Surface appearances

When one of my brides from late last year asked me if I'd be interested in doing some product photography for her family company I thought sure, I can do that, no sweat. Well, I knew there'd be a little bit of sweat involved, as photographing glass objects is a lot harder than it seems, but I figured a sedentary jar of olives would still have to be easier than a hyperactive pre-schooler who's bouncing off my studio walls and colliding with light stands. Surely? What I'd forgotten was that my beloved other half hasn't yet installed blinds over my studio skylights, and I don't own one of those cool framed diffusion panels that can easily be clamped above the "talent" (technical term for subject -no reason why olives shouldn't enjoy this description too). Curved glass reflects absolutely everything in the studio, so after a lengthy period of arranging and testing and cursing and MacGyver-like innovating I ended up with a large and elaborate tent-like construction of stands, clamps, diffusion material, fluteboard, a step-ladder and our ironing board. It looked SO professional I can tell you. Until the cat walked on the top of it in the middle of the night and the entire thing collapsed. I hadn't thought to take a photo of exactly how I'd arranged it, so I had to start again the next day and keep testing and adjusting until my lighting coming through the diffusers looked great on the product. I removed that talent and replaced it with the next product and.... the photo looked awful. It was so unfair - the Aegean garlic was the same shape and size - how could this be?? Deeeeep breathing. I was starting to think I had seriously underpriced this job.

I dismantled everything piece by piece (talking aloud to myself as I went about how everything was going to be just fine - there are benefits in working on your own) and started from scratch with a different lighting and "tent" set-up, which, fortunately for my mental health, proved to be right for a range of products. I had to do a couple of tweaks here and there, but I could pretty much take each one out and replace it with the next. Then I'd have to duck back out of the tent and use the remote shutter to trigger the camera so that I didn't appear in the reflections. Even the tripod legs were disguised with white material.

Here are a few of the resulting photos.

undefinedundefined It was a really good challenge for me to learn to light the products in a way that avoided hotspots, revealed the contours of the vessel, made the contents look attractive and ensured every part of the label was legible. Then some products, such as the olive oil and white wines, also required back-lighting on order to show the liquid. I'm sure a seasoned commercial photographer could spot a lot I could work on but I'm pretty darned pleased with them, as are my clients. I got to keep a couple of jars of olives that had damaged labels so the whole family was happy. The kids have been olive freaks from a very young age and have demolished the first 2kg jar already!

Yesterday my artist friend Alex di Mercurio brought over some of her paintings for me to photograph before they get exhibited at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, so it was another job where I had to get the placement of my lights exactly right to reveal a surface in the best possible way, to reveal accurate colour, contrast and paint texture. It's so easy to get direct reflection off a painting's surface if you're not careful, and then the photo looks rubbish. Luckily there was no building work involved in this one (and no ironing boards!) - just careful consideration of angles and distances. Here are some photos of her paintings of light through trees - you can check out more of her work on her website.




Wet kid