Having been married over fifteen years now, one of the sayings that someone told me on my wedding day was, “Happy wife, happy life.” I have never forgotten this. Along with the phrase, “Hell have no fury like a woman scorned.” Therefore I try to make her happy as much as possible. One of the advantages of working out of your home is that you have all of your tools with you at all times. Since I work out of our home and my wife has her “craft area” within rubber band shooting distance (don’t ask), we have discussions about business and how to make things better for both of our clients. She and my mother co-own a day spa in North Port, Florida called Serenity’s Touch. In addition to doing massages, nails, skin care and hair, Angie also makes all of their lotions, scrubs, pedicure bath bombs and more. Now that she has discovered soap making, this adds another layer of creativity for her and a new product line for her to sell.
I was sitting on my side of the room working on paperwork and I hear through the soap drying racks, “If your board, you can photograph my new Valentine Day chocolate soaps.” I said with great confidence, “Huh?” To this point she has made a variety of bar soaps and cupcakes. Yes, the frosting for the cupcakes is soap too. Who knew a KitchenAid could make soap frosting? I realized since I have been married for some time, this was a request to photograph the soap. I went into the soap domain to see exactly what she had created. How cute, these little soaps are the size of the chocolates that you would get in one of those Whitman’s candy box. Of course I was more than happy to do it….I was bored of course, ahem.
So how hard can this be? Stick a little piece of soap on a white sheet of paper and shoot it and I would be back working on photos in no time. Then she showed me what the final packaging was going to be, as she made that all from scratch as well. I feel like I married Martha Stuart as she can do anything. Now I was presented with chocolates that were wrapped in mini cupcake papers that were inside a box with fancy crinkled paper and was all incased in a fancy cellophane bag tied off with a ribbon. OK, this was a little taller than the original chocolate. I scoured the bookshelves where we have extra paper and found a 8.5” x 14” sheet of white paper. Done. This would become the background. I found an old box and placed it on the table and taped the sheet of paper to the top of the box ad had it droop down like an “L” shape. Then I placed the packaging on the paper and got down to where the camera was going to be. It was then I realized that my easy way out wasn’t going to work. The packaging was too tall and I was going to have to come up with a plan b. Now I was on a mission to make this work. I started making trips from the photo equipment area to the kitchen. Angie asked what I was doing as this was a simple piece of packaging. I just said that I was shooting what she gave me, the challenge was on between a little box and me. Here is the diagram of the final set up.
Now that I realize that we’re going to have to start from scratch, I made a few adjustments. I kept the large box as I didn’t feel like assembling the background stand at 10:00 at night. However, what I did was grab my 24” roll of white seamless paper and came up with a taller background. Naturally the roll of paper wanted to reroll itself so this was fixed with a bottle of water to stop it. At this point the background was all set. Since I have a few flashes at my disposal I might as well use them. But, you have to have a way to hold the flash, so I’ll grab a light stand. Again, back into the photo department of the home to grab more equipment. Then I realized that I was going to need to soften the light coming from the flash, back to get an umbrella. I finally, have the light stand assembled and at a 45° to the packaging and I was ready to take a photo. Oh, ya…forgot the…ugh…CAMERA! OK, no worries. Grabbed the camera and tripod. I choose my Nikon 50mm f/1.4 as it’s one of the sharpest lenses that I have. Since there is a lot of detail that she has put into these I wanted them to show. The camera is now in the tripod and I set the camera up for ISO 200, f/11 at 1/250. I used the pop up flash to trigger the other flash that is on the light stand. However, I turned down the flash on the camera to 1/128 power so it doesn’t register in the final photo. I had the flash on the light stand set to 1/4 power. Everything is now set, about 45 minutes after the “if your board” comment. I pushed the button and what I was presented with was a white frame. I had successfully nuked the subject, too much light. Turned the flash down to 1/16 power and it was much better. But, now I have a new problem, I have a strong shadow on the right side as the light is coming from the left. No problem, I grabbed my 12” silver reflector and will bounce the light back onto the subject. I had everything in place and took an additional photo. It was better, but still too dark for my taste. It was time for phase two.
I realized that the reflector wasn’t going to get it. Back to the photo equipment. At this point my wife is getting a little nervous asking if everything is going OK. I said just peachy. I set up an additional light stand, flash and umbrella and placed it at 45° on the right side of the packaged soap. I turned on the flash and matched the power from the other flash to 1/16 power. OK, finally we are all set. I have enough light power to blind all of New York City or signal the rover that is on Mars. I pushed the shutter button and in a flash (like that pun?) it all came together. Remember, the goal was to photograph a little piece of soap that looks like a piece of chocolate! Here is what the final packaging shot looks like.
Now that all of this equipment was set up, I asked what else she wanted photographed as it will be easy. She handed me a box without the cellophane wrapping. To make sure that the inside of the chocolates would show, I used my business card holder to prop up the back. I realized this was going to skew the front, but it’s the chocolates that are the star of the show.
She decided she wanted some individuals as well. I was smart and let her “style” them that way she wanted to ensure that they would be just right. The heart on the far right has some special glitter on it and that even showed up.
At the end of the session, mission accomplished. The soaps look great and they are on a clean background. Yes, it only took about $5,000 worth of equipment to pull this off. Granted, could you do this with some other equipment? Sure, you could make a soft box out of cardboard and use a lamp for light. I have done this and it works. However, I have found if you have the right tools, it can make the job easier. Not to mention when you make the investment, it will last probably a lifetime. Once in a while it takes some equipment to create what you envision, but they are just tools. It’s the craft of photography that that allows one to create a stunning photo by sculpting the light. The next time someone asks you if your board, look very busy.
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean