Following on from the formative assignment titled “Tools and Utensils”, where we were required to learn and use the 5×4″ camera in order to produce a single A3 product image relating to the title, I’m now tasked with producing three images along the same lines.

Click on any of the assignment sheet images above for a larger version which should explain the brief we were given.

Assignment Outline

In a nutshell, this assignment calls for us to submit a total of three images, two of which are related product shots and one which is a more creative still-life.

The product shots were to go along with the assignment we were doing in Creative Industries where we had to price up and send in a proposal to a fictitious company (in this case Boots) who were looking for someone to get them the shots they’d need for a new marketing campaign.

The focus was on men’s cosmetics and involved us trying to convince more males to go out and regularly purchase their own products.

We were tasked in this Photo Tech 1 aspect of the assignment to come up with and shoot a couple of product shots for our chosen product. It was prefered that one shot be a still-life type and another to involve a model. This wasn’t set in stone, but I got the impression grades would likely be higher if a model(s) were involved.

Initial Ideas

Unlike the usual me, I came up with and settled on men’s facial hair as being the route I’d go down, and so started with my research. We’ve gone through the whole ‘Hipster’ scene and there are a few men still clinging to it, but I’d say it’s not as big as it used to be. Having said that, it’s still big and facial hair is still a massive business and, because of this, I was going to try a campaign showing everyday men with their beard products.

The whole beard idea was going to be the same as the whole men’s face care products shots I was going to do. The beard or face care product ideas are probably the ones I still wish I’d gone for as both the images would have linked nicely. For the product shot, I was going to have an open toolbox with a tube of the beard or face care product sitting in the top surrounded by typical tools you’d find in a toolbox, such as hammers, ratchets and spanners etc. A shallow depth of field would have been used so that the product is in sharp focus whilst the rest of the toolbox’s items are out of focus somewhat. To link to this with the second shot, I was going to simply have a model wearing greasy overalls applying the product. If it was going to be a beard product, the model would have a beard, and vice-versa if it were going to be a face care product such as a skin moisturiser.

I was all set to roll with one of these ideas and had even gone out and bought some Bull Dog Face Scrub and Moisturiser to use as my product props. It wasn’t until I started researching men’s products for the Creative Industries side of things that I came across ‘manscaping’. This is the practice by which men are basically de-hairing themselves down in their nether regions. I didn’t even know this was such a big deal on the whole grooming scene, but it would definitely appear to be so. I guess marketing companies can direct us attention-seeking humans into buying whatever they want us to buy.

After spending a while educating myself on this niche of the industry and laughing out loud at the humorous advertising that goes with it, I decided it was too funny a thing not to go with. The best-named product comes from a company calling themselves Tame the Beast with a product they call Nutt Butter; how could I pass up an opportunity like that to do something different to, hopefully, most other people in the class.

The Studio Shoot

Because of the panic I’ve been putting myself under with regards to how many assignments we now have and how much work is involved to get them done, I decided to go into the college studio during the half-term reading week to get these two shots done. I had a solid idea for the still-life shot and kind of an idea for a model shot.

The idea behind the shot is that it keeps the focus on the bottle whilst having a bit of humour with the walnuts and a splash of colour with the Rosemary. The reason I chose the rosemary was simply that it was the easiest ingredient I could find at this time of year that is in the lotion. It also shows that it’s made from natural ingredients and so might appeal to more men. The whole walnut thing is simply to let the viewer know, in a fun way, where the lotion is to be applied.

The Shoot

I knew the shoot was going to take a while but I didn’t realise quite how long. I started at just after 9:30am and wasn’t finished with the whole process of the product shoots, model shoots, and getting the film into an envelope to send off for developing until around 3:30pm.

It wasn’t like I was even doing anything fancy with the lighting, either, but I was having fun whilst making sure I was getting my depth of field correct, with the use of the Cambridge Calculator, and my lighting power correct with the use of a light meter. I think I managed this, but we’ll find out when I get my transparency sheets back from developing.

Below are a few images of the setup I had for getting both product shots done.

The Model Shot

It had been intended to have a male model laying on his side with the Nutt Butter Extreme bottle positioned around his crotch area. The expression on his face was to be one of a pleasurable surprise to represent the ‘extreme’ nature of the product on the balls. This product has been developed to have more of a kick from its predecessor as some customers wanted it so.

As it happened, I couldn’t get anyone to come into the studio for the day of the shoot and, as a result, I had to use one of my peers who didn’t want to have his face in the shot. Because of this, I just went with the same pose and positioning of the product but without the look on his face. This is a little disappointing but comes back to me and my fault for not getting a model sorted or changing the date of the shoot to when a willing model could make it into the studio.

I’m also at fault for not storing the photos I took on my DSLR for use on here in my online sketchbook and again, as a result, I don’t have any to add as I would appear to have cleared the SD card, D’OH! I’ll have to wait until the film comes back from the developers so that I can scan them and put them up on here (not that this will show the setup).

One point to note about the model shot part of the day is that I switched from a black paper background to the white infinity curve for these shots. The intention was to have the model laying on a white box with a white background but the box was so dirty that I ended up covering it with a black cover. I now wish I’d thought about moving back to the black paper background as I feel this would have been much better. Instead, I now have the model laying on a black box with a white background. I don’t remember it looking that bad, but I was rushing by this stage and my mind tells me that the all black would have worked better. Again, it’s a case of waiting for the transparency films to come back so that I can see. I could always reshoot that part of the project, but I’d rather not as I still have the creative still-life shot to think about and shoot.

The Developed Transparencies are Back

Got my hands on my four transparencies and I’d have to say that, overall, I’m very pleased with what I’ve been able to produce.

I reproduced the image of the product I took with my DSLR and I’d have to say that it came out better on the 5×4 due to the positioning of the product and props. Basically, the walnuts better represent a pair of bollocks in the 5×4 studio shot so I’m really happy with that shot and it’s one I’ll definitely be submitting for assessment. I also laid the product on its side and squeezed a bit of the lotion out in a suggestive way but this image isn’t as good as I don’t like the positioning of the product in relation to the hessian base and the black background. I wish I’d taken more notice of the composition in this shot.

As for the two model shots, I’m more pleased with them than I thought I would be. As I stated above, I was concerned with the contrast between the backdrop and base. It actually looks good as the backdrop has come out grey instead of white (I honestly wanted this to be the case) and so the white of the model’s t-shirt doesn’t get lost.

With the model shots, most of the composition was the same with the only difference being the hand gesture. I’ll be submitting the ‘thumbs up’ version as it suggests that the product is “good stuff, dude”. I’ve spotted an issue with this image though. The black cloth I used to cover the white box has been ruffled up under the model’s elbow and, because of this, a little piece of the white box he’s laid on can be seen. This is REALLY annoying as I should have spotted it! The light is reflecting a little too much of part of the text on the product tube as well but, hey, I reckon I might be just being a little too harsh on myself again.

Brief 2 – Creative Shot

Right, other than the black cloth and text reflection issues from Brief 1, I’m happy to move on to Brief 2. This requires us to create a piece of creative contemporary work of our own.

From my understanding of the wording on the assignment brief, we can create either a purely aesthetic piece, a contemporary recreation of an old masters work or put a ‘found’ object in an unnatural environment for itself.

My first thought was to get a glass fish tank, put it in front of a white background, fill it with water, put a plastic carrier bag in it and, BOSH!, done! That’s something out of its natural environment and is also topical.

After that, I had a dry spell on the old thought-process front until I suddenly had a lightbulb moment about doing something I’ve always wanted to do…Star Wars!

This is the idea I’m currently rocking with as I’ve always wanted to get myself some Star Wars action figures and create still-image scenes with them via the art of close-up photography. I thought I might as well use this as an opportunity to start doing it. I must admit that I’ll carry on doing it for my Instagram feed if it’s any good and as much fun as I think it could be.

I realise that this is nothing new but, as I said, it’s something I’ve wanted to try for quite some time. The biggest issue with doing this is that this whole assignment currently stands me at the princely sum of £95!! It’s cost me £50 for the five action figures and £45 for all the expenses involved with getting the four 5×4 shots created and developed. This is a reason why I don’t want to reshoot the 5×4 model shot even though the ruffled black cloth might get me marked down a little. Luckily I’ve found some sand that I can use in this creative shot so that’ll save a little expense.

I’m not sure if this image is going to fall under the purely aesthetic or the putting something found into an unnatural environment part of the assignment, really. I say this because I intend to use some found old car/motorbike engine parts within the image as pieces of scenery.

This post is risking becoming a wall of text so I guess I’d better insert some images, huh? Right, the inspiration for my idea. For this, we don’t have to look much further than anti-social media and, namely, Instagram.

Now, I love the look of whisky as I think it looks cool as, and I also love Star Wars as it’s what I grew up watching and still love it today. I get the impression there are other people out there with the same ideas about those two things and one guy, Brett Ferencz a.k.a ‘scotch_trooper’, on Instagram has blended the two together in a fantastic way.

The guy is clearly a photographer who does product photography, as his other Instagram account says, which can be found at ‘drinks.with.ferencz‘.

There’s also ‘mister.jedi‘ and ‘misterstormtrooperdavis‘ who I follow on Instagram and who have influenced me, but it’s the humour in ‘scotch_troopers‘ work that I like.

For this assignment brief, we aren’t allowed to edit our images so I’m limited in what I can do somewhat. By this, I mean that I’d like to learn how to use Photoshop to create laser trails coming out of the weapons as well as using it to remove bits of fishing wire I intend to use to suspend the miniatures in some images. This Photoshop work will have to wait for the images I intend to create for my social media feeds.

Another reason I like these types of images, other than the growing up with Star Wars and liking whisky thing, is because I really like staged narrative photography or ‘tableau vivant’, to give it its French name. With this idea for a creative shot, I would appear to be tapping into a few things that I’m discovering I like.

Finally! An Idea to go with…

After having a vague idea of what I wanted to do with the second part of the assignment, I finally found time to sit down and come up with a solid idea.

I really want to go with the Stormtrooper thing, even though I’m not totally sure it’s what the powers-that-be had in mind when setting out this assignment, and I wanted to go down a comedic route as well. The idea I’ve finally settled on is along the lines of the image below, which I’ll call “Everything Stops for Tea”.

This is a very basic initial version of what I hope to achieve and was created at home using my simple and cheap speedlight/backdrop setup.

The idea behind doing the initial shot at home (besides me just having fun with it) was to allow me to discover how I’d need to light it and what it might look like.

The setup I achieved at home consisted simply of two softboxed speedlights at 45-degree angles to the subjects and one speedlight with a snoot over it. This snoot had a honeycomb over the end of it to reduce the amount of light that was spilling onto the teacup and Stormtroopers. The idea of the snoot setup was to lighten the boss figure (Kylo Ren) as his black outfit was causing difficulties in the same shot as the white Stormtroopers.

I intend to have a third Stormtrooper in the shot who will be positioned off to the left of the scene with his back to the camera and his hands down by his crotch. This makes him look like he’s had to go off and have a pee after drinking too much tea. He’ll have his head turned to the right to show that he’s seen the boss approaching his tea-drinking buddies but he can’t stop the flow of pee to go and tell them. As can be seen in this initial image, the two Stormtroopers still at the teacup are oblivious to the fact they’re about to get a bollocking for slacking on the job.

The reason for the flowery china cup, apart from it is the perfect height, is that the evil Empire is seen as being the bad guys of the universe who are hellbent on taking over the entire galaxy yet, in reality, they’re a bunch of tea-drinking nice lads who are probably in a union and feel they’re entitled to their statutory tea breaks.

The image above is rather plain and so, even though I love it, I wouldn’t submit it like that. The idea for when I get back into the college studio is to set up a larger table (one of the classroom desks will do) to give the feel of more like a kitchen/dining table rather than just a table I had to hand at the time.

I’ll use a tablecloth (the more flowery the better), side plate from the same set as the cup, more solid-coloured straws that stand out better than these transparent ones, and either some fairy cakes or chocolate fingers to add to the ‘nice lads’ narrative. I’ll probably even plonk a vase of daffodils on there as well.

I’m thinking this piece will more fit option B of brief 2 of the assignment as this calls for a ‘found’ item to be put in an unnatural environment. I’m not sure what the ‘found’ part could be for this piece of work as it could be that I ‘found’ the wife’s best china tea set in the cupboard, or I found the Star Wars action figures online at forbiddenplanet.com.

Failing that, I could always revert it back to being a purely aesthetic piece that qualifies for option A. Or…I could just end up with a low grade. If so, that’s ok as I’ve had fun with it and tried something I’ve always wanted to try with photography.

The Actual Creative Shot

After a morning of work in the studio, I’ve managed to get the shot I wanted.

I’ll start by saying that, I love this shot. It’s what I had in mind. I wanted something humorous, clean, crisp, along a minimalistic theme and white with a splash of colour. I think I achieved those things in this image.

The Narrative

The narrative I imagine to go with the image is, in a nutshell, that the Stormtroopers aren’t actually the big badass galaxy-conquering soldiers everyone things they are. Instead, they’re a bunch of union-belonging workers who, like the rest of us, love a cup of tea. They’re entitled to a tea break and they’re going to bloody have one!

Not only that but, they also know how to do the tea break thing properly; best china cup and saucer, side plate for cakes and a few well-tendered flowers to add a splash of natural colour to the workplace.

The boss on the other hand (in this case, Kylo Ren), thinks they’re taking the piss.

What I see in the image is, the two Stormtroopers at the cup haven’t seen the boss come in and so are merrily going about their tea breaker. The Stormtrooper on the left has already drunk too much tea and has had to go take a piss. He got caught short and has had to go up against one of the plant pots. He’s seen the boss come in but is mid-flow and, as we all know, when you’re desperate and have started, there’s no way that bad boy’s stopping. Because of this, he can’t subtlely alert his union brethren to the fact that the shit is about to hit the fan.

The boss is posed in a manner that suggests he’s saying, “Guys. What the actual f**k?!”.

Technically

I struggled for the first part of the session with lighting as I was getting long shadows across the table from the various props. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I was in probably the worst studio area out of the four in the college studio. My intention was to have two equal lights illuminating the backdrop and two equal softboxed lights illuminating the scene. This wasn’t possible as I only had one suspended light to work with on the backdrop and only one square softbox for the lights illuminating the scene. I eventually got a second square softbox which worked better than the strip one I was using to start with.

I was originally trying to use two lights on the backdrop to light each side of it evenly. One was the suspended one which I couldn’t adjust the height of, and the other was placed on the floor behind the table. These were eventually repositioned from being at each side to being in the centre of the backdrop. This worked better but has given the shot a bit of vignetting down each side edge. I wasn’t happy with this to start with but it’s grown on me as it helps to separate the table from the backdrop a little.

I can imagine some might say that it’s a little too white and bright, but I disagree as that’s exactly what I wanted. I feel that it’s about right as it gives the clean look to it whilst still managing to keep the white-armoured Stormtroopers separated from the white surroundings.

Shot Setup

Because I’m an idiot who, yet again, forgot to take a shot of the setup, I’ll just explain it in a boring wall of text.

  • A desk was placed about 5′ away from the white background.
  • 2 lights were placed in front of the table at 45-degree angles on both their horizontal and vertical planes.
  • A light on the floor directly behind and central to the table to flash the backdrop.
  • A light in the same position as the one on the floor but suspended from above to also flash the backdrop.
  • A light on a stand with a snoot to illuminate the boss character who is wearing black. This was placed straight-on from that subject, so just to the right of the camera.
  • Camera centrally positioned in front on the table.

Grade

69%

I’d have to say that this is one hell of an annoying grade to get as it’s that one mark off a 1st. If I’d go that one extra mark it would have made it a 1st in the last three assignments I’d done and I could have gone into the summer break feeling good about where I’m at at this stage of my degree.

What’s even more annoying is the fact that I forgot to update this blog post with research done into the male cosmetics part of the assignment and that’s what stopped me getting a better grade. I can’t remember exactly why I didn’t log the research but I’d imagine it’s got something to do with the fact that I’d been given a lot of assignments at around this time and I was probably panicking. I’d guess I was also getting confused with what I’d written here and what I’d written for the Industries paper that was running alongside this assignment.

Apparently, my product shots were a bit boring (which I’d agree with) but my creative shot was very good (which I’d also agree with). It was due to my creative shot that I managed to get the grade I did so it’s a valuable lesson learned that all research needs to be logged and that one good image can make a difference!