Store closures due to Covid-19 caused a surge in online shopping, highlighting the importance of well-shot product photography to convince buyers to fill their baskets with items they are yet to touch, let alone try on, and complete check-out.
But how do large retailers manage to light, shoot and cut out these products from their background in a consistent way, at a pace that can keep up with the ever-churning fashion industry? The answer lies in a fascinating combination of Canon cameras and automation.
One collaboration is between Canon (opens in new tab) and Netherlands-based StyleShoots (opens in new tab), enabling retailers to produce thousands of photographs and videos per day for their online stores.
A complete solution
StyleShoots' photography machines are large. The StyleShoots Vertical stands about 260cm high – large enough for models and stylists to comfortably walk in or for mannequins to be wheeled in and placed in front of a large background lit with continuous lights. The StyleShoots Horizontal, which covers a large flat area of about 220cm x 280cm, features a metal chassis with built-in lighting and a camera pointing down on the display below, making it ideal for flatlay photography.
The camera is the full-frame mirrorless Canon EOS R (opens in new tab). "Canon’s EOS R, with fewer moving parts than a traditional DSLR [with a mirror], is perfect for our automated photography setups where flawless continuous operation is essential," explains StyleShoots CTO Gerwin De Haan.
The camera can capture the subject from various angles, while the software works out the ideal lighting and settings according to the user's preferences, and even cuts out the background afterwards. Everything is controlled from a tablet managing StyleShoots' embedded software, and Canon's Software Development Kit (SDK) ensures the software can communicate with the camera and tell it to adjust zoom, tilt, and elevation. The operator can also change technical settings such as focus, exposure, white balance and much more via just a single touch of the screen.
Automation and control
By leaving the complex calculations to the machines, the user has a simple interface from which to generate quality content quickly. This was the key requirement for De Haan and his team. "We realised that in order to do something as automated as we wanted, we would need to make everything ourselves and use the best materials," De Haan says. "The Canon equipment we use is an important component, and without the SDK from Canon, this whole thing would actually not be possible."
Using the custom app, users can see their product in live view and alter light and shadow via the touchscreen. Using the Click-WB feature, they can adjust the white balance by changing the colour temperature of the StyleShoots machine's built-in full-spectrum LEDs.
Because both the lighting and white balance can be adjusted easily via the interface, the StyleShoots machines make it easy to achieve natural colour rendition and realistic skin tones on models. The settings can be saved as presets, along with pre-determined camera angles if desired, and recalled for use at a later date to ensure that images look consistent across product lines.
From stills to video seamlessly
The StyleShoots Live and Eclipse machines are able to switch quickly and seamlessly between stills and video production. This allows retailers to output to multiple platforms in a variety of formats, cutting production time significantly compared to a traditional studio setup.
According to StyleShoots, it is up to four times faster, nine times cheaper and two and a half times more space efficient to use a StyleShoots machine, compared to the traditional approach for photographic stills and video, without sacrificing the creative aspect.
Creative control, less post-processing
"People don't believe this equipment is as good as we say it is until they try it," says De Haan, emphasising the creative benefits of the simplified workflow. "The stylists and photographers are the people who use this equipment. Not only are they the ones setting up and taking the pictures in the first place, but they are also the ones with the styling knowledge to evaluate whether the result complies with the company style guide.
"To capture the best possible image, the stylists may want to shoot a few different versions before exporting. But in a more traditional workflow, they have no chance to compare or correct mistakes before the files are passed on for post-processing. We eliminate that thanks to our carefully developed algorithms and clipping paths."
The intelligent software makes it possible for backgrounds to be removed automatically, without an image retoucher. "The powerful algorithms can even detect the background down to a single pixel, so products with a fine mesh – like sheer scarves – can be used in the StyleShoots machines to produce a perfectly cut-out, professional quality image, with no distortions or unwanted background showing through," says De Haan.
For more information about Canon’s photo, video and software solutions please visit Canon's website.