I’ve wanted to do an interesting photograph with spices for quite a while. Something… different.
I wanted to make a design of the spices, and thought of mandalas, and then paisley designs. Finally did some research, bought a vector design on istockphoto and reworked it, and printed off the outlines in black and white.
Placed the printout under a sheet of acrylic, and then set to work with a bunch of spices, both whole and ground, that I bought over at Bulk Barn. Working slowly with a little palette knife, I started in the centre of each paisley, gradually adding ground powder and building up the design out to the edges.
After finishing the ground, I removed the white paper and substituted black foam core under the acrylic. I knew I was going to be working with round seeds, and didn’t want to risk them running all over the place with a last minute substitution of black foam core. Better to do it at this point.
Pink peppercorns, whole black pepper, cardamom seeds, cardamom pods, whole cloves… and the finishing touch, some star anise. I knew I wanted to use the anise, which I had leftover from another project, but wasn’t sure how it was going to work until near the end.
I tried 5 different lighting setups, f/stops ranging from 2.5 up to 20, and shutter speeds from fast to 8 seconds. Here are my two favorite images. Low light gives more shadows and texture to the spice (shows the palette knife chopping moves more, too). The light skims the top edge of the star anise and catches the cool outside umber tones of the pod. High light flattens the image, gives color the prominent position, and brings out the warm sienna tones in the star anise seeds.