someone else :p).
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2019
  2. Ganton Gunner

    Ganton Gunner Super Duper Moderator Staff Member Mod/Admin

    Messages:
    12,842
    Likes Received:
    103,330
    Location:
    Ganton scarborough
    I have to admit your picture quality is awesome
     
    The Robin likes this.
  3. Andy_J

    Andy_J Replica Airgun Enthusiast

    Messages:
    17,077
    Likes Received:
    25,919
    Location:
    Lincoln County
    Very good guide, thanks. I use a Nokia phone for mine. It has no flash but it does the job. I used to use a DSLR Nikon many years ago for my reviews on the B.BS. If only some sellers would at least make the effort to photograph guns with a little care and placement. Instead of blurred photo's with bad detail and lighting. Good results can be had with most digital camera's these days including phones.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
    Brandon James likes this.
  4. Jackroadkill

    Jackroadkill Donator

    Messages:
    16,784
    Likes Received:
    114
    Location:
    Drenewydd, Powys, Cymru
    Stickied.
     
  5. terry1001

    terry1001 Major Poster

    Messages:
    9,153
    Likes Received:
    2,216
    Location:
    Ipswich
    Thanks for that Mike, it's (as usual) a very helpful piece of work. So many of the photos used for sales items are very poor in every respect including loads of clutter in the background, poor focus and badly exposed and it certainly must put off potential buyers. Most people trying to photograph items for sale or just to show them off should be able to find something to help them improve their images.
    I've been doing some shots of small silver items for sale and they can be a bit of a challenge! A clean backgound and time spent manually focussing gets me off to a flying start.
     
  6. Mart61

    Mart61 Pro Poster

    Messages:
    5,903
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Lincolnshire
    Nice write up. I use two off-camera flashes, one in front of the subject and one behind, both fired by my camera's "commander" mode. I set the one in front to expose correctly and the one behind to overexposed by around two stops. That way the subject is perfectly exposed and the background is blown to white. That way you can have pretty much anything in the background and it'll be blown out.
     
  7. Mart61

    Mart61 Pro Poster

    Messages:
    5,903
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Lincolnshire
    Used the above method to do this shot (not gun related). I think it was against a magnolia wall.

    View attachment 94105
     
  8. cloverleaf

    cloverleaf Super Moderator Staff Member Mod/Admin

    Messages:
    21,795
    Likes Received:
    30,098
    Location:
    Oxfordshire
    Cheers guys :)

    I totally agree about the quality of images in sales threads. On the one hand I appreciate that a terrible pic is still sufficient to illustrate that you have the item in your possession and are legit.. on the other, surely it's in everyone's interests for the images to convey as much information as possible about the item in question. IMO good images make the buyer more confident, make the item more appealing and reduce the chance of conflict due to misunderstandings and differing standards.

    Andy and Mart's images raise the point that of course there are many different ways to light a subject adequately. Daylight is fine as long as it's diffused (an overcast / cloudy day with no direct sun) however working outside obviously brings a whole new set of problems. As Mart says using two flashes (one for the subject, one for the background) usually works well - it does require another potentially expensive piece of kit though. In addition the subject ideally needs to be able to stand freely - quite a task with guns :p
     
  9. Egg

    Egg Major Poster

    Messages:
    8,460
    Likes Received:
    13
    Location:
    Dunfermline
    Yes, yes and thrice, yes!

    Also, it would be good if some sellers actually bothered their arses to take a photo in the first place... but as usual I digress.

    Nice guide cloverleaf - maybe one day all ad photo's will be as clear & detailed as yours.
     
  10. mark1967

    mark1967 Engaging Member

    Messages:
    370
    Likes Received:
    31
    Location:
    Rotherham
    Nice guide,interesting to see how its done.
    Regarding poor photos in sales ads,perhaps you could extend the guide to show how to tastefully include your socks or the ends of your slippers in such pics :rolleyes::D
     
    Brandon James likes this.
  11. timmaaah

    timmaaah Engaging Member

    Messages:
    447
    Likes Received:
    13
    Location:
    Nowwich (Reepham)
    Hai matey - seeing as PhotoBucket have royally shafted everybody do you think at some point you will re-host the pictures, or as least just a few, as the lack of pictures now mars an otherwise exceptional writeup.

    Cheers :)
     
  12. cloverleaf

    cloverleaf Super Moderator Staff Member Mod/Admin

    Messages:
    21,795
    Likes Received:
    30,098
    Location:
    Oxfordshire
    This one's sorted.. I'm not sure about the best long term approach to this tbh. I can host on the forum but I'm limited to 10 images per post (which is especially a pain when trying to resurrect old posts with more than 10 images present). I'm toying with paying for hosting but not sure I want to commit to such expenditure ad infinitum if I want to keep the images going..
     
  13. IanDB

    IanDB Donator

    Messages:
    2,348
    Likes Received:
    1,776
    Location:
    Suffolk, UK
    What about imgur.. seems half decent for image hosting.

    Sent from the 5th dimension using psychic meerkats
     
  14. cloverleaf

    cloverleaf Super Moderator Staff Member Mod/Admin

    Messages:
    21,795
    Likes Received:
    30,098
    Location:
    Oxfordshire
    Thanks - that seems like the most obvious alternative host, however I don't want to spend countless hours moving all the images, only for them to "go Photobucket" on me in 6 months time. Plus, my own web space would have advantages if I can swallow the cost.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2017
  15. sidney

    sidney Keyboard Hero

    Messages:
    2,864
    Likes Received:
    2,794
    Location:
    Norfolk
    I'm not into photography at all, and know nothing about it, but I did read in one of Jeremy Clarkson newspaper columns the reason they never have black cars on Top Gear is because they're too difficult to photograph and film properly.
    Theres obviously more to it than I'll ever know.
     
  16. wiltshirejohn

    wiltshirejohn Born Again Airgunner

    Messages:
    121
    Likes Received:
    181
    Location:
    Near Devizes
    Just a small point... Photo$hop ? Other (much cheaper) alternatives are available :) Your mileage may vary.
     
  17. monsta41

    monsta41 Donator

    Messages:
    14,564
    Likes Received:
    12,229
    Location:
    Canvey Island essex
    he has thousands of quids worth of camera gear, do you think he is worried about a couple hundred for photoshop which as its name suggests is for processing photos, and also you can import and process raw images...

    at least you chose a good thread for a zombie thread
     
  18. Davey Sprocket

    Davey Sprocket “You've got red on you.”

    Messages:
    483
    Likes Received:
    924
    Location:
    South West London
    @cloverleaf, always wary about telling people how to suck eggs, but have you ever tried setting a custom white balance? It's saved me countless hours over the years.
     
    cloverleaf likes this.
  19. cloverleaf

    cloverleaf Super Moderator Staff Member Mod/Admin

    Messages:
    21,795
    Likes Received:
    30,098
    Location:
    Oxfordshire
    Thanks for the thought; tbh it's easier to set the camera somewhere near and tweak it in photoshop though.. a couple of clicks versus taking an additional image and having to set that as the WB source. Also, because I've not got the colour balance perfect between ambient and flash it's good to have a little latitude with the tweaking to get the best compromise between shadow and highlight colour temp.

    I also drag and drop my layers from one image to another (when they're all similar, as they are in this case) which allows me to essentially copy the previous image's setting onto the next one and saves me repeating operatings such as white balance with every shot :)
     
    Davey Sprocket likes this.
  20. Davey Sprocket

    Davey Sprocket “You've got red on you.”

    Messages:
    483
    Likes Received:
    924
    Location:
    South West London
    Somehow I knew you'd have a system... ;)
     
    cloverleaf likes this.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice