By OMP Tech Correspondent Don Becker of dbCreativeImages.com (OMP Member #155)
In a recent class I taught for students in the professional program at our school, the assignment was to “create an attention-getting advertisement for jewelry using a model.”
For this assignment, I was to be the primary photographer, and three students were my “assistants,” but participated in creative decisions and also shot the finished setups along with me. We had three hours of studio time for this assignment.
As part of their learning process they set up the backgrounds, placed the lighting, helped meter for correct exposure, and actively participated in the creative decisions as to lighting, jewelry selections and placements, and model poses.
The jewelry was obtained by raiding my wife’s collection, and approximately 30 pieces were selected to be considered, which included some matched sets but mostly random items that looked somewhat similar. Of course, in a real situation the client would have very specific pieces that they would want to have highlighted. If the pieces were photogenic, the photographer’s team would likely have a relatively easy time coming up with interesting and dynamic images. If not photogenic, well, then the photographer would need to get creative with the lighting, the placement, the backgrounds, and anything else they might be able to come up with, in order to make the final images “eye-catching.”
In this case, the client (me) wanted the jewelry to be highlighted against the smooth bare skin of the model. We had the beautiful model Dasha (OMP Model #460218) wear a tube top, showing bare arms and shoulders, to better emphasize the jewelry. Three different combinations of jewelry were selected for the initial trials: a shiny black necklace with black earrings; a set of gold, pearl, and crystal ring, bracelet, and earrings; and a gold cross necklace with multicolored jewel insets and with a gold ring, also with multicolored jewels.
These images were to be semi-closeups, to better see the jewelry, but even so the far backgrounds made a significant difference. We found the plain white paper background to be overly bright, and the black background to be too dark, so settled on a black background lit with a Norman monolight, which provided a medium background with multi-shadows – this seemed to work well. The key light was an AlienBee monolight in a 60 inch round softbox, providing large soft lighting, with egg-crate louvers in front to make it more semi-directional. A third moonlight was used with a 40-inch umbrella as a fill light, about 1.5 stops below the key light.
The final exposure used was 1/125 s at f11, ISO 200, with the camera in the manual exposure mode. (Note: In the studio, I almost always use my camera in the manual mode, setting the exposure as determined by hand metering and confirmed with the histogram.) Initial images were examined, and it was decided that the ring and cross images provided the most impact for the advertisement. A variety of different positions of the jewelry and the model were then photographed, and then we were ready for the final step, post-production.
Part of the purpose of this exercise for the students was to emphasize how important the post-production is to the final image. In the vast majority of cases, whether for fashion, for advertisements, even for portfolio work or everyday professional work, no matter how perfect the model, the lighting, the expression, and the exposure, a skilled Photoshop™ or other image enhancing software person can make the image better! Of course, some images require a lot more work than others, and the photographer has to decide what level of post-production effort is called for based upon the final use(s) of the images and the fee involved or the importance of the image to the photographer.
In the example images, I have included the original image (Figure 1) and the final image, as I perceived it (Figure 2). While I demonstrated to the students many of the Photoshop™ techniques available to the photographer or post-production person, all of the post-production decisions were mine for this image. The students all had their own images to experiment with and make own final decisions. Examples of changes made to this image in post-production include: altering the black level, fill light, clarity and vibrance in Adobe Camera Raw; micro modifications to the jewelry to enhance visibility and impact (note: all of the changes made to the jewelry could have been made via different lighting intensities and/ or positions, my concept of “truth in advertising”); minor modifications to the models face and hand; covering background showing through her hair with additional hair; blurring out the face to place greater emphasis on the jewelry; darkening edges to center attention in the middle; etc., etc., etc.
An additional version of the final image is shown as well in Figure 3, in which all of the photograph except the jewelry is converted to B&W, which really gives the jewelry impact. This also is done in Photoshop™, by making a background copy, then converting that copy to B&W via channels, modifying to taste, and then removing the layer only above the jewelry, letting the color shine through.
Now, you may or may not agree with me that the final product is an excellent, attention getting ad for those jewelry items, but the important thing is whether the client is happy with the image(s). And, since I am the client, and I am pleased with the result, I pronounce the exercise a success!
In doing this exercise with the students, my hope that they learned a little more of what it takes for a professional photographer to complete an assignment for a fashion advertising photograph. Self-assignments like this are available to anyone and at any time, both with and without a model or assistants, and can cover any possible type of photographic subject. These exercises can be an important tool for serious photographers to improve and refine their capabilities. Remember, for a photographer, shooting is like breathing!
To see more of Don Becker’s images, visit his OMP Portfolio
All photographs © 2011 Donald Becker
The author is a faculty member and Technical Director of the Washington School of Photography, Bethesda, MD (www.wsp-photo.com)