When I first started staffing on this website in 2006, my first pictures were crudely lit, sometimes badly focused shots in front of two pieces of printer paper taken with a terrible digital camera. Yes, some of those pictures are still on the site. Happy hunting, kids!
Thankfully, in the intervening years, I've upgraded my camera, upgraded my lighting, and upgrading my backgrounds. I now use a small photography box, three lamps with daylight bulbs, and a not-exactly-cheap Nikon DSLR. I've also upgraded how I edit my pics.
The first images didn't really have much editing beyond making sure they were in focus, and cropping off the excess. Back in 2008, I decided to start cleaning up the background, too. now my figures would stand against a clean, white background, free of distractions, creases, and lint. This wasn't too terrible an idea when I would only have to take one All Geared Up! picture per figure. Sometimes I would take two! However, ever since we transitioned to the YoJoe! 2.0 archives, one of our goals has been to expand the amount of figure images per entry. Now I regularly have to edit 5 to 8 pictures per figure. This has necessitated changing up my editing methods, which I covered back in my first blog post.
It's actually relatively easy to edit most figures now. Most, but not all. You see, the bane of my existence (for the moment at least, I have a lot of banes) are white figures. I'm talking Storm Shadows, Snow Jobs, arctic figures in general. Separating a white figure from a white background is not a quick job. I should know - I've done it. Check out the Storm Shadows from 2012. Those figures just hovering there, without shadows? Yeah, they took a while to get that way.
Earlier this year, I had a bit of an epiphany. Why not do what they do in film, and use a blue screen? My photo box came with a blue sheet, so I could give it a shot. My first test on this was Storm Shadow (v48). Some parts of the images are a little overblown, but it was enough to show me my idea worked. Instead of selecting the entire figure by hand, I could use Photoshop to do most of the heavy lifting. But I didn't quite have the process refined just yet.
Over the months, my experimentation continued. My first batch of pictures for Iceberg mostly had to be thrown out - my camera decided to white balance on the figure itself, meaning that all the toy details were essentially washed out. I needed to leave some of the white of my photo box in the shot, so my camera would balance from that instead. So I stopped using the blue sheet, and decided to go smaller. I'm talking a piece of wrapping tissue paper. You know, the kind you put around a present before throwing it in the gift bag? Here's a composite image from my Hot Toys Storm Shadow review, as an example:
The before and after in one image!
This lighter blue background doesn't fill the frame, allowing my camera to keep the colors balanced better. And because it's not too dark a blue, I can select a greater range of color without worrying about selecting any shadowing on the figure itself. Now, one of the side effects of this method, is that the white of the figure actually reflects the blue of the background. Look closely and you'll see it on the shins of the Hot Toys figure. Thankfully, there's already a tool in Photoshop that can remove this as well. It's actually one of the easiest parts, once I figured out I needed to do it.
This is still a longer process that my method for figures of other colors, but it's a lot faster than what I was doing before. I'm sure I'll keep fine-tuning the process as time goes on - after all, I keep finding new ways of using Photoshop, even after 16 years!