In this post I will show you how I created this image using layer masks in Photoshop.
This image looks simple, right? Just slap 9 scoops of sorbet on a platter and throw some food accents on it. Easy! Yeah, no.
This final image is a composite of 10 images – each image was of one scoop of sorbet with its food accent, plus an image of just the marble platter. This is just one of many compositing tricks with Photoshop.
The first shot we did was to get a sense of what we wanted our food accents to look like, how I wanted to light the shot, and where each flavor would be placed. Noticed how much lower the peaches in the top middle part are in this shot compared to the final shot. I’ll go over that at the end.
I have a very broad, soft, light source coming from the left. I wanted soft shadows as if it’s window light.
Here’s the first shot we did. The peach sorbet. Shooting anything that melts fast is very tricky. My food stylist Marcella Carpasso got several blocks of dry ice to use in several different coolers.
She made many scoops of each flavor, placed each scoop on parchment paper, then placed that onto a block of dry ice to set very hard. Each block was then placed into small coolers with lids put on them to encase the scoops with very cold air.
Dry ice will work better than your freezer as it will freeze your product harder than your freezer will. This gives you a little more time on set to work with your product.
What’s interesting is that each flavor of sorbet had its own way of freezing and melting. Each flavor acted very differently, even within the same brand of sorbet. Some flavors would set up very fast, others took longer.
After a flavor was set, (frozen very solid on the dry ice), Marcella took it off the parchment/dry ice block with a spatula and placed it on my marble tray.
Here’s the major trick – when you freeze something on dry ice, there will be a lot of frost on the outside. You can’t shoot the product like that as it won’t look natural. You have to use a straw and blow through it to melt off the frost, and in this case, help melt the sorbet to get a nice gloss on top and puddle around the bottom.
Each sorbet would start to melt instantly, so I was shooting extremely fast. I used strobes for this shot so I shot as fast as the strobes were recharging – oh, and it was one of the hottest days of the year so my studio A/C’s were cranked too.
I’ve shot quite a bit of ice cream and sorbet over the years. It all comes down to taking a lot of shots and then picking the best ones. I shot a few hundred frames total this day, then I picked my favorites of each flavor.
After I picked my favorite image of each flavor, it would become its own layer in Photoshop in one image.
Do you see next to each small image thumbnail there is another rectangle with little black marks in it? That’s called a layer mask. This is used to hide certain things in each image and to make it look as realistic as possible.
The layer mask can be edited over and over, unit you get it just perfect. I use the layer masks to blend each flavor onto the marble plate.
If you notice on my layers, I have two Cherry layers. I used the bottom melting pool of one image while putting the top of another cherry scoop on top of that. Then I blended them together using a layer mask.
You will also notice the very first layer on the bottom, it’s what I call my Background Plate. I shoot every set like this, in parts. It’s called “shooting for composite”.
Since the digital era, this has become industry standard for advertising food photography. Clients want flexibility and you better know how to create images for composite.
Shooting this way enables me to move each flavor independently from the other flavors – not possible if all shot together in one image without major Photoshop work.
Here are my background plates. I might never need them, but when I do I am so happy I have them.
In this case I ended up using the empty platter as my base because when I started putting all the flavors onto the marble plate, I realized that I had put the peach flavor on too low on the plate. So I needed to move it up towards the top.
Clipping each flavor out of its image and compositing onto this blank plate made it very easy to move it around the plate with layers.
So there you have it! Shooting for composite. I’d say I spent 1 hour putting all these images together after they were shot.
If you want to learn how to use photography layer masks, join the Food Photography Club. I have an entire course on editing with Photoshop and have several lessons about layer masks.
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