Clipping Paths in Commercial Photography

In my 14 years of shooting commercial photography I’m frequently being asked to shoot a customers object in front of a simple white backdrop. In most cases this is because the client needs to place the product on a white printed brochure page or web page and also because products often contrast well against a white background, bringing out their colour, intricacy and punchiness.

For a couple of subjects the job of keeping a beautifully lit, well exposed and sharp product whilst making a flat true white background from corner to corner is indeed doable. By way of example I’ve recently shot a collection of black boots for a client and because of the innate contrast between the black of the boot and the bright whiteness of the backdrop the sought after effect was easily achieved with fairly straight forward lighting.

On the other hand satisfactory results are troublesome if not impossible to accomplish for one very simple reason:

When photographing most items I always shoot in a way that highlights the best characteristics of the product itself which doesn’t necessarily create a truly white background. Correct lighting of the object will hence often result in underexposure of the backdrop so that it appears an unpleasant and uneven shade of grey. Take as an Photographer Barcelona example a photograph of a white paper plate. To bring out the surface texture and detail of the plate the photographer would have to somewhat underexpose this area, but by exposing for the brilliant white background the detail on the plate would be lost and consequently appear flat and 2-D.

Obviously these problems can generally be overcome with extensive and time consuming photographic lighting solutions such as flagging the object. A ‘flag’ effectively creates a physical obstacle in between the studio light and the item, therefore shading the object so that it sees less light while subsequently increasing the intensity of light to the backdrop. This is lovely if the client has the budget for what I call ‘bespoke’ product photography, but more often than not they have many hundreds of products they basically require cataloging so resources and time scales are understandably tight.

In these instances the easiest, most affordable and normally most productive solution is in the creation of a post-production clipping path. Produced in professional image manipulation software like Adobe’s wonderful Photoshop, clipping paths are hand drawn vector paths that once utilised isolate and separate the product from the background and effectively allow the product to be dropped onto a infinite number of backgrounds. It may be compared simply to taking a pair of scissors to a printed magazine, cutting the desired object out and dropping it onto a background of your liking!


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