fstoppers - How to Shoot a Classy Looking Whisky Image With a Simple Setup

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Thanks, Walter! I'm so familiar and happy with Dustin Dolby's Workphlow video tutorials that I didn't even bother looking at this one when it came to my attention a week ago at PetaPixel.com. Considering that you so nicely brought it to my attention, I've made the following notes in the order they came to mind as I followed along. That's just in case my thoughts about the video are helpful to others following the thread.
  1. Dolby mentions at the outset that the setup is an entry level setup and that it is a "killer minimal setup." Yet he also mentions that the tabletop is a custom-welded support plate because he could find no good options. Entry-level and killer-minimal setups don't involve anything that's custom manufactured in my book. His tutorials rarely make that kind of mistake. Fortunately, it's not an important screw-up in the context of his overall message.
  2. Dolby says he's not a master at this stuff. Not true! He's most definitely a master!
  3. Notice that his tabletop (the piece of reflective black acrylic) is very small, not much wider than the subject. I'll add that that's really important when using a reflector or a light source such as a flash unit inside a strip box to add a bright reflection to the side of any subject made of reflective material. It's possible to capture that bright reflection extended all the way to the bottom of the subject only if the tabletop is slightly larger than the subject. If the tabletop is significantly larger than the subject, such as in my makeshift studio, that forces the reflector or light source far enough away from the subject that the bright reflection won't extend to the bottom of the subject. Indeed, he calls use of the narrow tabletop "a beautiful freedom" and he's absolutely right. I don't have that freedom, so it's fortunate that I like the look when the bright reflection doesn't extend to the bottom of the subject; not everyone likes that look.
  4. Uh oh. Another screw-up about the entry level setup: He says it's really important to tether the camera to a large screen. Yes, that's nice and can be very helpful, but it's hardly entry-level and is certainly not necessary. The largest screen I've ever tethered to is the monitor built into a small, notebook computer. The last time I used it was at least two years ago because using it taught me what to look for on the camera's LCD.
  5. When Dolby places the strip box behind the diffusion panel, notice what happens to the reflection added to the subject when he changes from placing the strip box in line with the diffusion panel to placing it at a 45-degree angle: the left edge of the reflection becomes more defined and the reflection becomes a gradient. He mentioned that the left edge still wasn't defined enough. He didn't mention that to make that left edge even more defined, he could have ensured that the forward edge of the strip box was touching the diffusion panel.
  6. Dolby mentioned that it can be helpful to remove the rear label of a transparent bottle and that's true. However, sometimes leaving the rear label in place, especially if the bottle is curved such as a wine bottle, can help add a three-dimensional look and help define the shape of the bottle. Whether or not removing the label is helpful has to do with the material the label is made of, the shape and position of the label, the perspective (relationship between camera lens and subject), and of course the look trying to be achieved.
  7. The rest of the video was devoted to using Photoshop to include various parts of several captures in the final image and to digitally alter the various components of the scene. Considering that the thrust of the video was about using a simple, entry-level setup, it's worth noting that without having those pixel-editing skills (whether it's using Photoshop or another software application), it would be extraordinarily difficult to achieve the same excellent look using just one capture, one light source and the very simple setup.
Now that I've completed this diatribe, I'm willing to bet that you'll hesitate next time before bringing another video tutorial to my attention. Sorry that I got carried away!
 
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Walter Rowe
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I love it Mike! I too noted the contradiction of repeatedly emphasizing the simplicity while executing decidedly not simple techniques including all the “simple” masking he prepared in advance so well.

I think the technique you mention where he changes the angle of the strip light is feathering. Rather than directing light straight at the subject you use the edges of the light where it falls off (feathers) to control the spill onto the subject. And as you said moving it right up to the diffusion panel would define the edge even more.
 
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I think the technique you mention where he changes the angle of the strip light is feathering. Rather than directing light straight at the subject you use the edges of the light where it falls off (feathers) to control the spill onto the subject. And as you said moving it right up to the diffusion panel would define the edge even more.
I've never seen that method described as "feathering" but that certainly makes a lot of sense. I first learned of the technique of placing the strip box at a 45-degree angle to the diffusion panel and touching the two together from a video tutorial that took the time time to explain those details. I reserve using that technique for photos that are a bit more important to me because the limited space in my makeshift studio makes it very difficult to make that happen. As an example, there is only barely enough space to make it happen on one side of the subject and not nearly enough space to make it happen on both sides.
 
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Could you do it on one side, then the other, then "simply" blend the two exposures together?
It's possible in theory that that could be done but nailing it would be extraordinarily difficult. That's because I would have to move the stand holding the tabletop and the subject to capture the second photo. Keeping magnification, perspective and the like exactly the same in the second capture would be next to impossible in practice. I could make those corrections in Photoshop but doing so could become very tedious.

If I used a really small tabletop such as the one Dolby used in his tutorial, there probably would be enough room to do as you suggest. However, doing so would require temporarily moving the stand I regularly use, which has about 50 tools hanging on all four sides, outside the makeshift studio. Though the stand has casters, I would still have to partially lift it to get it over the small step and threshold at the doorway to the studio and I would have to repeat the process to return it to the studio. I do all of that about once each year to do a thorough cleaning of the studio and it's a real pain in the neck.
 
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By the way, we discussed earlier that the small tabletop Dolby used is really beneficial but that's true only when capturing the subject in the style he captured it -- displaying the subject and its reflection and keeping everything else dark or black. If he had wanted to capture a scene that displays shadows on an opaque tabletop, opaque background and an horizon and possibly include other items on the tabletop, the tabletop he used is too small to do that. He would have had to have captured several parts of the scene separately and then "built" the scene in Photoshop, much as he did when he added the drinking glass. That's one way to get the job done but that process wouldn't be nearly as much fun for me.

Another small detail that I forgot to mention is that Dolby kept his camera horizontally positioned even though the image of the subject as it is created by the camera would have been larger if he had vertically positioned the camera. I remember him mentioning in another tutorial that his clients don't need large file sizes, so that's understandable. However, I always try to keep the subject's magnification as large as possible just in case I unexpectedly decide to make a large print. As an example, I wonder what would happen if his client unexpectedly wanted to print the image large enough to fill the side of a large truck. It seems to me that it's always a good discipline to make the subject as large as possible at the point the camera creates the file.
 
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