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From Idea to Reality


Before the summer, I was hired by one of Sweden’s largest online book stores to make seven different still life product photographs for the marketing of a new ebook-reader called Letto.

The idea was not to have the reader stand alone, we planned to build some kind of environment with small still life things around it with the product standing in the center, all with different themes.

My original idea for the lighting was not at all like the final images, but just being a part of the process was interesting and rewarding, even if my ideas and preparations had to be modified to fit in with the clients needs and wants. Or rather, it all changed course during the day and we ended up with a different result.


This was my starting point, a test image early in the day before the Art Director and the client arrived. Using a small door from an IKEA shelf on two sawhorses there was enough room around to work with the smaller product and everything we planned to fit in there.

Originally, I had the idea of having the product stand on the white door and have a light grey background with a lighter gradient coming from the center. The background was then to be coloured in different colours to fit the different themes using gels. This shot was a bit too dark.


Here is the same test shot but with a blue gel on the background light. The light comes from under the “table”, a Profoto D1 with a gridded and gelled Magnum reflector.

My plan with having a small gradient in the middle of the picture was that I later could expand the image in any direction if the background in the corners had same brightness, which meant that the gradient had to stop a bit from the corners.


Here is a shot from behind the scenes, with a pink-ish gel on the background light. Having the light coming from under table lessens the risk of too much coloured light spilling down on the white area which the product stands on.

Setup using 4 lights

In total, I used four studio lights for this, all Profoto D1 (two 250 Air and two 500). There was the background light, and then one from straight above in a medium sized softbox (2 x 3 feet/60 x 90 cm) and a strip softbox from camera left just outside this photo. The main light is a white Profoto Softlight Reflector (beauty dish).

Using a beauty dish in product photography might not always be optimal, especially if there are glossy things in which you can see the reflections clearly (as in the test images above with the small tv), but for this it gave a large enough light with nice shadows that defines the shape of the still life elements.


Pretty far from my test shots

Working towards a lighter background, this was about what I had in mind, but with different hues for different themes. I thought it would be good if we did some of the shots with darker backgrounds as well, but with that it would be harder for my client to use the photos together with all the design elements they wanted to fit in. A lighter background is easier to use in many ways.


Usable rather than sticking to the original idea

After an ongoing discussion during the first part of the shoot, we settled on a total white background. Maybe not as exciting as the gradient one, I think, but a lot more usable when taking into account all the stuff that would be added later until it became a finished banner or ad.


Photos usually don’t stand alone

Seeing the photos in use on especially the online shop, it is easy to see how much better a white background works. It is nothing like my original idea, but that is part of the job, I think. To be able to change course during an assignment when the original idea meets reality and crashes a bit.

This is a great example of how good it is to have the client with you in the studio during the shoot. If I would have held onto my original lighting idea, and they later would have wanted me to change the gradient background to a white one, it would have taken me several hours in Photoshop to produce a worse result than just having to remove the grid on the background light and turn up the effect until the background was white. Those kinds of rescue operations in Photoshop are never fun.


While white background might not be the most artistic solution, it is very easy to use. A darker background creates an image that is harder to fit into the design.

This might be a more beautiful product shot in my mind, but it has a lot of limitation when used small or in a layout. I will have to save this lighting idea for something else, now that I have tried a way to make it work.

I don’t really know the point of this blog post, I planned to just show the step-by-step of this assignment, but it turned out more like some kind of words of wisdom on how you have to go with the flow to get the client happy and get the work done.

We have a children’s story in Sweden, don’t remember what it is called, but it involves someone ordering something from a tailor and after a couple of visits when he/she has been promised something beautiful by next week (it goes on with promises of smaller and smaller things a couple of rounds), it ends with just a small crochet thumb or something like that.

This was a bit like that, we started out trying to create really nice still life photos with the product in the center, but ended up with something a lot more ordinary, but a lot more useful.

It’s not spectacular, but good. And that sells, and makes the clients happy. And makes them use the photos a lot (which I always like that they do).

I will try to do something spectacular another day.

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