My Biggest Little Secret-Shooting Studio Quality Photos Without The Studio

Bit of a more ‘involved’ post today.

This, to me, is a minor game changer for Pro’s. Heck even amateurs.

I had a past client contact me a few weeks ago to photograph BEER. Just the product as it was, in cans and boxes and boxes of cans. I’d done it in the past and to tell the truth I’m no real fan of shooting tabletop photography. Loads of people are but I just don’t seem to have the patience for it. Now, I’d done this about 18 month before and actually shot it in a friend’s garage. I used the same ‘process’ as this time with one significant difference. We’ll get into that in a bit.

The client that needed the photography makes this arrangement. 1.) Here’s a list of the products we need shot 2.)You source the product and we’ll pay for it. 3.) You shoot it and you get to keep it. This year it was almost a $1000 dollars worth of beer. I make everybody’s Xmas a little bit brighter. Meh. At any rate, there is a new and beautifully laid out Liquor store that recently opened up not far from here and I was so impressed with the layout, I asked them if they wanted to put in the order and put the client in touch with them to pay for the product. And soon it arrived amid a bit of complication with ordering numbers etc. International Commerce. It never fails.

I asked the store if they’d be kind enough to let my use a spare side room to do the shooting in and they agreed. That in and of itself was a pretty big thing. There was a PALETTE of beer and I did not want to move it twice. I set up shop a day later and got to work. Two lights in umbrellas and off I rolled. And then, (*there’s always and ‘and then’. I was getting some very strange shadows on some of the cans and I couldn’t figure out exactly where they were coming from. The mirrored surface of the cans was seeing almost 180 degrees, and these gremlins would just not go away. Unfortunately it’s a problem you just have to solve. Did I tell you about how much I adore shooting product?

I called my pal Chris at ‘The Camera Store’. I asked him if they had a ‘Light Tent’. Turned out they had light boxes for about $150 dollars. I went and picked one up on the way home and sent a few samples of the uglies, to my client to explain the complications. The other thing I decided to pick up as well was my buddy and superb local Pro Photographer, Greg Gerla. I did this as much for the company…did I tell you about how much I love table-top photography, as the expertise. Both were very welcome. Greg came to the store on a Friday at 11 and we set up the light box. It evened things out nicely, yeah… e-x-c-e-p-t for the UGLIES, those damned black shadows that seemed to creep in. The front of the box was open all other sides as well as the top were enclosed. It was Greg, actually, who deserves full credit for fixing that problem. He figured out they were coming from below and put some of the light box material under the cans. Problem solved.

Initially, the stuff looks pretty, blah. we put some cardboard under the product, drew two lines at right angles on it so each set of cans would appear the same to the camera, and in two hours… I thought it would take SIX, it was all done except packing a little gear out to the van. Off for Pizza!

This is how it looked before and after retouching.

Coors Before untitled-3315

OK so, if you’re PIXEL Peepin’ it’s not totally flawless, these are meant for very small point of purchase cards that get put on the shelves. nothing big and meant for Times Square.  Here’s the point of this exercise. I can’t and don’t ever use the Pen Tool. Why? I just can’t seem to get the hang of it. In order to make this WORK, you pretty well have to. There are quite a number of companies that will do a ‘Clipping Path’ for you. These are located in Asia, mostly India and Bangladesh, etc. Just Google “Clipping Path”, you’ll find it easily enough For 2 bux USD per image they will clip these out of the ugliest surroundings and put them on a transparent background for you. This file was a PNG. I’ve converted it to JPEG for the purposes of this blog. Greg and I shot 21 products. My total bill to clip each and every one of them out was $42 USD! Now it just gets better.  For being so darn understanding and generous, Bottega Wines and Spirits needed a shot done for their outside illuminated sign. They make up absolutely beautiful gift baskets. So in return for their kindness, I volunteered.

BottegaBasket BottegaBasketCLIPPED-BLOG


Here’s the take away. Take a very close look at the quality of the work done in the extraction. There are small fibres sticking out of the basket, notably on the left side. They even left THEM in. Look at the precision of the clip inside the basket handle. There are two white spots on the right side close to the bottom. As well look carefully at the white gaps on the left side of the basket. They worked around the fibres in front of them!!!  First I’d have to learn the Pen Tool in Photoshop, then I’d have to spend the rest of my natural life trying to get anywhere as good as this and all of this was done for $2.oo US. I retouched all of the elements inside the basket, labels, bottles etc. but non of this would have happened without ‘their’ help. For this work, I used

I’ve done this for location portraiture; you should see the job they do with hair! I’ve used it with Creative Work; it’s an indispensable tool. All you have to do is light your subject properly and leave the heavy lifting to them. It doesn’t matter WHAT is in the background, they’ve pulled it off every single time.

And? It’s not just for small product. Yep. Girls, Guns And Cars. Three things that never fail to go ‘BOOM’!.

8112 8135



Hope you find this helpful.

John Sharpe/ Sharpeshots


2 Responses to “My Biggest Little Secret-Shooting Studio Quality Photos Without The Studio”

  1. Greg Gerla

    Hi John!
    Thanks for the mention above. It was great to work with you! Good job on the final product, too. Giving the client exactly what they need. On time. And on budget.


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