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The Creation of The Royal Mail Christmas Stamps 2016

British Still Life Photographer Jonathan Beer is known for his high-quality Medium-Format images of products and has delivered on projects for a number of prestigious clients, including The Royal Mail for 2016’s official Christmas Stamp collection; celebrating 50 years of festive stamps. Read on to learn how he tackled this unique commission.Robin Stamp Robin Stamp  

Working with paper sculpture artist and illustrator Helen Musselwhite and Art Director Stuart Mitchell (The Chase), Still Life Photographer Jonathan Beer was tasked with capturing Musselwhite’s intricate layered designs in a way that would translate into an output the size of a postage stamp, which presented a host of technical challenges.

IMG_0186One of the biggest obstacles that Beer had to overcome with this project was lighting; speaking of the difficulty he faced, Beer said: “The brief from my point of view was to capture the depth and texture, however the challenge was that the lighting needed to be even and symmetrical.”

Snowman StampSnowman Stamp

With such tight restrictions on lighting, Jonathan Beer and his colleagues had to come up with some creative ways to retain shadows in key areas, while maintaining an even look, to communicate the depth required.Snowman Stamp Close-up“It looked great being lit from either the left or the right side, but that didn’t meet the requirement of having even lighting all around. So instead we shone light at each design at acute angles through diffusion so that no harsh light pointed directly at them. Then I captured a number of single shots with lights turned on and off, which gave me the shadows I would need to re-introduce in post.”IMG_0092While some photographers may use dodge and burn techniques to get a similar effect, Beer prefers the look that his more meticulous approach delivers. Speaking about the technique, he said: “We used the overlay feature in Phocus to compose the stamps, including where The Queen’s head would be positioned. With light and darker areas captured in a range of frames, I could mask in the shadows and highlights that I wanted accurately, so that everything you see is how it really looked without having to alter the image; everything in the final shot is real.”Tree StampTree Stamp

Using Hasselblad Multi-Shot was another critical component in creating these small miniature masterpieces, by shifting its sensor in a 4-shot pattern the 200c MS allows for the capture of R/G/B/G channel information separately, avoiding interpolation, which reduces the impact of artefacts and increases the resolution of the image at a pixel level.

“I use Multi-Shot everyday and I wouldn’t want to be without it. This project was a perfect example of where it comes into its own,” Beer says. “I was able to capture the fine texture of the paper sculptures, which, along with some clever lighting, retained their depth. If you’re shooting with a lot of fine textures, like I do; metals, plastics, etc – Multi-Shot prevents images from looking too digital.”Lantern StampLantern Stamp

Utilising Multi-Shot, Jonathan Beer produces images that contain a hyperreal level of clarity, far sharper than the human eye can see. Often shooting between f16 and f22, Multi-Shot also minimises the effects of diffraction, “it allows you to claw back some of the detail lost by stopping down, while maintaining an attractive depth-of-field’. I sometimes say that Multi-Shot is the saviour of f22,” he explains.Stocking StampStocking Stamp

Reflecting on his contribution to this job, he said: “It was still an incredible project to be involved in. Helen and I almost didn’t allow ourselves to believe it was all happening. There were so many stages, hurdles and points where the project could have been dropped without ever seeing the light of day.Pudding StampPudding Stamp

“It wasn’t until I went to my local Post Office and bought a book of our stamps on launch day that it all felt real. I still get a buzz when a letter drops onto the doormat with one of our stamps on.”

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