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Retouching bags

Now, let's shed some light on how to retouch bags for online stores. Surely, there are a lot of specific things any product image editor needs to know. First of all, bags usually have handles, and some of them — even belts. Not all the bags can hold their shape on their own, and they need to be filled with something to look decent.

This bag here is perfect. It's clean, solid, it holds its shape, it stands on its own. There are no props or support fixtures. All you have to do is resize it and that's it. But most bags are not like this. Let's see what kind of specific characteristics bags usually have.

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Not all bags can stand. Some of them have to be hanged to look nice. Photographers can use fishing line to make your life easier. All you have to do is remove the line – sometimes it's so thin that it's not visible across the handle. Then you Liquify handles if they look saggy and there's nothing left to do after that.

Fingerprints can appear on all the smooth surfaces, especially metal and plastic. So watch out, they might be everywhere, even on leather bags! And when they appear, you have to remove them. This big thing here is nothing but a fingerprint, but as the surface is not entirely smooth, don't smudge it with the Mixer Brush, use the Clone Stamp instead. It will only take a couple of seconds.

Sometimes you have to remove props like this roll of tape that was put there to make the handle look perfectly round and symmetrical. Saves you time on liquifying but you have to cut the thing out. It's not as easy as removing a piece of fishing line, but still manageable, just be patient, grab the Pen Tool and cut it out. I tested if the Round Marquee Tool can be used instead, but you know what, it's not actually easy to make a round selection that fits the handle perfectly. It's not as predictable and stable as what you can do with the Pen Tool.

It might get even worse. If there's no fishing line available, and assistants are not wise enough to use their shoelaces instead, you'll have to deal with crooked fingers. So you'll have to cut the finger out and also remove it from across the handle. Not as easy as before, and honestly, if it wasn't a force-majeure situation, I would just send it back to be reshot. There's really no reason why photographers can't use fishing line or a thin wire instead of this weird approach.

Most of the bags are symmetrical. So watch out, if one side looks different compared to the other side, you have to fix it even if the bulge is not too big and doesn't attract attention much. The Liquify filter is your best friend when you have to work with shape.

Some bags are big and wobbly, they can't stand and they can't really be hanged nicely unless someone takes their time and fills the thing with crumpled paper or some rags. And even then don't expect their surface to be perfectly smooth. It really depends on your standards. If this was a cheap Chinese bag and I had to make 500 images like this in a day, I wouldn't probably spend any time on the wrinkles, as they are not too bad. But if it was an expensive bag and my images count for a day was 150 or a bit more, here's how you can make it look great in a couple of minutes. Use the Frequency Separation action and smudge all the wrinkles, not paying any attention to the fact you're ruining the edge on the right side. Leave some wrinkles for a natural look. Then use the Pen Tool to cut out a decent smooth side out of the smudged area.

The bag is also very dirty, but as I said before – never spend time cleaning dirt on a high-resolution image. Resize it and do it when you can see what's left and what's gone because the whole thing got much smaller. After that, you can use the Dust & Scratches based action and remove all the dust in a couple of History brush strokes.

The front of the bag looks a bit too smooth, almost suspicious. Let's cheat by adding some noise. I'll go to the Quick Mask mode and mask the front surface with a brush, then quit the Quick Mask mode and add some noise to the selected area. 0.6 is enough, or it will be too grainy.

Not all the surfaces are supposed to be smooth. Don't get me wrong, catalogue retouching is not about smudging everything you can reach with the Mixer Brush. Don't try doing it on textured surfaces like textile or leather. This bag is so big and wobbly, it cannot really stand well even when it's hanged. Problem number one is that the handle is crooked. The easiest way to make it straight is using the Puppet Warp. Then you should also Liquify the sides and especially the corners – the shape is supposed to be rectangular, so this is what you should aim for. Now all that's left is the texture.

The bag is made of leather, and it looks really wrinkled and uneven. But hey, this is what makes the thing expensive and fancy. In some of the online stores, especially those that don't appreciate the "flatten all the wrinkles" approach, you won't have to do anything with this kind of texture at all. But if you have to, if you know that an image like this won't pass the quality check, you can make all the wrinkles less visible, and you can make the bag darker at the same time, because now, because of the huge amount of light on stage, it looks a bit gray, not black, as it should be. So let's try splitting the frequencies. I'll use the basic Radius, which is 4. What I want to emphasize is that leather is not the best texture for smudging on the low frequency layer. If I just grab the Mixer Brush and try to fill up the wrinkles, you'll immediately see how weird and unnatural it looks. Don't do it. If you really need to cover up the wrinkles, grab the Normal Brush and make its color as dark as the darkest spots on the surface. Make the tip soft and increase the Opacity until it hits 100%. Then just paint over the whole surface in one stroke. It has to be one stroke exactly because this kind of paint coverage is too much, we'll want to reduce it, and the best way to do so is hit Ctrl-Shift-F right after you release the left mouse button. It brings the Fade window, and by reducing the percentage here you'll be gradually undoing the brush effect from the whole bag surface. At about 60% it looks less wrinkled and there are less bald spots, but the texture is still very visible. This is exactly what we were trying to achieve. But if you want to continue and eliminate all the wrinkles with the Clone Stamp or the Spot Healing Tool, I can only warn you that this is not such a good idea. Leather surfaces are not supposed to be smooth in the first place, especially when found on big and wobbly bags such as this one. Don't overdo it.

If the online store you're working for sells bags, you'll be also dealing with backpacks. It's really important that they are stuffed well before the shooting because there's practically no way to deal with big wrinkles on the retouching stage. But if a backpack is stuffed well, you'll only have to work on the outer shape, which is an easy thing to do with the Liquify filter. The shape doesn't have to be perfect, just fix the most evident bulges.

Do not confuse shape correction and rotation. Sometimes wobbly backpacks make the fact that they have to be rotated, too, less evident. Look at the bottom – this line has to be parallel to the horizon. So rotate it first, and then use the Liquify filter to fix all the bulges. Start with a big brush and then reduce its size as you work, big bulges go first.

A couple of words about bags that are made of textile. You're definitely going to hate them if there are any problems with the preparation stage in the place you're working at. The reason is very simple. Lack of preparation means a lot of dust, and textile surfaces are not tolerable to any kind of automatic dust removal. If I wanted to remove dust from the background, I would just run one of the Dust & Scratches based actions, the medium-sized one, and then I'll run it all over with the History Brush and that's it. But if the bag itself was dusty, would this method work? Nope. Not on a surface like this. Be prepared to work with the Spot Healing Tool. That is the reason why items made of textile should be prepared with care, even more than the rest of them.


Bags also tend to have a lot of metal elements, like buckles and chains, but we will talk about metal surface and reflections in the next section. As for the bags in general, I think this is pretty much everything you have to know about them.

You can download the images for practice purposes from the gallery above. Each thumbnail is linked to the respective hi-res image, just click on the thumbnails you need to open them in a separate window. You can right-click and "Save link as…" to download images without having to open them first.

Next: Reflections


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