Design First shoot later...

Shooting Color for Purpose

Over the years there have been hundreds and hundreds of discussions on how to stretch a color budget so that the color you buy serves many functions. Such is the case in this project where money, time and information were all competing for the success of the project.

The Client was a budding start-up company specializing in ceramic and pottery products. They had a very limited budget to produce a catalog -- in a very limited time frame for an upcoming consumer products show.

The project was complicated by two things: an extensive product line, and very low budget. The actual black and white products catalog was eight full pages packed with dozens of small line drawings of products along with short descriptions, item number, etc. We had to somehow get all these products presented to an audience of retail merchandisers who were used to looking at the top home products manufacturers in the world. The finished piece had to be professionally attractive, yet contain some 90 different products from ceramic jewelry to kitchen pottery to bed & bath accessories. The products themselves were stunning but the project was somewhat daunting.

Capturing the Images: The Shoot

What do you do with so many products and such a low budget? You gang products together, of course -- and call upon a professional -- in this case, my good friend Hubert Gentry of Gentry Photography. In all the shoots, most of the lighting came from a single Paul Buff softbox strobe. We didn't have time to futz around with lighting. There was also house lighting for ambient fill. The session was about 2.5 hours and cost a total of just under $400, including a dozen rolls of 2.25 color transparency film. I set up the shots, and Hubert came along behind me to shoot them while I set up the next shot.

The client delivered all the most important items for the project and we had to go to work figuring out how to get them all photographed under deadline with a minimum of costs. This definitely eliminated the possibility of location shoots -- and it all had to be done in-house.

jewelry Jewelry: I came prepared for the static shots of the jewelry with Letraset pre-printed gradient sheets. The jewelry was simply arranged on the paper and shot. Since this was their highest profit line however, I had to include several shots. An essential consideration was actually showing all the products in use, so we decorated our model with the most popular design ear-rings, bracelet and necklace to grace the cover. A typical softbox / back-light, white room shot.

These were being shot while I prepared the bath and office sets.

bath shotsThe Bath: The bathroom and home office shots presented their own special problems for getting a natural setting. For the bathroom I zipped across town and borrowed a display sink from a bath supply company who also happened to be a client. The one-piece sink and countertop, with fixtures installed, against a plain wood plank backdrop became the set for this shot. Notice no vanity mirror? What self-respecting bath would not have a mirror or medicine chest? But no one noticed, and the wall area was the perfect spot for the logo block. We arranged the products in a natural setting and POP -- got the shot.

office The Office: Next was the home office desk accessories shot. This presented its own problems because a lamp was part of the product line. Without being lighted, the lamp would carry little meaning to our viewers. So there was a lighting dilemma.

I spread the accessories on the table in a natural sort of way, down to the post-it notes and dish of M&Ms. (Which we munched on after the shot.) As a backdrop, a suspended set of venetian blinds and fabric would hopefully present the illusion of a window. But herein was the problem -- and the real reason for getting a professional photographer when the chips are down.

Hubert carefully arranged the softbox to shed ambient light on the set, bathing the accessories in a soft light from the upper left. He then placed a small, hand strobe behind the "window" to simulate daylight slightly coming in through the blinds. Now, with the incandescent light bulb of the lamp, the challenge was balancing all three light sources to paint a natural and realistic picture. After several Polaroids, the warm yellow light from the lamp was properly balanced with the other lighting and a successful shot was captured.

You may be saying to yourself, "Why didn't they just go out and shoot a desk?" Yet if you've ever tried it, you'll realize it is nearly impossible to find a location for such shots as the bath and the office with just the right set-up. That's why you design first, then capture the shot to fill the design requirements. Shooting these shots on location would probably have taken a whole day. We didn't have a whole day.

kitchen The Kitchen: With all the shots in the bag, I was off to the studio to put together the black and white materials while waiting for the finished slides the next day. Oooops! Looking over my thumbnails, I realized we finished the session and returned to the studio having forgotten about the kitchen setup. Oh no! Late in the day, there was no chance of returning to the photographer for this final shot. I would have to shoot it myself.

I maintain an in-shop photo set for shooting small products and reference photos. It's made up of some pull-down backdrop paper, a single softbox, and some hardware store lighting fixtures with daylight photo bulbs. Very primitive. What's worse, I would have to shoot with the smaller, 35mm camera rather than the 2.25 Hassi of Huberts! I pulled down a neutral gray roll of backdrop paper, and positioned the softbox directly over the set, just as Hubert would. From there I set the tripod and shot an entire roll with various light settings and f-stop brackets. In the car, I raced the film across town to the Mall photo processor who would hopefully deliver the slides by next day noon.

I thanked my lucky stars that the shots turned out, and were close to the look and feel of the other shots. I had lucked out again.

Putting it all together

With the Progress Printing rep calling to see when he could pick up the job, the next day I set about the assembly of all the images, type and layout for the project. The color work had to get to the printer ahead of the B&W if we were to make the show on time...

Next: Putting it all together


thanks for reading

Fred Showker

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