Here’s the brief: create an atmospheric shot of a leading mens fragrance, based upon the product name, that evokes a feeling of adventure and escapism.  As the product was Lynx ‘Africa’ I felt that a trip to the Sahara Desert was needed to create the right atmosphere.

Sadly an all expenses paid trip to the dark continent was not on the table, so I had to bring the desert to the studio.

The image was a composite of two pictures.  The foreground was created in the studio using a Moroccan rug, a shower curtain, my walking boots, a genuine Tunisian drum and some real Saharan sand. 

The view of the desert through the ‘tent’ opening was taken on our 2010 overland trip to the Tunisian Sahara and added into the shot in post.

Firstly the rug was draped across my work table and propped up at the rear on the right to create a backdrop for the product and a ‘blank’ area where I could latter add in the external desert shot.  To add to the impression that we were sitting inside a tent I hung a semi-transparent shower curtain across the ‘entrance’.  And ‘swagged’ it to add some depth.

Next came the lighting.  When ‘faking’ a scene or blending two shots it is essential to ensure that the direction of light is complimentary and ‘makes sense’.

In this case I needed the light to appear as if it were coming in through the ‘tent opening’ thereby ‘backlighting’ the product, casting a graduated light along the rug and projecting the shadows of the boots and drum towards the camera.  To this end I placed a strip soft box to the rear and left aimed at, approximately, 45 degrees across the scene.  This simulated the daylight coming I from ‘outside’.  To give greater control of the light I added a grid.  This ensured that the light fell in a narrow band and ‘raked’ across the rug.

This had the effect of adding a rim light to the product, but also created a silhouette.  Very artistic, but not good for advertising when you can only see the outline and can’t read the label or make out what the product is!

Inside the ‘tent’ I wanted a subdued light and so I didn’t really want to front light the product directly.  I simply needed a bit of fill.  To achieve this I added a large white reflector, to camera right, which bounced light from the other lights onto the front of the product.  This was enough to define the product name and add a reflection in the silver parts of the label helping to make them stand out.

I always intended to ‘spot light’ the product from above and so I placed a grid spot on an overhead boom and brought this down to focus the beam just around the three objects.  This helped to add relief to the items highlighting the shapes despite the fact that they were virtually all black.  By bring the light towards the camera and angling it down it also brought out the colours in the logos.

A third light was added to camera left with a large (170cm) octa softbox.  This was on a very low power setting and was used to fill out the shadows and help me to control the degree of contrast and shadow to produce the deired ‘atmosphere’. 

The sand, which we brought back from the desert in a tupperware container,  was then poured onto the rug to create the effect that it had blown into the ‘tent’ entrance.

I took several ‘clean’ shots before adding a few ‘puffs’ of baby talcum powder into the air.  The airborne particles were lit by lights and created a slightly dust atmosphere to the tent.  The ‘clean’ shots meant I had reference images to use to get the products looking just right.

Once I had my images I imported them all into photoshop.  Firstly I ensured that the product was as crisp and clear as possible.  I removed dust specks and small imperfections on the bottles and box.  Next I enhanced the colours on the logos and using the dodge and burn tools I emphasised the product names and the shapes of the bottles.

Next I imported the desert images and using a layer mask I composited it into the back of the image.  As the image was in focus and sharp I had to add a degree of blurring so that blended with the depth of field in the main photo.  A few tweaks with the clone brush and the sands on the carpet and sands in the desert were merged together.  Surprisingly I didn’t have to do too much colour blending to get the match.  Using various transparency modes I was able to show the desert through the shower curtain to make it appear more realistic.

Finally a warming filter was added to the scene behind the product and there were a few more tweaks of micro-contrast and colour vibrance.

Not a bad way to spend the last day of the year, especially as our broadband had gone down and we had no television or internet to entertain us!