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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Product Background

There are many choices available to you for a home studio background. Today were talking all things white... why is it the most common and effective product background? That question, and others will be answered today, plus I will share a couple of great tips that you can use at home!
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Simple white backgrounds are common, effective and an industry standard. I don't know of a professional studio or product photography that doesn't have at least ONE option for a seamless white background!
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Why is it popular? It's clean. It's seamless. It's simple. It doesn't distract. It makes colors appear to "pop" and be brighter, and more vibrant. It's professional. It is easily manipulated and created in Photoshop.

Ah. Bet you didn't know that!

It is often "created" in photoshop, when you look at professional product images, magazine ad's, Pinterest ads, even on TV commercials you find that when they want to make a statement, or really highlight an item - you find it on white. Many times that white background wasn't really there (or it has been digitally altered.) Many times it is shot on a green screen called a chroma key (yes like the weatherman) and then the product is selected and dropped onto a flat white background within a photoshop style program. Interesting, right!? Professionals shoot this way to insure there are no distracting seams, creases or shadows on the background, as well as creating that "floating" image feel. Plus, it is easy to drop the image on to any color of background once it has been selected off the chroma key background, making one image very versatile.

The Bonus of White: You have a solid white to set your WB mode to. If you make your white, white... all the other colors in your digital image fall into place. Plus, they are easy to find, purchase and create yourself.

Different Types of Materials: Professionals use several different kinds of white backgrounds they often have rolled white paper backgrounds this are not every day paper.. but a heavy stock.  Others opt for some sort of fabric like cotton, canvas or white muslin, again typically a heavy stock. For the home studio, I think it is important to judge the size of your product needs and then look at the type that would best fit those needs. 

For small items thick white paper - like foam core, or poster board works well. The poster board can be leaned against a wall or table to create a seamless look... like the set up I did for the phone vs camera post.

You can also get larger rolls of white paper from your craft store if you have larger items, it isn't as heavy as photography rolled paper, but it would work in the home.  If you are using more of a paper over the poster board thickness... a lighter paper stock,  I would suggest picking up a piece of white foam core as well to place under the paper and your product to prevent bleeding from the color of your table or surface (unless it too is white). One of the reasons many photographers use large rolls of thick white background paper ( and it is thick and heavy stock!) is that it can be rolled out over another background,or over a painted wall and nothing will bleed through so it will stay white. Another is because when it gets dirty they simply cut it, roll new paper down and then go to the next shoot. This is really common for family, portrait, and commercial photographers.

If you have larger items, hanging items, or want something a little bit different you can purchase a muslin from someplace like Steve Kaesler's Website where he offers 6x9's at a fair price $59 or so. I know many a home photographer that uses a cotton sheet... however I am going to tell you - that may not be your best idea!

You can certainly use any white cotton (or other) fabric and it will "work". However, when looking you want to find one that is thick enough not to let light pass through it, sheets tend to be too thin. If you can hold it to your window on a sunny day and it doesn't block the light... it is not the best to use. If it is simply all you have, then again I suggest you double it up, or place something else white under it - like foam core. (Do you think Foam core is a photographers friend?) The idea is that you want it to bounce light off of the white and around the product, not for the light to pass through the fabric. This will help add light to your image, reduce shadows and create a seamless look. You want your product to pop, not the background.

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Think about what you are shooting, if your shooting people it will get dirty. You may need to bleach, repaint, or replace your background as it gets used so be thoughtful and look at the care instructions of what your using!

You also want to look for something without a texture or weave to the fabric, as these can look distracting on close up images. When you use a fabric, it's very important to iron it flat, and to place it where it will cover your surface area and like the paper curve up like along the wall to give that seamless look. If there are folds or wrinkles this will look distracting and create shadows and highlights that you don't want!

While this image doesn't look "bad" it can easily be so much better by simply placing the product on a smooth background!

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And here is my top tip for a simple, elegant white background that you can recreate at home super affordable.

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See where there is a slight reflection of the product on the background? Super sleek right?
To recreate this look (for small items) and in fact what I used for this shot, head to your local craft store and pick up one "wipe off" poster board... it has a shinny side that works like a wipe board with a dry erase marker! Use this side to catch a reflection of your product! Of course be careful that your product is all that reflects, you don't want your lights, or camera or anything showing up! Also, you have to use your macro function and make sure you have enough light to create the reflection!

Now, white is not the only game in town! It is simply the most common and often the most practical. However, in the next few days I will be covering some alternatives to white, and why you may want to use them!

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