Photography has evolved far beyond the film cameras that required a dark room to develop photos, the ever-popular Polaroid camera, and even the mini digital cameras that dominated in the early 2000s. Photography technology is being tweaked and improved upon with each passing year, making it important for commercial photographers to stay up to date and in the know about photography innovations in order to stay relevant and profitable.
As many digital photographers know, the way you edit a photo is just as essential to the quality of your photography as snapping the photo in the first place. Like camera equipment, photo editing software has become far more effective—and complex—than their older counterparts. The most popular photo editing software used by photographers is Adobe Photoshop, which has been a leader in the industry since its inception in 1990. Other photo editing software programs, like Adobe Lightroom, Google’s Snapseed, and Photoshop Elements are considered to be more accessible than the original Adobe Photoshop
This software allows photographers to create a digital composite that combines different images and elements to create a striking result. Using a digital composite, a photographer can add a digital background to their work, superimposing the original background with an entirely new one. The use of a digital photography background can place the photographer’s subject into an entirely new world.
What is a Digital Background?
A digital background is a simple idea that involves a complicated process. It is a digital image, a setting or backdrop, that can be digitally manipulated in order to make it appear that the subject of the photo or video is actually there.
Making the digital background for photos look seamless and realistic is not an easy process and involves some skill, because the subject of the photo will be carefully cropped out of the original photograph, then copy-and-pasted on to the digital background.
This is where the skill aspect comes in. The photographer first must take into account the original backdrop that the subject was photographed against, ensuring that the material of the backdrop or setting will make it easy for them to edit the subject onto the digital photography background. A solid white background is usually the best choice. The photographer must also note what type of light source is being used—natural sunlight, fluorescent, incandescent, or studio lighting with reflectors—and where the light is coming from, making sure the light source from the original photograph matches up as the one used in the digital background.
The photographer or editor will then have a chance to show off their Photoshop skills (or other editing software talents). They adjust the exposure and saturation levels to make certain that the tone and style of the photo match. For the final touches, shadows and highlights on both the subject and the digital background must be blended by the photographer, as the automatic function for this on most editing software is not up to par. This ensures that the lighting of the original photo and the digital background are consistent throughout. When done correctly, the result is a beautiful, completely transformed image.
Many photo editors are so skilled at editing, you may not even know they used a digital background in the first place. In fact, you have likely seen digital backgrounds being used before, as they are a useful tool for creating advertisements in print and online.
You should use digital backgrounds if...
You should NOT use digital backgrounds if...
You want to cover up an unsightly background from your original photo.
Your original photo was already taken in a beautiful setting.
You shoot digital photography.
You shoot film photography—digital backgrounds are not compatible with film photos.
You are looking to make your product photography pop.
You want to take product photos with a large number of items.
You want to add fun and exciting backgrounds to your YouTube or other social media videos.
You do not own a green screen, other solid colored backdrop or don’t have raw files.
You are proficient at photo editing software or you are willing to learn.
You are not confident with photo editing software and do not want to learn how to use it.
Common Digital Background Use Cases
Digital backgrounds can be used for a variety of different purposes, making them an effective tool for photographers and editors to add pizzazz to their projects. These are some of the most popular ways to use digital photography backgrounds:
Many consumers have turned to online shopping for many of their needs, and it is estimated that over 75% of customers take product photos into consideration when online shopping. When a customer can’t hold a product in their hands, it is important that the product looks appealing in advertisements and on shopping websites. Digital backgrounds are a powerful way to present products front and center in a way that excites potential customers. It’s an easy for brands to test digital background colors to optimize for conversion rates. Flat lay is a type of product photography that can on occasion use a digital background.
While some photographers still use outdated physical backdrops, which can become dirty, get damaged, or not photograph well, many portrait photographers have turned to using digital backgrounds instead. They are a valuable tool to ensure that the subject of the portrait is displayed in a way that customers will enjoy. Digital backgrounds can be seen in nearly every type of portrait photography, including (but not limited to):
- Wedding photography
- Newborn photography
- Fantasy photography
- School portraits
Though many people might be tired of hearing about Zoom, it has become an
invaluable tool for businesses and employees who work from home. Using digital backgrounds during a Zoom call can be a lighthearted way to add a bit of fun to a work day or meeting. Additionally, digital backgrounds can be a lifesaver for people who don’t want to display where they really are, whether because their home is messy or they are somewhere they are not supposed to be.
4. Social Media
With more people using social media than ever before, digital backgrounds have become incredibly popular with content creators on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. There is now a large population of social media “influencers” who use their platform as a full time job. Using digital backgrounds in their posts, whether a still photo or a video, is a way for content creators to grab the attention of their viewers. The digital backgrounds for photos can provide a cost effective way to create new content while reusing old posts.
Digital backgrounds can be used for more than just still photography! Though using digital backgrounds in a video can be less convincing than one that has been carefully edited by a photographer, they still offer new avenues for filmmakers and editors to explore. To use a digital background for a video, a green screen—or other solid colored backdrop—is required in order to digitally remove the original background during the editing process and add in digital backgrounds.
Including these examples, there are plenty of ways to use digital backgrounds in a way that will excite clients and make photographs or videos more visually appealing.
7 Tips When Using Digital Backgrounds For Product Photography
Deciding to use digital backgrounds for your product photography may seem like a daunting process, especially if you are still learning how to edit. With a little practice and a few tricks, using them can be a breeze. Here are some tips when using digital backgrounds for product photography:
1. Get comfortable using the editing software of your choice.
The most difficult aspect of using digital backgrounds is editing the photo and the background together in order to make it look seamless. The editing process cannot be fully automated, making it imperative that the editor knows what they are doing and can make it look impressive. Be sure to find an editing software that you like, whether it is Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, or something else. Spend time learning how to use it to make sure that you have the skill that is required to use digital photography backgrounds effectively.
2.Choose a digital background before you take the product photo.
It is much easier to take a product photo that matches a predetermined digital background than it is to try to match a digital background to a photo that has already been taken. By picking a digital background before you take product photos, you can take steps to ensure that your product photo will contain the correct elements needed to seamlessly blend them together. You should choose multiple digital backgrounds to have options to choose from.
3. Think carefully about lighting.
Lighting is one of the most important aspects of product photography. With proper lighting, you have the ability to take the perfect photo. Without suitable lighting, your photo may be a flop. While portrait and other types of creative photography have some wiggle room when it comes to lighting, product photography always requires bright and clear lighting. The customer needs to be able to clearly see every element of the product, including being able to read any text such as a nutrition label or ingredient list. When choosing lighting, there are questions you will need to ask yourself or your client, depending on their needs:
- The type of light: natural or artificial
- Where to place the light source: close or further away?
- How many lights to use: a singular, bright source or many soft, less intense lights?
- Where shadows fall: do they obscure the product?
- Will you need additional lighting equipment, such as reflectors?
- Does the lighting in your photo fit with the lighting in the digital background you chose?
4. Use a high quality camera.
A camera is the most valuable tool in a photographer’s arsenal. Using a quality camera is essential for product photography, because the customer will need to be able to clearly see the product in high-resolution. On many online shopping websites, customers have the option to zoom in on a product photo. If the camera used to take the photo was subpar, the image will become blurry. You need to make sure that the photo is able to capture the product, even when magnified. High-quality cameras for product photography can be expensive, but they are an investment worth the price for photographers and business owners.
5. Use a tripod.
When practicing product photography, your subject will not be moving around—neither should you. Even with a high-quality, expensive camera, your photos can look unclear due to natural human movement. Tripods remove the chance of human error, and can make a remarkable difference in the quality of your photos. Tripods come in a wide range of price points and can be fitted to many different kinds of cameras. Additionally, tripods create consistency with photoshoots.
6. Take a lot of photos.
Even when you feel like you have taken too many photos, take some more. Shoot the product from every angle multiple times. Product photography is not a quick process, especially for a quality result. The more options you or your client have to choose from, the better. You may also find that some angles work better with your digital backgrounds than others.
7. Edit, edit, and then edit again.
Editing a photo onto digital backgrounds can be a tricky and time consuming process, which is why it is so important that you do it multiple times. Consider using a few different digital backgrounds (and edit each of those multiple times) so that you have options to choose from. No matter what, keep trying until it looks perfect!
Pros and Cons of Using Digital Backgrounds For Photography
Digital backgrounds have become popular in many creative circles, but there are some photographers and editors who are not sold on them as a viable option. When deciding to use digital backgrounds for photography, it is important to consider the pros and cons.
Digital Photography Pros and Cons
Digital backgrounds are an amazing way to make an otherwise drab photo exciting.
Learning how to make digital backgrounds look seamless and professional is not an easy task that requires skill. If you are not a proficient photo or video editor, a digital background could end up making your image look worse.
Place your subject in a setting that would not be able to be visited without digital backgrounds, such as a mythical forest or under the sea.
Digital backgrounds can be expensive. If you are purchasing a digital background from another editor or photographer, they can cost a significant amount of money.
Digital backgrounds make products stand out and look professional.
Depending on the quality of your camera, digital backgrounds can outshine your image.
Use a digital background to hide an unappealing setting or mishaps in the background of the original photo.
Digital backgrounds are not compatible with film photography, which is a dealbreaker for people who shoot exclusively film.
You can add digital backgrounds to videos or Zoom calls to make settings more exciting.
Using digital backgrounds with videos requires a green screen or other color backdrop.
You can make your own digital backgrounds and have complete control over the creative process.
Creating your own digital backgrounds is not always an easy process.
Digital Background Examples
Digital backgrounds can be seen in almost every type of photography. Sometimes, their use is obvious, but other times, you may not be able to tell at all. Here are some examples of photos that employ the use of digital photography backgrounds.
Image source: sokoglam.com
This image is a great example of a digital background being used in product photography. It features components that digital backgrounds are useful for:
- Each product stands out
- Photographer has the ability to edit products around the digital background
- The digital background makes it easy for customers to clearly see each product
Image source: jacquelinemphotography.com
This photo is an example of digital backgrounds being used in portrait photography. Many photographers who do newborn photography use digital backgrounds because babies are sensitive to their surroundings. This photographer is talented at editing the subject and background together seamlessly to create a beautiful finished product.
How to Create Digital Photography Backgrounds
Creating a digital photography background is not all that complicated, and there are a few different ways to go about doing so.
Digital backgrounds do not necessarily have to be another realistic photo. In fact, you can create a completely new background using a photo editing software, like Adobe Photoshop. You can leave it plain, perhaps with a single color and some texture, or you can add a bevy of new elements to create digital photography backgrounds that resemble a collage.
2. Use a stock image or a photo you took
This may be the easiest option, as all it requires is another photo! This can be useful if you have a specific background in mind or a photo you have taken yourself that you would like to use instead. This guide, from BeFunky, shows you how to do this using their software, but the premise is similar across the board.
Using a website like Canva can help you create powerful digital backgrounds that you can fully customize. For example, while giving a presentation, you can display the information you are giving behind you using digital backgrounds. This is a solid option for working professionals who want to make their presentations and meetings more impactful.
Overall, digital backgrounds for photography offer a lot of optionality when it comes to creating content. With the proper skillset, a product photography can take a single image and present a variety of options. The content can be used in a multitude of ways to help increase brand awareness and sell more products.