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Close-ups (detail shots) retouching

Close-ups or detail shots are the shots that are supposed to show customers the texture of the items. Really close, so close they might get the same feeling as if they touch the items. It's a very common kind of a shot for clothing. Retouching detail shots is the easiest thing you can imagine because it basically consists of three simple steps: crop, clean and resize. That's it. Unless you're dealing with really thin items, there's no isolation involved, no transformation, nothing that is tricky.

If you have images of items that were cleaned prior to the shooting, you will get no problems at all. When close-ups are dirty it's a problem because dirt and dust and small hairs are clearly visible, and it's unlikely that you'll be able to leave any of trash without anyone noticing. But with the items that were prepared properly retouching close-ups is like a breeze. But still, there are some specific aspects that you have to know about.

Detail shots

When retouchers crop close-ups, they often try to include less trash and dirt to save themselves some time. Which is exactly the opposite to what has to be done. The simple law of digital images is this: less focus, less detail, less dust, and dirt. So if you want to avoid dust and dirt, you have to choose the least sharp area of the image, something that is completely out of focus. But you know what? There's no point in showing customers some blurry outline of an image. The only reason why we use these detail shots in the first place is that we want to demonstrate texture. Then it's only reasonable to show the sharpest area of the image, not vice versa.

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This image can be used to demonstrate the possible trickery. If I wanted to save myself some time, I would try to pick a part of the image that doesn't have any dust or dirt. Which would be this area below the brand logo. But is it really a good way to crop a detail shot? Of course, not. This kind of crop doesn't show any interesting details. I should have included the brand logo, because brands are important to customers. If there was no brand logo, I would include the buttons and the collar, but a plain piece of material is the most boring and senseless option of them all. So don't avoid important details because you're to lazy to use the Spot Healing Brush. Rule number one in cropping close-ups is: “Show interesting details. Avoid boring plain crops”.

It might get even worse than just ignoring interesting details. In order to avoid cleaning dirt, retouchers can crop a part of an image that is completely out of focus. It has even less sense, because the sole purpose of a detail shot is demonstrating the texture. If there's no texture, there's no point uploading the close-up to the website. No focus, no details, it's as easy as that. So the rule number two is: “The detail shot crop should be in focus and sharp”.

There might be another issue with sharpness, not due to a lack of focus, but because the cropped area is too small. When you crop details of items that are shot on a white background, you're supposed to isolate the background if it gets into the crop. In order to avoid this extra work, retouchers can try and crop the detail shot in such a way that no background gets in. There's nothing really wrong about this approach.

When an item is very thin or small, it might be impossible to crop the detail shot while completely avoiding the background. In this particular case, the detail shot should be cropped like this, because it allows us to include the most interesting details and get a nice sharp image. But if I wanted to avoid the background, I would only be able to crop it like this and get a tiny image. Pay attention to the fact that Adobe Camera Raw shows you the pixel size of your crop. Now it's about 800 by 1000 pixels, and the imaginary online store I'm retouching for requires the images to be 1200 pixels high. So what happens when I open the image in Photoshop and resize it there? It gets stretched. And when it gets stretched, it looses sharpness and detail even more. So the third rule is this: “The crop size should not be less than the final image size. Do not stretch your images”.

Now keeping these three simple rules in mind, let's crop some detail shots.

For this image we don't have many cropping options, as only the center of the collar is in focus, so I'll stick to this area. As it's not very big, I should be watching for the crop size, it can't go lower than 1200 pixels in height, and it actually should be bigger than that. The crop will still include a blurry area in the lower right corner, but this is not really a problem unless more than half of your image is out of focus. In some cases you will be getting a lot of images that are partially blurry, it's an artistic technique, not a photography flaw. Just remember the three rules: details, focus and crop size. Most of the image should be in-focus, but some blurriness close to the edges is okay.

This embroidery is definitely the most interesting detail of the jeans. I should concentrate on it, but what about the hand? Well, there's nothing wrong with the hand, you might include it in the crop. But if you do so, make sure you don't cut any fingers in an awkward way. Make it clear for everyone, that there's a hand in the image. Or avoid it completely. Just don't include small pieces of it, because it looks weird, it's hard to understand what's that. I'd rather cut it out, but it's absolutely okay to include it in the crop unless the hand looks funny.

You can include human skin in your crops, just make sure you focus on the items, not on the models. In this case it's very reasonable to crop the sleeve with some skin. But there should be more cloth than skin, and skin should definitely not be prevailing. You should also avoid rotation, especially if it makes the whole thing look awkward. A normal crop looks like a shoulder, but a seriously rotated crop looks nothing but weird. Don't do that.

It happens a lot during the photoshoots that detail shots are darker than the rest of the images. Don't forget to lighten them up a bit, because the images of one item should not differ in light exposure.

If an item consists of two different materials, like this dress, it's reasonable to show both in one crop. But if it was not a dress, but a skirt, I should have done the opposite: avoid the top material and concentrate on the skirt. Other images of the same item will help you understand which kind of item you are dealing with. This one is a dress, because I know it.

But what if the whole image is out of focus? In some cases it's not easy to find the focus area. It's up here, where the material has detail, and the rest of the image is a bit blurry. But it's not completely blurry, it can be sharpened. Go to the Detail tab in ACR and increase the Amount and Radius and Detail until you get a decent result. As for the crop size, try to make it as big as possible.

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Sharpness is often an issue with close-ups. As photographers have to come really close to the model or the object they are shooting, their cameras auto-focus feature don't always manage to lock on the close-up correctly. It happens a lot that the focus area is either missing completely or is somewhere where it shouldn't be, like on the model's ear instead of her dress. It happens especially often with black textures where nothing is present in the frame but the black material.

Skillful photographers know it and they avoid plain boring crops. If you get some human skin in the frame as well, autofocus will be able to work without any problems. You can also use your own finger and put it in the frame right on the texture to give autofocus something to lock on, then remove the finger and take a shot. But as catalogue photography is a rapid process, well, we often get crops that are out of focus. And we are often asked to crop another shot closely and use it instead of the close-up, but when that happens, you can only say: “No way”!

The deal is that regular shots have nothing to do with close-ups even if their size lets you cut out a decent image. There would be no details and sharpness necessary for a good close-up, so do this only if you have no other options. Sharpening won't help.

You can't replace a detail shot with anything else – just click on this image to see 100% scale and look at all the details

But if a close-up is just a bit unsharp, you can use Photoshop or ACR to improve the situation.

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You can compare the two final images, one of which was sharpened in Camera Raw. It looks much better than the original despite the initial lack of focus. It doesn't have to be done in ACR, you can use the Unsharp Mask filter on the original image after opening it in Photoshop.

There's only some extent to the lack of focus when you can try and improve the situation with sharpening. Sharpening is all about increasing contrast around details edges, and here there's just nothing to sharpen. This kind of close-ups should be reshot.

This image is supposed to be a close-up of a scarf shot on a model. But the focus is on the model's shoulder, while the scarf is completely blurry. If you apply a crazy amount of sharpening to the image, you might be able to get some detail on the scarf, but the shoulder will be critically oversharpened. If reshooting is not an option and you have to get the maximum detail out of this image, don't forget to use the History brush to undo the extra sharpening where you don't need it.

As for the retouching part, there's nothing new about detail shots. They are not any different from other images. If they are dirty, you clean them. If there's anything else wrong, you fix it. As the detail shots are all about showing texture, you can't really use any smudging techniques. Leave your Mixer Brush at home. The Dust & Scratches filter and Frequencies Splitting should be used with caution, if used at all. It means that the most useful tool will be the Spot Healing Brush. Using it to remove every single grain of dust is tedious. This is why preparing items and cleaning them before shooting is important.

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Make sure you let your superiors know if photographers keep sending you dirty images. You can clean items in seconds with a brush, a hand, or a sticky roller, but you need minutes to remove the dirt with the Spot Healing Brush. Preparation is vital.

Next chapter: Ghost mannnequin

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