Tabletops For Album Covers

How does an idea of creating a very personal or unique album cover of a function shoot seem to you? And that too by shooting tabletops!

I have noticed that function photographers are generally interested in portraits or photographing models, but turn a blind eye to tabletops. They seem to pose a question, «What’s the use?» They crib that the market is competitive, but at the same time they fail to think ‘broadly, on how to deliver or present their pictures in a different way to make a mark of their own.

Through this write-up I shall deal with this virgin idea and try to convince serious function photographers to learn to create table-tops and apply the art to personalize their client’s album covers.

In the old days, photo albums used to be made up of pages of black paper and prints used to be stuck on them; often times paper corners (print ‘holders’) were used, and the prints inserted in them. A sheet of butter paper was placed in-between two adjacent prints to prevent them from sticking to each other. As the B/W era passed, the postcard albums of white PVC material, along with sticker albums for bigger prints, were the next in line. These days prints are often stuck back to back, or are printed on both sides of the paper, and are then coated and bound together to give the look of a coffee-table book or a company catalogue. So friends, if you have reached here with the passage of time and technology, why not go a step ahead and make use of the latest technology and art to deliver something unique, something personal, and something that the client would appreciate because times have changed? Gone are the days when your client wanted straightforward pictures — sharp and well-lit. These days they often prefer shallow depth of field, with some kind of drama in the picture, or artistic lighting.

Functions like birthdays, engagements, weddings, get-togethers or corporate launches, etc have one thing in common — sweet memories! These are to be preserved because ‘that day or that moment’ is not going to come back again.

Let your album cover be a statement or a heading of what lies inside — similar to the cover of any book or novel.

First and foremost, start associating objects with different occasions — like cakes, candles or balloons talk of birthdays, wafers may symbolize birthdays or any get- together in general; wine and cheese is typical of corporate parties, red wine and plum-cakes talk of Christian weddings or Christmas parties; rice and turmeric paste, gold jewellery, brocade sarees and ‘mehendi’ also symbolize weddings. Now start arranging these props and create good and meaningful compositions. Initially you may find this a bit difficult, but after a while you will agree that table-tops are addictive. They involve your creativity and observations to the fullest.

Some reader may ask, «Then why not download a few appropriate images from the Net?» Well, if you do so, then the studio next door may also do the same; it does not take time to copy! Hence you need to develop your own skills to show some uniqueness in your work and be at an edge above the competition. Think on a different platform — the saree or the jewellery that a bride wears is a unique piece and a valuable memory to her parents who have gifted it to her. So why not use a part of the saree or the jewellery and shoot an artistic table-top to go as a cover for the wedding album? Picture 1- Cakes or candles can symbolize a birthday of any age group, but if you want to be specific about a child’s birthday party/gathering, then you need to have those props which symbolize it directly. Hence peppermints were chosen, along with lollipops, to define the ‘children’ in it. Orange and yellow coloured peppermints were scattered on a white acrylic sheet, and two light sources were used to light up the table top (Lighting diagram 1). The main light was diagonally opposite the camera position and the second light was placed below the acrylic. A sheet of black tinted paper was pasted below the acrylic. A cutout was made on the black paper to allow some light to pass through, thus back-lighting some of the translucent peppermints. This simple trick has created a mouth watering picture for the album cover.

Picture 2 — Props signifying any general marriage ceremony were cleverly composed on a gray tile flooring. The position of the main light was as shown in the diagram (Lighting diagram 2) and the camera was placed at a height. The diffuser on the strip light (which acted as the main source of light) was half opened. The soft light passing through the diffuser was lighting up the props, while the hard light spilling over the uncovered area of the strip-light was used to light up the smoke coming out from the holy fire (yagna). Another light was positioned using a floor stand, and a ‘grid’ was used to control this source. A spot-light thus created was used to light up the marigold flowers. ‘Cutters’ were cleverly used to control the main source of light and to reduce the shine created by the strip-light on the floor. This smart control of light gave separation to the flame and the smoke. To register the flame, a longer shutter speed had to be used (1/8th sec), and to avoid any possible blur due to camera movement, the camera was placed on a tripod. In case you do not have a tripod, then a meaningful shot can still be managed without lighting the fire (Photo 2b).

Photos 3, 3a, 3b — A finger-ring is the best prop to symbolize an engagement ceremony. First, the table-top was loosely arranged as shown in Photo 3. It was later composed from various angles to produce Photos 3a, 3b. Handmade papers make good backgrounds for such shots. The violet coloured net stole which the girl wore that day was requested for, and added as a prop to the picture. Once again two sources of lights were used (Lighting diagram 3). The key-light (soft box) was positioned above the table-top, and another light was passed through a grid and positioned in such a manner that it passed through the violet net. White reflectors were positioned around the ring, to bring out the ‘gold’ in it. In all the tabletops enough vacant space, or «plain areas», were left in order to insert the name of the client, or words like ‘Engagement’ or ‘Wedding, etc.

Photos 4a, 4b — The saree to be worn by the bride can be used as a background itself, and an old silver box usually used to keep the ‘sindoor’ (and which is easily available) can be used as a prop. The bride’s parents have a lot of emotional value for this saree. Clever compositions can give you horizontal or vertical options for the cover, while laying out the rest of the album. Lighting diagram 4 shows you the light positions.

With practice you will get better and better. You could then create your own templates and sell them to others who are not as proficient as yourself. That would mean additional revenue for you. In!

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