Shooting suspended shoes

In this post I’ll explain the process behind creating an image of a pair of sports shoes floating. This post appeared originally on the Spotlight blog.

So let’s start with a video of the all process:

This particular image was a personal project and not a client’s brief.

I’ve created a a similar image a couple of years ago but, at that time it was very time consuming to get the shoes into the position I wanted and to have the proper lighting. After that, I decided to do some research and try out several ways of achieving these types of images.

When I felt I had all the info I needed, I started working on a specific image, which was achieved with this shoot. So let’s get to it.

Setting up the shoot

When shooting suspended objects, one of the most difficult aspects is to get all the elements in the right position and to keep them there. The method I have devised is to use apple boxes, or other solid objects, to roughly position the subjects, before suspending them. This allows me to define with great precision the composition.

When they are in place, I use two fishing-wires under each shoe (4 suspension points) to keep the shoe stable. This kind of loop bellow the shoe allows me to rotate or reposition as needed.

Above the set, I used a frame with a custom-made net to hold all the fishing-wires. It’s important the this element doesn’t cast shadows or limits in anyway the positioning of the lights.

One of the ends has a loop that attaches the wire to the net. I pass the other end over the net and use crocodile clips to hold the wire. This allows me to re-adjust the fishing-wire if needed.

Once the shoes were suspended, I removed all the apple boxes and table, leaving the space free for placing the lights. Then it’s just a case of working on the lighting to get shape and dimension I intended.

I usually take one shoot of each light (with all the other lights switched off). This allows me to keep a record of what each light is doing, and is an extra during retouch, if I need to add a bit more of light to a specific area.

Also, I always shoot an image of the shoes as a silhouette to create a mask layer during retouch.

Retouch

All the retouch was made using Affinity Photo, but most of the tools do exist in Photoshop. I’ve started the retouching by removing the wire, using a mixture of Inpainting Tool and Healing Tool.

Using the silhouette image of the shoes, I used a Dodge adjustment on the background to get a good contrast between the shoes and the background. The remaining area was selected with the Freehand Selection Tool and filled with white. Minor corrections were made with the Inpainting Tool.

When it was ready, the layer was rasterized to create a mask.

I then started correcting some of the minor issues on the shoes (dust and small defects), using the Inpainting Tool, Healing Tool and Stamp Tool, particularly on the areas were the shoes’ glue shows.

When I was happy with the result, I created two Curves layers, named DB- (darkening the image) and DB+ (lighting the image) in Luminosity Blend Mode. I inverted them and using the Brush Tool with a white soft brush, started to sculpt the shoes to give them more volume.

Background

The background started with an elliptical gradient, using the colours of the shoes. Since the image is mainly monotone, the shoes being grey with gold highlights, I thought the gold would make a great background.

After some adjustments, the background was finished and I added some noise to prevent banding. The image was retouched in 16 bit ProPhotoRGB and banding is not a problem, but when you change it to 8 bit sRGB banding can easily be an issue specially if using very soft gradients (with little variation between colors).

The shadows were created in an unconventional way. To create an idea of an horizon, I used a diamond shape and, using the Layer Effects Panel, blurred the edges. This is non-destructive and allows for further adjustments if needed. I used a similar solution for the shoes’ shadows, but using a triangle this time.

Color grading

On top of all the layers, there’s a fill layer with the background colour and Opacity at around 10%, to color grade all the elements in the image and to give it some uniformity.

The last step, was blending the shoes with the background by creating a duplicate layer of the background colour. I then masked it with the edge of the shoes, blurred the mask, and blended it to a very low opacity. This allows for a better transition between the shoes and background as if the light from the background is bouncing back to the shoes.

All the work took around 10 hours. For preparation, research and testing it took 4 hours. Then setting up the shoot, lighting and capture, around 3 hours. And finally, another 3 hours to retouch. Of course, the ideas were matured along a larger period of time as I’ve been thinking about this image for several months.

And here’s the final image as well as a few details.

Fotografia de calçado desportivos por Martins Ribeiro - fotografia de produto

Tools

The tools used to create this image were:

Camera: I used a Phase One camera with a P65+ digital back, mounted on a FOBA stand. Lens were a 120mm macro lens.

Lighting: I used 5 Broncolor SIROS 800 S with a variety of softboxes and reflectors. A large softbox (150×75) on top for general lighting, a 60x60cm softbox on the sides, and a P65 reflector with a grid to light the soles of the shoes and background.

Software: The retouching was done with Affinity Photo. Capture One for tethered shooting, and BronControl to control the lights remotely.