Bottles and Extras, Vol. 17, Issue 3 (Summer 2006), pp. 47-51

by Robin R Preston

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

Shooting Shots: Part III

This is the final installment in a three-part "Shooting Shots" series that discusses some of the issues one faces when attempting to document a shot collection photographically.  In this issue, I'll provide some specific ideas about how to bring out the best in your shots, however photogenic (or not) they might be.

I should preface this edition with two disclaimers. First, while I developed some sense of how various lighting conditions affect the final image during my nature photography days, I make no claim of expertise.  Don't be afraid to experiment on your own because it's more than likely that you'll produce images that are better and more compelling than any you see here.  Second, I'm a cheapskate. I'd far rather spend money on glass than photographic gizmos, so if I can get by with a camera and tripod and a clean background (even if only the sky: see below), then so much the better.  I'm assuming that you feel similarly, but if you have the funds, you could probably put together a small photographic studio for just a few hundred dollars and that would add to the convenience and reproducibility of your documentation sessions.

Our review of good, bad and ugly images in the last installment taught us that creating a pleasing photo of a glass requires that we mount the camera on a tripod, provide a uniform and contrasting background, and be aware of potential reflections. So what next?

Before beginning any photo shoot, you should make it a habit to wash your glasses. Even if kept in a china cabinet, glasses are magnets for airborne dust and grease, so fill a plastic tub with lukewarm water, add a dash of liquid dish detergent, and wash very gently using a new sponge or soft cloth. Under NO circumstances should you use scourer or abrasive pad. If you're considering putting them in the dishwasher, call 1-800-911-SHOTS to receive a professional intervention. Rinse and allow them to drain, then pat dry with a lint-free cloth (rubbing weakens the label, even if ever-so-slightly). All this takes time, but if you want a photo you can be proud of, then the glass has to be dust-free and glittering.

I’ll cover three different photographic scenarios, 1) shooting indoors with natural light, 2) shooting outdoors with natural light, and 3) shooting indoors with artificial light.  Before launching into full documentation mode, I would strongly suggest a period of experimentation using a duplicate Sunny Brook, Rieger's O! So Good, Kellerstrass, or other expendable glass you have at hand, with the exception of a Hayner.  That's because cylinders bounce reflections at more acute angles than the more common shots: you need to practice with a regular glass before tackling other forms.

1) Shooting Indoors, Natural Light
I work indoors almost exclusively because the light is directional and easier to control. It also avoids the need to take along a snow shovel and a hot Thermos during winter months. The indoors/natural light technique is the most difficult to pull off successfully and can be endlessly frustrating, but it does produce exceptionally flattering images with inky, liquid contrast and sun-kissed rims. 

There are several issues we need to address: suitable backgrounds, the quality of the light source, and how to minimize reflection and achieve maximal contrast between label and backdrop.

Background: Because most pre-pro shots have a white frosted label, they can be shown off to their fullest advantage against a dark background. Black is as dark as it gets, although it sets a somber tone that, while ideal for photo-documentation, can become positively funereal if used to excess. Since writing a short instructional piece for advocating the use of black, eBay has been inundated with white-on-mourning shots and the gloom is almost palpable!   Ideal backgrounds include black, navy blue, claret red, and forest green. I periodically visit local craft stores such as Jo-Ann Fabrics or Michael's and head to their fabric and felt section in search of new backdrops.  Buy a piece at least 3 foot square to allow plenty of room for maneuver.

You could also use picture-framer's mat board (more expensive but the fine texture of the surface is difficult to beat) or poster board (patchy and usually has a distracting sheen), and then visit The Home Depot or Lowe’s and buy a couple of spring clamps to lock  the sheet on a convenient table top [Figure 3]. The ideal photographic background is seamless: the fabric or board transitions from horizontal to vertical in a smooth three-foot arc that contains no distracting folds or creases.  Use a pile of heavy books to provide support for the seamless at the rear.

Figure 3.
Setting up for a photo shoot.

Mount your camera on a sturdy tripod and create a seamless background using fabric, construction paper, or poster board.  Immobilize the leading edge of the seamless with clamps to prevent it moving unexpectedly during the shoot.   A pile of books provides a convenient support for the rear of the seamless.  The sole source of light is a window immediately above and behind the camera at a distance of 3 or 4 feet.  The tripod shown is made by Bogen and has a three-way pan-and-tilt head.  I'm using my digital camera to document the set-up: the old Pentax 35 mm SLR is just for demonstration purposes!

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