Don't have a studio? Think your house is small or ugly? In this tutorial we will look at how to create a high-end look in your own home. We'll go behind the scenes building a magazine advertisement from the ground up, showing what works, what doesn't, and how you get a great look on a budget.
I needed to create an ad for photography that centered around food for a wedding magazine formatted for a 1/6 page vertical ad. It needed to stand out stylistically, as well as be infused with personality. If anyone looks at it and thinks "stock photo," then the ad fails.
The concept was a couple having fun making a mess in a kitchen. No fancy budget here, so I looked for a real kitchen. Only requirement was being relatively clean and open, not a small aisle as in many apartments. Found my couple, I used their home kitchen, bought some cupcakes, and we were good to go. Planning for a shoot of this scale doesn't need to be overly complicated.
Build the Lighting
This image is the most accurate representation of what your eye would see when you walked in the kitchen, taken from an initial lighting test. It was relatively dimly lit with florescent light both overhead and in the scene. The walls were a mild yellow color. Since the scene is not as important as the subject, I planned to turn the whole kitchen white in photoshop anyway, so this wasn't a problem.
This image was what the camera came up with in automatic mode without any flash, adjusted to have a more "proper" white balance. Let's take a look at what's wrong with this photo. The subject should always be the brightest part, but they are the darkest here.
The light behind them is blowing out the wall and is very distracting. To fix this we need to darken the photo, then add light back in so that light isn't affecting our exposure. Due to the shape of the room and the kitchen counter, there was really only one place for my key light, just off camera right.
Why adjust the settings so much? Since this was a controlled environment, there was no reason to raise the ISO. I wanted a crisp, clean image, so I lowered my camera to ISO 100. Thinking in terms of depth of field, there are a few different planes to keep in focus.
There are two peoples faces, the cupcakes, and the cabinets in back. Since we were in such a small area shooting with a wide angle lens, there was no reason to get the shallow depth of field look. If it isn't going to add to the photo, then there is no reason to not have everything tack sharp. I changed my shutter speed to 1/200 (the maximum speed I can sync my flash with) to reduce any motion blur and changed my aperture to f/9.
I aimed a second flash straight up at the ceiling from the other side of the room (camera left). I set the flash power high enough that it raised the ambient light level of the room, but low enough that it did not overpower and become my key light. I aimed it at the ceiling because it was white, and in tight spaces, that huge soft fill it gives you beats a large, clumsy modifier. Why fight low ceilings when you can use them for bouncing flash?
For the finishing touch, I opened a cabinet door, took out their bowls, and put a speedlight in there, aiming at them for a rim light. Halfway through I opened the cabinet door you see on the right and added a second speedlight there to add extra rim light from both sides.
Here is the finished lighting diagram.
If you consider this diagram the exact size of their kitchen, then the wall outline is the edge of their counters, showing the available floor space. My back was against the wall the whole shoot. The softbox on the right was partially in a hallway. The flash on the left was on a stand pointing straight up on the other side of their refrigerator. The two speedlights were both inside cabinets with the doors open.
Choosing the Winner
During the shoot, there were three different looks we did that really turned out well that were considered for the finished advertisement.
All three of these are certainly worth putting up on Facebook, but only one image can take the expensive ad space in the magazine. Let's look at the strengths and weaknesses of each image.
This image has a great expression. It definitely adds in some humor, and is the type of image that will definitely get a second look when quickly flipping through a bridal magazine. Since this was the first image set, I had not yet set up the second rim light, and this shot was fired before the first speedlight had time to recycle, meaning there are no rim lights in this image.
This image also has the same sense of humor, but with a little more emphasis on the cupcakes. Not a fan of the "giraffe neck" thing going on here, it's still funny. Rim lights look great lighting up her hair.
I felt some of the humor and personality was lost in the fact that she isn't actually holding the cupcakes in front of her, so it's a little less of a sneaky thing, which made it funny in the first place. Technical execution gets an A+, humor gets a B-, so I passed on this photo.
This final shot is where everything came together perfectly. The lights all did what they needed to. The expression of laughter in a genuine moment is all there. Not the same visual punchline as the other shots, but it's a nice photo with a lot of energy.
I chose the first one for the ad space. Why?
This is going to be in a 200-page magazine with hundreds of other advertisements. Everyone in the wedding industry shows smiling laughing couples in photos that are fun, light-hearted and "nice." If you are brave enough to go against the flow, then you will definitely get noticed.
I decided that while the last image was great, it is the visual punchline that makes you take an extra second to look at the ad, making it memorable. Everyone does nice, so while it wasn't perfect, it was different.
Many times, setting yourself apart is more about being different than being "better." None of the customers are going to know there wasn't a rim-light in one photo, or such and such wasn't exposed spot on. They just remember the expression and feel of the photo. When you are doing your own ad, think about what you are willing to do to be different that still lines up with your brand. It's all about being memorable.
This time, humor wins over technical perfection.
Since the advertisement is so small, only two inches wide in the magazine, the level of accuracy while retouching isn't crucial. First, I wanted to have a little more coherent color scheme. It has strong blues and strong reds, so I wanted to change one color to the other.
Since blue is calming, and red is exciting, I wanted to invoke a more intense feel, so I decided to change blues to reds. Your ad and target demographic will have it's own appropriate color scheme.
Add a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer. Click the colorize checkbox, drag the saturation slider up. I put mine at 74. Click on the layer mask for the adjustment layer, press Cmd/Ctrl-I to inverse it to black.
Then using the brush tool, paint in white over anything blue. If you Alt/Option-Click the layer mask you can see your mask. Mine is above with my settings.
Next we want to make the background white. Add a new black and white adjustment. Drag every slider up until you have a really bright image all around. Then using the same method as before. Use the brush tool to paint white where you want it really white. Paint in black where you want it to stay normal. You can see my mask and settings below.
The Final Image
Now you know how to take an ordinary room, light it, and create a winning advertisement. Remember to find creative ways to place or bounce your lights when you are in tight spaces. Think critically about your end result and what photo serves the purpose best. It is not always the "best" photo. Leave a comment and let me know how your next advertisement shoot goes!