How I Got That Shot: Larger-Than-Life Jewels

June 3, 2013

By Meghan Ahearn

© Laziz Hamani

Laziz Hamani photographed this stack of rings for Rosebuzz magazine. Click on the Photo Gallery link below to see more images from the editorial assignment.

Some of the most exclusive, high-end jewelry and cosmetics companies, including Dior, Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Chanel, hire Paris-based Laziz Hamani to photograph their products. For a recent accessories story in Rosebuzz, a bi-monthly magazine launched in 2008 by the French luxury goods retailer, the still-life photographer was given “artistic freedom to do an eight-page spread creating an imaginative series using pieces of jewelry as the central focus,” Hamani says. With the help of his U.S. rep, Levine/Leavitt, PDN e-mailed with the photographer to find out how he executed his idea to “transform such intricate and finely made products into art pieces.”

For the images, the jewelry would be stacked or suspended so they looked like large sculptures, chandeliers and other decorative art pieces. Walls of a “room” would be added in post-production to give the impression of the larger-than-life jewelry being exhibited in a museum-like space. Hamani worked with a digital artist to create the room based on different real-world examples. Hamani notes, “One example would be the walls of the Dior salon on the famous Avenue Montaigne in Paris, where all the new collections [were] presented to Christian Dior himself.”

For the shoot, the photographer’s studio contacted jewelers like Chanel, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chopard and Piaget, and requested “some of the more extravagant designs so as to be able to play with shapes and find some sharp angles to photograph,” Hamani says. Given the cost of the pieces, the companies required extra security, either sending their own guards or hiring special agents to keep an eye on the jewels. Hamani adds that, when dealing with such expensive subjects, “one of the first precautions taken is discretion.” The second precaution is to prep his studio in Paris by covering up the area around the jewelry so the pricy pieces don’t break or get lost if they are bumped during the shoot.

Because the rings, pins and other pieces of jewelry had to appear as if they were large works of art, for many of the shots, Hamani says, the biggest challenge was to “fight against gravity” in order to position them in unique ways. Often, small objects like jewelry can be situated a certain way with the help of nylon thread, small wedges or hot glue, which the photographer explains, “doesn’t leave marks and is easily taken off.” These props are later removed in post-production. “I always prefer to fix the pieces in position rather than cheating on the angle and then having to use Photoshop after for integration,” Hamani explains. However, for his image of three colorful Boucheron rings, stacked atop one another in a sculptural column, no props were needed to keep the rings in place.

To help “give the impression of a [larger than] life-size point of view, I had to shoot the pieces from a lower point of view than normal,” the photographer explains. He aimed to have the stack of rings appear as if it was around ten feet tall. In reality, the stack was a little over two inches high, so he positioned the camera on a tripod almost at floor level.

Lighting: The gems and metals used to create jewelry pieces are naturally reflective, so Hamani works in what he refers to as a “dark environment” to avoid unwanted reflections. The space doesn’t have any windows, the walls are painted black and the lights are turned off. For the Rosebuzz shoot, he used four Broncolor Pulso heads with P70 reflectors and white Plexiglas diffusers in front of them. “Working in macro photography, the lights are usually pretty close to the objects,” Hamani explains. He used Scoro generators as a power source.

Hamani notes that since he no longer shoots with analogue cameras and film, he doesn’t have to stick to one lighting setup. Instead, a number of captures were made with the lights in various positions and then composited into one final image in post-production.

Camera: A Fuji GX680 III with a Phase One P65+ digital back and a Phase One 120mm macro lens was used on the shoot. The camera was placed on a column tripod, which he says was “heavy, stable, and allowed for perfect and easy vertical/horizontal movements.” Hamani almost always sets his f-stop at f/16 because “I have found [that] to be the best compromise between depth of field and sharpness for what I do.” The shutter speed was 1/125 of a second.

Hamani shot the stack of rings on seamless and didn’t use any props, so no extraneous objects needed to be removed in post-production. Once the final composite image was created, he worked closely with his retoucher to ensure that the stack didn’t look out of place in the 3D room the digital artist had virtually made. “The key to proper integration is that everything remains coherent,” Hamani explains. “There must be accurate shadows and reflections on the materials so that the object and the environment associate correctly.”

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