Darkness and Light at Sephora

Years ago, I was working, as I always was, on a new portfolio. It was my first portfolio that was heavy on product shots. I sought feedback from a variety of people, but I remember the exchange with one friend as clearly as ever:

Friend: "There's a lot of black."

Me: "Mmm?"

Friend: "You know that's cheating, right?"

Me: "Nnnnnnhhhhh?"

He didn't need to say any more about it. I knew immediately what he meant - that it's easier to make a product photo dramatic against a dark background than against a light background. On set, it's easier to control the light (although there are ways to deal with that). It's easier to retouch, because the darkness hides a lot. Most importantly, the contrast of a dark background makes the objects look richer and more elegant - just like dark clothes, for people.



The shot above was part of the launch of the Pantone + Sephora Color of the Year collection, used across their digital channels, and it made sense to do it on white - it feels clean, descriptive, and approachable.


Nevertheless, for elegant drama, there's nothing like black. This MUFE shot was also for Sephora. In this case, the AD wanted more elegance and drama, so the dark background works better here.

And for the record, all the ways I was "cheating", so long ago? No need for them any longer, whether I'm shooting on white or on black.