Anatomy of a Production Shot

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(By Chris Horner)

There’s a very common misconception that I’ve heard more and more lately – that when a photographer decides what scene they want to capture, all they do is line up the camera, snap the shutter, and presto! A perfect image!

Man I wish it was that simple.

So for this post, I thought it would be fun to give a sneak peek at the process behind creating a final image. This one will cover an image my wife and I created to enter in Biggby’s Photo Contest, where the shot had to include one of their coffee cups. Our idea was to have an ant carrying away the cup back to their ant hill.

First task – round up a toy ant. Keeping in mind that the ant would appear under a white coffee cup, we had to be conscious about the color. A black ant likely wouldn’t expose correctly, or if it did it would overexpose the white coffee cup. So we settled on a purple-ish red toy ant.

Next we had to round up the coffee cups. Our local Biggby was gracious enough to grant us two cups – one the standard issue cup and the other more seasonal one with candy corn on it.

Third, decide on location. There’s a park close to our house, so in our first attempt we went there, and created a fake ant hill. Our initial idea included photographing the cup in the same place, and moving the ant around in each shot, recombining them all later to make it look like multiple ants. Well, that didn’t end up working. When we reviewed our shots, we weren’t happy with the contrast between the ant and the ground. Both tended to run together. Since we were almost out of daylight, we decided to wait until a different day to try again.

Our next brainstorm involved using a blanket as a picnic blanket, and having the ant stealing the coffee from the picnic. Unfortunately, the day we wanted to reshoot this the Michigan weather refused to cooperate. However, the afternoon light coming in through our door wall lit up our living room floor perfectly. We then decided to restructure the scene to look like a picnic only, without additional outdoor background.

Better, but still missing something. So more props were added.

Again, better – but still appeared lacking.

Finally the picnic cloth was changed, the candy was replaced with potato chips, and the props were changed for better color flow. The camera settings were also changed to add some fill flash to even out the lighting.

Finally we decided to go with the plain cup for a cleaner look. Up to this point, in total we had shot about 70 different images between our two attempts. This was the image that we were happiest with, so we completed post processing on it and entered it into the contest.

 This is how it usually goes, especially when trying to craft an image that makes a statement – one that would be used in marketing for example. And this is the kind of determination it takes to make sure the image comes out right, and tells the right story in the right way. It’s not always simple, and some trial and error can be required. But the end results are always worth it. I like exercises like this because it helps keep me fresh for when it counts the most – when making images that others will be using to reach their audience.

And during those times, there are no second chances.

Chris Horner

About Chris Horner

Chris Horner is an award winning freelance photographer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He specializes in fine art images and commercial photography.