Spring Potting Shed Photo Shoot – Feast Magazine

Each month I am luckily enough to shoot a column for Feast Magazine called What We’re Buying. The column focuses on a variety of products from a variety of different manufacturers that tie-in together as a theme. In the April issue, the focus was on spring and gardening, so the art director and I set about creating a quaint country potting shed … in my downtown urban studio.

The first challenge with this type of shoot is to create an environment that gives your photograph the look you are going for … without being too overbearing and obvious. The set we wanted to build needed to give convey “country potting shed” without diminishing the visibility and impact of the products. For a surface we chose a faux-aged table that I use for a lot of shoots. This table was formerly the table in our “dining area” in New York that was given a makeover with a few layers of paint and some crackle varnish. Add in a couple years-worth of spilled food and boom, you’ve got a nice aged table. We then completed the “shed” look by building a “wall” out of a few planks of real-aged barn wood I acquired a while ago. Gotta love c-stands and clamps.

Next step: get all of the products into the shot. This is the most time consuming aspect of the shoot. Sometimes you have a prop stylist working with you to get everything in place perfectly, but on this shoot the art director took charge. Lisa’s main concern was to have each of the vendors represented, and also to have the products positioned in a way that would fit her layout and leave room for type. Both Lisa and I are a little OCD when it comes to composition and we can spend, well, a lot of time tweaking.

I shoot tethered for this kind of shoot using Capture One. I am constantly frustrated by how unintuitive Capture One is, but it does have a great feature that I use all the time: you can overlay your layout onto the photos while you are shooting. This is very useful when composing a shot like this. Also, Capture One is far superior for shooting tethered than Lightroom. Sad, but true.

Once Lisa and I were satisfied with the composition, it was time to fine-tune the light. I wanted to effect to look the table was sitting inside the open door of a potting shed, and the light (from the left) was coming through the door. My studio has amazing natural light, so I decided to use the window light for my key light source (this decision was made before we built the set). However, the big, flat light source needed a little bit of a punch to make the image pop. I augmented the natural light with a couple of Profoto D1 Airs. First, I positioned a home made diffusion panel to camera right, and fired a bare strobe through it. This created a nice, subtle fill light on the right side of the frame. This was tricky and took a lot of adjustment, because I didn’t really want that light to be “visible” as light, since that side of the composition represents the dark interior of the shed. Just a touch of fill to make the products stand out a bit.

Finally, to complete the illusion of a beautiful, lush garden full of trees and plants outside the door of our “shed”  (instead of the parking lot out there in reality) I added one final strobe, modified with a cardboard gobo to the left side of the frame. This strobe cast a slightly stronger, mottled look to the natural light coming in my studio windows. Again, this is a subtle addition, but really made the illusion look that much more authentic. Those little details are what make reality into “hyper-reality” which is what I’m always looking to do in my photography.

Here is a quick BTS shot of the set – Can you tell I like to use clamps?

Behind the Scenes: Potting Shed Photo ShootA big thank you to Feast and to the art director Lisa Allen for the opportunity to work on this fun project!

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