February 5, 2015

Behind-The-Scenes | Double Bastard Ale

Double Bastard Ale is one of my favorite brews. It's a big, mean, decadent beer that lives up to it's bastard lineage. It's thick and creamy almost regal-like, yet aggressively hoppy which gives it that "rough around the edges" feel. Sort of like The Ramones at a black tie event. So with that in mind I will try to craft an image that captures Double Bastard's soul.

To represent the regalness of the brew I will use Stone's specialty glass. It has a classy look and reminiscent of a fancy whiskey glass. For the "rough around the edges feel" I will use a wooden surface. The point of interest will be the script lettering on the glass.

I set up my surface in order to create leading lines into the glass. These lines are a compositional tool that helps draw the viewer's eye along a path.

I use the rule of thirds to place the point of interest in the lower left intersection. If you're not familiar with the rule of thirds you can think of it like a tic-tac-toe grid. where you have two vertical and horizontal lines intersecting. These intersecting points are where you place your point of interest for a more natural and compelling composition. Once that's in place I move the bottle into the upper right intersection point. In the final image the glass is moved a wee bit to the left.

A test shot with ambient light reveals a glimpse at what the final image might look like. Issues I have with this are:
  1. Even light across image, lack of dynamic range (shadow & highlights).
  2. Point of interest is not consistently lit, hard to read.
  3. Wood grain is not emphasized, lacking texture.
  4. Beer looks unappealing.

My first step in addressing these issues is to use a Back-light. This will define the edges of the subject and bring out the texture of the wood as well as darken the edges.

To do that I will use a studio flash with a grid. Grids reduce the beam spread produced by the flash and are available in varying degrees. I have 10, 20, 30 and 40 degree grids at my disposal. To figure out which grid to use I swap them out until I get the effect I want. Here's a series of shots so you can see this difference.

Reflector only (80 degree beam)

Reflector w/ 40 degree grid

Reflector w/ 30 degree grid

Reflector w/ 20 degree grid

Reflector w/ 10 degree grid

As you can see the edges darken with a smaller beam spread. I typically use a 10 degree grid due to the size of the objects I tend to shoot. The surface now has some shadows and highlights revealing the wood texture. The edges of the objects are well defined except for the right edge of the glass because the bottle is blocking the light. Next, I will use a Main-light to light the bottle and hopefully a little light spill will reveal the right edge of the glass.

I use a 20 degree snoot on the Main-light.

The Main-light w/ snoot illuminating the bottle and right edge of glass without adding too much light to the surface. On to the trickiest part of this shoot...lighting the point of interest.

The reason this is so tricky is because the lettering is gold metallic...a highly reflective surface. I shoot objects like this by placing the light source behind the object and bouncing light back into it with a white card. I use 10"x30" softboxes on both sides of the Back-light. The softboxes gives me a nice, soft light with good distribution. The white card is 24"x36" and I place it next to the glass.

This technique does a good job of evenly lighting that pesky metallic lettering. Unfortunately it doesn't light up all of the lettering so I will move the card and take another exposure. A total of four images were taken and will be composited in Photoshop during post.

On to the beer glow. Typically I would hide a small white card behind the glass to bounce some light through it. In this case, I didn't use a white card because it bounced too much light through the beer and revealed the gargoyles on the other side of the glass. This competes with the point of interest so to combat this I decided to keep the beer dark enough to hide the gargoyles.

I used a small piece of diffusion material which bounced less light through the beer keeping it dark, yet providing streaks of light along the bottom and left edge of the glass. That gives the beer glow a bit of mystery and class.

So, after hours of setup, tweaks and problem solving I'm ready to shoot this Bastard! The final step before I take a series of exposures is to generate the beer head. I've tried different methods with varying degrees of success and this is my favorite because it's easy and controllable. I use an oxygen aeration system that I use for homebrewing.

Insert wand and slowly turn on oxygen. Once you reach the desired level turn off oxygen and remove wand...ta-freakin'-da!

I took a series of exposures starting with the Back-light, then adding the Main-light, then the softboxes w/ white card. The final image is a composite made up of 6 images:
  1. Back-light only.
  2. Back-light and Main-light.
  3. Four images for the glass.
Raw adjustments made with Lightroom, compositing done with Photoshop and image enhancements done with the Nik Collection from Google.

Lesson learned: next time use more white cards so I can capture the lettering in one shot. 


November 5, 2014

Beertography | DIY Diffusion Panel

This past summer I built two diffusion panels after watching a video by Tony Roslund. I didn't follow his instructions exactly, but I did end up with similar panels that have performed well.

I started out by making the frames. I wanted a large panel (36"x40") and small panel (18"x36") and as Tony suggested I used canvas stretcher bars. These bars are made of pine and are strong, lightweight and inexpensive. I picked mine up at Hobby Lobby, but you can find them at any art supply store.

They have a tongue and groove miter for easy assembly.

I used some wood glue and corner clamps to construct the frame. You don't need the clamps, but it does help to hold things tight as the glue dries and to keep the frame square.

I let the glue dry overnight and painted it flat white the next day. If left unpainted the wood will be visible when shooting reflective subjects.

The diffusion material I used was Savage Translum Diffusion because it's what I have on hand. Tony used Roscoe 3008 Tough Frost sold in rolls or by the sheet.

I cut a piece of diffusion material about 1" wider than the frame and attached it with staples. You could use double-sided tape to attach the diffusion material as Tony suggested, but I felt staples would be easier to work with.

Once the material was in place I cut the excess off by using a sharp knife and the edge of the frame as a guide.

To hold the panels in place I use microphone stands, pvc pipe and "A" clamps. I like to use mic stands for diffusers and reflectors because they have a small foot print and are adjustable in height. Besides, I have a ton of them.

A quick test shot to see how they perform. I have the large panel (36"x40") on the left and the small panel (18"x36") on the right. Behind the panels I have studio flashes with a 30"x10" softboxes.

The panels do a great job of diffusing the light and provide a soft reflection along the edges of the bottle. This is an easy inexpensive project that delivers a tremendous bang for your buck. A couple of hours, some inexpensive materials and you too can have diffused light just like the pros!

August 15, 2014

Behind-The-Scenes | Drake's IPA


On a a recent business trip to San Francisco I decided to squeeze in a photo shoot. I usually shoot in my studio where I can control the lighting, but for this shoot I wanted to use available light expand my skills. So I packed my luggage with the usual stuff along with some items I would need for the shoot. I brought my Nikon D700, 28-75mm f/2.8, tripod, small light stand, reflector and a flag.

I stayed at the Hilton in Chinatown and luckily got a room with balcony. The balcony was roomy enough for the shoot and it had some interesting outdoor furniture I could use. Walls were made of concrete and the balcony divider was made of glass, as was the sliding door. All that glass will definitely cause me issues with reflections, but the walls will help bounce some light into the scene. Now that I have my location picked out and a shooting surface identified I need to get me some beer. I headed to the closest liquor store I could find and picked up a six-pack of Drake's IPA.

The next morning I had a couple of free hours prior to my business meeting so I decided to take some test shots to see what I might be up against. First thing I noticed was the reflections in the bottle. As expected, those are going to be a problem but I can fix that during the shoot by using flags. The next thing I noticed was the backside of the label. That's a distraction I can fix by cutting off some of the label. The last thing I noticed was the stripes that are visible through the glass. The beer is light in color and the stripes will likely look a bit strange.

Much better with a trimmed label. Luckily for me the room had a sewing kit equipped with a small pair of scissors...off to my meeting.

After my meeting I strolled down Columbus Ave on my way to Coit Liquor. I couldn't visit San Francisco without picking up some of the areas finest brews. I also stopped by the Rogue Alehouse and enjoyed a couple of brews and some tasty tacos and headed back to my room for the shoot.

By the time I got back to my room it was early evening and the sun was fading fast. I had a couple of hours of daylight left so I need to get down to business. The direction of light had changed dramatically since my morning test shots so some rearranging was in order. Once I was happy with the composition I took a test shot to see what issues I would need to eliminate. The first issue to address is the reflection of the sky in the upper portion of the bottle.

To remove that reflection I clamped a flag (black foamboard) to a small light stand and positioned it to the right of the bottle.

With that reflection under control, I turned my attention to the glass. I poured enough beer into the glass to reach a predetermined spot. As expected, the gap in the wooden slats causes a strange striped pattern in the body of the beer that while interesting, is an issue I want to eliminate. What SRM is that anyway?

To remove the stripes I placed a small white reflector (white foamboard) behind the glass. That should remove the stripe and provide a nice beer glow.

I poured a fresh glass and took another shot. Turns out the reflector was a tad too small and didn't provide an even glow. I also noticed that some new reflections had cropped up. That's what happens when your light source keeps moving. Because of these issues my original plan of capturing this image in one shot has been derailed. I decided to capture multiple images and blend them together in a composite.

I decided to captured the body with three shots so the beer glow has consistent tones. For the first capture I placed the reflector so I have complete coverage on the right edge on the glass. The next capture the reflector was centered behind the glass and covered most of it. The last capture the reflector was placed to cover the left edge.

At this point I have all the captures I need for the glass of beer, so I remove it from the scene to facilitate the captures I need for the bottle. I take a test shot to see what issues I need to address. Reflections, as usual. These reflections are bouncing off the sliding glass door to the left of the bottle, a bit off the surface and the balcony divider right behind the camera. It's not all bad news, I can use the label from this shot in the final composite.

To remove reflections I usually use black flags. Problem is I only have one and it's already being used. Time to improvise. I packed a black t-shirt that should work just fine. I place it on a hanger so it hangs somewhat flat and hand hold it to the left of frame. That took care of some of the reflections, what's left is caused by the wooden surface and the balcony divider behind the camera.

To remove the surface reflection I placed half the t-shirt on the table and held up the other half to block the reflections from the sliding glass door. I still have more reflections to clean up from behind the camera, but I'm all out of flags and I'm not diggin' the stripes visible in the bottle anyway. I'll fix that by under exposing the shot by one stop.

That's better. By under exposing I darkened the entire image and managed to reduce the distracting reflections and stripes in the top portion of the bottle. I'll clean up what's left in Photoshop.

The composite is made of five captures. Three for the glass of beer and two for the bottle. Here's a screenshot of the images layered in Photoshop.

With the composite built, there is still a little more work to do. Clone out the last of the reflections, add more texture to the head, smooth out beer tones, darken the bottle, lighten the label and add more texture to the surface to emphasize the grain.

While the final image appears as though I just grabbed my camera and snapped a picture, you can see that it's much more involved than that. Identifying and eliminating distraction isn't easy at first, in fact it will drive you mad! But if you learn to identify and remove them your beertography will improve greatly.