Tips for Photographers and Retouchers for Handling a Commercial Photo Shoot

Despite being one of the best jobs in the world, photography and retouching are both technical processes in which you usually deal with some problems and find solutions afterwards. Every shoot is a different problem to be solved, and mostly, this is the fun part of this job. But sometimes, you have to be prepared when dealing with large amounts of photos with a tight deadline. So, here are some tips for fast-paced workflows for a commercial photo shoot.

Be Careful About Color Backgrounds

Color backgrounds are fun to work with, but when doing a commercial photo shoot, it is vital to use non-reflective color backdrops to avoid color casts on the model and the clothing. Most photographers including myself usually prefer to paint the studio background for photo shoots for using a wider space, but to be honest, it is effective when using white or gray backgrounds. If your client asks you for a specific color backdrop, be sure to use non-reflective seamless paper backdrops like Savage paper backgrounds. If you decide to paint your studio wall, be prepared for the color casts and hours of color correction. You also have an option of using vinyl or PVC backgrounds, which can be cleaned easily with a sponge, but they don’t offer you as many color options as the paper backgrounds. They are usually white, gray, or black (you can also find colored gradient versions in some brands); however, they are really heavy to use, and the texture is visible on the images.

Using a Light Meter

Using a light meter is a controversial subject for many photographers. Some prefer to use them in every shoot, and some don’t. As a matter of fact, it is really handy in certain situations. Despite their high price tags in the past, they are relatively cheap nowadays and having a light meter would be a good investment, especially if you are using multiple light setups on a shoot. Light meters will allow you to read the value of falling light on different spots and surfaces in your set, and they will make the whole process easier, in terms of equalizing and balancing the light or creating a contrast between them. I personally use a Sekonic light meter, and the results are always accurate. By the way, reading a light meter is a little tricky, but it is not so complicated after you get used to it.

Camera Calibration and White Balance

Before getting into Photoshop and starting to do the main retouch and color grading, you have to perform color correction first. Therefore, you need to get the accurate and real colors on your image by correcting the white balance and creating a custom color profile for working on multiple images, especially if you have shot similar images on the same light setup. This is vital, particular if you are doing something like planning to shoot a clothing catalog with the same background color. So, the best way is using a color calibration chart like the Datacolor SpyderCHECKR or X-rite ColorChecker Classic, and right after your light setup is finished, shooting a reference image for color calibration of your camera and the white balance will save a great amount of time on post processing.

Choosing the Right Raw Conversion Software

Each raw conversion software gives different results. You can either use Adobe Camera Raw or Capture One or even DXO and some other software, but the best way is trying each and finding out which suits best to your needs. Also, each raw processing software creates unique results through things such as highlight recovery and general color tone, even if you apply the exact same settings. Canon’s raw image processing software, Digital Photo Professional, gives better results in terms of highlight recovery when processing Canon raw files, Capture One gives better results on skin tones (less pinky skin tones), and Adobe Camera Raw gives better texture details on default settings, according to my experience. Therefore, it is always better to use different raw processing software for different type of images and clients' needs.

Alternatives For Raw Processing:

Be Careful About the Local Color Casts

There are two main color casts that usually occur on the model during a photo shoot. If the model wears a shiny or neon-like color dress, the colors and light that are reflected by the dress cause local casts. Well, it is not so hard to deal with, but keeping those risks in mind will help you build a better workflow in terms of time management. Another main issue is caused by natural factors. When the model poses on a standing position for a long time, the hands and feet will look magenta or pink colored because of the blood. There are several ways to avoid this in post-processing, and the best way is using hue and saturation sliders on a local area with layer masks. Recording an action for similar images will save lots of time on post-processing.

Some Other Useful Tips

  • Create your own actions for each shoot.
  • If the floor gets dirty with the footsteps of your team and your model, record an action (surface blur and noise). That works perfectly, especially on white backgrounds.
  • Avoid using third-party skin retouching plugins. It’s 2016 and everyone knows they look fake.
  • Try different action panels for dodge and burn and other workflow tasks. They are very handy for easy access.
  • Use frequency separation for texture, not for color, if you want to achieve realistic results.
  • Check your color management workflow depending on the usage of final images.
  • Consider the fact that clients and other people will never see the images as you see. So, if you are using an Adobe RGB (wide gamut) monitor, and the images will be used only in digital, it would be better to check the images on a standard sRGB monitor. (simulating the client’s view).
  • Finally, calibrate your monitor regularly.   

If you have any tips based on your experience when dealing with large amounts of photos in a limited time interval, please share in the comments section below.

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Lee Christiansen's picture

On the very last point about using a wide gamut monitor, there's no need to check images on a lower gamut screen. A wide gamut screen just offers the potential to view a wide gamut of colours. It may be more important to convert images to sRGB (or soft proof) before delivery if you are working in aRGB. I still work in sRGB throughout (even with an Eizo CG2420) but if I was to work in aRGB then I may be tempted to deliver in both sRGB and aRGB.

(Obviously delivering in aRGB for a client who will use / view on a limited gamut monitor is asking for trouble. We need to be sure of their workflow / use if delivering wide gamut images).

I do use 3rd party retouching software, but only VERY lightly. I find these can be useful when combined tentitvely with hand retouching. As with anything, too much is usually too much.

Burak Erzincanli's picture

I use aRGB for print purposes actually, but the reason for double checking the colours is; even with sRGB there might be some problems, clients have various monitors and they can see pinks and oranges shifted sometimes, I also check from an ipad as most of the clients check the preview images quickly from their ipads :) and sometimes it is really hard do convince them about the accuracy of colors

Ross Floyd's picture

I edit on a 27" eizo, one of the best purchases I have ever made, and still check the images on an apple monitor, mainly to check to make sure my tonal transitions and gradients are smooth in the smaller gamut - especially darker images

Burak Erzincanli's picture

that's definitely the safest way Ross

aaronbratkovics's picture

Good tips =]

Burak Erzincanli's picture

Thanks Aaron!

Ralph Hightower's picture

Photography does have technical aspects about it with ISO, aperture, shutter speed, focal length. But it also has artistic elements about it, such as framing, choosing the focal length, the effect of aperture and shutter speed on the desired photo.

Marc Stowe's picture

What could possibly be controversial about using a light meter?

Burak Erzincanli's picture

there are many photographers out there who think lightmeters are unnecessary anymore as the built-in light meters in cameras are improved, and people who choose try&error and a few test shots rather than using light meters

Tobias Klein's picture

Great advice! Thank you. One question though, why should one use the entire color checker or something equivalent and not just a white/grey card?

Burak Erzincanli's picture

Thanks for reading Tobias! ;)

Tobias Klein's picture

I just edited my comment and I have one question :)
One question though, why should one use the entire color checker or something equivalent and not just a white/grey card?

Jeff Morris's picture

A grey card will get your overall wb down, but a full color checker card will reveal anomalies in both your light source and your camera sensor. My camera, for instance, oversaturates greens just a bit. It doesn't seem like a big deal (and for most uses ISN'T a big deal), but some higher end commercial work is very color critical. For instance, the exact shade of red of a Coca-Cola can. Or the precise blue of a Bomberg watch face.

Tobias Klein's picture

Makes total sense. Thank you!

Robert Sakowski's picture

Back Up your Data, always. And have Always enough spare batteries for your flash transmitter ;)

Burak Erzincanli's picture

thumbs up for this great advice Robert!