Product Photography Case Study: Why You Have Trouble Keeping White Product Photo Backgrounds White

I recently had a woman call me that was struggling with making the white backgrounds in her product photos for her fashion ecommerce website actually come out white. She hired me to consult with her for a day on her product photography and I felt it would be good to pass along the lessons learned.

Product photography and fashion photography where white products are shot with a white background requires correct exposure on the background.

She told me she had purchased 7 lights with soft boxes over them from the camera store.  I assumed that would be enough. However, when I arrived I realized these were continuous lights, not studio strobes and put out very little light.  It was also not possible to adjust the amount of light output on any of her lights.  Her camera was also not of a professional level.  It was a point and shoot camera, but fortunately it allowed her to manually select the shutter speed and aperture.

She showed me the photos she had taken.  Her backgrounds were all a dingy, dirty looking grey even though she was shooting her dresses on mannequins that were in front of a white background.  She also had another professional photographer tell her there was simply nothing that could be done about it with her lights, camera and setup.

Looking at her lights, half of the lights had only one fluorescent daylight balanced bulb in them.  They were emitting less than half of the light of her other lights that had four bulbs in each fixture.  The dimmer lights were the ones that she had on her background and this was the problem.

In order for a white background to be white in product photography, it has to be lit brighter than the subject of the photo.  It also needs to be an even light.  If it is underexposed at all, or even parts of the background are underexposed, it will start to take on a grey appearance. 

We solved this problem by changing her lighting set up.  We arranged the brightest lights to evenly light her background and the dimmer ones on the mannequin in the dress.  Then by increasing the distance of the lights from the mannequins we were able to balance the light so the background had ample light to remain white while correctly setting the camera exposure to look right for the clothing.  Due to the low amount of light emitted by her lights a very slow shutter speed had to be used.  This required shooting with the camera on a tripod to prevent blur from camera shake.

I could get into a long detailed explanation of the type of lights, light meters, best camera, diagrams and such that are best for product photography, but what I realized here is that smaller ecommerce merchants are not likely to be able to afford professional level equipment, nor do they have the time to learn how to use it.  I thought it would be better to keep this simple.  Whether you are using your iPhone, a point and shoot camera or pro level cameras, if your background isn’t coming out white, you don’t have enough light on it!

In the case of the clothing and the mannequins, this was solved by being able to stand the mannequin far enough away from the background to light the background independently of the clothing on the mannequin.  When you are photographing smaller products on a white background, this can be trickier.  When the product is dark like in the product photo below, you should be able to expose the product adequately and have the background come out white without too much difficulty.  On lighter colored products such as in the product photo on top try binging in more light to the sides of the product aimed at the background and not the product and see if that helps. 

Ecommerce platforms like Amazon require the background to be PURE white or they will reject your photos.  Even with the steps taken above, your backgrounds may not be perfectly white.  You may also find that while they appear white in the back of your camera, when you upload them to your ecommerce website, they aren’t pure white.  To solve this, open them up in Photoshop and paint in the background, careful to not paint over your product to get them pure white.

The process of learning photography, lighting and photoshop can be frustrating and literally take years.  It can be well worth calling in a professional to shoot your product photos.  Or if you are based in Los Angeles, we can consult with you on how to set up your lighting, take your photos and do the processing in photoshop.  In the case of the client we are discussing, we imparted years of knowledge to her in a way she could rapidly master and had her able to shoot flawless product photos for her Ecommerce store in less than a day of working with her.  Contact us if you would like more information on this service.

See our Los Angeles Product Photographer page for more information on our product photography services and our Product Photography Pricing page for our basic price list.

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In product photography where the background is considerably darker than the white background it is easier to keep the background white. Just ensure the light is even and not creating shadows that will become grey.

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