How I Got That Shot: Adrian Mueller Shoots Reflective Surfaces (Behind the Scenes)

August 5, 2011

© Costa/Photo by Adrian Mueller/Fabrik-Studios

Mueller tested each light to see how its height and distance from the model affected the length of the reflections. In the end he used seven Profoto heads with small and medium soft boxes, and a diffusion tent he custom built for the job.

Client: Costa,
Creative direction: Dave Holloway, creative director, and Tim Cole, art director, of McGarrah Jessee Inc in Austin.

The new ad campaign for Costa, a Texas company that makes sunglasses designed for sports fisherman, wanted to recreate popular gamefish using the elements of their sunglasses.

“They did not want this done in CGI or through elaborate, extensive retouching in post-production,” says Adrian Mueller, the still-life photographer hired for the job. Costa wanted models that looked like fish taxidermists mount on plaques.  The shoot took place over the course of a day at Noho Productions studio in New York City.

Logistics: “I figured that it would be most challenging to find a model-maker who has the skills and vision to actually build these fish,” says Mueller, who after talking to several model-makers, chose Mark Borow, a prop maker in New York he had worked with before. Borow and his assistants spent about three weeks constructing a tarpon, a marlin and a bass from the components of dozens of sunglasses.  (Click on link to see behind-the-scenes video of fish scultpures being built,

In planning how to light the models, Mueller had to take the reflective surfaces of the lenses into account. “We wanted to make sure that not all the lenses reflected the light evenly or uniformly,” he explains. “The lenses needed to look like the reflections of actual fish scales, which all reflect light slightly differently depending on their angle.”

Lighting: Mueller began by shooting the largest of the fish models, the 4-foot-long marlin. He placed it on a milky, non-reflective piece of Plexiglas, resting on an apple box about 5 inches off the floor. He created a tent of diffusion over the fish using Rosco foils, pulling a piece of foil up from each of the four edges of the Plexiglas, and supporting the foils with Foba sticks. He had originally assumed he would use the foil to create a rounded dome of diffusion material over the fish, but that made the reflections too uniform. “We realized that having hard edges where the foils come together helped us to create fine lines and made the reflections different on each lens.”

He started with just one light and a reflector, checked the results, and then added lights to get the natural look he was after. As he added each light, he says, “I moved it closer and closer to the foil to see what happens with contrast and to the length of the reflections on each lens.” After testing, he says, “I ended up using Profoto heads with medium strip soft boxes, which I placed at different heights, angles and distances around the tent,” from about 5 inches from the floor up to 3 feet.  Two of the lights were small softboxes he placed close to the foil so they highlighted the “C” logo on the arms of the sunglasses. His eighth light was a bare head that he pointed to the ceiling. “It evened things out,” he explains.

Once he had set up the lighting to shoot the marlin, he used the same arrangement, with only slight variations, to shoot the two other fish models.

Camera: A Sinar 54m digital back on a Rollei 6008 Integral; an 80mm/2.8 Planar lens at f22. Mueller took some shots with the camera directly above the fish, looking down. Later, he tried moving the camera toward the fish’s head, at a 180-degree angle, which made the fish appear to be moving towards the lens. The client chose these shots for their current print campaign.

Post Production: The client had wanted the models to tell the story, with minimal post- production. Says Mueller, “Retouching on these fish was basically reduced to color correction, fixing a few scratches and to remove the reflection of the camera lens from a few lenses.

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