As soon as I saw the bottle of Buffalo Trace, I knew I was going to shoot it. I called my sponsor and told him to get over here right away. He was relieved to see I hadn’t shot it at that point, so we popped open the standby bottle, poured a couple of shots, toasted each other, and proceeded to plan on how to light the thing.
It’s hard to believe that I used to shoot products like this on film with a view camera before the days of Photoshop. You could absolutely create stunning images, but our options were incredibly limited compared to what we can do with today’s technology. Photoshop hasn’t made the task of lighting products any easier – quite the contrary! Clients now have huge expectations on the kind of lighting and production we’ll use when shooting their product. And it’s not like there’s some magic Photoshop button that will do it for you.
It’s just that we no longer have to capture the shot on a single sheet of film. Instead we can light every surface of the product exactly the way we want on separate images and then composite them together in a final, incredibly complex shot. All of the lighting you see on this bottle is completely conventional – there’s no faked speculars or Photoshop-built tones on the bottle. Every single tone on the bottle is created by studio lighting – you just couldn’t light a product this way on a single sheet of film.
I sometimes compare Photoshop to a recording studio with my students. It’s just multi-track lighting instead of recording. When recording a band playing a song, an audio engineer would never simply stick all the musicians and singers in a studio with a single microphone and say “go ahead and play.” If they did that, the entire song would be on a single audio track, sound like crap and give them no way to mix the final recording.
Instead, the engineer will put a separate microphone on each guitar and bass. He/She will also mic up the piano, place about 5 microphones on various parts of the drums and mic up each singer. Now when the band is recorded, every instrument and vocal is recorded onto its own track. This way the engineer can pan one instrument one way, and another in a different direction. They can put differing equalization on every instrument, or use variations of reverb or compression, or any of the multitude of audio shaping tools for the studio. They can then use the mixer to turn the guitar up a bit during the solo, or lower the snare drum and push up the bass drum.
Studio product photography is now exactly the same way. Rather than lighting the entire product on a single sheet of film (or digital capture), I will light every aspect of the product separately and then use Photoshop as my mixer in creating the final shot. As the image comes together, I can easily make slight adjustments on this particular specular highlight or shadow. I can stare at the final composite over lunch, and then go back to the studio and do a little more tweaking with each element of the product until it’s perfect in my mind.
That’s how this shot of Buffalo Trace was created – it is a composite made from close to 20 different photographs, and every portion of the bottle had to be lit to perfection. There is nothing fake created in Photoshop – that’s just where I assembled the pieces of the puzzle. If you’d like to see exactly how it was done, you can view the tutorial here.
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Problem liquor photographer
As soon as I saw the bottle of Buffalo Trace, I knew I was going to shoot it. I called my sponsor and told him to get over here right away. He was relieved to see I hadn't shot it at that point, so we popped open the standby bottle, poured a couple of shots, toasted each other, and proceeded to plan on how to light the thing.
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Bluesky is a photography tutorial website created by veteran commercial photographer and college instructor Greg Blue. This site advocates an approach to learning studio & location photography that focuses first on light theory (these are free tutorials). Lighting, camera and post-production techniques are equally important, but should follow the study of lighting theory (these tutorials are also free). The site also offers a host of specific image tutorials that take a mile deep look at theory and technique from the perspective of individual images (these tutorials are members only).