Product shoot - a deep dive

Started Aug 17, 2021 | Discussions thread
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Mads Bjerke Contributing Member • Posts: 856
Product shoot - a deep dive

This is a very long post. When replying to the thread please avoid ‘REPLY WITH QUOTE’. It will make it impossible for others to read. Use the ‘REPLY’ or ‘REPLY TO THREAD’ option.

After posting the “Making of a product image” thread I have had many requests for another tutorial.

So to answer the calls I have decided to take a few days out from the shooting schedule and put something together.

Buckle up - this could get messy!

I thought it could be interesting to create an image that contains several components that will need to be shot in very different ways and then create the final composite.

So I went shopping to see what I could find.

The idea that formed was to take a running shoe and have it step into a puddle of water.
This way we have the shoe and the water that will need to be shot in very different ways.
I will also create the background in-camera rather than create it in PS.

A quick sketch to illustrate the idea:

Here are the components we will use:


The most challenging part here will be the water splashes.
It will require the use of fast flash durations (more about this in a moment) and multiple attempts get it right.

This will also get messy and I need to ensure the equipment doesn’t get damaged by the water splashing everywhere.

For those who don’t use flash on a regular basis I will need to explain a few concepts so you better understand why I need to do certain things.

In the studio I work almost exclusively with strobes - no ambient light.
This is to avoid any colour polution from other light sources.

With flash photography you are dealing with two exposures that combine to create the image: ambient light exposre + flash exposure.

Ambient exposure is determined by ISO + shutter speed + aperture.
Flash exposure is determined by ISO + aperture.

As you can see, the shutter speed does not determine the flash exposure.

If we ONLY want to include the strobe light and NO ambient light in the image we need to set the camera to a setting that will create a black ambient exposure.

So when we are using only strobe lights we tend to do the following;

  • Turn OFF the flash or the trigger so the strobes don’t fire.
  • set the ISO to the lowest normal value - ie ISO 100
  • set the aperture to the desired value - ie f11
  • set the camera to the highest sync speed for flash - ie 1/125s

Take a test shot.
If there is ambient light visible; stop down the aperture.
If the frame is dark; we are good to go to the next step.

To make sure the ambient light is supressed sufficiently I add exposure to see if anything appears in the frame.
Here I had to add +5 before anything was visible. That is fine.


First I set up a back drop.
I prefer to use a Colorama Colormatt 100 x 130 cm Slate for this as it is very smooth (unlike paper), is reusable (PVC) and is water resistant.
The reason I am using gray and not white is because I will project a blue colour onto it and the darker the back drop, the richer the colour will be.

Next the shoe is mounted.
I use a Manfrotto back drop frame to create an arc above the shoe that I can hang the fishing lines from.

One tip when you are suspending items like this; have two different thicknesses of the fishing line. Very thin for the light items such as the laces. Thicker for the heavier items such as the shoe.


As I want to light the shoe from above and beneath I place two Elinchrom ELC125 with strip boxes.
The strip boxes will place the light where I need it and avoid too much spill onto the background.
If the light spills onto the background it will wash out the rich blue colour.

It is important to determine the lighting direction before you place any lights.
In this case I studied the shape and details of the shoe to work out if the contours in the mouldings would benefit from a paricular light direction.
The details you capture will be heavily determined by this choice.

Camera settings for the shoe shoot:

ISO 100

So with three lights in place it is time to see what they are doing.

The background light only:

Top light only:

Under light:

Then I turn on all three lights:

Looks good, but the exposure is a bit hot. I adust it down 0.5 stops.
There is a lot of bright yellow details and I don’t want to risk loosing it.

The main logo and the side of the shoe is a bit dark. That cannot be left as it is. Always make sure the logo is clear and stands out or you will get a call from the client.

To fix this I will add a another light.

I place another ELC125 with a snoot attached to direct the light where I need it:

When combined with the other lights we get this.
Without the snoot on the left, with the added light on the right:

The final step before we take the actual images is to create a colour profile and set the white balance.

I place a SpyderChekr 48 in the frame and take a shot.

From this I set the white balance from E2, exposure from E1 and black point from E6.

This corrected image is then sent to the SpyderChekr software and a profile is generated.
The profile is added to LR in the form of a develop preset.
I always name this profile the same as the shoot so I know which one I need to apply.

Here is a screen shot of the profile as it appears in the develop module on the left.
It is VERY important to also reapply the same camera profile that was used when the profile was generated from the colour chart.
If you forget this step all the colours will be wrong.

I use Fujifilm Provia/standard as my base profile and the SpyderChekr profile sits on top of this.
I reapply the white balance setting derived from the E2 patch.

There is one more image that is worth taking; a backdrop plate.

As I need to remove the shoe supports in post it will be good to have a clean image of the backdrop without the shoe.
So I removed the shoe and its supports and took an image of the backdrop.

Now all that remains is to create a focus stack.

I am shooting at f11 and we will need around 10-15 images to get the shoe and the laces in focus.
The GFX100 works this out automatically when you use the Focus Bracket option and set it to AUTO.
The camera determined I will need 12 frames for this shot.

The stack of images is then exported to Helicon Focus for stacking.

The settings used:

The output from Helicon Focus is saved as a 16bit TIFF and loaded into Photoshop.


Most of you will be familiar with the need to use a high shutter speed to freeze the action.
A water splash is a very fast action that needs to be frozen with a very fast shutter speed - probably around 1/2000s - 1/8000s

So how do we manage this when our shutter is set to 1/125s?

This is where the concept of ‘flash duration’ enters the picture.

Flash duration is the measured time it takes for the burst of light to start - peak - fade out.

Typically flash duration is linked to the flash output power:
more power = slower speed
less power = faster speed

There are some exceptions to this, mostly found in the higher end strobe systems.
Ideally what we want is more power = fast speed.

For this shoot I need to consider the flash duration and pick a power setting on the strobes that give me a flash duration around 1/2000-1/8000s.
This acts as the “shutter speed” in place of the actual shutter speed.

This is key for a water splash image to work.

On my Elinchrom lights the flash duration is stated on the display. Very helpful. My Sekonic L-858 light meter also measures flash duration.
The Elinchrom lights have an ‘action’ mode that furter increases the flash duration - at the expense of slightly less consistent colour stability.
Not a problem here as we are just shooting water.

There are many resources on YouTube that better explains this concept:

The setup:

I wasn’t looking forward to this part as I am working in a tiny space at home for this image. 10x10 feet.
The problem when doing this in a confined space is that all the equipment is very close to the water.

I spread a tarp on the floor and covered what I could.
The lights and the Macbook Pro was covered in cling film.

I swapped over to the GF120 for the water shoot so the camera could be a bit further away.
I had to put the tripod partly outside.

Some water still made it onto the GFX.

As we cannot focus stack the water splash we need to set a smaller aperture.
f11 won’t be enough here.
So the lens is set to f22.

For the main lights I used two Elinchrom ELB-500 heads.
They have a relatively fast flash duration.

The lights were set to power 2.0 and that gave a flash duration of 1/4878s.
I would prefer a bit faster, but at f22 I need more power.

To get a bit more exposure I changed the ISO to 400 for this to compensate for the 2-stop difference from f11.

Camera settings for the water shoot:
ISO 400

To create the splach I dropped a tin of beans into the water.
The timing is the hard part.
I triggered the camera from the Fujifilm phone app. It worked fine.

Here are some of the resulting splashes:

The freezing of the motion is a bit marginal for my taste. I would have preferred even faster flash duration.
Most of the blurring is caused by the lack of depth of field.
It won’t be a problem for the image I have in mind.

I exported the chosen splashes to PS.


When working with more complex images that contain many different parts, that themselves need lots of work, I prefer to work with linked images.

I know the shoe will need lots of retouching.
I know the water images will make it hard to work on the shoe once all is assembled into one image.

So the solution is to work on the shoe in a seperate PS file and then add that as a linked file in the master composite.

Whenever I make a change to the linked image (shoe in this case) and then save it, the changes will be applied to the shoe image in the master composte. Very handy.
It makes the master composite less complicated and keeps the file size under control.
This becomes more important when you are dealing with large GFX TIFF images.

So it all begins.

The shoe gets cut out from the background. I use the pen tool for this.
I will use the clean background plate I took for the actual background.

Then I use a combination of ‘Puppet Warp’ and ‘Liquify’ tools to manipulate the laces into the shape I want.



The logo is a bit faint and the edges are frayed.

I select the yellow logo with my TK7 actions and paint over the yellow with the paint brush.
This will help it ‘pop’ in the image.

I repeat the process for the yellow details:

The seams are repaired:

For this work it is helpfull to selcet the area first. Any painting or clone stamping will be limited to the selceted area.
This is very similar to the way airbrush artists work with masks.

This process is repeated for the whole shoe.
I use a combination of the healing brush, stamp tool and paint brush for most of the retouching.

In some cases the damaged area can be difficult to retouch with normal tools.
Here is an example where there is a lot of texture and colour gradients.
For this repair I used ‘frequency seperation’.
It is more commonly used when retouching skin, but it works just as well for product photography retouching.

The process allows you to treat the texture separately to the colour and fix one or the other or both.

The changes are saved and the master composite gets updated automatically.

Here is the retouched shoe:

In the master composite the water splashes are cut out and masked and a water feature is created to look like heavy rainfall in a puddle.

Some of the splashes are placed behind the shoe to create depth.

I found a vector graphic of the Karrimor logo online and added it.
A dark blue colour overlay was added to blend the colour with the image.
An outer glow with the yellow sampled from the shoe was added to the logo.

After 15 hours of work we have the final assembly:

So there you have it.
A condensed explanation to how this image was created, from conceptual sketch to final image.

I am happy to explain in more details if you have any questions.


-IMPORTANT- this is a very long post. When replying to the thread please avoid ‘REPLY WITH QUOTE’. It will make it impossible for others to read. Use the ‘REPLY’ or ‘REPLY TO THREAD’ option.

 Mads Bjerke's gear list:Mads Bjerke's gear list
Fujifilm GFX 100 Fujifilm XF 23mm F2 R WR Fujifilm GF 63mm F2.8 Fujifilm GF 32-64mm F4 Fujifilm 120mm F4 Macro +4 more
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