Destroying cosmetics in an artistic kind of way
February 19, 2016 8:09 AM   Subscribe

How do still life photographers get the kind of cosmetic images you sometimes see in magazines? Some Examples here.

It seems theoretically simple, but I can't see how, say, you'd get the product out of the pan without completely cracking it and losing the pressed pattern on top, or get varnish out of the bottle without it spreading everywhere. I quite fancy having a go at this with some old makeup, but I couldn't see any information - yet almost all magazines seem to do it, so there must be a technique!
posted by mippy to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The second link "Examples" seem like it is different images, compiled together.
posted by ReluctantViking at 8:17 AM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Not sure about photographing makeup, but you know about food photographers using substances that may appear to be a food, but in fact, are not. Such as a cement/concrete for ice cream, etc.

Perhaps that's the case with some of these?
posted by kuanes at 8:18 AM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

For the powders, I bet they have custom easy-release type silicone molds on set, so they can transfer out of the original packaging, mold as desired, unmold, and smash into art.

For nail polish, I assume they use eye droppers.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:21 AM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you use Reddit (though apparently youtube is also a good source if you can collect all the terms you need) you can check the MakeupRehab and probably IndieMakeupAndMore subs to see a bunch of projects like "panning", which is putting loose makeup into pans (complete with patterns or whatever) or moving panned makeup to new pans. It's relatively simple to do, and not actually terribly hard to get makeup out of a pan intact.

Most of your examples are already broken, though, so that may have been done in the process (or these items chosen because they fell out and broke - when you get piles and piles of makeup samples, it's not uncommon to have quite a few loose ones).

If you use a cold plate, cold room, work near an a/c, or freeze your varnish you can get a lot of the sluggish results you see. Youtube might also be a good resource for instructions, since nail polish blogging and swatching is at least 0.5% of the internet right now.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:23 AM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

mippy: " you'd get the product out of the pan without completely cracking it and losing the pressed pattern on top"

One way would be to use tools like a Dremel to cut the case away from the product.
posted by Mitheral at 8:23 AM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

For removing makeup from their original cases, the term you want to google is "depot makeup". A lot of people do this so that they can bring a bunch of makeup into one palette or a different palette. There are different techniques for different product casings. I did this once with an Urban Decay palette which required the usage of a hot hair straightener.

Once you remove it from the packaging then it's your basic visual merchandising/still life artistry at work. Similar to stylists for models, stylists for still life (also known as Prop Styling) are a speciality in the industry. It's unlikely there are specific "makeup" specialists, as it uses similar layout techniques as other product layouts, particularly food.
posted by like_neon at 8:36 AM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I know, it was hard to find images that weren't composite.

I know depotting well - pretty much every eyeshadow I own is depotted. These aren't depots as such as the powder products are removed from the pan in one piece, or mostly one piece. Cutting the case away is easy - cutting the pan away is not. Most of the examples I've seen in product photography are actual retail products (with the embossing intact), not re-pressed ones.
posted by mippy at 8:56 AM on February 19, 2016

Cutting the case away is easy - cutting the pan away is not.

I haven't actually tried this, but I bet with a dremel and some practice it would be trivially easy. (And of course, if they fuck it up they have access to plenty of spares.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:16 AM on February 19, 2016

I have zero experience with this sort of thing, but I always assumed that (with the powders) they just flipped the pan over and cracked it flat down against a table really sharply, popping the puck of powder out with inertia. I likewise assumed that the cracks and crumbly bits were the result of this technique's violence and imprecision, and that it took a number of attempts to get one that looked good.

Have you tried it?
posted by Krawczak at 11:34 AM on February 19, 2016

I'm not quite clear what you're asking — do you want to know how to photograph these or are you mostly interested in how they got the make-up out of the containers?
posted by klangklangston at 12:10 PM on February 19, 2016

Nowadays, it's pretty rare if not nonexistent for an ad, and I think very rare for editorial, for the art director to go to the store and buy the products they're photographing from the shelf. In advertising, the company is informed well in advance what the layout will look like, and provides the product - presumably they can bring it without the container if that's asked for. For editorial, companies can be contacted in advance as well and will probably provide it because hey, free advertising.

For the nail polishes, the surface they are on is probably ridged so as to keep each section in place, and then any visible ridges would be removed in retouching afterwards.

I also imagine there's a lot of photoshopping in your examples to make everything look that perfect.
posted by Mchelly at 12:50 PM on February 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm asking both! It looks like a fun photography project but I wondered if there was a trick to it.

I will try the cracking trick - good suggestion.

Mchelly - I always thought they were called in/pr-supplied samples, even if I had an image in my head of an intern rifling through the postbag and deciding which ones to crack.
posted by mippy at 3:06 PM on February 19, 2016

I suspect a lot of it is having endless free samples to use (so it doesn't matter if some get destroyed) and lots of practice. It does seem difficult to get a power product out of the pan whole, but I bet that if you pried it out you'd get a few large pieces most of the time, which would be good enough for most purposes. Carefully pouring a bit of nail polish on to an appropriate surface seems fairly easy - not using too much would definitely help, plus having an assistant so you could start shooting the second the assistant stopped pouring. And of course, the lipstick ones are probably the easiest, since it's just (artistic!) cutting and smearing.

If you do end up doing a photography project like this, I'd love it if you came back to the thread to tell us how it went!
posted by insectosaurus at 3:48 PM on February 19, 2016

I never got on set for a shoot like that but I do know they shot the depotted product last, so...

From knowing the stylists and photographers I would bet: 1. Tools and tricks 2. Practice 3. Multiple samples.

This is a bit of an excuse to post this link to one of my fav beauty product shots ever:
posted by warriorqueen at 5:41 PM on February 19, 2016

You can cut out parts of pressed powder with exacto blades. Works for making lipstick cuts too.
posted by bedhead at 8:40 PM on February 19, 2016

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