Mark Mawson – SHOOT STORY: Nespresso “Barista Creations”

Liquid specialist Mark Mawson takes us on his journey of a campaign shot for Nespresso. Talking in depth about how to manage the special effects as well as ensuring the precise colours were achieved all whilst working with the unpredictability of liquids!

©Mark Mawson


Towards the end of last year, myself and my production team were approached by JWT London and Hogarth Worldwide to shoot a campaign for Nespresso who were launching their new “Barista Creations” range of coffee. They wanted me to shoot the print ads and direct the television commercial and the theme of the ads was the “alchemy of coffee and milk”.


Being a liquids specialist, my work fitted perfectly with what they wanted to achieve. The idea was to produce both slow motion and still images that were in a world of coffee and milk in which the coffee capsules inhabit. For the TV commercial, the capsules were to be engulfed by the coffee towards the end of the shot. Another technical shot that we needed to create was the Nespresso logo also being engulfed in liquid.


In the new year, we had many pre-production meetings with the agency creatives where we discussed what was going to be possible within the week long time constraints of the shoot which ended up being 3 days for the TVC and two days for the print ads.


© Dan Brohawn. The Nespresso logo is cleaned of bubbles before the engulfment shot. The camera lens is in the water in a waterproof housing and the camera is attached to the Bolt robot motion control system.


Everything was storyboarded, the client and agency needed the final images to be very precise which is a difficult thing to achieve when you’re dealing with the unpredictable liquids. One of the most difficult things to achieve was the ratio of coffee and milk in the shots. There had to be a precise amount of white, too much and it would look too milky and not enough and it would look too dark. Trying to get the milk swirling with the coffee for long enough before it mixed together was a real challenge.


We worked with the guys at Artem Special Effects who looked after the litres of coffee and milk for us and we tested for a week before the shoot to devise special rigs and ways to introduce the coffee and milk into tanks of water to achieve the look required.


On the shoot we used a range of tanks of varying sizes from small ones for macro shots of liquids swirling around, medium ones to use with the capsules and very large one to shoot the Nespresso logo being engulfed.


© Dan Brohawn. Mark Mawson directing the logo shot.


There are three different coffees in the Nespresso range that we were working with and each coffee has its own flavour, strength and colour. The client was very conscious for us to produce the correct colour for each coffee and the Datacolor SpyderX would be crucial for us to ensure the colour on the monitors was the precise colour of the coffee we were shooting. It’s so easy and fast to calibrate the monitors on set, taking less than two minutes to calibrate each one, so we were guaranteed to have accurate and precise colours for the us and the client to see after each take.


© Mark Mawson. An early take from a capsule being engulfed, that particular take had too much milk which overpowered the coffee and wasn’t usable.


Obviously, working with liquids is a lot different to working with actors who can hit their marks at precise points. For the TV work where the capsules are in a cavernous world of coffee and then engulfed in an explosion of coffee and milk, we had to time each camera move with the injections of liquid so that everything happened perfectly at the right time. We started off pouring in the background layers of coffee and as that was swirling we rolled the Phantom Flex 4K camera shooting 1000 frames per second. We then introduced liquids to the top and sides of fame to create a tunnel effect and finally an explosion of liquids behind the capsules created the engulfment. All this had to happen perfectly over the space of 2 seconds which when slowed down would give us enough time in the commercial using a bit of speed ramping to vary the time at different stages.


© Mark Mawson. The Phantom Flex 4K high speed camera


Shooting the Nespresso logo for the tv was also a precisely timed operation. The shot needed to show the logo with coffee behind it and then as the camera pulled back, it needed to explode with coffee and milk and the liquid chase the camera until it engulfed the lens.


The logo was specially made out from acrylic and mounted on rods to allow us to have liquid moving behind it. We needed a very large tank for this shot and the Phantom Flex 4k camera was mounted on the Bolt motion control robot to create the same move each time. The lens was under the water in a waterproof housing. The camera move had to be timed with the logo being engulfed and the shot was rehearsed many times before the liquid was used as the tank had about an hour’s turnaround time from being emptied, cleaned and refilled and ready for another take.


© Mark Mawson. Coffee and milk in syringes.


For the print ads and still photography, I shot on a Hasselblad H series camera using a Phase One IQ3 back and Elinchrom lighting. Again, all the computer monitors were quickly calibrated using Datacolor SpyderX Pro while we were setting up to ensure accurate and precise colours were being shown to the client.


© Mark Mawson. The large tank set up for the logo shot.


We used the same techniques as we did for the TV to shoot the capsules in the tanks of water with coffee and milk to produce seamless continuity between the TV and print ads. With the liquids flowing quickly around the capsules, there was only time for one frame to be captured at the perfect time each take. Then the tanks need to be emptied, cleaned and re-filled ready for the next take.


© Dan Brohawn. A smaller tank set up for a shot with one coffee capsule. Due to the intense amount of light needed for the high frame rate we were using, the crew needed to wear sunglasses.

  About the Author – Mark Mawson

Mark had a camera in his hands from the early age of 8 years old. He became fascinated by the movement of the camera’s mechanism and he played around with lights noticing how light and shadows changed the appearance of an object. By the time he was in his early teens, he had decided that he was to be a photographer and was interested in a career in photojournalism.


After finishing school, he studied photojournalism and then worked for several national newspapers in London covering news and sports assignments. After a few years in newspapers he decided he needed a different challenge and moved over to shooting fashion and celebrity portraiture for magazines and advertising agencies. During this time Mark travelled extensively around the world shooting fashion stories and working with Hollywood celebrities and photographed several members of the British Royal family!


In 2004, Mark had an idea to shoot some liquid images of paints in water using high speed photography, his first test shoot worked very well and his ‘Aqueous’ series was born. Since then, Mark has developed the idea and has produced several ‘Aqueous’ series which have become collectable pieces of art. He now specializes in shooting liquids and underwater fashion.


In 2012 a video piece of Mark’s was projected onto the walls of Buckingham Palace as the backdrop to The Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations.


Articles from Mark Mawson