Whiskey Bottle on a Wet Easter Weekend

This isn’t a story of me drowning my sorrows at not being able to go out and shoot some street photography on a wet, rainy, UK, Easter weekend. It’s just some messing about with flash and some table top photography to keep me busy and try something new.

So let’s do a kit list, just like me, it’s nice and simple:

  • Fuji X-Pro2
  • Fuji 35mm f2 Lens
  • Pocket Wizard Plus X
  • Yongnuo 560 iii
  • Magmod MagBounce
  • Reflector
  • Wooden Kitchen Table
  • LED Torch

Oh, and bottle of Jack Daniel’s Silver Select Single Barrel Edition whiskey….. unopened.

I have never tried this type of photography before, so I was keeping things simple. I recently read a post on the Magmod blog about a setting up a shot that contained several whiskey bottles¬†and it looked pretty simple. I didn’t have all the same kit, but with a little improvisation I might be able to do something along the same lines.

My set up was simple. I placed the bottle on the table, I used the black side of the reflector as a background and put the flash on my tripod with the MagBounce attached. I placed the flash low down so the flash wasn’t visible too much behind the bottle, but just enough to get a little bit of a glow. This took a bit of experimentation, but after a few test shots, I got the right height.

My flash was set on a low power, 1/128th, as the MagBounce is designed to reflect a lot of light. I wanted to black out the background as much as I could so keeping the flash power low would help with this.

I wanted a narrow depth of field, so chose f2. Enough to the get the label detail in focus but shallow enough to make sure the background was properly blurred out. ISO 200 to keep the image clean and a shutter speed of 1/250th, the fastest I could sync the flash. I was hand holding the camera so wanted to avoid any motion blur.

With the flash behind the bottle, the front of it was going to be dark so I wouldn’t be able to see the front label which is a nice shiny embossed metal label. Rather posh. In the blog post I read, the photography used a gridded flash to spot light the donut, but I didn’t have another flash or grid so my little pocket LED torch stepped in as little spot light. Fortunately the bean is quite tight so it acted like a gridded flash would…. just about. Holding the camera and the torch was a little tricky, but possible.

Whiskey Bottle Lighting Setup

So that was the set up. Pretty basic as you can see and after a few test shots to get the composition right and the torch in the right place with glow behind the bottle, I got a shot I wanted. This is a cropped version of the shot out of the camera.

Whiskey Bottle Shot Before Lightroom

As you can see, it’s not quite in a finished state, so Adobe Lightroom was the next tool to use to tweak it a little. I don’t generally spend too long messing about with images in Lightroom, and this was the same. It only needed a few adjustments to get where I wanted.

First I adjusted the whites, shadows and blacks to darken down the edges a little and soften the highlights a little. This also had the effect of bringing out the richness of the whiskey colour more. Nice.

Then I added a radial gradient filter to give a vignetted effect to really darken the edges more. I did this by dropping the exposure a little on the gradient. This still wasn’t quite enough, so a few linear gradients on the edges gave me the stronger vignette effect that I was after.

A little boost to the vibrance, some spot healing and I was done. So only 5 minutes of work in Lightroom and I got an image I was happy with.

Whiskey Bottle Final Image

No doubt the professionals out there will be able to pick holes in my image, and I wouldn’t blame them, I’ve got lots to learn. So if you do want to leave any constructive criticism then you are more than welcome.

I could have probably made the glow on the background a little more central to the bottle, but using the optical view finder on my X-Pro2 made it a little tricky to line it up as it’s offset to the lens and the beam from the torch could have been a little nicer but it’s not far off. I expect a little more work in Lightroom might have improved things a little more, but I had a chocolate egg waiting for me, so I chose that over more time in Lightroom. It is Easter Sunday after all.

It was a bit of fun. I got to use some of my kit I haven’t used much in a while and I learnt a few things. All in all a successful couple of hours.

More soon hopefully.

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