There are several blog posts out there on DIY photography that talk about which light boxes, cameras and lenses to buy to create beautiful product photos. This post talks about the next step in the product photography process: Editing. Once you’ve taken a product photo that looks good, there is a lot that can be done in Photoshop to spruce up the images to make them look even better. In this post, I’ll outline frequently used Photoshop techniques to edit product photos and some tools to help speed up the process.
Who This Tutorial is For: This tutorial is written for business owners who are DIY’ing their product photography. You may have dabbled in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements in the past but haven’t had the time to learn the different tools within them.
Software Requirements: In the examples below, I use Photoshop CC, which is the SaaS version that costs $9.99/mo. Alternatively, the tools I talk about here are also available in Photoshop Elements, which can be acquired through a single payment of $99. There are also free tools available, although I have no personal experience using them, such as Gimp.
Using the Spot Healing Brush to Touch Up Images
The Spot Healing brush is used to remove minor spots and blemishes from products such as dust, scratches, loose threads, etc. The basic process is this: We highlight areas that we want to fix, and then Photoshop analyzes those pixels and replaces them with the colors surrounding it.
Here is a sample image. The black in the back center seems to be a reflection of the camera on the metal. Let’s fix it by replacing the black with gold in a way that blends it in with the rest of the image.
Step 1: Select the Spot Healing brush from the left menu.
Step 2: Next, from the top menu, select a brush size. In Photoshop, brushes are used across many tools. It’s like a paintbrush. For example, if you want to remove a speck of dust, you want a tiny brush to precisely remove that speck.
When you’ve clicked on the Spot Healing brush tool and then hover over the image, you’ll see that your cursor changes to a circle – the size of the circle is the brush size. When you increase or decrease the brush size, the size of the circle changes accordingly. Select a brush size that will let you paint over the black area in one stroke.
The next brush setting is “hardness”. Here is an example when I use different hardness settings with a paintbrush. The higher the number, the more solid the edge of the brush.
When making corrections of this nature, I choose a lower hardness setting so the colors blend more seamlessly. With a 100% setting, the image will look like it’s been edited. I chose 40% for this tutorial but a bit higher or lower usually works fine. Leave the other settings at their default values.
Step 3: Click and drag the brush over the black area. When you do that, the Spot Healing brush makes a black highlight over the area you painted.
Step 4: Now, when you stop painting and let go, Photoshop analyzes the area around the painted area and replaces it with the colors around it. Here is the fixed image – all with just one click and drag.
Similarly, you can tweak the brush size and click over other spots you want to remove. When photographing jewelry and other small products, where the image is larger than the actual product, minor spots and scratches are frequently visible. Use this tool to fix it.
Using the Hue/Saturation Tool to Change Colors
If you have the same product in multiple colors, you can take a picture of one product and use the Hue/Saturation tool to change the colors. This is especially useful when the picture is hard to take – for example, if you have a shirt in 10 colors and each shirt needs to be pressed and placed carefully before being photographed, it’s usually easier to photograph 2 or 3 colors and then make color changes in Photoshop for the rest of them.
When to Use This Tool
This tool works well when the color you want to change is red, blue, green or some variation of these colors. It doesn’t work when your product is white, black or gray. What that means is that you can’t change white to pink but you can change blue to pink.
Here is an image of a blue bracelet with a gold charm. Using this tool, we’ll change the bracelet to a turquoise ocean blue, to pink, and then change the gold charm to silver.
Step 1: Go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation.
Step 2: You’ll see a dialog box with several options. From the drop down shown below, select “Blues.” This tells Photoshop that you want to change the color of the “Blues” in the image. Since this image has a gold charm, you don’t want Photoshop to change the color of the charm.
Step 3: Then you move the sliders around to change the color of Blue to something else. Here is what each of the sliders do:
- Hue changes the core color
- Saturation changes the intensity of the color
- Lightness makes the color lighter or darker.
Start with the Hue slider, then use the Saturation and Lightness sliders to get the color to match what you want.
Here are some examples:
Changing the Bracelet from Blue to Turquoise
At a negative hue setting, the color changes to an ocean blue or turquoise. Notice that the gold charm stays the same.
Changing the Bracelet from Blue to Pink
Moving the slider the other way changes the blue beads into a bright pink.
Notice the colored slider on the bottom of the dialog box above. The top bar tells you the range of colors you’ve selected based on the drop down option, in this case, “Blues”. The center grey bars indicate the core color to be changed and the two outer bars indicate the range up to which the color change will fade to blend in. Play around with it and see how the image changes.
The bottom bar shows the new color range based on the position of the sliders.
Changing the Charm from Gold to Silver
Next, we change the gold charm to silver. To do this, go back to the dropdown and select “Yellows.” We select this option because gold is a shade of yellow. Then, move the saturation all the way down to the minimum. This essentially takes away the color and makes it a shade of gray. Then increase the lightness slider to make it look more like silver.
This technique saves time and also gives your images consistency. The tricky part is to adjust the settings just enough to make the color look like the actual color of the product.
Another use for the Hue/Saturation Tool
Most of us have probably used the basic brightness filter that is included with the default image editor on our computers. That slider is useful when you want to increase or decrease the brightness of the entire image, but what if you only want to make a specific color in the image more or less bright? With the Hue/Saturation tool, you can select the specific color you want and move the lightness slider to impact brightness on just that part of the image.
Making Images Sharper with the Unsharp Mask Tool
With Unsharp Mask, Photoshop finds edges in your product and makes one side darker and the other lighter. With the higher contrast across edges, the image looks sharper and due to increased contrast across edges, a sharpened image also looks brighter.
Here is an image to illustrate how sharpening works. Notice the logo text on these pair of scissors. It’s a bit dull and doesn’t stand out much from the stainless steel blades.
Open Unsharp Mask by going to Filters > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask
Move the sliders around to see what works best for your product. Here are what each of the settings mean:
- Amount tells Photoshop how much contrast to add or subtract from either side of the edge.
- Radius tells Photoshop how many pixels on either side of the edge it should adjust the contrast. For example, when you set this to be too high, you’ll see artificial edges that don’t look right.
- Threshold tells Photoshop not to sharpen areas that are too similar in color. For example, let’s say you had an image of a sky and clouds where there are several tones of blue and white. You don’t want Photoshop to change contrast for every different tone of blue, it would make the image look patchy. So this setting tells Photoshop to sharpen only when the contrast on either side of the edge is at least at the specified levels.
As you start using this filter, play with the sliders to get a feel for how your images change. Each image is different so you’ll end up with different settings for each image.
Here, I’ve used a radius of 3.4 pixels which is pretty aggressive. Usually, I recommend a radius setting of 1.5-2px to have a more subtle effect. I tend to leave threshold at 0 or 1 for most product photos.
Here’s the before and after comparison. Notice that the new image is brighter, too, not just sharp. That’s because of the increased contrast.
You could open each image, edit it and save it, but here is a better way.
When you go to File > Open in Photoshop, you get the standard open dialog box where you can select the files to open. You can open multiple files by holding down the Ctrl key (or Cmd on Mac) and clicking on the different images you want to open. Here, I’ve selected 8 images, highlighted in blue.
When you open multiple files together, Photoshop opens each image in a tab. Then go through each tab and edit as needed.
Next, go to File > Automate > Image Processor.
In the window that opens up, you can tell Photoshop to save all open images as JPEG files and even resize it as you need for your site template. In the below example, I’ve sized images to be 1200 x 1200px and have them saved in the same location as the original images. Photoshop creates a folder called ‘JPEG’ in the original folder and saves the final files there.
After the above process completes, go the original folder and look for a folder called JPEG. Make sure the images have saved as you expected.
Then go to File > Close All. This will prompt a window asking if you want to save the open image with the edits. Click on the “Apply to All” button at the bottom and click Yes. Now you have a JPEG folder with edited and resized images and a copy of the full size images if you need them later to make other sizes. I would also suggest saving the original images prior to edits, in case you want to go back and redo some of them at a later date.
Further Learning: Photoshop Resources
The purpose of this post was to give you a flavor of what Photoshop is capable of within the context of product photography, however, while I discussed the tools, I didn’t touch on core Photoshop concepts like layers and masking that you should learn in order to take full advantage of the software.
To start learning about Photoshop, check out the Photoshop tutorials on the Adobe site. These are a series of free short videos that show you different ways to use Photoshop. They are not specific to product related work but they give you an overview of Photoshop concepts.
Among paid courses, take a look at Phlearn, run by Aaron Nace, a professional retoucher. There is a free section, too, but his newer courses are part of a paid plan or can be purchased by the course. There is a comprehensive tutorial for removing backgrounds from photos – very useful for product photography if you want that perfect white background. There are several techniques on how to remove backgrounds and these videos walk through them in detail.
Photoshop is vast and there is a lot to learn. Product photographers know a different set of tools vs. portrait photographers who primarily have to deal with skin tone, eyes and hair vs. wedding photographers who have a different set of challenges. So, get comfortable with a few tools and understand the different options and sliders that come with them. Soon, you’ll be putting up much better images on your site and start to see your sales increase.