A Sprinkle Of Magic Dust

A Sprinkle Of Magic Dust

High resolution sensors and unbelievable lens optics, they are the last thing you want getting dirty. When we bring up the topic of dust, it’s usually in a manner of how to get rid of it and keep it from being a factor in the first place. Lots of attention is given to minimize any encounters with the pesky stuff, and there is a huge market for sensor and lens cleaning tools. It’s true, the last thing I want to see is dust covering my photo equipment. There are times that… well, all of that dust in the air, constantly finding it’s way to thwart your quest for optical perfection, can actually come in handy. In fact, sometimes this stuff we’ve grown to curse at can have a power influence in our imagery. It may, if I dare mention, occasionally take a photo destined for failure into a successful capture.

Light, it’s an elusive medium. Unless it’s bouncing off of something (and reflecting into our eyes), we just don’t see it. Light travels in a straight line, so unless there is something to redirect it into your peepers it’ll continue on it’s merry way, and your retina are none the wiser. It fails to translate into something we or our cameras can see unless it’s got a medium to collide into. It’s the reason you can walk into an old barn or other location where there is an abundance of particles in the air and you can see these beautiful beams of light entering from a window or other light source. Light is rocketing through the air and impacting with dust, reflecting light into your eye. There are of course other mediums the light can be flying through that can reveal it’s path, like fog or clouds, etc. You gotta have something in the air to allow this light to be clearly visible. Specialty light, like some lasers are a completely different topic, so what we are talking about here are the types of light photographers are usually dealing with (the sun, other typical ambient sources, and flash lighting).

So, these annoying little specks of dust can actually serve a purpose from time to time. A good example is the photo above, a product shot I took for Amerawcan Bistro. They offer these tasty and healthy truffles, and wanted to do a push during Valentine’s Day. Our typical marketing approach for them is a very clean look, lots of negative space. We wanted to stay with that same kinda feel, especially since the packaging we are picturing the truffles in is pretty busy, visually.

I photographed these right on one of the bistro’s black tables in the middle of the restaurant. This is almost a must when photographing food, so it doesn’t get ruined in transport. I setup a deployable black background to knockdown any light from bouncing off the back wall. Two speedlights were used to make these images. One in a softbox camera right, and there other was directly behind the product, firing right back at the camera. The first set of images rolling off the camera were ok, but too much black, and it felt very stark (the last thing you want to feel on V-day, right?). I wanted that negative space, but I want just a sprinkle of zest, or in this case, dust to liven it up a bit.

If you don’t have dust readily available, like you’d expect on a routinely cleaned table like this, you gotta make it. I’ve found that a perfect way to make your own dust are a couple napkins. Crumpling them up and then waving them around in the approximate area where you need the dust. Now, this won’t work for filling a room with dust, but like my product shot here, it worked well. If you need dust in a garage or something, just take a broom and whisk it around on the floor for a bit. I’m sure there a lots of creative ways to make some improv dust. For big jobs, get a fog machine, but be easy on the fog, a little goes a long way, especially indoors. Just be sure not to do a lot of lens changes in your now dusty environment or you could end up with spotty images and sensor cleaning duty that evening after your shoot.

In my situation here, a napkin worked great. Not only did I get light to pop on all those dust particles, some of the dust picked up red and pink coloration from light which reflected off of the back of the decorative tins, adding a little more V-Day spice. So, just a little detail like a little dust really made this shot, turning a black abyss of negative space into something a lot more visually pleasing, while still making it an acceptable area for text to be added.