How I Got That Shot: Capturing Perfect Scoops of Ice Cream

December 21, 2013

© Lisa Shin

Lisa Shin's Häagen-Dazs shoot required finding unusual props, like a green tea flower, then making sure they were the proper scale for the ice cream scoops. Click on the Photo Gallery link below to see more images.

Client: Häagen-Dazs
Agency: Team One
Art Director: Bob Bjarke
Art Production Manager: Lisa Matthews

Beauty and still-life photographer Lisa Shin frequently lights cosmetics and luxury objects in a way that creates “sexy, dramatic shadows and glowing highlights.” For an international campaign for Häagen-Dazs she was hired to light and photograph the high-end ice cream the same way. The client wanted to show that eating the ice cream is “luxurious, elegant and sensual,” she explains, “so we took the approach of shooting with beauty/cosmetic lighting.”

The art director on the campaign, Bob Bjarke, suggested stacking the scoops of ice cream with the main ingredient in each flavor, such as a vanilla flower, a green tea flower or chocolate fudge sauce, and with props like cookies or tulles, to suggest how the ice cream can be eaten. Shin then sketched out her ideas. “I put together compositions in a way that I thought would be practical on set,” she recalls. Her sketches were then approved by ad agency creatives and clients in each country where the ads would appear.

Shin worked with food stylist Mariana Velasquez and prop stylist Karin Olsen. Shin notes, “I was really excited by the prospect of getting such colorful and delectable-looking stacks of food together, with other props, like flowers and pastry garnishes,” but adds that the compositions required “a lot of problem solving.” She was concerned that it would be difficult to find the rare flowers in season, and each prop had to be in proportion to the scoops of ice cream. She suggested several back-up plans. “I had the food stylist get all different sizes of scoops to make sure we could adjust the sizes based on the size of the props,” she says. She also asked the stylists to get both real and artificial flowers. In addition, the pasty chef who was hired to make the cookies and garnishes was also asked to mold flowers out of sugar.

Shin, who takes a hands-on approach to retouching, says she often plans her shoots based on what she can alter or improve during post-production. “But I’ve also learned not to rely on it. If you haven’t shot it and you try to create it in post, it won’t look real.”

Logistics: For the shoot, ten freezers were brought to Shin’s New York City studio. She explains, “Every flavor of ice cream freezes at a different temperature and the hardness and softness of it matters to the texture of the scoops.” Velasquez adjusted each freezer’s temperature in order to guarantee each flavor was the perfect temperature for scooping, then she moved the scoops to a cooler containing dry ice, giving the scoops time to harden before they were placed on the set.

Each stack was shot on a sheet of shiny glass. Each of the 30 sheets was kept in a freezer to keep it cold until just before the ice cream was placed on it.

Lighting: The shot of chocolate sauce dripping down a stack of ice cream scoops and brownies required Shin to freeze the motion of the drip and add highlights on the dark liquid. She chose broncolor Scoro S power packs, which she typically uses when shooting motion, Shin says. “I needed as much speed as possible to catch dripping syrup in motion and I wanted everything to be tack sharp.”

For her key light, she set up a broncolor P70 reflector with a 10-degree grid at camera left, about five feet from the stack. “I shot with as much directional light as I could manage, keeping in mind that we might be retouching some of the textures of the scoops,” she says. “Since it’s difficult to bring back dark areas, I shot a little flatter and deepened the shadows in post wherever necessary.” She used a small reflective silver card to add selected highlights. To light the background, she used a beauty dish shining through a roll of diffusion.

While some of the stacks needed only one light, more illumination was required to bring out highlights in the chocolate liquid and the dark brownie. She set up a second P70 reflector with a 10-degree grid to the right, slightly closer to bring out highlights. “When you have to light shiny dark-chocolate, it’s very much like photographing a shiny, metallic mascara bottle. You can treat it almost the same way.”

Shin shot each element with post-production in mind. “The edges are sharp from front to back by shooting focus brackets that are comped together in post.”

Camera: “My usual camera of choice is the Sinar p3, but since we needed to work fast for the ice cream, I went with an old Hasselblad 501CM with a Hassie 60mm V lens f/3.5 Zeiss T*.” She notes, “I’m not actually a big camera snob, I’m going to use anything that works for me. For practically anything that is moving on set, I use a Hassie. There’s a lot of creative freedom with the view camera, but it’s slower.” With the Hasselblad, she used a Phase One P 65+ digital back.

The Scoro S packs allowed her to shoot at 1/8000 of a second; Shin estimates she shot the dripping syrup at 1/7500.

Post-Production: Shin frequently does her own retouching. “It’s an added opportunity to make something better than it already is,” she says, adding, “It’s no secret that still-life photographers like control.”

In addition to guaranteeing that each edge was sharp and the shadows sufficiently dramatic, the glass plates also had to be retouched to remove frost and food smudges. Shin’s photos of the stacks were used to create the reflections in each surface.

Several versions of each shot were made, with garnishes being adjusted and tweaked, and the colors of the backgrounds altered. “We went through several revisions for each flavor, based on client feedback,” Shin recalls. As in the approval of the production sketches, “It was like the UN chiming in on the shoot,” as each agency made sure the layouts worked for the audiences they serve. The campaign has run in France, Japan, Spain, the UK, China and Brazil.

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