Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Photographing iPhone

iPhone 4 on pure white background.Over the last 10 year or so I’ve learned a lot about photography. There are two things that I keep doing to grow — experimenting a lot and reading the information that others have chosen to share. It would be good to contribute to this pool of knowledge that is available online.

Some of these ideas are probably very simple and there is no “secret souse” to any of this, but guides like these were helpful to me. Hopefully it will be helpful to somebody else.

For me the process of taking a photograph includes 2 phases — taking the shot itself and post-processing. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Post everything from start to finish.

Taking The Photograph

Light tent folded next to 50mm lens for size comparison.The setup itself is fairly simple. I used a light tent given to me by my wife for New Year — Interfit Pop Up Light Tent, 24″. You don’t have to buy anything and can build something simple yourself.

Light tent setup.I used a large sheet of white cardboard to server as the floor and the background for my image. This creates the seamless background, but in this type of photograph when a relatively flat object is involved it would be easy to fix in post-processing.

Nikon SB-600 and SB-800 speedlights.I placed flashes on each side of my light tent. I used Nikon SB-600 and SB-800 speedlights mounted in the stands that come with them in the box. I reversed one of them so both of their control “eyes” would be facing the camera. I aimed them at the center of each side of the light tent and set them to remote slaves. If you do not have 2 strobes you can either use regular bright lights (preferably tungsten not to get a yellow color cast as you would from regular incandescent bulbs) or put some reflector on one of the sides of the light tent.

Rocket Air. "Professional Cleaning System". Funny.I placed iPhone in the center and mounted my D700 camera on the tripod in front of the light tent. Before proceeding to take the shots I used a “device” that I have for blowing the dust off from the camera sensor to get rid of as much dust as possible. You should also use some fiber cloth to wipe all the finger prints from the phone before proceeding. The idea is to fix as much as possible before the photo is taken so you have less to do in post-processing.

Commander mode for pop-up flash on D700.Now we’re going to setup the camera. The pop-up flash is set to commander mode. It will trigger both of the flashes, but it will not contribute to the exposure itself — we don’t want any weird glares coming unfiltered directly from the flash. Both speedlights are set to TTL. We’ll leave it up to the camera to figure out how hard they should be fired.

The camera itself is set to manual mode. I used spot metering on the phone to guide my settings. The idea here is to try to blow out (overexpose) as much of the background as possible while not blowing out any of the detail on the item that you’re trying to photograph.

I set the aperture to f/10 to widen the depth of field to get the object as sharp as possible. I also set my ISO to a low value — no reason to add noise when the camera is tripod mounted and the exposure will not be very long anyhow. The value that you play with is shutter-speed. Using a dSRL makes it easy to take experimental shots and look at the end result to check for overexposure. Again, overexposure around the object is good, while on the object itself is not so much. If you can’t get all of the background to overexpose we’ll fix it in the post-processing.


Before post-processing.Our photo straight out of the camera doesn’t look so hot. The background is grayish, there is still visible dust on the phone and the whole thing is crooked.

I usually start by putting the photo through Lens Correction filter. I will fix geometric distortion, straighten it out and slightly adjust the perspective. After that is done we will crop it and remove the visible dust with Spot Healing Brush.

Step 2.At this point I grabbed a Brush and roughly painted with white color the areas around the phone not to deal with different specks of dust.

Levels adjustment layer.Now we’re going to add a Levels Adjustment Layer and overexpose all the highlights by dragging the white pointer to the left. Hold down Alt button while doing it and you will see all the areas that are getting overexposed. Now we got our pure-white background and we’re getting closer to what the final result should look like.

Curves adjustment layer.Add a Curves Adjustment Layer. We’re going to bring the shadows down slightly to make the black areas “blacker” and bump up the contrast slightly by doing so.

Saturation.At this point I pulled the highlights to the cold side slightly and bumped up the Saturation. Don’t overdo the Saturation though.

Clearing the color cast.I wasn’t happy with the yellow cast that was still visible on the bezels of the phone. I used Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to pull the color down close to black & white photo. Then I put a mask over the screen to bring the color back.

Sharpening.At this point you can hit Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E to end up with a single layer by summing up all the previous ones and apply some sharpening to the final image. I prefer to use Smart Sharpen filter. You should also try to stick to Lab mode for your sharpening step and apply sharpening on the Lightness channel.


iPhone 4. Finished photograph.There you have it. A finished product. Now the above steps are not law of the land and nothing is set in stone. That’s what I do personally. There might be better ways to reach certain objectives and you should always experiment yourself. But maybe these pointers will give you some ideas when you’re working on your own projects of one or another kind.

Let me know if I can clear something up or if you found any of this helpful. Your feedback is always appreciated.

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