The Making of Schlafly: Three Moods of Beer (or Product Photography)
The title of this blog post might be misleading (or disappointing) to some because I’m not going to talk about Schafly the St. Louis brewery or the amazing craft beers they make. I’m not much of drinker, so I know as much about beers as I do cars.
Anyway, my focus in this article is on how I used minimal gear to light a refrigerated Schafly Summer Lager in three ways and created three totally distinct looks. In other words, it’s a study of light and an exercise in product photography.
For those who don’t know me, I specialize in weddings. (For those who don’t know about wedding photography very well, it’s a “melting pot”: from portraiture to photojournalism, from landscape to macro, from food to product, we shoot pretty much all genres of photography. You might think this makes us Jacks of all trades, but to succeed as a wedding photographer you’ll need to be a master of all and exceptional at some.)
As a wedding photographer, I believe in “Less is more.” For me, it’s all about authentic “posing,” minimalist look, organic editing, and doing all this with as little gear as I can get away with. Less gear means less stuff to drag around all day, less time needed to set up, and more time devoted to the couple and to capturing all the fleeting moments on the wedding day.
I’m practicing the same philosophy in this shoot. I will show you how you can bring your artistic visions to life, no more or fancier equipment necessary. Below is a list of gear I used for this product photography shoot:
- Nikon D5100 (instead of my full-frame)
- Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G Lens
- (3) Neewer TT560 Flash Speedlite
- Neewer 16 Channel Wireless Remote Radio Trigger and Receivers kit
Other things you might need:
- A bottle of cold Schafly Summer Lager (or simply a cold beer bottle, or anything non-flat that you would like to photograph)
- Desk with dark top
- (2) 8×10 matted print (or any kind of white cardboard)
- An assistant or light stand
- A grid or snoot (I folded my Rogue Flashbender to create a makeshift snoot)
Low Key Product Photography: Three Lights Setup
To create this low key look, I placed the beer bottle on a desk with dark surface (see below). And I used all three lights listed above: one behind the bottle as rim light, one on the left side of the table and one on the right, both turned sideways. The image below shows how I added one light at a time, which I hope gives you a better idea of my setup.
Because the speedlites were extremely close to the beer bottle, probably 2-3 feet, I set them all on lowest power and feathered the two on the side to avoid hot spots. My camera was set to ISO 500, 1/100 sec, and f/5.6 to have everything in focus and let in as little ambient light as possible. All settings stayed the same throughout the shoot.
High Key Product Photography: Three Lights Setup
I wanted to create a high key look with a similar setup, for which I’d need a white background. I had two matted prints on hand, so I flipped them, put one behind the beer bottle and one underneath: I basically made a mini white seamless backdrop.
Now, instead of having the light in the back pointing directly at the beer bottle, I had my assistant point the light at the mat from above. You might need to use a light stand if you don’t have anyone around to help.
The image below is a pull back shot of my setup. You can see the messy office table that I used, one light on camera left (not shown), one light from above (partially shown), and one light on camera right (shown, didn’t fire).
Dramatic Product Photography: Two Lights Setup
For this image, I used two lights to create a little bit of drama: a kicker light in the back, pointed upwards at the beer bottle; and a light on camera right, pointed downwards at the bottle, with a Rogue Flashbender on and folded into a snoot. The snoot helps prevent light spill and creates a spotlight on the body of the beer bottle, illuminating only the part you intend to.
Below are the three images for side-by-side comparison:
Believe it or not, this was actually the first time I’ve tried something like this. I can immediately see room for improvement, especially for the first and third images. For instance, there is some light spill on the desktop, which doesn’t bother me very much; rim light didn’t create enough separation for the upper half of the bottle; and so forth.
But not too bad for a first attempt, huh?