1 beer bottle, 5 flash positions

Golden Sheep Ale, beer, Black Sheep brewery

There are numerous tutorials on the internet explaining how to photograph bottles of beer, wine, vodka (insert tipple of your choice). However, they all consist of multiple light set-ups, many of which would be very expensive to replicate in your own home. I decided to see if I could recreate a similar image using a single Yongnuo speedlight. Here is how I did it.

Because I was going to have to re-position the speedlight several times during the shoot I locked the camera onto a tripod. I was attempting this in my lounge, mid-afternoon so I dialed in settings similar to those used to create low key images (ie. shutter speed 1/200 & aperture f/16 to give a completely black image). After focusing on the bottle I switched to manual to stop the camera hunting between images. I also had the 10 second shutter delay function active as I didn’t have my remote switch handy.

I placed the speedlight as follows:

  1. Directly behind the bottle (power 1/128). This would give the glow inside.
  2. Facing down onto the bottle with the pop down diffuser on the flash.
  3. From the side & slightly behind the bottle (power 1/32), still diffused. This would highlight the edges (see below). Repeat for the other side.
  4. In front of the bottle, angled 45 degrees downwards (1/2 power), diffused. This is to illuminate the label.

Side lit beer bottle

Once I had my images it was simply a case of uploading them to Photoshop Elements, dragging each one in turn onto one another, checking their alignment (very important just in case the camera had moved slightly), adding a layer mask Alt + Add Layer Mask & revealing the parts of that image I required using a soft edged brush.



Daytime low key photographs

My previous attempts at low key images had either been taken on a darkened theatre stage or, long after the sun had dipped below the horizon. Both situations providing an almost pitch black environment making it relatively easy for me to create the desired lighting effect. This time I was shooting around 1 o’clock on a bright summer’s day & so I needed to re-think my methods.

I selected ISO 100 & set the shutter speed to 1/200 which is my maximum flash sync speed. With the speedlight turned off (mounted on a stand & firing through a white flash umbrella), I took a shot with aperture f/11. However, the resulting image wasn’t completely black. I couldn’t increase my shutter speed to make the image darker because I was already at my maximum sync speed, so I would have to reduce the aperture size (f/16 did the trick). Now I could take shots knowing the only thing illuminating the object, in this case a cymbal, was the light from my flash.

Once I had the the image loaded onto my computer the only things to do were a black & white conversion, apply minimal sharpening & that was it. Well, that was going to be it but as I continued to play around with the image I discovered I really liked this pin hole camera style effect achieved by adding a vignette.

Week 52

Settings: f/2.8, 1/15 second, ISO 100, 50mm prime

Set up. Open a cookbook near the middle & turn two pages in on themselves to create a heart shape. Arrange various baking props around the book. The camera was placed on a tripod.

Opinion. I have seen numerous pictures similar to this one however, the background is usually quite plain to emphasise the shape created. I wondered if it would work with props in order to create an “I love baking” message.

Week 26

Settings: f/2.8, 1/3200 second, ISO 100, 50mm prime

Set up. Stepping out of my front door.

Opinion. Having taken a photograph of a dandelion seed head a couple of posts back, I stepped out of the front door the other day & spotted these in my garden. Equally impressive with their feather like fronds, I thought I’d try to capture a good image before nature took its course & the wind dispersed them. To begin with, I attempted to get an image with three of these blooms in shot with only one being in focus. However, despite trying from various angles (the side & even positioning the camera below) I found the background too cluttered & distracting. So I opted for a position directly above, shooting downwards. Post production, I simply chose a slightly closer crop & decided on a square frame.

(Apologies, I don’t know the name of this plant but if anyone out there does, please let me know).

Week 23

Settings: f/2.8, 1/250 second, ISO 100, 50mm prime

Set up. Find a dandelion seedhead (you may need to remove some clutter to improve the composition).

Opinion. Inspired by a post about dandelions by Pear & Bulb last month, I wanted to attempt the black & white image they’d taken. I took it hand-held before converting the image to black & white in Elements. Finally, I added a slight vignette.

Week 17

Settings: f/2.0, 1/1000 second, ISO 100, 50mm prime

Set up. Sat at a cafe on the streets of Lisbon, people watching.

Opinion. While not strictly speaking street photography as such, I do like this candid photo of my friend Ben on the phone to his girlfriend while we were away recently. I know it’s not as crisp as it might be (possibly down to using too wide an aperture) but I like the fact I’ve caught him in mid-laugh & the way the background is really out of focus.

Week 11

Settings: f/4.5, 1/50 second, ISO 100, 50mm prime

Set up. I took a few of my wife’s freshly baked blueberry seeded muffins & arranged them on a plate. I placed this on a table near the kitchen window, with a large, white dinner plate held on the opposite side to reflect some of the light back (it was an overcast day & so I didn’t need to diffuse the sunlight coming through the window). With the camera on a tripod I selected AV mode & set a large aperture in order to obtain a narrow depth of field. I also focused the shot manually & set white balance to “auto”. Finally, after checking the histogram for any exposure problems, I dialled it up by two-thirds to compensate for any clipping.

Opinion. I have to confess, food photography was not high on my list of styles to attempt when I began this project back in early January. However, I am quite pleased with the result. I think I was fortunate with the lighting conditions provided by mother nature on the day. A couple of tips I picked up while searching the internet beforehand definitely paid off too (namely, to use a wider aperture to focus on what’s important & to reflect some of the window light back onto the subject). Then it was just a matter of composition (I’d started shooting from a higher vantage point but found more pleasing results when I got lower down).

Week 7

Settings: f/9, 1/160 second, ISO 100, 50mm prime

Set up. During a day out at Brockhole (on Lake Windermere) I thought I’d attempt the classic “using a pier as a leading line” shot.

Opinion. This week’s image involved very little post production editing, partly because I’d taken the original image as a jpeg (I know, I know, always shoot in RAW format) & therefore, couldn’t do a huge amount for fear of turning the final shot grainy & partly, because I didn’t think it needed it. So a little curves adjustment, a slight burning of the sky to bring out the clouds & that was it. Speaking of clouds, I thought they looked quite dramatic & so increased the contrast before creating a sepia version. What do you think?

Brockhole pier sepia

As you may have noticed, I’m still on my 50mm prime kick which some would argue isn’t the best for landscape photography. However, for most of the day I was taking snaps of the kids & didn’t want to be changing my lens all the time. Perhaps this is why the pier looks slightly out of focus when you zoom in a little? Or perhaps it was just my technique!

Week 6

Settings: f/6.30, 1/125 second, ISO 100, 50mm prime

Set up. The witch hazel tree in my back garden is in flower this time of year & produces these unusual yellow flowers, similar in appearance to lemon zest. I happened to notice one morning that a single branch was in direct sunlight while the rest of the tree was in shade & thought it might make an interesting photo. I fitted my 50mm prime lens as I wanted to have the flowers in the background out of focus.

Opinion. While not a bad idea in principle I’m slightly disappointed with the final image. I can’t quite put my finger on why though. Perhaps it’s the composition or, perhaps it’s just not the image I had in my head when I set out. Also, due to the fact it was in direct sunlight, the particular flower I focused on was very bright & caused some clipping issues in post production. Maybe dialing back the exposure a stop would have helped avoid this problem?

Week 3

Settings: f/14, 1/50 second, ISO 100, 50mm prime

Set up. A walk in the fog with my camera.

Opinion. At last, I finally made it outside this week!

After a light covering of snow Saturday evening, I woke Sunday morning to a thick blanket of fog & so set off, armed with my 50mm prime lens, with the aim of capturing the silhouette of a tree in the mist. I’d recently read an article on the “Digital Photography School” website where the author (Tim Gilbreath) had championed the merits of using a ‘nifty fifty’ for landscape shots as opposed to their usual forte, portraits (http://digital-photography-school.com/5-quick-reasons-use-nifty-fifty-landscape-photography/). He claimed the added clarity of using a prime lens over a zoom provided better end results. Plus, as he pointed out in the article, I definitely found myself having to think more about my shots (considering angles & distance) as I walked about rather than merely adjusting the zoom.

After failing to locate a lone tree fit for my purpose I chose the above composition & proceeded to experiment with different apertures to see how the increasing depth of field affected the overall image. I eventually settled for this shot. I think compositionally it could have been stronger if the fence post was slightly more to the left allowing the trunk of the tree to be viewed in its entirety. However, the angle of the barbed wire fence hindered this result.