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[Warning: I'm not a pro photographer!]

Hi guys. I need to take a lot of product pictures for my blog. I'm using my Canon G5 X (compact) and continuous lighting of 3x 125 W 5500К bulbs in softboxes (which I thought and still believe is enough).

However, the photos are still kinda dull so I want to make them more bright/increase the contrast while keeping colors natural. Here's an unedited JPG (I can take RAW if needed):

enter image description here

Settings: shutter priority, f/11, 1/20, ISO 125 (auto), auto WB (tried custom with my gray card, everything looks yellowish for some reason), no flash, no filters, no exposure compensation.

It's obvious I could fix the brightness/contrast in Photoshop but since I'm taking a lot of photos I either need to find a way to take them with little to no extra retouching required OR to fix them in Photoshop in a few clicks.

I tried both ways. For the first one, I tried +1 EV but it makes everything overexposed, same for increasing shutter value even to 1/10. I don't really want to sacrifice sharpness so I didn't play with aperture...

For the second way, I tried Curves - Auto (light & dark colors + snap neutral midtones) but that, for example, makes orange color red which is not acceptable for me as I need to keep colors as they are in real life. Adding more steps like desaturating certain colors increases the overall time of retouching which is again not acceptable...

Any advice would be highly appreciated. Thanks.

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Your lighting will be flat, which is expected based upon your lighting setup. If you shoot RAW, your processing time and storage needs will increase dramatically. So be certain to know how this will impact your workflow and your future budget for asset storage. But you will have the highest resolution and the greatest processing capabilities when shooting RAW.

Your problem is that you're using Photoshop, which I know sounds counter intuitive. Instead of Photoshop, I strongly recommend that you get Lightroom. With PS you have to process each image one at a time which is a enormous time killer. With Lightroom, all you do is edit one image, copy the edits that you want and paste those edits into all of the other images. Lightroom gives you the option of choosing which edits you want to copy. So you can copy only color correction, or in your case, just brightness and contrast edits. Just as long as all of the other images were taken with the same equivalent exposure and under the same lighting conditions, you can adjust the brightness and contrast of a 1,000 images within 1 minute. Once done, you will need to export the editing images as JPEGs as LR uses non-destructive editing. This will take a good bit of time depending upon the number of shots and their file sizes.

LR provides a cataloging feature (similar to Adobe Bridge, but better IMHO) that will allow you to keep all of your images very well organized. You can assign star ratings or color flags to images which can make finding the images that you want much, much easier. The main thing that you can't do with Lightroom is cut elements out of the shot to paste them onto a white background. This is how Amazon.com does it as opposed to trying to get an ultra-white background in camera. You will need Photoshop if you need to cut and paste parts of an image or work with adjustment layers.

A good trick to getting perfect colors is to use the X-Rite Color Checker Passport. When I shot product photography, I used a simple gray card placed in the corner of the shot. Then I just used the eyedropper tool in PS to instantly get a neutral color. The X-Rite CCP is similar but far more accurate. If getting color is critical for your needs, which it probably is, then you will need to get a Color Checker. It allows you to produce a color profile for specific cameras, or camera/lens combos, all under various lighting conditions. Once you have a profile, it takes all but a few seconds to adjust an entire days worth of shots.

  • Maybe I got you wrong but my lighting setup is not flat, I have 3 softboxes pointing for every visible side of the product. I do not shoot RAW. Moreover, I've read somewhere that specifically my camera produces less sharp photos in RAW which is quite weird... I'm fine with Lightroom or any other software as long as I know what should I edit :) I know about Color Checker Passport but it's kinda expensive, I thought there's a way to go without it. Which eyedropper (black/gray/white) do you use? I'm getting terrible results with all of them. – Daniel Jul 15 '18 at 0:20
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    The reason I stated that your light was flat was because of the use of softboxes at all angles. RAW images are always less sharp than JPEGs. JPEGs have been sharpened in camera while RAW images have yet to have any sharpening applied. It's always best to do sharpening on a computer and not in camera. This is because in camera sharpening applies an equal amount of sharpening to the entire image. This can result in areas being over sharpened, thus producing noise. With LR/PS you can apply a mask that only sharpens specific areas. I used the gray eyedropper since I used a gray card. – Frank Jul 15 '18 at 0:47
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Here's your main problem:

Your camera can't tell the difference between a black cat in a coal mine and a white cat in a blizzard. If you point the camera at either and half-press the shutter to meter, it assumes you want whatever you are pointing at to be medium grey.

If you want a white item in your photograph to look white, you need to increase the exposure by a stop or two. There are several ways you can get there, but basically you don't want the white object to be "properly exposed" as if it were a grey object.

enter image description here
Exposure and contrast increased

If you don't want the shape as distorted, move the camera further back and use a longer focal length.

Either increase exposure compensation by about 1 to 1 1/2 stops if you are using a 'semi-automatic' exposure mode, or open the aperture or increase ISO or lengthen the shutter time if you're not using flash in manual exposure mode.

If you are using TTL flash, you need to increase Flash Exposure Compensation by 1 to 1 1/2 stops or all that will happen when you open up the aperture or increase ISO is the flash power will be automatically reduced to compensate. Note that with flash, lengthening the shutter time will have no effect on the flash power, because the flash happens much more quickly than the total time the shutter is open.

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Photoshop Levels (CTRL L) is the easy way.

See image

Raising the Black point (Here to 64) makes that tone become zero, so this is blacker blacks.

Lowering the White point (Here to 215) makes that tone become 255, so this is whiter whites.

Blacker blacks and whiter whites is greater contrast. But depending on how much you clip these ends can of course cause clipping, so generally be mild. Just touching or slightly past where the data starts (as here) is generally best. Grayscale photos can use much greater clipping than color.

Crop it first, to remove the extraneous distractions in the histogram.

Lowering the Center slider (Here to 1.40) raises the brightness without this slider having any risk of any clipping. This middle slider does NOT affect the end points.

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The power output is irrelevant in this case.

Your problem is that you are putting your lights too symmetrical, almost one light per side of the box.

If you put further away one of the lights you have a darker face. Here are two simulations of that.

A. Move the right one further away and you get 1. Move the left one and you get 2.

enter image description here

Also, do not illuminate so much the top face. Use instead that light to light the background a bit more.

Use black cardboards to play with the light. Read this: What does a black reflector do?

You can also play with the faces and the background. Light the background contrary to the illuminated face.

enter image description here

And a third option when taking photos of white objects... use another background.

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