Monday, November 15, 2010

Beauty at the Bottom - What is it? The story. And a bit of "how to".

"Beauty at the Bottom: Red Wine 2"

The above photograph is one of my best sellers of all time. When people view it, they either know exactly what it is and smile big, or they ask "what is that?" If you need a little help, think of the view your tonsils would get if you took a big swig straight out of your favorite wine bottle while watching television. Still confused? What you are looking at is a red wine bottle tilted on it's side with a little bit of the beverage still in it. The camera lens is small and is looking right down inside the mouth of the bottle. For this shot, a television behind the bottle provides the main light source, creating a magical colorful kaleidoscope-like view of a magical beverage.

The whole "Beauty at the Bottom" series has made me a decent amount of money, but it also gets me involved in many fun conversations. Once people get past the "what is that?" guessing game, they always want to know how I came up with the idea. Photographers always want to know how I shot it. So, I thought I'd share...
It all started back in 1997 when I moved to South Lake Tahoe for a winter to live with my sister and to work as a photographer at Heavenly Ski Resort. When I first moved and arrived at her home in my car filled with all my belongings (not much), she was out of town so I had the place to myself for a couple days. I didn't know anyone in town yet so after I settled in, I picked up a 6 pack of beer and turned on the TV. After about the fourth one, for some reason I looked down inside the almost empty bottle. I saw the light from the television dancing around, reflecting off the glass and liquid, creating psychedelic colors I had to capture. 

So, I got out my trusty old camera and had some fun shooting down inside the bottles for a while.  A few  8x10's of those original images are out there somewhere but they are no longer available for purchase. I hand held the bottle for those photos so they were slightly out of focus and they no longer make the cut.  Lesson learned...

That brings us to the "how". Most of the beer and wine photos in the series were shot in 2002 on 35mm Fuji Velvia slide film with my Olympus OM-1. Most of the new tequila photos were shot on my Canon 1Ds Mark III, a digital camera. But the one thing all the photos in this series have in common, and the big secret, is the lens I used. It is an old Quantaray macro lens that my Grandfather gave me, 55mm 1:3 with an Olympus mount. I now own an adaptor for the lens so I can use it on my Canon digital cameras. The thing that makes this lens work is the size of the glass on it, which is about the size of a quarter. It butts up perfectly with the mouth of the bottle and I can photograph down inside it. All of the 2002 and older photos in this series were photographed with a television behind the bottle to provide light and color. The new ones have a variety of backgrounds like poster board, computer monitor, fire, and snow with a variety of lighting types. Pictures are worth a thousand words so here's a few of the set up. 

Photograph using an El Ultimo Agave tequila bottle. CLICK HERE to view the result of this set up. 

Photograph using a Fortaleza tequila bottle. CLICK HERE to view the result of this set up. 

Photograph using a Corralejo tequila bottle. CLICK HERE to view the result of this set up. 

As you can see in the bottom example, I use two tripods for these photos. The exposures vary and can be anywhere from a fraction of a second to thirty seconds long. Taping the bottle to a second tripod or stabilizing it by some other means is a must if you want sharp photos. I also use mirror lock up and a shutter release cable for even less camera shake and therefore sharper photos. The aperture settings also vary as different depth of fields can create a very different look to the same bottle and setup. 

Oh yeah, another common question is "Did you use photoshop to get those colors?" Although I do use Photoshop to process my raw digital images or scanned 35mm slides, I make only very minor adjustments to the contrast, color, and other basic settings to match the slide or what I saw.  If you were to look down inside the bottle with your eye, you would pretty much see the same thing that is on the final print. Disclaimer: Do not look down inside your bottle of alcohol, alcohol burns when it spills on your eye, not responsible for any damage to your eye or to your camera should you try to recreate these photos....

"Beauty at the Bottom: Tequila 8"

Most of the backgrounds and lighting I use are all about getting a certain color I want. But the image above is a little different. Casa Noble Tequila is an organic tequila, so that inspired me to use organic lighting and background colors. This one was shot outside using natural sun light and some snow covered rocks behind the bottle were used to add a bit of color to the light blue bottle.

So, there's a bit about some of my most fun images that work great as conversation pieces. I hope you enjoy the photos and the story. If you have any questions about them, please post a comment below and ask.  Here's a slideshow of the whole series, CHEERS!

-Scott Thompson

For purchasing information, please view the "Beauty at the Bottom" gallery and click on individual images. Available as large fine art prints, gift items, and as stock photography.