“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” — Leonardo da Vinci
There’s photographing chocolate cookies and then there’s photographing assets for Pladis’ McVitie’s cookies. It was a straightforward job. All we had to do was photograph premium images of their cookies. Simple. Clear. Uncomplicated. But, as Steve Jobs once said, “It takes a lot of hard work to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.” Truer words have never been spoken.
Our first challenge was to figure out how to photograph a cookie, entirely in focus, at a 30-degree angle. Our initial thought was to use a technical camera. These cameras operate similar to a tilt and shift lens as they allow you to shift and tilt the focal plane and focal distance. With this in mind, we hired a Phase One Technical Camera for a quick test. As we began to test, we quickly realised using a technical camera was not the solution. Like the name suggests, these cameras are highly technical and require a lot of time to get the results you desire. The tiniest change, be it moving a cookie to the left; or adjusting the camera angle slightly has a huge impact on the focus. These cameras demand time on a shoot. A luxury, like so many shoots nowadays, we did not have. We needed to shoot multiple cookies in multiple angles in a short amount of time. This meant we needed a solution that was efficient, but still delivered the desired effect. With a little extra research we realised that photo stacking was the way to go. Aside from having a locked-off set the technique is perfected from practice. Knowing how many photos to take is an art in itself and requires patience and control. You also have to make sure you have a good filing system — you can never be too OCD when it comes to naming your shots.
After photo stacking, food styling was met with challenges. If you’re familiar with McVities, you know their iconic chocolate-hatching. Unlike what is pictured on their packing, the cookies are rather, for lack of a better word, rustic. They may taste delicious but, like most chocolate products, they need some TLC. On close-inspection the chocolate is full of crumbs, scratches and the hatching is uneven. To achieve a better quality of chocolate food styling pulled out all the stops. To begin with, 100s of cookies were sifted through in order to find the heroes. Then an arsenal of tools were put to work. From paint brushes, heat-guns, earbuds, toothpicks, to a specifically-designed air-conditioner nothing was out-of-bounds. Some of the cookies were even re-coated in chocolate in order to reach the level of perfection that was required.
Lighting, as always was very important. The lighting needed to bring out the texture of the cross-hatching and ensure the chocolate had a silky-smooth appearance. That meant we needed to create a balance between soft lighting and bringing out sharp highlights on the cross-hatching.
The final step, was retouching where Tristen, our in-house retoucher, spent hours and hours perfecting the chocolate-cross-hatching on the cookies. I think he is still recovering from PTSD from the job. So it’s best to keep McVitie’s away from him