How stepping out of my comfort zone helps me create my best work
I know better than anybody just how comfortable and cozy it is over here in the comfort zone, but what happens if you step outside your comfort zone and dare to try something new?
As a product photographer I am constantly finding myself in situations that I feel are out of my depth and you know what, that is often where the best creative things happen. Recently I worked on a project for one of my regular clients and produced a shot that was pretty out there for me in regards to set up and being a one women band, it was pretty tricky to pull off by myself but hey I had wanted to try this for awhile and this was the perfect moment.
The brief – I wanted to create a dark and moody shot of a can of drink falling into water. I wanted to be able to see bubbles and splashes and I wanted the background so be dark enough that it looked like the can was just falling into the deepest hole but of course the front of the can had to also be well lit so you could read the label. As far as a plan goes for this I knew I needed a fish tank….yes that’s right a fish tank – another one of those handy items that I will now have in storage for the next time I want to create a shot like this. The lady at the pet store where I brought the fish tank asked me what type of fish I was getting and I had to explain that of course it wasn’t actually going to house any fish but a falling can of drink……the life of a product photographer!
I think it is fair to say that there were a few obstacles that I had to overcome before this shot could be created. Firstly my new fish tank had to be set up in my studio on a pretty unsteady trestle table that may or may not have been cable of holding the weight of a full tank of water (stressful moment) then of course I had to fill the tank with many, many buckets of water back and forth from the laundry and as I write this I now realise that I could have used the outdoor hose and hung it in through the window….hot tip for next time.
Next up there was a huge amount of reflection on the tank, so much so that it was interfering with the can and the ability to see the label clearly. There was also a huge shadow from the fish tank being cast on the backdrop due to the placement of my light. SO, I placed dark cards on all sides of the tank and brought the backdrop all the way up so that it was touching the tank – that fixed the shadow issues. I figured out if I took the shot from a certain angle, I could avoid most of the reflections and what was left I could remove in post.
To take the shot I knew that I needed to have the camera close to the desk so that I could drop the can in and plush the shutter button with my other hand. I was going to try with a remote but it was just easier to do it this way and push the shutter at the exact moment when I dropped the can.
But wait, more obstacles (of course, this product photography gig is never easy) as soon as I started dropping the can not only did water splash everywhere but it was obviously also getting on the glass at the top of the tank so I knew there was going to be a lot of editing to do to fix all that. As things surrounding the tank got a bit damp the back of the fish tank where the backdrop was sitting started to fog up, I kept wiping it down in between shots but it came back so quickly I assumed that was something else I was going to have to deal with I post.
At this point the shots were looking good but I just didn’t have that perfect angle and splash combo that I wanted so I just kept going and dropping the can, shooting, dropping, shooting, wiping up water, dropping, shooting and finally I came up with something that I thought would work. Even at this point I didn’t think the shot had exactly the elements I wanted but after what felt like 5634 attempts I felt it was probably time to make it work.
I had my strobe light to the left of the setting and sightly forward so that it would light up the front label and that turned out to be the perfect spot. I had the high-speed sync on so I could use a super-fast shutter speed to capture the movement while still being able to have the label in focus. It took a bit of experimentation to get the settings just right.
Once I had cleaned up the area and painstakingly removed all the water from the tank before my table collapsed it was time to edit. If I am being honest, I wasn’t that impressed with the shot when I started editing it but after I cropped it and removed all the noise from the frame, I ended up with this shot that I was so excited about. It turned out pretty much just as I had imagined and that doesn’t happen often.
Sometimes product photography just feels like a set of puzzles that you have to solve to be able to get the shot you want and this one had plenty. There was a moment there when I thought I had spent enough time on it and maybe I should scrap the idea and move on but I am so glad I didn’t. Trying something new and pulling it off is so inspiring to me and makes me excited for the next challenge, that is what I love about product photography – no two days are ever the same!
This little exercise is also a prime example of how sometimes I go headfirst into things because I am so excited about an idea and the minute, I start putting it together all these little things pop up that I wasn’t expecting and I have to think on the fly. You definitely become a pro problem solver as a product photographer.
It is often so tempting to just use a setting or a lay out that you are familiar with and while this is sometimes fitting to advance and grow you have to be able to put yourself in situations where you can conquer a new skill. It is so satisfying to be able to stand back, look at the finished image and think I never thought I was capable of that but I totally pulled it off! Of course, maybe not everything you try will come together but regardless there are lessons to be learnt that will still help you advance and that is key in this game.
So next time you are contemplating stepping outside your comfort zone I suggest you do, it is where the fun begins and your best work is created.
You can see more of the work we have created for Rinse here
Until next time,