I’ve styled this series of photos on the singular subject of tea, creating a range moods and format.
One client said to me, how will people know it is my product if I do not include the pack? So there is always a basic proposition to solve: to include a pack or not to include a pack. From a marketing point of view it depends whether the images are supporting branded content, or they are being used directly to sell the product and its associated package.
Whittard offer a wide range of loose teas, each stored in a large tin container. They sell thier tea by weight – rather like Monmouth sell coffee beans – it then gets transferred to a generic pack. For this brand, the Rooibos tea image conveys all the benefits and character of Whittard loose tea without a Whittard pack.
Conversely, the Twinings yellow-coloured pack inspired a yellow treatment, so including the pack helped the idea. We might also observe that such an arrangement is nothing more than a classic still life, ready for painting. In whatever way a still life is depicted, it cannot help giving away someting of a creative attitude, ambiance or feeling.
Photographically, the key difference between product photography and recipe development is the addition of a second ‘plane’ in the camera frame, i.e. the backdrop. An overhead shot using one background is easier than a side-on shot with a base and backdrop. Perhaps this is why many brands employ the very simple, but rather counter-intuitive method of lying a pack down next to a plate of food and shooting overhead.
The simplest workarounds for this extra ‘plane’, is to either create a ‘white box’ effect for isolating a product out of white or use a black backdrop, both techniques are used in this sequence.
The problem with a backdrop is the inevitable creep toward wanting to use a real backdrop: a kitchen counter or plush dining room; an authentic Lantin American cantina or formal topiary gardens; or why not a tropical beach with plam trees and blue seas. Realistically most photographers, do not have this luxury and instead resort to the abstract. Irving Penn understood this implicitly, and although he traveled to very exotic locations, he found it more practical – and interesting – when the subjects were removed from their natural environments and placed in front of the same dull and encrusted theatrical canvas backdrop. It is interesting to see the same Penn-like mottled, distressed and weathered backgrounds in current food photography.
Selecting tea as a subject was an easy decision, but not taken without a certain trepidation. As a family we have been given – and given away – more teapots than would be needed for several street parties celebrating a Royal’s Jubilee. For some reason we are considered avid aficionados and consumers of tea, but in fact, though I like to wake up with standard cup of teabag tea and may stop for a similar cup of tea at 3pm, I am normally seen nuturing a cup of strong coffee. What is even more baffling is that my wife does not drink tea at all. Despite this we were given crates full of teapots for our wedding, and further examples continue to arrive at birthdays and Christmas.
I wanted to photograph a beautiful blue-patterned English teacup to go with a similar teapot (from our collection). But it appears that people no longer care much for drinking tea from beautiful blue-patterned English teacups. These days such rare examples of delicate china are more likely to be found in museums or antique shops, than the home or high street.
Clear glasses might also be assumed to be a regular item of household crockery, but alas, they too are difficult to find. My rainbow clear teacups were sourced in a local large department store, but not before coercing two assistants to hunt for the items (which I knew from an online search, were definitely in stock). The teacups finally arrived – ah, they said, we didn’t think we had these – they’re quite nice…