Tuesday, May 10, 2011

problem solving: light as a maximizer

When commissioned by ad agency Publicis to shoot a print ad series for Oral-B I was immediately captivated by the concept: people in important situations who are distracted by food caught in their teeth. The conceptual humor was right up my ally. I was eager to dig in.

One final photo from the series. "If it's stuck in your teeth, it's stuck in your head."

The art director was concerned that the lighting on the location shot and on the separately-shot food item wouldn't match. Poorly planned lighting would have been a dead giveaway that the image was a composite. At our first pre-production meeting we figured that we could shoot the food in the same light as the location shot: just stick the food in the hospital bassinet, shoot it, and enlarge it for the composite.

This didn't work for a couple of reasons. First, we still weren't sure what food we were going to use as the baby even during the nursery shoot. We were debating BBQ ribs, strawberries, etc... We went with broccoli the day after. So we were going to have to shoot it separately anyway. Second, smaller food items were going to look wrong even if they were in the exact same lighting because they would be enlarged.

*this gets a little complicated after the jump*

The big lights: Three Profoto heads (two outside, one inside the nursery) with flags and scrims.

When we enlarge the talent (broccoli in this case) in post, we're essentially enlarging everything else including the apparent size of the light source (medium/small octabanks). So, it appears as though we're compositing larger-than-life broccoli shot with enormous softboxes into a normal-sized nursery shot with medium softboxes even though the lights were exactly the same in real life. Make sense?

To solve the problem, I needed to recreate the nursery set on a miniature scale and use some (much) smaller lights. *cue the strobist theme song* We needed to maximize (or as Ladies Man Leon Phelps would say, "hugeify") the broccoli.

I had my assistant Megan take detailed notes: camera position and distance to subject, position, height and power settings of all lights, meter readings on all sides of the subject, and an overhead diagram of the setup. I used this data to create my tabletop set.

The small lights: LumoPro flash left and mirror right mimic the Profoto heads. White cards reflect light as walls did.

broccoli maximized (opposite of miniaturized)

In the nursery shot I used three lights: medium octabank behind left of subject, small octabank directly across on camera right, and one big square box over the lens to fill in shadow detail. BUT in the food studio I used one. On that small scale, I was able to really bounce the light around and get some great detail on the broccoli. The mirror kicks back almost all of the light and the front white card filled in the shadow detail adequately. Usually a bare flash gives terribly harsh light, but since it was in close to a tiny subject, it acted like a large softbox (we're talking relative size here).


  1. Jeremy-

    Pretty cool! You should send this to LumoPro -- they do a BTS slideshow onsite.


  2. Great idea David! Thanks for the comment.

  3. Thanks for this read, J. Nice to see your thinking surrounding the set lighting, you seem to take it as creative problem-solving, innovative. Make it sound fun. Also appreciate the technical sharing. Helpful. Re: broccoli as your raw talent, admittedly would've loved to see a bbq rib set. Also, on your bio, says there you like tennis?

    Thanks -D for the LumoPro site to check out.

  4. Johnny!
    You'll see the BBQ rib soon. We used it in the office setting which means there was a necktie which means SOMEONE had to tie a full Windsor.

    Tennis? Uh, yeah I have that under "special interests" on my resume which is currently being typed up over at Kinkos.

  5. Mr. Strobist,
    I did send this along to LumoPro per your suggestion. They unofficially referred to this shot as the LP160's "debut into commercial shooting." Very cool!