Technically accurate, aesthetically innovative
IDEX Optics & Photonics was interested in doing a new catalog cover concept using lenses from their collection. The new concept photos for IDEX had to convey a global, technical feeling, but be abstract and artful enough to convey a high-end look that would work well across multiple mediums. Arcs and circles were driving the design so we knew a “bokeh” effect in the background would create good contrast to highlight the sharpness and precise edges of the glass.
I received a small package from the company of tiny lenses and prisms in multiple sizes. Like a box of jewels, these little gems ranged from the size of a tin can top to smaller than a pea. Though the objects were small, large tables flanked each side of the tiny 10 inch wide by 6 inch tall set. The background would be created with various pin pricked sheets to achieve the bokeh effects we liked.
The process also required perfectly leveling a glass table so the tiny lenses would not roll off. I did this to eliminate the need for any securing materials that would interfere with how light would pass through the lenses and prisms. I was striving for a pure and technically accurate set and one that would be true to the function of the objects we were shooting. It meant constructing shots “as is,” in the camera. This is no easy task. Moving lights to get a certain flare effect, meant blowing out effects we liked on other objects. Or getting just the right prism effect meant sacrificing some other cool piece in the set. It took hours of set up. However, in the end, it meant minimal photo retouching later around the actual objects, mirroring the company’s tagline, “Precisely what you need.”
The art director and I went for realism that showed how light moves through, around, and reflects across objects. Carefully arranged lenses with coatings would catch the light perfectly for a hit of color. The bokeh effect worked beautifully as it not only emphasized the various magnification properties of the lenses, it gave us a textural and artful background of interest. A sparkle that complemented the clarity of the lenses.
I recall some swearing on the set as my nerves were wracked due to the fear of breaking any of the really expensive lenses. (I am extremely grateful our clients were not there to witness this). Moving the objects into position with the point of a wooden BBQ skewer was more akin to the game of “Operation.” Gloves were worn as any oil from a finger would change the color of a lens and be magnified in the photo.
Why do this? The last thing I wanted was to have some scientist somewhere say, “that’s so fake” when it came to what the light was doing to the lenses. Full transparency here—the final images might be saturated a little more in post production, or the background might fade out at the top and bottom to accommodate text, but the attention to detail on the objects was not far from the original shot.
For all its complexity the results came out beautifully. But it also takes a great client to understand that doing this kind of artful photography is just like a science project where results may vary.