Using Dedolights instead of brushes, Jeff Salzer paints light, shadow, color, and texture onto small products with the finesse grand masters applied to their canvases. His signature lighting style sometimes requires a set crammed with an many as two dozen Dedolights. With these small, precision hot lights and a variety of accessories—including backgrounds from his vast collection of fine art papers—Salzer pinpoints the essence of his subjects to create images that make products "look even more exciting than real life."
Digital first made its way into Salzer's studio via a PowerMac G3 he bought three years ago.
He had heard about Photoshop and wanted to check it out. Soon he was scanning Polaroids for his art directors and designers and emailing digital files across the country, making everyone's life much easier.
Then one of Salzer's photographer buddies who is heavily involved in and knowledgeable about digital photography, Jack Bingham, urged Salzer to start shooting digitally. Before going any further down the digital road, he wanted to be sure his lighting techniques would endure the trip. For the most part, they did.
Around the same time, Salzer started shooting with a Phase One back, which he uses when he needs a large file size. About six months ago, he purchased a Nikon D1. At first he wasn't sure about the D1 or if he was going to be able to control it well enough. But after testing the camera, his fears proved to be unfounded.
"It's an unbelievable camera for the price and the files are pretty sweet for what it is and does."
IS IT REAL OR IS IT PHOTOSHOP?
"I love Photoshop. It's a great tool, but so overused. When you try to come up with an effect in Photoshop, it never comes off quite the same way it would have in-camera. You can almost always tell there's been some manipulation."
When he does work on images in Photoshop, Salzer is careful about what he takes on himself and what he hires outside talent to handle.
Salzer, however, is usually the best candidate for the job. Once while photographing a medical unit on a blue background with a brainlike pattern, Salzer recalls, they ran out of background and lights, resulting in dark edges around the image. Because the image was not "going to look too much different if I took care of that in Photoshop," he scanned the film—yes, he shoots film, too—on his Imacon, retouched the background, added the LED readings according to the client's wishes, and digitally removed the cord from the medical unit. Later, he retouched the image himself because he understands his style of lighting best and was able to replicate the brain pattern without making it look cloned.
But if the project requires, for example, "a photo composition, where there are multiple images coming together and there's a lot of finessing happening," Salzer will "find somebody who excels in that area. I recall one time when we were creating a blues guitar image for a paper company's poster. We hired a retoucher to integrate the Pantone chips onto the fret of the guitar. "
Salzer adds that sometimes it simply comes down to workload and focus: "When the work comes, you have to take it. I don't want to lose sight of what I'm really doing here, which is photography. If I were to decide to become a professional retoucher, then that would be my priority."
One of the most fundamental components of digital imaging is color management. "If you're going to get into digital photography," cautions Salzer, "it's such an integral part of the whole process that if you're not doing some kind of color management, you're going to end up getting yourself in a real pickle quickly."
Early on in his digital discovery, a colleague emphasized that "if you're going to do this, you're going to have to be responsible for color management. Not only do you want your images to look the best when they are printed, but liability-wise, you want to make sure you're providing everything accurately and correctly. It's going to help you in the long run."