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I'm looking for suggestions to blow out the background when shooting down for clothing on the ground. I've tried putting the clothing on a plain white background that I typically use when shooting clothing on a mannequin, but I can't light the background more than the clothing when it's on the ground.

I'd like to be able to completely blow out the background and simplify any post-processing work. Some ideas that I've thought of are:

  • Raising the clothing (difficult since it's irregular) and trying to light the background.
  • Put the clothing on a translucent material and light from the back. (But what material that I can afford?)
  • Buy a light box, but I'm not sure if that will help. Will a light box somehow let me illuminate the background more than the product?

What has worked for you (and not cost too much)?

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5 Answers 5

Not sure what low cost means to you but I use three items to shoot all product images at Neocamera: a light tent ($60), a glass table ($59) and two desk lamps (2 x $29). Since you shoot directly down, you can replace the light tent with a white sheet.

The setup is simple. Light tent goes on the table. One lamp below the table. One lamp above and to the side. The closer you bring the lamp to the table, the more blown out background you will get. I try to put it not too close because they sometimes bleeds light on the rounded edges of plastic cameras. For clothes you probably wont worry about it.

Removing the background is done in post via Photoshop. Background is easy to select with a small tolerance. Then, it gets deleted and the image is put on a layer of the desired color. White cameras give a problem and need to be shot on a black background instead which is more work. I still have trouble with cameras that are black and white!

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Unless the clothes are lighter than the white background, the easiest way to blow out a white background is to expose to the right and then boost the highlights in post. This is fairly easy to do if you save your file in RAW format. Open your RAW convertor of choice and play with the tone curves until you get the effect you want. The trick is to only boost the lightest parts of the curve without raising the mid tones and shadows. If using Lightroom, raise the Exposure rather than Brightness slider.

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Exactly. If the background is white it should be about 2 stops brighter than midtones, should be enough latitude to blow out background and recover the actual product. –  MikeW Apr 14 '13 at 6:42

What is your budget, and what equipment do you currently have?

Going with the lowest cost solution, assuming you have no gear other than 2 flashes and your camera, you will need:

  • 2 white sheets of light fabric. ripstop nylon from your local JoAnn fabric store or 2 large cheap white bedsheets(queen size) would work.
  • clips/PVC tubes/table/duct tape, or what have you, to setup the sheets

Basically, have one sheet form a "table" where you will be shooting your clothing on. This will be illuminated from behind with one flash unit.

Your camera will be about 3-4 feet away from the clothing, depending on your lens.

The 2nd sheet will be right behind the camera, and the 2nd flash will illuminate the 2nd sheet from behind, through the sheet, towards the front of the shirt.

Set it so that the flash behind the shirt is about 1/2 stop brighter than the flash illumunating the front. Take test shots in manual mode and tweak until you get:

  • properly exposed on the shirt
  • 1/2 stop over exposed on the white background

When you take it into PS, it should be very easy and straightforward to increase the exposure and blow out the background to pure white, while leaving the shirt exposed nicely.

A better quality one can be done with a mannequin wearthing the shirt, the background about 2-3' behind the shirt/mannequin, the lighting from the front about the same, and with the aperture and focal length setup so that the background is out of focus. Shoot as before to get the desired exposure. The out of focus aspects will make the shirt much easier to separate from the background.

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If you use a "blue screen" (or green) background you can replace it with the background of your choice. This in many ways no different than 'dropping out' any background with masking, but the consistent colour makes it substantially easier to do accurately.

There is lots on web about blue screen background removal - much is for video but, but far from all.
eg Here's an example of how to use Photoshop CS 5 to work with a bluescreen background.

And a few more:

Looks useful - some links
Hints
Wikipedia - Chroma key video bias.
& here and
Chroma Genie for $ program
When things go wrong - discussi on
Video related - but may be useful

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Putting the clothes directly on a flat background is probably not helping you much since separating the background and subject is harder when they are close together.

Basically the technique you want is similar to the Ghost Mannequin technique. If you don't have a mannequin or you deliberately want the piece to be flat then use some mount board or thick card cut to an appropriate shape to stretch the fabric in place of a mannequin. You can use

Putting distance between the piece and background allows you space to get some extra light onto the background to overexpose it. If you've got a flash that will work off-camera then great (and you can hide it behind the piece), otherwise just grab a couple of lamps and light the background from out of shot.

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