Anyone who knows me will tell you that, even as a young boy growing up in the Midwest, I thrived on a challenge. As a professional photographer who shoots a lot of glass and liquids for clients such as Anheuser-Busch, Dewar's, and Grey Goose, I can tell you that lighting glass and liquid ranks right up there with any photographic challenge I've faced.
I guess what I love the most—and the least—about photographing glass and liquid is the fact that no two production bottles possess the same qualities. No matter what the brand or type of glass, imperfections always exist in production. This can be challenging when you have multiple bottles in the same scene or you need to go back and repeat a shoot when the labels have been redesigned. Trying to get back to the same point as the original shoot can be especially maddening.
Glass and liquids are always a challenge. They capture light, throw off unique highlights and keep me thinking. Then again, that's what keeps me sharp.
Lighting is the most critical aspect of photographing glass and liquid, which is why I love the Broncolor Para umbrella.
Incredibly versatile, the Para lets me create natural light better than any other light I've tried. It also lets me maintain maximum flash duration, which is the most critical element in capturing liquids in motion. The Para is actually so versatile that, with simple modifications, I can go from creating a natural light effect to a dark, moody bar scene with the same piece of equipment.
Broncolor's Grafit power packs provide the control I need over every aspect of my lighting—flash duration, color temperature, and the widest power range. The RFS power packs control all the pack settings and functions wirelessly from the computer. This is a huge time saver for me, not to mention the fact that my clients think it's a cool feature.
The most important thing to know about shooting liquids is flash duration. The shorter the time a pack takes to bring the strobe to the peak of its power and then fall off to imperceptible light, the sharper the image of the liquid. My Grafit packs allow me to set the flash duration to 1/7000 of a second and provide a super-fast recycle time.
Photographing glass and liquids requires a lot of preparation. Start by learning all you can about the brand and the client's objectives for the campaign. Clients love talking about their products and have no problem answering your questions, especially when they know the result is a quality end product.
Understanding the brand and client objectives allows me to incorporate my own brand of creative touch, which is why they hired me in the first place. The more you know, the more successful the campaign.
For the Bud Light Iceberg photo, I used real ice for the "iceberg," as opposed to having an acrylic model made. I had an ice sculptor create the basic shape and drill a cavity for the bottle. On set, I brought the iceberg out of the freezer, positioned the bottle and sculpted the iceberg into its final shape using a wood chisel and a crème brulee torch. We took several captures of the ice as it melted a bit. The bottle was shot separately. The final image is a composite of several captures.
The Bacardi Flavors photo is an example of how important good contrast can be to an image. We shot on a mirror with a sheet of stainless steel as the background. By properly lighting the steel sheet, we were able to create shape and volume in the small ripples moving across the surface, as well as on the hero bottles.
For the Dewar's 12 Pour photo, we created a realistic natural light look using the Para, while maintaining control over flash duration. This shot really came together; it is just one image capture. Final adjustments were made in Photoshop, but the image is fairly untouched.
There is no formula for how many lights to use. The images and the lighting are driven by the objective of the assignment. I may need only one light or nearly every light I own.
When speaking with students, I usually tell them not to expect success right away. Photographing liquids has a big learning curve, requires the right equipment, and takes time to learn how to handle the complexities of glass and liquids. So slow down, study liquids, and experiment repeatedly.