No strings attached: the secrets of a product shoot and retouch

There’s a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to taking great product shots! In this time-lapse video, Fernando Martins Ribeiro gives us a sneak peek of how his shots come together in the ​studio and in-app.

Equipment used

Camera: I used a Phase One camera with a P65+ digital back, mounted on a FOBA stand. Lens was a 120mm macro lens.

Lighting: I used 5 Broncolor SIROS 800 S with a variety of softboxes and reflectors. Large softbox (150x75) on top for general lighting, 60x60cm on the sides, a P65 reflector with a grid to light the soles of the shoes and background.

Software: Retouching done with Affinity Photo. Capture One for tethered shooting, BronControl to remotely control the lights.

How long did it take?

All the work took around 10 hours. Preparation, research and testing took four hours. Setting up the shoot, lighting and capture, around three hours, and retouch another three hours. Of course, the ideas are matured along a larger period of time and I’ve been thinking about shooting this image for several months.

Inspiration

This particular shoot was a personal project and not a client brief. I did a similar shoot a couple of years back, and at the time it was very time consuming to get the shoes in position and have the proper lighting. After that, I decided to do some research and try out several ways of achieving these types of images. When I felt I had all the info I needed, I started working on a specific image, which was achieved with this shoot.

Setting up the shoot

When shooting suspended objects, one of the most difficult aspects is to get all the elements in the right position. The method I have devised is to use apple boxes, or other solid objects to roughly position the subjects, in this case, shoes.

When they are in place, I use two fishing-wires passed under each shoe, to keep the shoe stable when suspended, and to allow me to rotate or reposition as needed.

Above the set, I used a frame with a custom-made net to hold all the fishing-wires. One of the ends has a loop that attaches the wire to the net. I pass the other end over the net and use crocodile clips to hold the wire. This allows me to re-adjust the fishing-wire if needed.

Once the shoes were suspended, I removed all the apple boxes and table, leaving the space free for placing the lights. Then it’s just a case of working on the lighting to get shape and dimension.

The last image we shoot just uses background lighting, this is to get a silhouette to create a mask layer for post-production.

Retouching

I’ve started the retouching by removing the wire, using a mixture of Inpainting Tool and Healing Tool.

Masking

Using the back-lit silhouette image of the shoes, I use a Dodge adjustment on the background to get a good contrast between the shoes and the background. The remaining area was selected with the Freehand Selection Tool and filled with white. I also used the Inpainting Tool for minor corrections. When it was ready, the layer was rasterized to create a mask.

I then started correcting some of the minor issues on the shoes (dust and small defects), using the Inpainting Tool, Healing Tool and Stamp Tool, particularly on the areas were the glue naturally shows.

When I was happy with the result, I created two Curves layers, named DB- (darkening the image) and DB+ (lighting the image) in Luminosity Blend Mode. I invert them and using the Brush Tool and a white, soft brush, started to sculpt the shoes to give them more volume.

The background

The background started with an elliptical gradient, using colours present on the shoes. Since the image is mainly monotone, the shoes being grey with gold highlights, I thought the gold would make a great background.

After some adjustments, the background was finished and I added some noise to prevent banding.

The shadows were created in an unconventional way. To create an idea of a horizon, I used a diamond shape and, using the Layer Effects Panel, blurred the edges. This is non-destructive and allows for further adjustments if needed. I used a similar solution for the shoe shadow, but this time using a triangle.

I separated the shoes in two different layers, to make them moveable.

Colour grading

On top of all the layers, is a fill layer with the background colour, with Opacity at around 10%, to color grade all the elements in the image and give it some uniformity.

The last step was blending the shoes with the background colour by creating a duplicate layer of the background colour. I then masked it with the edge of the shoes, blurred it and blended it as to a very low opacity. This allows for a better transition between the shoes and background as if the light from the background was bouncing back to the shoes.

The final image.

For more about Fernando check out our interview with him and his tips for dramatic lighting or visit his website.