Loosely speaking, what I’m demonstrating falls into two categories:
- Color Matching: Matching the colors in your product image to the photographed product as closely as possible. Accurate colors reduce returns and increase customer trust.
- Recoloring: Changing the colors in your product image to match a different colorway of the same product. Recoloring saves on photography and sample production costs.
I’m going to walk you through both.
Step by Step: Color Matching and Recoloring Footwear
First, the capture. While these instructions will focus on post-production, everything flows from the initial capture. For this demonstration, I’m going to be photographing my girlfriend’s soccer cleat.
My lighting setup for this shoot:
That’s a beauty dish with diffusion just over the laces, a soft box with diffusion underneath the cleat, and a fill card for the heel.
The shoe is suspended from a large gauge bendable wire connected to a c-stand. The wire runs through the shoe, making it really easy to bend and get any angle you want; I also stuffed the shoe with tissue paper.
It’s a best practice to shoot a plate with a color card first so you can achieve a more accurate color. You can get one from your local photo store and of course online. Full disclosure: I did not use a color card for this image.
Preparing Raw Image
Here is my image straight out of camera.
I’m going to start working on it in Adobe Camera Raw, a plugin that comes with Photoshop. Most things you do in Camera Raw you can do in regular Photoshop, but to edit a RAW file you must use Camera Raw. RAW edits are nondestructive, so you have the freedom to adjust your image without losing any information.
I already have a desired look for my image to start with (I want it to look like it’s illuminated by stadium lights, to tell a sporting narrative), so I adjusted accordingly. You can take an image pretty far in Camera Raw.
Cut It Out
Since I am going to make a background for my image, I cut it out using the pen tool. That’s a great tool every retoucher uses a lot.
After cutting out the background of the image, you’ll want to clean up its imperfections. I like to use the clone stamp tool; if you don’t overuse it, it’s a great way to get rid of distracting parts.
Clean It Up
Before I begin on the color I want to clean up the image, dodge and burn certain parts. Since the shoe is almost all white I’m going to desaturate the white to take out any color casting.
I’m also going to add grain to spots as a quick way to add back texture to areas that have been heavily worked.
Layers are all indestructible and editable if I need to go back to fix anything. I make sure I name my layers meaningfully to help keep track of what’s what.
If you don’t use a color card when photographing your image, the colors won’t come out as well as they appear on the product. Color matching is how to get the color of the image on your screen to match the color in real life.
Since my blues came out cooler than the product, I’m going to add green and yellow to match the tone of blue on the cleat. I’ll do this by masking the color parts with my pen tool to isolate just those parts.
Then I used the curves tool to add in color that was lost when photographing. You can achieve this by other methods, but I felt using the curves adjustment tool worked best for this scenario.
In the resulting image, you can see a warmer blue particularly in the heel.
Recoloring is functionally much like color matching, but has one key difference in principle. Instead of adjusting colors to more accurately match the photographed product, you’re changing to a different color palette to match a different colorway of the same product.
In Photoshop there are many different ways to achieve the same outcome. Here’s a quick way to change one color to another, which works well for our example because the blues are all about the same. If your colors varied, then this tool would not be my first go-to.
Option 1: Hue/Saturation
The hue/saturation tool can isolate colors and change them by moving the arrow from left to right. You can also control how saturated you want the color and adjust its brightness.
Because I simply want to change the blues to green, all I have to do is move the arrow to the left until I find my desired color. This is fast and cuts down on time because you don’t have to mask out your parts, but the downside is that it’s limited to color and toning.
Option 2: Selective Color
Another way to change color is to use the selective color tool, which allows you to isolate your colors individually. For this one I want to add some weight and go for more of a deep pure blue with some cyan tone to it. Make it pop more.
In selective color I open up my blue channel and adjust the c,m,y,k values independently by adding and subtracting. Then I open up my cyan channel and adjust accordingly.
This is a very powerful tool that can handle a lot of information. I tend to always have this adjustment active when working with some sort of color.
Option 3: Painting on Layer Masks
The last two options were ways to achieve a color change quickly without masking and with limited control. This option is for when you need the freedom to apply any color and tone desired.
Since I made my masks earlier I get to use them again to isolate parts to color change. I begin with desaturating my colors by using the hue/saturation tool.
I then make a copy of the grey layer and change its blending mode to overlay. You can use the “color” blending mode also, but I like to use overlay.
Next, use your color picker to grab any color you want and paint it on your overlay layer. You will want to add a curves adjustment to your grey layer so you can have full control of the tones.
Extra Effects - Add Some Pop
Now that we’re done with color, it’s time to add some pop to my shoe. I want the outsole of the cleat to stand out and be the focal point, so I’ll add a curves adjustment layer to brighten up the light that’s there already.
First I’ll mask it out and adjust the curve until I’m happy with the way it looks.
Now I want some glow. To get a glowing effect, I’ll make a copy of the outsole and add motion blur to it until it has the effect I’m looking for.
Next, I’m going to start on the background plate. I want to add some light to direct the eye to the outsole. I want something to resemble stadium lights, but I also want to make it look as if the lights are holding up the cleat (get as crazy as you like)!
To get that effect, I took a copy of the outsole layer and flipped it over, then used the motion blur filter and made blur going vertical. With my paint brush I added in tints of blues around the lights.
Final Product Image
And here you have it!
If this shoe was being sold in a dozen colors, we could easily output recolored options instead of re-photographing the shoe. Maintaining a consistent presentation (it doesn't get any more consistent than the same photograph!) makes it easy for the customer to compare colors and find their preferred option.
Color Adjustment alternatives
Photoshop has a steep learning curve, and even once you’re skilled its use can be time-consuming. If you’re looking for easier or faster ways to handle post-production, you may want to consider Lightroom Presets or Photoshop Actions.