Studio Lighting: Scaramouche Ice cream

A friend of mine recently launched an Artisan Ice Cream company and it is really taking off for him at the moment. No doubt the hot weather helps, but the real attractions are the way the ice cream is made; from scratch with full cream jersey milk and 100% natural ingredients; and the flavours: Thyme and Honey, Ras Al Hanout, Vervain to mention just three. Then there are the chocolate and ginger ice cream cakes, man they are to die for.

He is putting together his website and advertising and asked me to take product shots. We planned out two mornings for shooting at the Scaramouche parlour as it was not practical to shoot in my small studio. Ice cream has two problems. The first is from a photographic perspective it is not visually exciting. To avoid bland images you need to use lighting that emphasises shape and texture while adding some styling that does not detract from the core product. The second is that it melts, and in 30+ degrees it melts fast. So you don’t have much time to mess about with lighting. I decided on a simple one light set up as shown below.

A simple one light set up to emphasis shape and texture

A simple one light set up to pick out the shape and texture of the ice cream

The soft box creates a large light source relative to the size of the product and so minimises specular highlights. By putting it slightly behind and above the product I can get enough direction on the light to pick out  the texture of the ice cream. The reflectors allow me fill in shadows as required.

Finally, I wanted to produce a graduated light from front to back so that the ice cream and cream would be positioned against a dark background while the rest of the image would be bright. The overhead soft box on a boom arm is ideal for this as the soft box can be tilted towards the camera to feather the light falling on the scene. This gives me control over the fall off of light from bottom to top of the image. I just had to be careful not to induce lens flare as the light was shining almost directly at the camera for some of the shots.

I started using my Elinchrom BXRi 500 strobe with a 40*40 soft box. It worked quite well but these are powerful lights and the room I was in was small and had white walls.  I was having difficulty controlling the light fall off in the background of the shots, so I switched to using a Nikon SB800 speed light with a much smaller soft box.

I decided to use the X-Pro1 and the Fujinon 60MM lens. As I talked about in a previous post it is not the easiest of lenses to use in the wild, but locked down on a tripod and with controlled lighting it really produces incredibly crisp images, and can of course focus very  close.  Most importantly the 60mm focal length means I do not get too much distortion in the images.

To get the best DOF I wanted to shoot at F16/F22. At this aperture I needed the SB800 to fire manually at 1/8th or 1/4 power.  I don’t like to use any of the auto flash modes in the studio as I can’t control lighting ratios then. Ok, so there is only one light in this set up but even so I prefer to know how much light it is pumping out. The flash was triggered using the Elinchrom Skyport trigger. This works really well with the SB800, but for the life of me I can not get it to work with the SB900 reliably.

I used the X-Pro1 in manual focus. The 10x magnifier helps in getting focus precisely where I want it. This is fairly easy but I find three things to be essential

  1. Use the rear LCD rather than the EVF. I find it’s easier to do this, as even on a tripod the vibrations during focusing need to be minimised at 10x magnification.
  2. Go into the custom settings menu for the LCD display and deselect everything. You need the cleanest screen to be able to see every aspect of the shot
  3. Have a torch to hand.  On a subject such as ice cream there is not much in the way of contrast to focus on manually. Raking a torch at an oblique angle can pick out texture to make focusing easier.

I really cannot fault the X-Pro1 in this type of set up, it is first class and the OOC jpegs are rich and colourful. I do, however, wish I could move the focus point while in 10X magnification mode so that I can check the focus across the image, before taking the photo.

The shoot has now been edited down and the final shots delivered to Scaramouche. They must be happy because they have asked me to do one more shoot :-)

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George Greenlee

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9 thoughts on “Studio Lighting: Scaramouche Ice cream

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