How I Got That Shot: Will Deleon’s Splashy Product Shot
October 29, 2015
Client: Jason Markk
Creatives: Anthony Cao, senior art director/head of marketing; Millie Rosas, special projects manager; Joe Le, art director
When creatives at Jason Markk, maker of high-end shoe-care products, wanted to advertise the company’s new stain repellent, they turned to photographer Will Deleon for ideas. Deleon, who is based in Los Angeles, has been shooting for the company since 2010, three years before he graduated from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Deleon started out shooting product shots for the company’s e-commerce site. “I established a good relationship with them, then the company started growing as my skills were growing,” says Deleon. After department stores began stocking Jason Markk products and the company opened its own flagship store, its marketing efforts expanded, and Deleon began shooting print, online and social media advertising.
Deleon describes the target demographic for Jason Markk products as “the sneaker head who spends hundreds or even thousands of dollars on their shoe collections.” Loyal customers provided the concept for the new campaign for Repel, a water and stain repellent. On the brand’s Instagram feed, fans described Repel as a “force field” protecting their sneakers. Deleon and the creatives began brainstorming ways to illustrate an invisible barrier around the spray canister, protecting it from splashing liquid. After he took several test shots of splashes made with paint, soda, and even caramel syrup, Deleon says, “The team decided to use water, to keep the classic, clean esthetic of the brand.”
Deleon’s still lifes are typically graphic, colorful and precisely lit, but the client wanted to showcase the clean, minimal design of the white Jason Markk canister. “They didn’t want to over-stylize it,” Deleon says. The creatives referenced images from his portfolio of white objects made of paper, including a paper airplane. “I defined the shape of the plane using gradients and light control, and the team wanted that same esthetic.”
To achieve the effect, he used a small number of diffused light sources. But as in all his still lifes, he used cards and reflectors to flag and direct light with precision. Clients may come to a shoot expecting more lights on the set, he says, “but it’s all about light control. I feel that if you bring in more lights, it just crowds things, especially when you’re shooting something small.” The technique is, Deleon says, efficient as well as effective. “Deadlines have gotten much shorter. Clients say, ‘Thanks for not spending eight hours on one shot.’”
Deleon had made several test shots of splashes and pours. “Messing around with Plexiglas and water one day, I realized that when water meets Plexi, the Plexi disappears and the water takes the shape of the Plexi.” He went to a local plastics manufacturer and had them fashion a Plexiglas cylinder big enough to hold the Repel canister. “So, when we splashed the cylinder with the water, the Plexiglass would disappear and it would look like there was a force field around the canister.”
He suspended the cylinder vertically by clamping it to stands. To create his backdrop, he placed 4 x 8-foot piece of white acrylic about seven feet away from the cylinder. He put an inflatable kiddie pool under the product to catch the splashing water, and also covered the pool and his studio floor with a black tarp, so there were no colored reflections in the shiny white can or the acrylic.
Though he had planned to shoot as much as he could in camera, he discovered that when he hit the Plexiglas cylinder with a strobe, there was a yellowish tinge along one seam. He chose to photograph first the product alone, and then the cylinder as it was being splashed. In post, he removed the yellow seam, adjusted the color, and composited the product shot and the splash.
Before the shoot, Deleon and his assistant tried different ways of making splashes—adjusting the speed and the volume of the splash—before he decided that having his assistant hurl plastic cups of water worked best. He notes, “I made sure the same assistant who made the test was there for the shoot, because he had developed a feel for it: His arm was calibrated.”
Deleon lit his set from back to front. Behind the acrylic backdrop, he placed two strobe heads. Positioned about five feet from the backdrop, the heads had 7-inch reflectors covered with diffusion material from Lee Filters, “because we wanted an even light spread on the background, with no hot spots.” These lights provided most of the illumination visible through the water splash.
To make sure spill from the background lights didn’t hit the product, he placed V-flats in front of the backdrop. “The only light we wanted on the product was the light we intended to have on it,” he says. To adjust his exposure, he put a stand-in product in front of the backdrop, he recalls, and checked: “How are my edges? Are they sharp?”
Once the cylinder was clamped to the stands, he set up his key lights. To camera right, he set up a Broncolor strobe, which he chose for its fast flash duration, with a medium-sized Broncolor strip box attached. He placed it behind a Lee Filter 250 Half White Diffusion material that he hung vertically, “to create a big, diffused light source and create the softness we were looking for.” At camera left, pointing down, he added a spot with a six-degree grid reflector, also shooting through a diffusion panel. Deleon explains, “That gave it that highlight near the top of the can” and added highlights to droplets of water. He had his strobes running on two Broncolor Scoro S 3200 packs, and dialed the power down to the lowest settings, “because the lower the intensity of power, the faster the flash duration.” Setting the strobes to 1/6000 sec, he was able to freeze the splash.
To throw some light back onto the bottom rim of the can, he says, he held a shiny bounce card just below the can.
Deleon used a Phase One 645DF camera with an IQ180 digital back and a 120mm f/4 macro lens. He exposed at 1/200 sec at f/11, ISO 100. Positioning himself four to five feet from the cylinder and product, he shot tethered while his digital tech, Yves Huy Trong, previewed the shots in Capture One for the clients. After Deleon and the creatives chose the best combination of product and splash, the photographer recalls, “We had a rough comp already by the time they left.”
“I do my own retouching whenever I can,” he says. “I guess I cling to my work, and feel like I should be the one retouching it.”
In addition to compositing the splash and the product, he color-corrected everything, making sure the purple logo on the can matched the brand’s specifications. His client liked one particular splash shape and decided to have him clone and mirror it on the other side of the canister. “With the water the only other tweaking I did was to warp the splash a bit and give it a little more contrast in post.”
The client planned to use the shot online, on Instagram, in out-of-home and in other print advertising, so Deleon delivered a 16-bit, 300-layered TIFF. The files he provided, Deleon says, “gave the client the latitude to move the splash and add type.”