Digital Photography Tips, Tutorials and Resources
Once you’ve finished your product photo shoot, you’ll be left with dozens or even hundreds of shots that will need editing. You’ll want to know some of the best product photography post processing strategies to help you make the most of your shoot.
Even with a seamless white background and proper lighting, you’ll still want to make adjustments to your photos for things like color and contrast. You can make these changes in your favorite photo editor and photo organizer, or dual editor and organizer program.
In this product photography editing workflow example, we’ll use a combination of Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop to polish our product images. These tools offer a number of useful features for product photography.
This guide walks through step by step:
- How to efficiently cull your photos
- Working with Adobe Camera Raw’s basic color and contrast adjustments
- Saving time by syncing adjustments using Lightroom
- Exporting a finished photo from Lightroom for delivery to your clients
If you don’t already have Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, you can get them from Adobe’s Creative Cloud Plan for just $9.99/month.
Lightroom and Photoshop
If you’re new to post production or to Adobe’s photo editing suite, you may not know what makes these software well suited for editing product photos.
Let’s quickly review the major attributes of Lightroom and Photoshop:
Lightroom Classic is both a photo editor and a photo organizer. That means you can use Lightroom to store, organize, edit and export your photos. Professional photographers love Lightroom because it’s an “all in one” program.
As a product photographer, you can create catalogs of photos, allowing you instant access to any image in your library, from one place. You can also use Lightroom to alter edits you’ve made to your photos after the fact.
Lightroom works best with raw photos, as the Develop module is built around Adobe’s raw editing engine.
Photoshop is a more powerful image editor with a robust suite of editing tools. With support for adjustment layers, complex tools, masking and a variety of other features, Photoshop lets users perform very complicated adjustments and edits to photos, one image at a time.
Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between Photoshop and Lightroom. Adobe’s CC and Photography plans give you access to both programs for a small monthly fee.
Furthermore, because Lightroom and Photoshop are both Adobe programs, they work very well together. You can move images between the two programs in just a few clicks, without losing any information. That’s why many professional photographers choose to use both programs in their editing workflow.
While Photoshop is a great tool, Lightroom can handle the majority of your product photography edits. Lightroom offers a variety of workflow optimizations that make it perfect for editing a large number of similar images.
With Lightroom, you don’t have to open your images individually in order to edit them. Instead, after you’ve imported them to the catalog, simply sync your adjustments across multiple photos. In practice, this means you can apply global adjustments to all photos in the set, like boosting the exposure for all 20 of your product images at the same time.
Product Photography Editing Workflow
Culling Your Images
Lightroom is a great starting point for your post processing workflow for product photography. First, before you begin to edit your photos, you’ll have to cull your images. Simply put, this is the process of choosing the best photos in the set to edit.
Culling your photos saves you time in the long run. By weeding out the sub-par photos, you don’t waste time trying to edit them into good photos. Instead, after you’ve culled your collection, you can start editing right away, because you know you’ve only kept your best images.
Import Your Images to Lightroom
To begin the culling process, import your images into your Lightroom catalog:
Typically, the Import dialog will open once you insert your memory card. But, if you’ve already loaded the images onto your computer via another method, you can open the dialog yourself by choosing File » Import Photos and Videos.
With the dialog open, you can choose to Copy, Move or Add the images to the catalog. Depending on where you’ve stored your images, you’ll want to choose the appropriate directive.
Choose the Add directive if you’ve already uploaded your files to your computer. The Add operation tells Lightroom where to find the photos on your device. This is especially important, because Lightroom doesn’t store the files themselves, but instead points to where they’re already located.
For example, if you want to edit an image file you’ve saved to your Desktop, Lightroom will locate that file on the Desktop. It will then save any edits you apply to that image file in the Lightroom Catalogue without changing the image file itself. That makes Lightroom a non destructive photo editor.
If your photos are still on your memory card or camera, however, you’ll want to choose the Copy function. Copy creates a new version of the image file on your computer, stored in the destination you select on the right side of the panel.
After the import has finished, you’ll see all your images represented in your catalog. Access the Lightroom Develop tab by tapping G or E on the keyboard for the grid or loupe view respectively.
From here, you can navigate through your photos using the arrow keys, scroll wheel or by manually clicking through them.
Choose Your Best Images
Once you’ve gotten your images imported, you can begin to cull them to find the best shots of the series. Lightroom gives you many options for culling photos, including flags, stars, colors and keywords. It stores these little snippets of data in the catalog, so you can always keep track of which shots you selected.
For product photography, pick flags are probably the easiest sorting tool to choose the shots you want to edit. Unlike the stars sorting method, pick flags are a binary choice; either you like a photo and give it a flag, or you don’t.
When scrolling through your shots, mark images you like with a flag by clicking on the photo and pressing keyboard shortcut P. This adds a pick flag to the image. In the grid view, these are represented by a white flag in the top left corner of the cell.
When you’re done, you can choose to view only the photos you’ve flagged by selecting the Attribute filter at the top of the photo grid. With that small bar open, click the light grey flag. This will filter whichever folder or collection you’re in to only show photos you’ve flagged.
If you change your mind about a photo, you can remove the flag by clicking on the flag icon or tapping U on the keyboard. To return to a view of all your photos, just click None. You can also toggle filters off by clicking on any active ones.
Making Basic Adjustments with Adobe Camera Raw
There’s no true “proper” editing technique for editing product photos. How you edit and adjust your product photos depends on the product you’ve photographed, your client, that client’s branding and vision and your own personal style.
Still, there are a few general principles that apply to all product shots. Ideally your shots should be sharp, in focus, evenly lit and have a natural color balance. Depending on the equipment you’ve used, your images may look great right out of the camera, or they may need some tweaks to get to that point.
Fortunately, Lightroom makes it easy to add these adjustments to your photos. The Develop module, shown below, is where you make these edits. To access it, have a photo selected that you want to edit, then press the D key, or click Develop along the top bar.
Within the Develop module, you’ll see a number of drop-down menus with names like Tone Curve, HSL and Lens Corrections. These are sets of adjustments based on a shared purpose.
For instance, HSL contains a number of sliders that let you adjust the brightness, saturation and hue of each range of colors. For product photos, it’s most important to know the Basic panel, the Detail panel and the Lens Corrections panel.
It’s best to work through the adjustments in each panel from top to bottom. Let’s start with adjustments in the Basics panel.
The Basics panel covers all the fundamental adjustments you may have to make to your photos.
Start by checking your white balance. For a product photo on a white background, your camera’s automatic white balance should have done a good job at picking a neutral color temperature. But, if the image is too warm or cool, you can change that with the white balance adjuster.
To make the change, you can use the Eyedropper Tool to select a target neutral color, or manually adjust the sliders. If you’ve photographed your product against a white background, it’ll probably be easiest to use the Eyedropper Tool.
Exposure & Contrast
Next on the list are Exposure and Contrast. Exposure adjusts the photo’s brightness. Contrast adjusts the difference between the brightest and darkest areas.
You should only need to make minor tweaks to these values when editing a product photo. If you find the image is way too dark, bright or contrasty, consider reshooting. Add light, reduce your exposure or reposition the lights for more fill until you end up with a neutral image.
Don’t worry about getting the background absolutely bright white, especially if you didn’t shoot with multiple lights. Instead, boost the overall exposure of the image or adjust the white point.
The next four options in the Basics panel cover different parts of the luminance range. Highlights and Shadows affect the brightness and darkness of the image’s highlights and shadows. The White and Black sliders allow you to adjust the white and black point of the image.
Generally speaking, moving the Shadows slider to the right will brighten shadowed areas without impacting the overall look of the photo. The Highlights slider, on the other hand, reduces blown out highlights when moved to the left.
You can always reset the adjustments you’ve made in Lightroom, so don’t be scared to experiment. To reset an individual slider, double click on the label text next to it, like Exposure, for example. To reset the entire image, use the Reset button on the bottom right.
For product photos, you shouldn’t need to make significant adjustments to the Texture, Clarity, Dehaze or Vibrance sliders. These let you tweak the contrast in certain tonal ranges or add more saturation to the colors, but aren’t necessary for most product photos.
In fact, you may want to slightly reduce vibrance or saturation if you think your backdrop or product has taken on a color cast from your surroundings.
Sharpening & Noise Reduction
Once you’ve made these basic adjustments, you can move on to adjustments housed in the Details panel. These adjustments include sharpening and noise reduction.
In this panel, you’ll see a small thumbnail that shows a 100% view of the photo. It’s important to look at this window or zoom into the photo itself when editing. That way, you can best observe the how your Details edits effect the photo.
The amount of Sharpening your image need depends on the camera and lens you’ve used, but we’ve shown some good starter values below. You can move the sliders further to the right for more sharpening, but watch for haloing on the edges of the product.
If you notice noise on the backdrop, which may look like speckles, try increasing the Masking value. This removes sharpening from less detailed areas. This, in turn, prevents more digital noise. Take your time fine tuning these adjustments.
For the best quality product photos, you should shoot using a low ISO, which cuts down on digital noise. That means you’ll need less Noise Reduction in post processing.
If you find that noise is still making an appearance in your image, however, you can use Noise Reduction tools to hide it. Keep in mind that noise reduction works by removing details, so consider whether it’s worth it.
To reduce noise, you’ll only need to worry about the Luminance and Color sliders. Luminance Noise controls the actual grainy elements, while the Color Noise pertains to colored speckles you see in the photo. Depending on your camera, lighting setup and shutter speed, you may need more of one value than the other. Just move the sliders up until you see the desired change in your image.
In our guide on how to get started as a product photographer, we discussed how useful a tripod and lighting equipment can be. You can save a ton of time in post processing simply by keeping your lighting constant and your camera stable.
Remember to use all the shooting tools at your disposal so you can save yourself time in editing!
Save Time by Syncing Adjustments
Once you’ve made a set of adjustments to an image, Lightroom lets you “copy and paste” those changes across as many photos as you like. In the world of photo editing, this technique is called batch processing. The syncing process is fast, easy and customized, and it effectively lets you edit 20 photos at once!
Of course, batch processing your product photography images will only work if each photo needs similar changes. Chances are, if you used the same lighting setup and camera settings to take each photo, they do need similar edits. Just double check that this is true before you apply your edits in bulk.
Streamlining your editing process is easy with batch processing. Lightroom’s sync feature allows you to select multiple images at once, as shown in this screenshot of images in a Grid view below.
To select multiple images, hold Control while clicking on other image thumbnails to add them to your selection. Lightroom treats the first image you select as the primary image. You can change the primary image by clicking on another of the selected images while the selection is still active.
For some operations, like exporting, the primary image doesn’t matter. But, for syncing purposes, which image you designate as primary does matter. Why? Because the edits Lightroom will sync and apply to other images in the selection come from the primary image.
In the example above, for instance, Lightroom applies the Develop settings from image 2 to the others in the selection.
Once you’ve made your selection, open the Synchronize Settings menu by pressing Control+Shift+S, or by accessing the Develop Panel, then the Settings Menu » Sync Settings. Any settings with a checkmark next to them will be copied to the other photos. Those settings without a checkmark won’t be applied.
After you click to synchronize, Lightroom may take a second or two to copy the settings. But, once the thumbnails update, you’ll have successfully edited multiple photos at once!
For product photography, bulk editing is most useful for things like white balance, sharpness and noise reduction adjustments, which should be constant across the photo shoot. It may also work for basic tone adjustments as well, although you’ll want to manually tweak those.
Exporting Your Finished Photos
Once you’ve applied your adjustments across all your flagged photos and are happy with your results, it’s time to export them! Exporting from Lightroom takes the changes you’ve made in the catalog and “bakes” them into the photo. This turns a raw image into a high quality finished JPEG with all of your adjustments!
Start the exporting process by selecting the photos you want to export. Then, with the selection active, go to File » Export. Within the Export menu, you’ll see a number of options. Here, you can resize your image files, change their file type, rename them or add a watermark, depending on your client’s needs.
Exporting Images from Lightroom for Clients
For a typical shoot, your client will likely want their images as JPEG files, delivered to them by a cloud service like Dropbox. Fortunately, Lightroom makes this very easy to set up.
First, choose where you want the files to end up. The easiest option is to choose your Desktop, then store them in a subfolder named for that specific photoshoot.
It’s also possible to rename them before exporting, either to help you or the client keep the images straight. If you think your client will want revisions to the edits, then rename the export while keeping the original file number. This will help you more easily determine which photo the client is referencing, even after the renaming.
Of course, your export settings will vary based on your client’s needs. Remember, for web use, a JPEG with the sRGB color space should work well. You can also save on file size without losing image quality by choosing 80 quality over 100.
Only resize your product photography if the client requests a specific size. Many web spaces can now dramatically resize your images depending on where they’re being served.
Once you’ve configured the export settings, just hit Export! Lightroom may need a few seconds or minutes to produce your finished, exported files. But, once it does, they’ll be ready to send to your clients. With that, you’ve successfully post-processed a product photo shoot from start to finish!
If you enjoyed this article on building a product photography workflow, check out these other product photography guides:
- How to Get Started as a Product Photographer
- How to Set Up a Home Photography Studio
- 5 Best Free Product Photography Contract Templates
- How to Market Your Product Photography Services
- Essential Gear for Product Photography
Hopefully you enjoyed this guide on how to post process product photos. Make sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more guides on photography. Sign up for our email newsletter so you don’t miss our next installment on product photography.
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