A Trappist Experience

            Chimay, a beer that sparks the taste buds, is one of the most celebrated ales in this world and probably the most well known of the 11 Trappist breweries.  Their dominance over dubbels, triples, and quadruples dates back to the 1850s, which, by most standards, is a damn good run.  So when I shot their Grand Reserve, the “blue” version, my goal was to spark a feeling of being in an old world drinking hall with the Chimay bottle gleaming in the darkness. 

            Unfortunately there was no budget to rent out a murky drinking hall, not to mention trying to find one in the “new world” would have been tough.  I had to settle with producing and lighting a set to simulate the experience.  This may sound difficult, but with a little creativity it is very achievable, especially with a dark image.  Here’s how. 

            The front of the set needed the most attention and, to keep it rustic, we choose two rough-cut planks of cocobolo for a table.  Unfortunately this was the only cocobolo we had, so for another table and step behind we used walnut stained pine and old slate roofing shingles.  For the backdrop, a cross bar supported two planes of plywood painted with chalkboard paint.  Not exactly perfect, but these background elements would be of focus and dark that no one would notice.  Now it was time for the lighting. 

            I can’t go into detail in what we did, because that would make this post far too long, but here’s a quick run down.  Five strobes were used; two side lights with soft boxes, one bare bulb with a deep red gel (to simulate glowing fire), another with the Profoto Narrow Beam Reflector with a blue gel (for soft moonlight), and a standard reflector cross polarized to the lens.  Additionally, one tungsten Fresnel was illuminating the bottle with another lighting up the background.  Last, three candles were added on set for depth, and five more used just out of frame to create flame reflections on the bottle.  There were plenty of bounce/black cards and gold foil used, as well as compositing of different captures to make the steamed beer glass perfect. 

            With a little ingenuity, you should be able to simulate most experiences in studio.  Here are some test captures, and the final, showing how we “built” the image.