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Leather Photography Studio Tips and Retouch Image Editing Best Practices


Leather Photography Studio Tips and Retouch Image Editing Best Practices

Blog outline:

Studio Tips

Retouching

Summary

Leather is a unique product compared to clothing and apparel, creating unique challenges for photography studios. Whether it's suit jackets, lingerie, or sneakers, studios will do their best to keep the products clean and blemish free, avoid scuffs, marks and abrasions when possible, however leather will unavoidably show some imperfections in high resolution photography.

We prize leather for its roughness, its strength and its robustness and a good quality piece of leather is valued for it's longevity. And sometimes leather is valued exactly because it is blemished, scuffed and marked -- that’s why there are hundreds of youtube videos and blog articles about how to break in your new leather jacket or pants.

But it's these wear-marks, these marks of durability and use, that look so good on a leather bag or boots, that can pose a unique set of problems around lighting, reflection, saturation, contrast, texture, and color, all of which we want in order to emphasize the creases, wrinkles, and character of the product. Unlike on a new pair of sneakers, we don’t necessarily want to clean up all the marks, we want to keep them in, but only the right kind of scuffs and marks. An inexperienced photographer or editor is likely to want to just clean all of the marks and scuffs of character away leaving you with a product that looks dull and flat, completely missing the point of why we love leather so much. In other products, often with colored leather purses, we do want the blemish-free version -- so the decisions of image editing cleanup comes down to subjective aesthetics that only a trained human eye can give.

That’s where Pixelz comes in, we offer advanced solutions to give studios world-class leather imagery and we have the skills and experience to be able to make your leather product look crisp, clean and great without taking away its unique character and interest. Learn more about Pixelz services and pricing here.

Tips for Taking Great Photographs of Leather

There’s no right or wrong way to photograph your leather product, what you choose will depend on the product, location, style, and overall feel you’re going for but we’ve included some tips here to get you thinking and perhaps help you troubleshoot any problems you might find coming up.

Studio Tips

Cleaning the Leather Before You Begin

Unless you’re taking a photo specifically because you want it to look old fashioned or antiqued the first thing you want to do, before you begin, is to clean your product of all dust and marks. In addition, some leather products, especially shoes and potentially some bags and purses, should be polished as well, however, not all. Jackets, shoulder bags and backpacks made of leather are often designed specifically to look rugged and imperfect. How much you clean, polish and perfect will depend on what kind of look you’re going for.

In addition to the cleaning you can do, an after-editing studio, like Pixelz, will be able to clean up any fingerprints, imperfections and blemishes that might have been missed initially or created in the photography process.

Choose the Right Lighting

Soft Light

When we choose a soft light we’re thinking more about the subject and looking less at the shadow and the transitions from one surface to another.

With soft lighting, the light source that generates the light is physically very big - much bigger than with a hard light source (think of the deep shadows and contrast created by a small phone flash). Large lights are characterized by faded edges and therefore the transition between the light and the shadows is smooth and the shadow itself is less dark and deep. If this is what you’re going for you can smooth things out and decrease the shadows even more by moving another light even closer. Reflective umbrella modifiers tend to give directional soft light, and softboxes can also give you the flattering soft light dispersion while still being directional.

bag

In the image above, multiple lights are used from various angles to create a soft reflection and soft shadows.

In the image below, we consider this to be soft light combined with a hard light source (notice the sharp shadows)... it is truly a unique image. The photographer has done an excellent job to capture an ambiance and feeling about the product, by putting the lighting at the back of the product rather than the usual front and side lights.

Bag shadows

Hard Light

Whereas soft light creates diffused shadows and shadows that aren’t too dark, hard light is the opposite, it creates dense hard shadows with very clear transitions from surface to surface and object to object. You can get this look with a small light source close to the object, or perhaps a larger light kept at a distance, such as the image below.

Sofa

Typical studio techniques for acquiring hard light includes using light source modifiers like reflectors, snoots, barn doors, and beauty dishes with a grid attached.

Pixelz allows you to upload images for editing and specify if you want to keep your product's original shadows, specify how soft or hard the shadow should be, and we can even create a shadow that doesn't yet exist. Start a free trial with 10 free images, and reach out to our Support team to learn how to get the perfect shadows you are looking for.

Diffused light

When you think of diffused light, think of the sun coming through a thin cloud of a spring morning. It’s coming from a central, concentrated source, but it’s being bounced off something else (in this case the water droplets in a cloud) making it spread out in an even manner. This has the effect of more or less totally getting rid of any shadows at all, as the light seems to wrap around the object. Perfect if you’re looking to take a picture of your leather product with no visible shadows and less glaring reflection.

Although it’s possible to get this effect artificially in the studio, it might be easier to simply place your leather product in front of a large window and close a set of white translucent curtains across it. You'll likely need tape and some careful arranging to make sure the curtains do not fold or create streaks of lighting. Depending on the time of day the sunlight will still be direct, but the curtains will help diffuse the harsh light. This setup can be improved by adding a translucent "shoot-through" umbrella modifier added to your light source setup, and consider using more than one at various angles. This will diffuse the light better than a traditional reflective umbrella modifier.

Notice in the image below, we are not distracted by sharp shadows, the product is well illuminated and the lighting is evenly dispersed, rather than creating a strong reflection.

Chairs

In the image below, notice how Pixelz kept the original shadow of the product, but also added a natural-looking shadow to the chain, for a cohesive aesthetic.

Photographing the Variations and Changes in your Product

Unlike a pair of sneakers or T-shirts, when photographing leather, a change in angle or lighting will suddenly bring out a whole different variation in contrast, color, and hue. That’s why, when you sit down to take some photos of a leather bag or pants you need to try different angles and variations in lights and lighting positions to bring out the most from your subject.

Front and Back

Normally this is the angle we use when photographing jackets, pants, and onepieces, as it’s simple and gives the customer a clear idea of what the product is really like. So to keep things simple and clear we normally keep the background white or light and take the image from a close angle and ensure the entire product is in focus.

Interior Shots

You might want to photograph the interior of a leather bag, wallet or purse to show potential uses and what you can fit in there, as well as to show the workmanship of a high quality product. This can be a tricky shot to get right because of how dark it naturally is. There are no simple solutions, the only thing to do is to think a lot about your lighting and keep trying different angles and light sources until you find something that illuminates your product well without casting deep shadows that throw other parts into complete darkness.

Close-ups and Texture Shots

We use close-ups a lot in leather photography because it shows off what makes leather such an interesting product, the imperfections, blemishes and marks that show it is unique, plus the material, logos, stitches, markings that go along with it. We use lighting and the angle very carefully in order to capture the details of the texture and you may want to use a macro lens to get the best results. These techniques look especially good on smaller objects such as shoes, wallets, belts, or watches.

leather photography

In the image above, the photographer shows a closeup of the product texture, while also showing the zipper color and style, making for a more interesting closeup to show a potential customer on the ecommerce website.

Chairs

A more traditional closeup texture might be like this shot (above), which is perfect for sending to Pixelz as the reference photo for color-matching and texture-matching. Pixelz does not charge a price for sending this reference photo, we only use it for our AI algorithms and as a reference for our expert photo editors to guarantee perfect color and texture matching. Learn more about Pixelz color and texture matching here.

In the image below, Pixelz removed the background, provided a natural-looking shadow, and retouched the blemish mark of the leather without over-retouching the texture, so the customer receives the correct expectation about the look and feel of the product without being distracted by non-aesthetic scuffs.

Choose Your Angle

When photographing leather the angle and lighting you choose are your best friends. As you can see in this shot (below), the photographer has chosen an angle and lighting that emphasizes the up and down decoration on the leather; then put it on a piece of semi-reflective glass to show the marks again from below; then blurred out the background to remove distraction. In addition, they’ve color graded it really well so the gold pops out against the black leather.

Recreate natural shadow

Shadow keeps reflection

Regardless of the careful studio placement, you may want this image with the background removed, and you can decide if you want to keep the shadow with reflection, or remove the reflection and let Pixelz recreate a natural shadow. Learn more about our shadow addon on the pricing page.

For perfect color gradation it’s ideal to have a “grey card” in shot to calibrate the colors against. You can take the shot, send it to us at Pixelz, then we calibrate the colors and remove the card and blur out the background. So your colors look perfect every time.

Use Pins and Fishing Line to Adjust Your Product

You may want your bag, jacket or shoes to sit prettily in a position gravity says is impossible, that’s why you can use pins or fishing line to artificially hold a product in an unnatural position long enough to be able to take the shot. In addition you might want to stuff a bag, wallet or jacket sleeve with tissue in order to bulk it out and give it a roundness you can’t get otherwise.

Don’t worry if you can see your tissue, pin or fishing line in your final shot. All of these problems can be easily edited out when you send in your shot for processing.

Alternatively, you can also hold the product, and let Pixelz retouch the image, removing handstand background and recreating any parts of the product covered by hands.

The Invisible Mannequin

Sometimes we want a product (usually jackets and bags) to look natural, in the position and shape we would naturally see it, but without the visual distraction of a model or mannequin holding it. That’s where the Invisible Mannequin steps in.

The best way of doing this is to take the photo of the product on the mannequin as you want it to look then take a second shot of the area that was hidden by the mannequin, usually the neck insert (for jackets) or the leather strap (for bags). Later, at the computer, the images are then combined to give a photo that appears three-dimensional but without the mannequin in shot.

These kinds of “Invisible mannequin images” give life to the product and are commonly combined with model images in order to give interest and variation to the product and to give the consumer the best possible idea of what the product will look like in real life. Learn more about Pixelz ghost mannequin services here.

One of the challenges ecommerce studios face is matching the color between model images and mannequin images of the same product. Because the model and mannequin are often photographed on different days in different studio areas with different lighting, color calibration is required, and even with color calibration, some effort is needed to match the colors of the different photo sets afterwards. Pixelz offers a world-class color-matching solution (learn more here), in which you provide the reference color (it can be a reference image or pantone or RGB value) and Pixelz will apply the color-matching across all images in the product set. This allows your model photographer to focus on the branding and style, and some of our customers prefer to use the mannequin studio to create a closeup reference image that is color-calibrated, because less support staff (model, hair stylist, makeup artist, etc) are waiting during the color-calibration process. Pixelz works with hundreds of high-volume professional studios (each with tens of thousands of images per month) and we offer dedicated account managers who are specialized in helping studios innovate and overcome their painpoints. Reach out to our Customer Success team for a demo.

Retouching

Retouching and Background Removal

This is the most difficult step, and the step that requires the most skill and experience. With all leather products there are some blemishes we want to keep in the photo because they add character and interest, and some we want to remove, such as scuff marks or, as here, a crease on a polished leather shoe which should be smooth.

This is where retouching becomes an art form and where experience is absolutely vital - having the eye to see what should be there and what should not be, and the knowledge to know that sometimes a mark is not necessarily “correct” but adds depth and interest to a product that it wouldn’t otherwise have.

In this image below, you can see a scuff mark and some creases in the leather that could distract from the product. This is a great example of the kind of mark that doesn’t add character and can be removed to improve the look of the shot.

footwear-remove-leather-marks-retouching-before footwear-remove-leather-marks-retouching-after

Sometimes we want to keep the background of a photo in, it gives character and interest to a photo and potentially gives clues to a customer regarding the aspirations and demographic of people the product is designed for. But sometimes we want to keep things simple and show off a product against a background that doesn’t distract the viewer, in the case we can remove the background the product has been taken against during the post-production edit process.

In addition to removing scuffs and marks, studios can select the option to "Remove Origin", which removes any reference detailing the country in which the product was made. For shoes, hats, and leather jackets, a studio may also want to remove the size imprint, which can be done in the same way. Pixelz has specifications you can choose for everything imaginable, and if you have custom requirements we don't already have available in our system, reach out to our Customer Success Team so we can build these custom requirements for you.

shoes-retouch-remove-origin-before shoes-retouch-remove-origin-after

Color-Matching

This is where Pixelz AI technology really comes into its own, but to get the very best results we need some help from the photographer. In our experience, the best thing for the studio to do is to shoot a few photos of the product from different angles as well as a close-up photo of the product texture, which is also shown to the customer.

The studio then sends this close-up photo to us and we use it as the reference photo for the Pixelz Color-matching addon. Our AI technology is extremely good at "detail recovery" which means we are able to hold onto a lot of that detail which can be lost under studio lights or in the photographing and editing process. It’s these details, these marks of use and character that give leather its individual and rugged feel and that are overall so important for leather products. To briefly clarify, Pixelz has an R&D team of world class computer vision developers, who build AI-based tools for image editing which our photo editors use. All images are retouched by human hands and all AI work is reviewed by expert quality-assurance editors, which is why Pixelz has the lowest rejection rates in the industry.

In addition, we use the shots sent by the studio to make sure the color of the product in each photo matches the color in every other photo, regardless of the different lighting setups, angles, or reflections, which allows the photographer to focus on ambience, branding, style, model skin tone, and aesthetic perfection, without being concerned that the product color-calibration is an issue.

Color Adjustment or Correction

Color Adjustment

A new pair of chinos is designed to be one consistent color and texture but a leather jacket or bag that’s a uniform color and hue can look strange and artificial. And it's because of all those variations in shading, contrast and depth that leather often needs color correction in order to have the correct hue, brightness, saturation and contrast.

The way we have chosen to set up the Pixelz Platform does not allow users to combine Color Matching with Color Adjustment - meaning the user must choose one or the other. We've arranged it this way because if you choose to color-match, this service will take care of all color adjustment needs.

In addition, the user should take advantage of the "Color-cast removal" tool, which reduces reflections that might disrupt colors. The studio can also use gray cards in the background, and Pixelz will use that grey card reference to remove the color-cast. For new photographers to understand, color-cast is when the reflective surfaces of an object absorb the colors of the environment, for example, when someone in the studio is wearing a bright green dress, the reflections on the object may absorb some of that green color.

Example of color-cast removal:

color cast removal footwear product image before color cast removal footwear product image after

Another leather example of color-cast is this leather bag (below) which is reflecting the blue color from the sky overhead. Although the colors may seem aesthetic, when removing the background, this color-cast can distract from the true nature of the product, and as a best practice it should be removed.

However, sometimes the studio will not want to use the color-matching addon, perhaps they do not have multiple photos for color matching or do not have a good reference photo, in that case the user should make a template with the color adjustment setting and as a best practice, add the color-cast removal setting. Our Customer Success team will help you create this.

You can also add a comment to the form in order to give suggestions to their editor. Although they can be helpful, comments are not usually necessary as the editor will have a good deal of experience handling leather and will have the experience to give the best result regardless. Most specifications can be setup using our intuitive web-based Pixelz Platform™, however for color adjustment and color-cast removal, our Customer Success team will help you setup these specifications so that we can deliver your expectations the first time, without forcing you to experiment with different settings. Pixelz is more than an image editing company, we are truly your partner in post-production -- your success is our success.

File Outputs

Pixelz can accept JPG, PNG, TIFF, and even large PSD files and can return the finished images in these formats at your request. Some image editing companies will only accept certain formats like JPG, which can be an issue for some studios.

Some studios like to receive finished PSD files with all the layers included, allowing their in-house editors to put any final polishing touches on the image before it's sent out. Getting Pixelz to do the heavy lifting of tedious initial edits saves the studio countless hours, and lets in-house studio editors get straight to the creative work.

Pixelz also accepts file uploads and downloads in 3 ways, and depending on your studio and monthly image volume, one of these options will be best for you.

  • FTP file transfer protocol, the most popular for professional studios.
  • Our Pixelz Platform™ browser-based UI, popular for smaller studios uploading less than 100 images per day.
  • Our API, for serious studios who want to integrate their software with our system. Learn more about our world class API here.

Summary

There’s no other way of saying it, photographing leather is simply more complex than photographing practically any other material - the unique imperfections, character marks and texture of leather gives it a level of three-dimensionality that other products don’t have. You have to get your angle and lighting correct to begin with, then the retouching and color correction right afterward - all of which presents a challenge to someone who wants to bring out all the texture and life in this great product. Hopefully you’ve found this article helpful, and although we can’t be there to set up your lights in the studio, Pixelz can be there to help you convert your photos into world class ecommerce imagery.

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