In my 14 years of photographing professional photography I’m always being asked to shoot a clients product in front of a simple white Colorama. Typically this is because the client wants to place the object on a white printed brochure page or web page and also because products often contrast well against a white background, showing off their colour, intricacy and contrast.
For some subject matters the task of retaining a superbly lit, well exposed and crisp product whilst creating a flat true white backdrop from corner to corner is indeed manageable, notably when the product is much darker than the whiteness of Colorama.
Although, 9 times out of 10 reasonable results can infrequently be achieved. This is for one very simple reason:
When shooting most items I always shoot in a way that brings out the best features of the product itself which doesn’t necessarily create a truly white background. Correct lighting of the object will thus often result in underexposure of the background so that it appears an unpleasant and patchy shade of grey. Think of a pair of white shoes as an example. If the professional photographer was to endeavor to light the background so it appeared as a even white then they would very likely neglect the shoes making them appear overexposed, bleached out, lacking in detail and as flat and 2-D as the backdrop itself.
Needless to say these problems can generally be overcome with extensive and time consuming photographic lighting solutions such as flagging the item. A ‘flag’ practically creates a physical obstacle between the studio light and the object, as a result shading the item so that it gets less light whilst subsequently raising the intensity of light to the backdrop. This is good if the client has the means for what I call ‘bespoke’ product photography, but more often than not they have many hundreds of products they simply need cataloging so budgets and time scales are understandably limited.
In these instances the quickest, most inexpensive and often most practical solution is in the creation of a post production clipping path. A clipping path is where the image is imported into image manipulation software, mostly Photoshop, and then the object or product is essentially drawn around by hand via the pen tool to create a vector based path. This clipping path can then later be employed to the image file to effectively ‘cut-out’ or isolate the object from the background, such as when wishing to print. Consider this action as basically drawing round an object in a magazine with a pen then cutting round this drawn line with scissors to remove the object from the rest of the magazine.
The good point about clipping paths is the fact that not only can you precisely modify the exposure, colour caste, sharpness and contrast of the object separately without effecting the background, you can then place that object onto any background of your choice, as many times as you want. One day you may very well decide to paste it onto a white website the next week ask your designer to print up a mailshot with a whole range of products, all appearing as if they were shot at the same time. In order to give your cut out product a more ‘real’ feeling you might also ask your designer or photographer to attach a soft drop shadow, both to give it weight on the page and create a delicate transition between the products edges and the page.
In conclusion clipping paths offer the customer a cost effective and long term solution when confronted with the task of shooting bulk product shots, allowing the photographer to fully exploit the aesthetic attributes of the product without fretting about the final appearance of the background.