EDITING PROGRAM USED: Adobe Photoshop CC (Note: All of the steps used in this tutorial can be accomplished in Photoshop CS3 and up)
After spending a few years in production art, I've become pretty familiar with the art of retouching. I've come across several different methods for prepping product images to be used for both stand-alone presentation and as part of a larger layout. Whatever the end goal is, I've found that starting with these 3 steps is the quickest way to get professional results using Photoshop.
To start, I've chosen an image I shot with my Samsung GS3, a white backdrop and an amateur lighting setup as an example. The biggest challenges are the lighting issues and the conflicting background. You may have a product shot professionally in a studio or you may have a low-res photo taken off the shelf with someone's smart phone. Either way, we'll start with the same steps.
NOTE: As soon as you open your file in Photoshop, consider what the end application will be and select your color mode via the "Image" drop down menu at the top of your screen:
If this is for web/e-commerce, you'll want to have the RGB Color mode checked. If this is for print, make sure you change your mode to CMYK color before moving forward.
This is one of those things that I do as a rule, along with saving my file often to avoid losing my work. Adding this to your checklist on every project will make your life a lot easier. If you forget and need to change your mode later in the process, you may lose some of your editing layers and the quality of your work will be compromised!
STEP 1: ISOLATE YOUR PRODUCT IMAGE IN PHOTOSHOP
Unlock your layer and name it "Original" to get started.
You'll also want to create a new path in your "Paths" palette so you don't lose track of your path later on. I name mine "OINK!" since that's what I'll be clipping.
Now you're ready to clip! Using your Pen tool, zoom in close to any edge of your product and begin to clip around it.
NOTE: For a clean clipping, make sure you draw your path slightly inside the outer edge of your product. This will ensure that no white pixels show up around your image when you're finished.
TIP: to get rid of imperfections, use your discretion to clip out "messy" edges that you come across. Since my product is handmade with paper, there are a few spots where I opt for a smoother edge and cut out any stray pieces I come across.
TIP: Never used bezier curves with the pen tool before? Clipping paths around an object is the best way to test it out! Just click and drag your mouse in the direction of the path in order to get the desired curve. If you want to create a new curve without the previous one in place, Option+Click (ALT+Click for PC) on your last anchor. You'll get a small arrow tool you can use to essentially cancel the curve on one side of the anchor while leaving the other side intact. When you come to a corner or sharp edge, simply click without dragging to end your curve. It may take some experimenting to get the hang of it, but I have found this to be an indispensable tool in retouching.
When you've fully drawn around the product with your pen tool, finish your path by clicking on your beginning point in the path. You should get a small circle next to your pen arrow to indicate that you're closing the path.
If you have any negative spaces within your product, make sure to select those with your pen tool as well. Keep them within the same path to allow for subtraction when you make your selection.
Now right-click on your path in the Paths palette and hit "Make Selection." Hit "OK" on the pop-up box.
TIP: Especially if my photo is of decent quality, I like to Contract my selection by 1 or 2 pixels to further ensure I've cut out all unwanted bits of background.
To finish Isolating the product, simply add this selection as a layer mask on your "Original" layer by clicking on the mask icon at the bottom of your Layers palette.
The result should look something like this:
TIP: Test your isolated product out by adding a layer underneath with a contrasting background. Since my product is a light color, I try it against a black background. *If you see any rough edges, you can go in with your pen tool or brush tool and black them out in the layer mask you've just created before moving to STEP 2.
STEP 2: TRANSFORM YOUR PHOTO TO PERFECTION
These days, "professional" often means "perfect" when it comes to retouching or photo editing. The product I chose is a good example because it's a straight on shot and should be even on both sides, for the most part, but due to a slight angle and product imperfections, there are some obvious flaws. These can be easily fixed using both the Transform tool and the Clone Stamp tool in Photoshop.
NOTE: Before beginning to edit, copy your "Original" layer and name the copy "RETOUCHED". Then turn off your "Original" layer. This way, you can always go back to your original if you decide that you aren't happy with the adjustments you've made.
IF your image is shot at a sloppy angle (as mine is), you may need to Transform it first. I noticed that Oink was lopsided, so I drew in some guides and used the Transform tool (Command/Ctrl+T) to even it out.
Once you've resolved any shape issues, select your "Clone Stamp" tool.
The clone stamp tool is very useful for editing small problem areas. For instance, I've decided I no longer want the negative space in my piggy's ear. (NOTE: If you're removing negative space, you'll need to make the space white in your layer mask to edit it.) Make sure your brush is set to a soft edge if you want your cloned area to blend in.
With your Clone Stamp tool selected, hit Option (ALT for PC) and click on the area you'd like to mimic. For my image, I Option/ALT+Click on the area just to the left of the negative space on the ear and then brush it onto the negative space. The result is much less distracting:
Other imbalances can be fixed using your Transform tool and a simple technique I like to call selective mirroring.
Since I like my retouched ear so much, I decide that I'd like the other ear to look the same.
To accomplish this, I select the ear that I've retouched and Command/Ctrl+J to copy the selection to another layer. Then Command/Ctrl+T to transform and "Flip Horizontal" to mirror it, and drag it in place on the opposite side.
TIP: To blend in a copied layer, create a layer mask on the copied layer and go in with your Brush tool, set to black and with a soft edge, and brush out any hard edges that may have copied over.
After a few more Transforming and Cloning moves, I'm happy with the overall balance of my product.
TIP: Keep your layers organized for better workflow! You can name each layer by parts and stick them in a folder to clean up your layers palette.
STEP 3: COLOR CORRECT YOUR PHOTO
This step is quite simple, and mostly requires color and lighting correction via the Adjustment Layers available at the bottom of your Layers Palette.
My go-to adjustment layer is Curves, mainly because it covers elements of other adjustment layers such as Levels, Brightness, and Hue/Saturation all within one tool. Curves comes up as a pull-out tab and allows you to add points and drag them to lighten and darken and/or increase and decrease color contrast. To adjust a certain color group specifically, you can go into the dropdown menu indicated by your color mode (RGB or CMYK – the example below shows "RGB") and adjust the input and output of each color group individually. You'll want to play with the points until you're happy with your adjustments.
Congratulations! Your product photo is now ISOLATED, TRANSFORMED and COLOR CORRECTED!
BONUS TIP! If your application of this product is just to have it floating, what you have now is fine, but otherwise you'll likely need to ground it by adding a shadow.
Photoshop's Brush Tool is perfect for this. I like to use a hard brush with Shape Dynamics, Smoothing and *Transfer turned on. You can see the brush settings I used below. (*If you have Photoshop CS3 or earlier, you can substitute using Transfer by having your brush at a lower opacity to build the density of your shadow manually.)
Make a layer underneath your product in the Layers Palette and using black, create a lose shape at the base of your product using the Brush Tool.
NOTE: If you have a product with a simple silhouette, such as a ball or a cylindrical bottle, it's easiest to use the Elliptical Marquee Tool to create an ellipse at the base. Fill with black and Deselect (Command/Ctrl+D).
Next, you'll want to Blur your shadow using Motion Blur.
If the product is on a flat surface, keep your Angle at 0° and adjust the distance depending on the size of your product.
The result is something like this:
Next, add a Gaussian Blur:
Keep the Radius low. You just want to soften any rough edges with this move.
Now decrease the Opacity of the layer to about 35% and set the Layer Mode to Multiply in your Layers Palette. Name this layer SHADOW.
To give some depth to the shadow, I add another layer called "SET SHADOW" that "sets" Oink on the ground. This is just a layer of black once again, but this time it's just barely coming out under the product.
Do the same Blur moves as with the previous Shadows layer, but set each to lower amounts of blur. This time leave the opacity at 100%.
This is my final result with Oink!
How did yours turn out?
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and can use these Steps and Tips to boost the success of your product retouching and editing for e-commerce, print and more!
Thanks for reading! :)