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How to: get great looking photos of your bass if you're a photography n00b

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by roberthabraken, Mar 19, 2013.

  1. I consider myself a photography n00b, but I managed to make rather cool pictures of my recently finished bass. Some people asked me to share my method, so here it goes.

    This is an example of the intended result:


    Okay, where do you start? Some requirements / preparations:
    • Take your photos outside. You want to avoid bad light or directional light.
    • Wait for a bright but cloudy day (no dark or nimbus clouds, just no bright sunlight). This helps in getting a better diffuse light.. basically, this prevents shadows and overexposure, as does the first step.
    • Don't use the flash (I know some people say you should always use your flash, but I get better results with this method when I don't).
    • Put a table outside in an open spot. The larger the table, the better, because you want the white background to surround your bass completely.
    • Then put a white sheet over it, could be a bed sheet for example. Try to get the sheet as flat as possible, clamp or hook it over the edges or corners for a good stretch. You really don't want any wrinkles in there.
    • Now just lay your bass on there and take out your camera. I used a Sony Cyber-shot with 7.2 mega pixels, which is a few years old already. Although the quality of lens (Carl Zeiss in this case) is more important than the resolution. Any other compact camera with a reasonably high resolution and good quality lens will do.

    It's time to take the pictures. I use the following guidelines:
    • For any shot make sure the bass is completely surrounded by the white surface of the table. If not, lower your angle, move your bass or enlarge the distance from which you are taking a picture. If the bass extends over the table from your current perspective, it's much harder to remove the background later on!
    • Shoot as many pictures as possible. The more pictures you have, the better it is. Try all angles and different distances. You want a wide choice when picking the best later on.
    • If you take close up shots, turn on the macro function of the camera. If you have such a function, it helps tremendously in getting high quality close ups. Also don't forget to pay attention to the focus area of the macro shot. This is usually indicated by some square marks and it should point out the feature you want to show off.
    • Using a tripod would be the best way to get sharp pictures. But I use a rather cheesy method since I do not have one... it's a bit lame actually too... you know, there's a neck strap on my camera.. I put it around my neck and I hold my camera so the neck strap is stretched completely. This kind of acts as a stabilizer.

    Now you have your pictures, but some could be a bit flat or the color's off (usually too much blue in my case). So I start with a rough selection. All images that are really off, out of focus or just not interesting will be deleted. What's left will be edited with Photoshop. The final selection will be made later on.

    Let's take a picture to work with (mind that this image is scaled to keep the tutorial readable, but the actual scaling is officialy done later in the process):


    Start with adjusting the levels.

    If you do "Image > Adjustments > Levels... (or Ctrl+L)" you get the following popup. Now simply slide the left and right sliders towards the edges of the graph, like this:


    Simply put, this makes the lightest color completely white and the darkest color of the image completely black. It kind of rescales the color palette of your image to use the full range of levels. You'll notice the image looks less dull or flat already:


    Now open the "Image" menu:


    And select the following three options consecutively:
    • Auto Tone
    • Auto Contrast
    • Auto Color

    N.B.: Sometimes the auto color throws the color off a bit (makes a blue images more yellow, which is good, but way too much). What I do when I notice this, is I observe what Photoshop does (more blue, more red, more yellow e.g.) and I'll just undo the Auto Color (Ctrl+Z will do). Then I go to "Image > Adjustments > Color Balance..." and slide the slider of the corresponding color towards the same color as Photoshop did, but in an amount I still like it. This is a vey simplistic way of doing things, because now you're only adjusting the mid tones and only on one level, but it works just fine for this purpose / tutorial.

    If the photo is okay, the auto color will work and after these three auto corrections, you'll end up with this:


    The difference is huge. The contrast, depth and levels are way better, as is the color. Now we need to remove the background:
    • Double click the layer Background and click OK in the popup, to make it a regular layer.
    • Use the Eyedropper Tool (I) and select the darkest color of the white sheet of the part you want to keep.
    • Now Switch Foreground and Background Colors (X).
    • Then use the Eyedropper Tool to select the lightest color of the white sheet. Here you can see the two locations I chose:

    • Create a new layer (new layer icon or Ctrl+Shift+N).
    • Select the Gradient Tool (G), possibly hidden behind the Paint Bucket, and select the Preset (just below the menu) "Foreground to Background".
    • Now, with the new empty layer active, drag a gradient along the same direction of the sheet (light to dark, actually just connecting the two locations you eyedropped before).
    • Drag (move) this new layer with the gradient below the layer with the original image.
    • Now it's time to resize the image to your desired final resolution. I chose 1024 x 768, which I think is an ideal size for viewing an image online (not too large considering bandwith, not too small to still get a good large and detailed photo).
    • Now we need to protect the part of the image we certainly want to keep (the bass). Select the upper surface (top) of the table with the Magic Wand Tool (W). Your settings should be "Point Sample" sample size, Tolerance at "35", having checked the boxes "Anti-Alias" and "Contiguous", but not "Sample All Layers". Could be you need to select multiple areas while holding the Shift key to get a complete selection of the table top.
    • With this selection still active, and while holding the Shift key to add to the current selection, select the background (around the table) with the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L). Also select the sides of the table if visible on the picture (like the front face of the table where the sheet hangs down).
    • After the two previous steps, you should end up with a selection that contains everything but your bass and the shadow around it.
    • Now select the Eraser Tool (E) and set it to 200 px in size and 5% hardness (opacity should be 100%). You are going to erase the areas around the table, but while trying to maintain as much of the top surface of the table as possible. You need to remove any hard edge you see. Here you can see an in progress picture of this task:

    • Remark 1: I know you can better select with Paths, or you can use the Stamp Tool to replicate the sheet, but I find it much harder for less experienced Photoshop users to get a consistent result that way. Using the eraser is just the dummy way I like.
    • Remark 2: Please mention the eraser size is crucial. If you've used 1024 as a target resolution just like me, the 200 px setting is just fine. If you've used any other size, please use an eraser brush size of about one fifth of the image width (so 700 px wide needs an eraser brush size of 140 px and for a 2048 px image you could set it to 410 px for example).

    So, when ready with all these little fuzzy steps, after deselecting, you'll end up with this (after putting on a logo too):


    Actually, the flat look of the gradient, which matches the sheet more or less in its gradient, opposed to the structure around the bass of the actual bed sheet, creates a nice 3D effect that helps the bass really pop in the image. Removing the distracting parts of the background is a tremendous improvement showing off your bass and the color adjustments we've done help in getting a professional looking color balance and contrast. Lastly, one of the most important steps was to actually take the photos outside on a bright but cloudy day. The worst nightmare of getting a good photo is a strong dropshadow, which you'll always get with a flash or photos taken inside. When you do not have access to a photo studio or expensive lighting equipment, daylight is your best friend :smug:

    Now you'll only need to put your name or logo on it and off you go...!

    Disclaimer: I hope this helped. And I hope it's clear. If you have any questions, please let me know, but I'll say this once again: I'm not a photography expert; I know my way in Photoshop pretty good, but this is just a 'for dummies' route to achieve good results without the use of any in depth knowledge of the tool. If you are an expert, you look at the white balance yourself and probably adjust Curves and Exposure yourself manually. But since I'm not very good at this I found my own little way.
  2. jay loren

    jay loren Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2011
    Sharing your method with us is truly appreciated.
    Thank you.
  3. ctmullins

    ctmullins fueled by beer and coconut Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    Oh wow - good stuff - thanks! You did a great job with your pics. I learned a thing or two as well, being more of a photography noob than you are. :)
  4. ArtGuy9516


    Apr 10, 2012
    Richmond, VA
    Some good information. Shooting photos outside is one of the best ways to get good color reproduction. I preferr shooting in RAW or TIFF format to avoid color shifts that happen when a photo is compressed as a JPEG. Also in addition to your tutorial there are lots of tutorials out there on the web for photoshop users that give good step by step techniques to help manage color cast as well.
  5. El Spearo

    El Spearo

    Jun 12, 2012
    Wellington, NZ
    I agree with artguy, shooting RAW if you have the option is way better, you have more info to start with, so it is easier to manipulate and the end result is usually pretty good. Thanks to the OP for sharing
  6. That was awesome, thanks for sharing!
  7. RawOrange

    RawOrange Not really an orange Supporting Member

    Aug 19, 2009
    Southeast Wisconsin
    I've had this bookmarked for some time now, and I finally had a chance to try your method today. Here are the results on one photo. It looks awesome!

  8. Honestly, pretty much anytime you can avoid using a flash for any photo, you're better off. If you have a good enough camera it'll compensate for it in all but the darkest situations.

    I've done a few concert shoots as well, and the same holds true there. Leave the flash at home.
  9. That looks awesome indeed! Nice bass, glad this information helped in showing it off :D

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