Okay, perhaps a little late, but I wanted to share with you in case you missed it, an interview I did with Chris Anzai for Photigy.com. He approached me a while back and asked me to participate in his interview series. It took a while to get it done because of my busy work schedule (a little like my blog entries really hehe)... Anyways, here's the interview link if you've not yet seen it. It will give you an insight of how it works around here and my journey as a jewelry photographer.
Announcement: Live Product Showcase of the Phase One IQ250 with Vadim Chiline
I just wanted to announce that I will be showcasing the all-new CMOS-based sensor digital back from Phase One in Montreal, at Photo Service Ltee., Wednesday February 19th from 1-5:30PM. Please sign up for the event and see hands-on what this new back can do, especially in low light conditions.
Hero shots help create a mood and feel for a product line.
The Product Photographer's Profile
In the world of luxury product photography, which includes things like jewelry, watches, perfumes, cosmetics, or glassware, you are often asked to shoot a plethora of products even if we talk about let's say : anti inflammatory herbs or etc, . If you’re looking at getting into commercial photography and insuring success, knowing to do both standard catalog and hero shots well will insure the survival and prosperity of your photography business.
There are a few “schools of thought” on the subject. The following is my own life story and by no means a guide, but perhaps my insights into the industry I work in. There are 3 types of product photographers:
The exclusive product catalog photographer
This job entails taking in rather large volumes of work, such as shooting entire jewelry lines, or say an entire series of lipsticks, brushes, etc. and providing them cut out on a white background for the client. It’s the way I started my career, with plenty of static angles over and over. We still provide this today. When volumes are high, with steady clients, with a highly skilled and trained team, you can work in some nice margins and make a living. Unfortunately, this business model can get stale to the photographer’s artistic heart and to the staff’s mental health (I’ve witnessed both). Hence comes the other type of product photographer.
The exclusive editorial and hero-shot photographer
This type of photographer generally works with low volume; perhaps one-of-a-kind items that need that special lighting or that special background or accessory to give more depth, life, even create an emotional human-product connection. They will usually work within a brand’s image utilizing select colors, materials. They work with assistants, stylists, and depending on the client’s size (and available funds) an art director, etc. These projects normally have much larger budgets and the output of winner images is low per day depending on the complexity required. These tend to be much more demanding of everybody because we are selling an image of a brand within a storyline or an emotion. Yet, these jobs are the most artistically rewarding and can be the most lucrative.
A bit of both-worlds: A transitioning photographer
This type of photographer is one that does a little of both styles mentioned above. Normally (I think) one would identify with one or the other, but depending on your industry, location, market, and ability, you will probably do both of these. I’m in this group. I still provide plenty of jewelry catalog photography and videography but do work on hero shots and ad spreads for various companies. By working in both worlds, it guarantees income throughout the year. It all depends on the level of income you wish – if you are satisfied with X per year, and it’s met, then great, if you want XYZ per year, you will have to make sure you work even harder and get more jobs, or increase your prices.
Example of a standard watch catalog photo on white.
What got me started with this blog post was a Facebook post about an advertising shot where the photographer mentioned the things that were done in post-production. A comment was left stating that this retouching mislead consumers because nothing was “this perfect”. I replied to this comment… I had to.
In my professional realm as a jewelry photographer, I need to photograph items that are generally very small and highly detailed. The thing people must realize is that they are designed to be viewed by the naked eye and at best with a 10x loupe. When a client needs a large in-store poster, or large web version for his zoom feature, we are in fact going much larger than the intended viewing size. Even some stellar pieces will show some sort of blemish at these magnifications. So in the bare minimum, all items need retouching to a certain degree.
Is there such a things as too much? Well, in my opinion, considering I work in commercial photography/advertising, not really… We, as a society, have become accustomed to living with blatant exaggerations no? Look at most adds created today, they almost border fantasy. Do your Subway sandwiches look anything like those you see in the pictures? Do Big Macs really look that perfect? Does that volumizing lash product really work as in the commercial? Does that shampoo give orgasmic experiences? No, no, no, and NO. They do create desire – they open appetites, increase our confidence within ourselves, etc. With every generation, advertisers have to push beyond the cusp and outdo previous campaigns to gain visibility with an audience that quickly loses interest, and awaits the next trend.
Some beauty images that make up the ads we see are completely "fudged" and impossible unless multiple shots are done, or CGI is added, etc. Do they reduce in any way the sale of an item? Not really if not at all in my opinion. As said above, they create a brand image. This is the gist of advertising. See a sexy bottle and it makes you want to drink it's luscious elixir. For example, the two photos at the end of this blog post of Dalmore Scotch are composites of several different images. Sometimes shooting several images can be more productive than trying to get it all in one shot.
Topic for a future blog? Behind-the-Scenes?
I'm thinking of doing perhaps a behind-the-scenes involving my shoot of 12 year old Dalmore Scotch. Should you like to see one of the BTS of one of those 2 photos, let me know with a comment at the end of this blog to cast a vote :)
Dalmore Scotch Whiskey Hero Shots.
In today’s highly retouched advertising world, people assume everything can be solved with a quick airbrushing in Photoshop. It’s widespread knowledge that yes indeed, most if not all advertising material goes under the loupe and gets a big changeover: Think of fashion photos where skin, hair and makeup are made blemish-less. Same goes for food, where stylists work tirelessly to make it look the most appetizing, and then more adjustment are done in post-production. The world of jewelry photography is no different, or maybe it is? Relying on post-production is a “must-do”. How does a Tiffany’s image look out of camera? How about some David Yurman pieces? Birks & Mayors? Everybody pays big money to get images perfect and stylized to their branding needs: gold color is adjusted; diamond contrast and colors fixed; stones copy and pasted to replace less-than-stellar ones, etc.
Fig. 1: Drag the slider to see a before and after of a 4.3 ct diamond engagement ring.
Unfortunately, because of the “that’s the way it is and done” nature of the industry, we think Photoshop can solve every problem and give you a “Tiffany’s” look. Before being a running EpicMind Studio, I was a programmer for a few years, having studied Computer Science and learned quite early on the motto: “Garbage in = Garbage out”. If you input bad data, you will get out bad data in return. In jewelry photography, the same can be applied. Start with very low quality photography, where you have blurred out portions, color casts, and bad lighting, unless you are ready to spend lots of money, there’s no way this will turn into your dream “Tiffany’s” image. Jewelry that is bargain priced, or has been heavily worn, and not fresh from production the so-called "vendor samples" requires lots of time and effort in post-production: hence money. These jobs are more doable, if the photography is alright (see Fig. 2)
Fig. 2: Drag the slider to see a before and after of a
heavily used "vendor sample" ring. Notice the scratches, and dirty stains.
Worse than the above case is when we are asked to retouch somebody else's photography where it suffers from very low resolution, may have blurred out portions, color casts, and bad lighting: unless you are ready to spend lots of money, there’s no way this will turn into a winning shot. Garbage in = Garbage out. See Fig 3. for a sample image I created using my unlock iphone 4 (you would be surprised what requests we sometimes get).
We tell our clients that most of the budget for catalog style photography is spent on retouching – especially on lower-end jewelry, but there are limits to what we are willing to do. We do get requests where we are asked to edit photos that they will provide us thinking it bring the images to the next level. I don’t say we can’t, I just say that the likelihood of it depends on the source image and how it was captured. Start with a great image, and you will end with a great image – at least that’s what I think.
Quality jewelry on the other hand, requires generally less retouching than lower-end. Although this is a general rule I’ve noticed, some higher-end clients still require that it is retouched above-and-beyond. Jewelry being used on backlight posters at shows such as JCK Las Vegas, that blow-up the jewelry to a 6’ size, will require tons of retouching no matter what – jewelry is not designed to be shown at larger than life sizes – some are machine made, some man made, and precision has its limits.
Fig. 3: A sample of bad lighting, focus and low resolution;
sometimes there's just so much retouching you can do within a budget.
I try to coach clients approaching me with “home brew” photos – it doesn’t hurt to learn to produce better in-house photos that we will need to retouch. They win in the end – getting amazing marketing material.
Finally, it’s got a lot to do with economics: if you want great work, you need to spend money to get it done right. If you cut corners, then more money it spent to make-up the problems incurred by the cut corner. Money isn’t the only driving factor, but with today’s economy, today’s jeweler is more price-conscious than ever and wants to stretch their marketing dollar further because of shrinking margins. Unfortunately, cutting corners when "first impressions" matters just isn't an option.
Fig. 4: Drag the slider to see a before and after of an image I did a couple of years ago. The client wanted a very "blue" oriented image, a little in the Tiffany's style.
This past month, during the Super Bowl, our client Reeds-Jenss aired a regional ad around Buffalo, NY. We provided the high definition 1080p jewelry video and their team assembled the ad which had quite a blockbuster-movie teaser’esque appeal. Please be sure to have your sound on and view in full HD.
Reeds-Jenss has trusted EpicMind Studio to help them bring their television ads to the next level. Future videos will be featuring beautiful collections such as Pandora. With broadband in everybody’s back pocket these days, advertising has never had such a great reach. Look at YouTube – ads are now visible more than ever – any one of these spots can be tailored for your desired market and demographic.
In the above project, Reeds-Jenss asked that we record multiple angles of each diamond engagement ring – they wanted to convey every intricate detail of the jewelry, sort of how today’s car commercials focus more on the details than the entire car itself. For the video, we provided between 12-20 angles per ring with various zoom-ins and outs, as well as pans adding dimension to the jewelry. Recording the diamond jewelry on black places emphasis on the scintillation of stones – on white, the effect isn’t as grand and emphasis is place more on the metal instead such as the case of wedding bands (or something that needs a subtle-soft feel for jewelry).
We’re looking forward to 2012 and the additional commercial spots we will be creating alongside our growing client list. Look for future posts with new ads in the coming months.
In the coming weeks and months, this new blog will feature some of the fine clients we work with here at EpicMind Studio. You’ll find interviews, commentaries, and anecdotes from industry members. We are, after all, a large community, so why not share your success stories! From left to right:
Swarovski Ruby Crystal Pinecone; Coloured Maple Leaf Design w/Swarovski Elements Crystal; 99.999% Pure Gold with Irregular Shape
Over the past year, I’ve been privileged to partake in the ever-expanding marketing efforts of the Royal Canadian Mint. Recognized as one of the top mints, they lead the industry with innovations like holograms, Swarovski crystals, unique shapes, painted imagery, and extreme high relief. Even more impressive, the Mint holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest gold coin, a100-kilogram/220-pound, 99999 pure (yes, that’s five nines, 99.999% pure) gold bullion coin with a face value of $1 million. Beyond Canada’s own currency, the Mint also produces that of 50+ countries, providing a significant revenue source in addition to its circulation and collection-based coins.
For the last several years, the Mint featured beautifully painted renditions of their coins, with artists necessarily taking liberties with regard to highlights, shadows, and design elements visible in real life. With the price of some of these stunning coins in the six-figure range, high-profile collectors required an authentic view of their possible purchase. That’s where the need for high-definition photography came in. The Mint went on the lookout for a photography studio that is well versed in the capturing the allure of various precious metals and how to retain and display fine details in all their glory.
Euoplocephalus tutus coin:
A selective aging effect creates a powerful impression of fossilized bones in stone. In fact, this technique ensures no two coins are exactly alike.
While on location in Ottawa last spring, I was totally blown away with the beauty of the artwork -- these coins were not your typical circulation-based denominations. Each year, renowned artists design and hand craft incredible works of art that appear virtually three-dimensional. Heck, even Queen Elizabeth looks stunning on some coins!
We faced a challenge during the shoot: photographing a coin featuring a hologram. This isn't something I had ever come across in the world of jewelry photography, my bread and butter, and needed to do on-the-spot learning to overcome this anomaly. Softboxes don't work - they simply wash away the effect. Only a handheld strobe without any light modifier was able to retain the holographic effect through my lens. Back at the studio later, we composited the best images in post-production to produce a final product the Mint was proud of.
Since then, the Mint and EpicMind have collaborated on several collections and projects, including redefining the Masters Club magazine – a publication that targets the Mint’s most avid and loyal customers throughout North America.
We look forward to capturing the Mint’s latest innovations with photography and videography in the coming years.
I also want to mention that the next blog entry will be featuring a new column called "Beginner's Corner". It will talk about the various technical aspects of studio work, such as lighting options, basic camera usage and more. I will be also including some jewelry photography tips. So check back soon!