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Making Magic: Kirk Amyx's Delectable Digital Still Life Images



At age 12, Kirk Amyx witnessed the magic of photography while watching a picture develop in the darkroom for the first time. "It appeared right in front of my eyes, and I was hooked," he recalls.

Since then, Amyx has breathed life into product shots for Apple, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Levi Strauss & Co., Kia Motors, Papyrus, and America Online.

It was at the Art Center College of Design that he discovered his affinity for commercial still-life photography.

"I gravitated toward projects where I could work slowly, deliberately, and by myself. I found still-lifes more personal and intimate because they're about light and composition, which I can control."

Indeed, most of the work Amyx produces today in his San Francisco studio is still-life-related. "While I don't consider myself a food specialist, many of my clients and projects are food-related, such as catalog photography for Ghirardelli Chocolates (p. 38) and advertising photos for Anchor Brewing," notes Amyx, whose shot of Anchor Summer Beer (left) helped introduce the brew.

"About 10 years ago, a designer referred to me by a friend hired me to produce a simple sell sheet beer photo for Anchor," recalls Amyx. "That one successful, simple project has led to 10 years of photography for Anchor, including advertising, posters, websites, and recent shots of its highly acclaimed Gin and Whiskey (below, left)."

While Amyx's approach is customized to the project, one constant keeps clients coming back: his ability to make the product take center stage. "Many of my clients have commented that they like my images because they have 'product focus' and make their products look 'heroic,'" notes Amyx.

Indeed, most of his promotional and personal still-lifes are direct and lightly propped, if at all. "I like to draw the subject with light, and let it speak for itself. The challenge of using light and composition to make something simple appear interesting is one of my favorite assignments."

Digital Creativity

Amyx has found that digital photography, along with good Photoshop skills, have opened up many creative options that weren't available with film and scanning. "Because of the instant digital response, you can experiment with lighting and composition. You also get more feedback from art directors or clients attending the shoot, so you can better satisfy their needs."

For his White Tea image (left), shot digitally for The Republic of Tea two years ago with the Imacon FlexFrame 3020, he produced the images of the fruit and tea leaves that appear on the package.

"Their freelance designer, Gina Amador, had a good idea of what she needed for the images and even provided all the tea and fruit props," says Amyx. "Together we arranged the props to fit her layouts. I outlined the images to complete white and provided retouched and enhanced CMYK files ready for press. Later, I did an image of the packaging for marketing purposes."

Another digital delight is his Health Spa Napa Valley image (p. 39 below, left). Shot with the Imacon FlexFrame 4040 on a Mamiya 645 Pro, this image was created for a poster to show the full product line. "The trick was finding an angle and composition that would show all the products, look interesting, and not be too busy. We tried a few different things before deciding to spread out the products to convey the idea of abundance. We finessed it a bit so we could see each label."

Digital proves particularly helpful when clients contact Amyx about a photo shoot only a day or two in advance. He recalls one such successful shoot for MacUser UK several years ago. "I received a phone call from the art director. They needed me to shoot the cover in 30 minutes." It was for an 'unknown' product—the Apple Mac PowerBook G4—to be announced at MacWorld Expo in two days by Steve Jobs in his keynote speech.

"My assistant and I came armed with our Imacon 3020 on a Mamiya 645 Pro and Speedotron strobes on Bogen tripods, and a Plexiglas surface in hand for our 30-minute time slot," says Amyx. "The editor outlined their needs and within 15 minutes we had our first shot. Five minutes later we had a variation, and ended up with five or six additional detail shots. We returned to my studio for some quick post-production work. In a few hours, the finished image was emailed to London."

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