D.A. Wagner
Leaf Aptus 75

" After being an 8 x 10 and medium format shooter for decades, moving to the Leaf Aptus digital back gave me the creamy tones and high resolution I needed for my tabletop work."

D.A. Wagner

I love it when I’m surprised by the stylists, artisans and retouchers I work with; they bring their vision to a project in ways I don’t always expect. This shoot certainly had that element and I like the twists and turns of merging ideas on the fly. It makes the end result truly a collaborative effort.

I’ve recently been working on a series of images, contrasting vegetables with jewelry. Designer Lauren Cawdrey had found a cache of antique Swarovski chandelier crystals and brilliantly designed and cast lovely silver necklace crowns to hold them. On the day of the shoot, stylist Victoria Escalle showed up with elephant ear fungus, purple mushrooms and okra from Whole Foods. I hadn’t expected to see such a diverse range of exotic veggies and, as it turned out, the okra’s lines brilliantly mimicked the lines of the crystal and I fell in love with the look of the mix.

The basic shooting set up was simple: the small light table with a Nova 32 tucked neatly under it. For a touch of gradient, a black card was placed partially over the top of the light box. Bottom lighting on plexi is sexy, but I didn’t want the okra to be completely in silhouette and I didn’t want a full top light, so I placed a Profoto Probox (a neat little 8” x 12” light box that is small enough that it’s fairly directional) very close to the top of the okra. It allowed me to graduate the light, falling off quickly to a partial silo at the bottom. And finally, to keep the bottom okra from falling into shadow, a magnifying makeup mirror was added to kick in some light.

Oh, and the secret to getting the facet detail? One very thin strip of black tape placed on the underside of the light table running directly down the middle of the crystal. It created a shadow for the facets to pick up, as they act like little mirrors a various angles.

The camera was my trusty old ELX with a Leaf Aptus 75 locked on back with an old 80mm Zeiss Planar on the front. After being an 8 x 10 and medium format shooter for decades, moving to the Leaf Aptus digital back gave me the creamy tones and high resolution I needed for my tabletop work.

Four captures were shot: one underexposed for the crystal, to hold the details of the facets; one for the crown (also underexposed) which had a couple of white fill cards to fill in the silver; one normal exposure for the okra; and a final one of the blank plexi. I shoot separate backgrounds because of the control it gives me adjusting the gradients. The four elements were composed in Photoshop with retoucher Louis Cela.

As we were comp-ing together the final files, Louis mentioned it would be fun if the crystal took on the shape characteristics of the okra. So we did a little warping and liquefy in Photoshop to tweak the crystal’s final shape.

Like I said, I love it when I’m surprised by the creative power of the people I work with.

About D.A. Wagner

There’s a secret life hidden in every object; it just takes an insightful approach to coax it out. Deliberation and spontaneity, technology and elbow grease, exploration and happenstance are all elements in this process. Whether it’s water, wine, coffeemakers or cosmetics, D.A.Wagner uses all these elements, combining them with elegant lighting, playful color and a touch of humor to create iconic images.

It may have been Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe who said, "Less is more." But it took D.A.Wagner to do more with even less.

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