The month of July was a busy one! Amanda and I had several photography assignments, my favorite one being for my good friend Grayson’s new special effects company Howl FX. I will post the images for that shoot soon – we are bound by an NDA for some time. I also helped him with the website for Howl FX. It came rather easy for me – I designed the website, and I and Amanda shot almost all the images for it! Amanda loves these shoots too. Just not the part where I play Psy’s Gangam Style and everyone starts dancing in the middle of the shoot. Other than this one, we also had several headshots and some event photography assignments.
Back to this beverage shoot. The subjects to be photographed were two bottles of wine from Amber Falls Winery based in Hampshire TN (beautiful place, do pay a visit). The red/dry wine is the President’s Choice Syrah and is themed after former US President James Polk. The white wine is called Sarah’s Choice Reisling, which is themed after his wife Sarah. During a busy week, I tasked Amanda to wear her creative hat and come up with concepts for the shoot, to which of course, she (un)willingly obliged. She did an excellent job, which made me think how good she would do if she had a little more time on hand. I admit it was a rushed shoot, and she was not given enough time to come up with the concepts, which she let me know through a barrage of Facebook messages as well as face-to-face conversations. For this one time, I preferred the online chat over a real conversation! Below is her side of the story of how she prepared for the shoot.
PS: You will notice immediately that her style of writing is more eloquent, filled with ornate words like ramekins, or as I would say cups, and parchment, which I refer to as paper. You will also notice the absence of humor. No surprise she doesn’t dance on Gangam Style.
The first step in conceptualizing this shoot, as always, was a little research. This research, specifically, was some of the most fun research one can do; I had to taste the wine!! So I made my way to Amber Falls for some well-deserved wine tasting.
The first wine I tasted - and the most inspiring to me - was the Sarah’s Choice Riesling. I’m a firm believer that behind every strong man, is an equally strong woman. Amber Falls’ decision to feature Sarah’s Choice alongside The President’s Choice in their New Presidential wine series intrigued and excited me into jumping to try this one first! And I was so glad I did. The wine was lightly sweet and delicately fruity with the slightly nutty aroma of dark rich honey. I could immediately see the 19th-century parlor in which I imagined Sarah Childress Polk, the First Lady to our 11th president. The beautiful, slender, blue bottle, the crisp white stars, and the regal portrait on the label all influenced the elements I decided to bring into this photograph.
The second wine on my must taste list was, of course, The President’s Choice Syrah. In contrast to Sarah’s Choice, The President’s Choice was more dry with a touch of spice and a dark, berry aroma. It immediately brought to my mind dark wood floors, old books, and leather wingback chairs. I could so easily see this wine being a president’s choice as he sat in his office buried in parchment and ink. The ornate frame and deep red color of both the background of the portrait on the label and of the wine itself played a big part in my inspiration for this superb Syrah.
I wanted to create a pair of images to represent this presidential couple and the wine artfully produced with them in mind. I gathered my favorite butcher block, some tiny ramekins, flowers from the shop down the road, and headed out to my local grocery store in search of both crisp and vibrant colors, sweet and savory flavors. I was so happy with the resulting image. Each element works together to enhance the overall feeling invoked by these two incredible wines inspired by such important historical figures. Bringing these feelings to life through styling is monumentally challenging, and just as satisfying. But with the right research, inspiration strikes and magic is made.
Alright, yes, magic is made! Once she had the set ready, all I had to do was set the lights, point the camera in the right direction, and shoot! Well, maybe it was a little more involved. I had to observe how every element was lit up. The bottles were my primary focus (pun intended), but I also had to make the props appear enticing. And as we shot, we had to modify the set to ensure the scene doesn’t look too crowded.
Sarah’s Choice Reisling:
This bottle’s geometry is smooth and gentle. I side lit this one and had a wider highlight to accentuate it’s features. And for this set, I had to light different elements individually. The flowers and the cheese are white, so the light was turned down for them. I back lit the bottle, which helped emphasize its blue color. We darkened the blue in post to keep it real. And the red edges of the glass were an afterthought. Not thought of after the shoot, but after we thought we are done. Luckily, I am in the habit of shooting the entire scene, and then concentrating on each element individually. I turned the light and the reflectors around to see what we can get, and we got the red!
President’s Choice Syrah:
The geometry of the bottle is abrupt, that is, the neck changes into the body at a sharp angle. I felt that the bottle would look good ‘edge-lit’, so that’s what I did. The edge lights also served as ‘kicker lighting’ for the props. When you look at the image, you might realize what that means. I didn’t invent that term, but I like it! I thought of back lighting the bottle, but that would have made it look unrealistic. Plus it’s a dark bottle with a dark liquid in it.
Our intern Logan Elder helped us on the shoot. After the shoot, Logan and I helped wrap up by eating some of the props. Neither of us drank the wine though. I didn’t because I had a shoot right after, and he didn’t because he is not 21 and is a good boy.
Now, here’s where I think we could have done better – I can point out at least 5 things I could improve from my end. And people who know me know that I don’t underestimate myself, but I always like to improve. So, I’ll let you guys tell us where we could have done better. Leave your comments – feedback is always appreciated.
PS: Amanda is my creative manager/stylist, and is actually a fun-loving person. I am sure she appreciates humor and doesn’t mind me pulling her leg in this blog.
Mayur is a product photographer in Nashville TN, who refers to himself in the third person in this sentence.