Project 52, Assignment #3 Still Life – Editorial
The third Assignment of Project 52 was to photograph a simple small Still Life with some special requirements. This image needed to be small enough to fit into a 8 x 8 format, pretending that this photo would be used editorial, as the cover for a brochure.
The emphasis was to produce a Still Life and not a product shot.
I thought to myself, but aren’t great product shots also nicely composed Still Lifes’? Reading further in the Project 52 Assignment Three instructions, Don Giannatti explains the subtle difference between the two:
“The point is sometimes to be a bit more ‘artistic’ and we don’t have to concern ourselves with showing a label, or something that is part of a product that is branded.”
After brainstorming a little bit about what to shoot and how to compose a still life I came to the conclusion that I wanted to create an image with a little bit of “sizzle”, after all the assignment was called Project 52, Assignment #3 Still Life and NOT “Still Death”.
Remembering a blog post by Atlanta-based Photographer Alex Koloskov, Water in Product and Advertisement Photography, I wanted to implement and build on that idea. After further contemplating this idea I almost did not do do it because thinking about all the stuff I did not have for this shot was starting to take the wind out of my sails. No Studio, no shooting table, no cinema foil, no flags, not enough stands and last but not least NO fish tank. But liking that idea so much it became clear that I could do this on a much smaller scale. Not in the studio – on my dining room table, with the stuff I already have. The only thing I did not have was a fish tank.
Fish tanks aren’t so expensive if you get a small one (2.5 Gallons) – So I went to the pet store and got mine for less than $15.00 bucks, stopped at the hardware store and bought small suction cups and wire. The last stop was the grocery store – 1 jug of distilled water, 2 bottles of club soda and one Green Jalapeno. The check out clerk looked at me with “Really?” written all over her face.
When I got home I started to set up the shot on my dining room table. I put the fish tank on a larger box to get some height (I did not feel like using several light stands). Then I cut a piece of wire, squeezed it around the small suction cup. The other end of the wire was bent to a small “hook” and I poked it right into the pepper. I prefer not having to doctor my shots in Photoshop and sticking the pepper on the far side of the glass with the wire-and-suction-cup-method worked very well. Checking through the viewfinder, the pepper concealed the wire and suction-cup perfectly.
Having the set rigged up, it was time to set up the lights and do a couple of dry-shots. All I used was two Speed Lights (one Nikon SB-800 and one Nikon SB-900), one 45 inch convertible white umbrella, one grid, one 32 inch 5-1 reflector disc, two pieces of household aluminum foil and two gels from the rosco strobist collection (one red and one orange)
After I dialed in my light and the “dry” shots looked really good, it was time to fill the tank. Since the tank was brand new it was perfectly clean. The first gallon of distilled water went in and the tip of the pepper was submerged. Pouring in the first bottle of club soda the pepper started to float up, of course I did not put into the equation that peppers are hollow, but squeezing it and letting it suck itself full of water solved the problem. Finally the fish tank was full and the pepper in place. But there was another problem. There were too many bubbles sticking on the near side of the tank. Not having one of those aquarium-cleaner-thingamajigs handy I used a silicon cooking spatula and started to “squeegee” off the excess bubbles – and it worked.
Filing the fish tank with water changed the light and exposure significantly. Of course I did not keep in mind that:
“when light travels from a denser to a less dense medium, such as water to air, there is a critical angle of incidence beyond which the light will be total internally reflected at the internal surface of the water rather than refracted out into the air”
The best way I can describe it in plain English is that the glass-bottom of the tank mirror turned into a giant mirror.
So I dialed the light down, added a couple of makeshift flags to my umbrella (I tapped the black cover of my reflector disc to the umbrella on the side closer to the camera, I used the outer black cover of another umbrella as a flag to prevent light spilling on the back ground) and clipped a piece of aluminum foil on the right side of the tank for a little bounce.
Finally I taped the orange and red gel in a criss-cross fashion over the grid.
I took plenty of shots and changed the exposure and direction of the back-ground light to get different effects.
All in all I spent about 3 hours shooting this jalapeno-pepper. Post processing was done in 10 minutes, picking a shot of the many was probably the most time consuming.
Here is what I took away from Project 52, Assignment #3 Still Life:
- Big complex set-ups can be scaled down and simplified
- Combining a Fish Tank, a Jalapeno Pepper and lots of Club Soda can be very entertaining
- Framing a shot correctly and to the assignment specifications in the camera will save you a lot of time in post production and lay-out