Well, it’s day two of Covid-19 lockdown here in Scotland so I thought I’d aim to post a picture every day or so. Lockdown here essentially means staying at home apart from some very limited exceptions including taking some time outside to have fresh air and excercise whilst maintaining social distancing. I am aiming to have a daily walk and to take my camera with me. Those might offer up some shots.
Otherwise it’s a case of what can be done indoors. To that end I thought I’d share this photo of a bottle of Ardbeg (it’s a personal favourite).
My business as a commercial photographer is in hibernation until such time as the restrictions are removed or reduced to a level that allows business to resume. Part of what I offer is product photography, and I thought it would be fun to see what can be done with minimal resources. So here is the story of the shot.
Normally, doing a product shoot we begin with a client brief noting the characteristics and mood they want to convey. In this instance I was doing this for myself, for fun and experimentally. I should be clear that Ardbeg are not sponsoring this blog or supporting me in any way.
In the absence of brief I began by thinking about how I taste and experience Ardbeg and of what it evokes for me. My whisky tastes are divided between summer and winter. Summer is a time for lighter Strathspey and Highland malts. For winter I like the deeper warmth and peaty flavours of the island malts. Winter is a dark time, especially the futher north we are, and so I wanted the photo to reflect that but to contain a hint of promising light. As I reflected on the flavours I came to the conclusion that, for me, Ardbeg is dark, smokey and mysterious. Those then, were the mood cues I wanted to pick up on.
There was a lot of experimentation before I ended up with this shot. Lighting, background, staging etc. Here’s the mix of things that finally came together to produce the shot.
Background: I had tried using a black backdrop but it was just too much. After trying lots of things I settled on suing an Ordnance Survey map. Ideally it would be one of Isla but as I don’t have that map (and can’t now pop out to buy one) I settled for a coastal map just to give a hint at land and sea. I also needed that to drop way back in terms of the lighting so that it became a subtle backdrop.
Staging: I wanted to have the bottle raised and tried setting it on an elevated glass platform so that I could light from below, but I just wasn’t happy with the results that was giving me. I settled for a small wooden crate type box which I had bought a couple of years ago in Ikea s a potential prop. It would become very significant for one aspect of the shot – more on that later.
Lighting: I tried different set-ups using Godox strobes but while I could generate some degree of the dark mood I wanted, I still wasn’t happy with how things were looking though felt I was getting close. I then decided to pop a small LED light behind the bottle to create some inner glow. The magic worked when I decided to make that the major light source and powered the strobe way back so that it’s more like ambient daylight creeping in from a window. You can see the highlight of this on the bottle neck. Now we were getting there but one vital element was missing.
Back the staging: By now I felt I was getting dark and mysterious bt what about the smokey? Well, I just happen to have some peat cones, and a peaty flavour is one of the notes of Ardbeg. Those peat cones are meant to burn slowly in a room to add a peaty aroma – I’ve been known to do that of a winter’s evening while savouring a wee dram. I remembered that these things give off a little smoke as thy burn so I popped one under the box I was using for staging. That had some gaps between the wooden slats and was small enough to allow the smoke to accumulate without putting the cone out and then to seep gently through the gaps in the box.
And so the elements came together to produce this photo. There was some post-production editing in Lightroom, but it was very minimal. The camera was tripod mounted for stability and locked-off composition. It also allowed for an exposure of 1/8 sec at f8 with an ISO of 200.