Sometimes you just have to go back and do a shot over again. I’m working on a book of cocktail images, and my designer had chosen the martini image on the left below for one of the interior pages. I knew it just HAD to be better, so here’s what I did to improve what was originally just a casual snap.
On the left is the shot I had done long ago. On the right is my final redo. Here are the steps in between: I began by gathering my elements: a variety of glasses, shakers, and picks. I knew the format of the book would be square, so while shooting I kept a square crop on my screen as we shot. The basic composition from before was perfect, and since it fit the design I decided to basically copy what I did before.
Our first capture is just to see what things look like under the camera. No lighting other than the ambient room light. Here it’s underexposed but I can see what I need to see. We’re working on a light marble surface at the moment. I’m shooting a medium format camera and start with an 80mm lens, which is a normal focal length. We’ve got a short extension ring to allow us to focus closer.
Let’s get in closer, and see what that big shaker looks like. Might as well try starting to light this. I figure with this composition, the main light needs to come in from the left. Also, to be dramatic and to make the drink look good, it needs to be fairly low and raking.
Let’s get more elements and start working on how they relate. Try a better shaker. That’s ice in the back, in a glass vessel.
I’m curious what a different surface might look like. Do not like! Then we put a lid on the shaker. Helps with the black hole effect, and the shine on the stainless is nice.
The vessel with the ice isn’t working for me, and the ice is just a place holder for olives anyway. Maybe more stainless is the answer.
I finally decide glass is the best back there.
Now, so far everything is STAND IN. The drink is just water right now, and the olives are just to see color. When we’re ready, I’ll use real vodka. It’s much clearer and silvery, and it won’t make little bubbles on the side of the glass. Also, it’ll give us little legs that creep up the side of the glass. And we’ll pick nicer olives – both for the pick and for the bowl in back. We’ll also arrange where the red pimiento shows. Details details details!
I continue to experiment with the light. I’m interested in keeping the olive reflections in the glass, and in darkening the back to focus attention on the cocktail.
Wow, that one on the left looks better! The next one got too dark in back, hit the “undo” button!
The light’s better, and we’ve populated the rear bowl with olives. On the right we give one last try to see if something on the surface helps. Nope!
Whoa — now I STOP! There are so many times when an art director asks me to pull back, so now I try to listen to that little voice that says “leave room to crop.” Even though my intended use is a square, it would be nice to have the ability to make this either a horizontal or a vertical. At this point I really don’t want to move the camera back as this would change the relationships between our elements. So I change from an 80 to a 50mm lens, using a close-up extension again to allow us to focus this close. Since the camera didn’t move, everything should be the same:
On the left is the entire frame, and on the right is our square that we’re composing for.
Here you see possible crops for horizontal and vertical, if I ever need to use the shot this way. I don’t love the way the vertical works, but the horizontal looks great. It’s hard to tell here, but we’ve slightly rotated the crop on that one.
OK, we’re getting closer! I move the camera in from where we were in the uncropped capture above, and we cover the olives with plastic wrap. Time to get our white balance. Shooting a mini Gretag target, we’ll click our neutral picker on the second lightest gray patch
These are cropped into our intended square. We’re checking how much light gets on those olives in back, and also how much there is on the shaker. I’ve closed down one stop to slightly improve focus for the olives, still keeping them a little soft. On the right, we’ve super cleaned a fresh glass and inserted a hero olive pick. The olives are not yet oriented to their best.
Here’s the moment of truth! It’s now been several hours since starting. I’ve super-chilled the vodka, because I want to get natural condensation on the glass. When you can do it, it’s much more effective than spritzing the glass artificially. I pour the drink. At first, it’s so COLD that we get tiny crystals floating on the surface. I continue to shoot as the drink gradually warms up, and as the condensation forms on the glass.
I decide I like one of the last couple frames. The second one above looks too perfect for me, and I prefer the later ones where the condensation starts to clear up on the right side.