The Secret Sauce to Success: Still Life Winner Benton Collins shares his 2019 Spotlight Awards winning image story
How does one capture The Shape of an Icon? We asked New York-based commercial photographer Benton Collins — Still Life Category Winner of Spotlight Photography Awards 2019. His clean and crisp style, innovative lighting techniques and wealth of experience in establishing a striking connection between inanimate objects impressed our judges and won this year’s Still Life Photography Category with an ingenious rendition of a Heinz Ketchup bottle.
Scroll below to learn all about it!
Production Paradise: Tell us about the winning image – the idea behind it, how was it shot?
Benton Collins: The inspiration for my image ‘The Shape of an Icon’ came from my friend Ralph Bianco, who is the father of my photography student Ian Bianco. Ralph requested that one of my lessons for his son be about capturing paint being injected into the water to catalog unusual shapes that could possibly be used in later projects. During our lesson, I had the idea of shaping one of the captured photos into the recognizable form of the classic Heinz ketchup bottle, with photos of the real labels and cap added to complete the effect.
Shooting red acrylic paint injected into a fish tank of water using a syringe required a fast studio flash and careful timing to capture the injection at the best moment. I used a Phase One P45 digital back on an Arca Swiss F 6×7 medium format camera with a Schneider 80mm Digitar lens. White Lightning X2400 strobes were used and set in the low power mode to achieve a short flash duration so the moving paint could be frozen in time. The second phase of the lesson was to shoot the classic Heinz glass ketchup bottle for its neck label, cap, and overall shape. I decided on using the main label from the current style plastic bottle because it presented a clearer view of the label over the classic label which is folded around the octagonal corners in the bottle.
Lastly, all the photographic elements were brought together in Photoshop. The labels and cap were selected and stripped out using the pen tool and an outline of the glass bottle shape was created to act as a guide for the final exterior shape of the selected paint injection image. The liquify tool was used to push the pixels of the ribbons of paint to conform to the bottle shape outline. I chose to leave sections of the lower sides and bottom of the paint ribbons in their naturally captured state to add organic randomness to the overall image. The color of the red paint was adjusted to match the color of ketchup.
Production Paradise: How do you feel about winning the Category Prize of Spotlight Awards 2019?
Benton Collins: It’s a fantastic feeling. This is a great honor! There were many wonderful images in the shortlist that to just be included among them was already a big honor! Every photographer in there is a winner!
Production Paradise: How would you describe your style?
Benton Collins: Clean and crisp is the first thing that comes to mind. I also try to infuse subtext, humor, and story whenever possible.
Production Paradise: Name three photographers that have inspired you.
Benton Collins: 1. Gary Perweiler 2. Steve Bronstein. 3. Chris Collins (no relation that I’m aware of)
Production Paradise: How did you end up behind the lens? Tell us about your career path.
Benton Collins: I became interested in photography at around the age of 16 when I borrowed my father’s Nikon and Rollei film cameras to try my hand at photography. From then on, it was a love affair that still continues today. After shooting many subject types, I zeroed in on studio still life mainly because of the control it allowed me over my subject and the ability to work relatively independently. I also have a deep love for the moving image and in 1987 I won third place for an experimental video I entered in the ‘Visions of U.S.’ National Video Competition that was sponsored by Sony and Showtime/The Movie Channel. In addition to cash and a Betamax VCR (now I’m really dating myself!), this great fortune also won me an internship with Showtime/The Movie Channel in New York City. Once in New York (from Virginia), my talent for photography was recognised by Gary Perweiler, who was a well-established advertising still life photographer and the author of “Secrets of Studio Still Life Photography”. I was invited to become Gary’s associate and under his guidance and influence, I grew as a commercial photographer. Once I had created a professional and sizable enough portfolio of 8×10 color transparencies, I began shooting jobs for many national clients that his reps brought in for me. In 1990, I left Gary’s studio and began shooting commercially on my own and I have been shooting independently in various locations around New York ever since. Currently, I am based in Brooklyn.
Production Paradise: What do you think is necessary to become a successful commercial photographer?
Benton Collins: After you’ve bitten the bullet on making a significant investment in a professional camera, lighting, computer, and grip equipment, you’ll need to create a professional-looking portfolio. Test as much as possible. Learn as many techniques on how to control and work with light and the fundamentals of good composition. Keep pushing yourself to make the best images that you can and don’t accept ‘good enough’. Keep a consistent commitment and effort towards promoting yourself. This step will ultimately become #1, but only after you have at least 20 great images in your portfolio to start pitching your work commercially. Be aware of what other photographers are producing and what kinds of images are selling. Develop your own style, but know where the bar is.
Prepare thoroughly before each job. Pre-light if you can the day before a shoot, work fast and work calmly through any unforeseen problems. Remember that the entire process of photography is basically problem-solving. Have fun and be relaxed, and your clients will have fun and be relaxed! And never forget that you have the greatest job on the planet!
Production Paradise: If you weren’t a photographer, what would be your alternate career path?
Benton Collins: I love music and really great HiFi and audio, so I’d probably pursue a career in sound if I couldn’t work with light. Maybe I’d become a sound engineer?
Production Paradise: We believe you are not resting on your laurels – what are you working on now?
Benton Collins: I have several client projects I’m working on now, from shooting hot sauce to ultra-expensive LP turntables. But I’m planning on shooting a new series of conceptual work. Some of them will even be outdoors! Please stay tuned!
Production Paradise: The Spotlight awards had a judge’s panel composed of potential clients for commercial photographers – did that influence your choice of image(s) selected for your entry?
Benton Collins: While I was certainly aware that the judges were potential clients, that really didn’t influence my choice of images I entered. I simply made my choices based on what I thought were the most interesting creative shots that I had produced recently. The fact the judges have the potential to become clients is an added bonus!
Production Paradise: What made you want to participate in these Awards?
Benton Collins: The potential for great recognition from high caliber, qualified judges and effective promotion all in one neat package was irresistible! Plus, the lure of a bunch of cool prizes, including a $5,000 cash grand prize didn’t hurt either!
We thank Benton for taking the time to share his incredible journey with us and wish him all the best for future endeavors! To see more of his work, visit his Production Paradise portfolio or website. Check out a special edition of Spotlight Magazine featuring all the 2019 Spotlight Award Winners, here.