Mad Men Lighting

            As an artist, inspiration can come from almost anywhere at unsuspected times.  Such was the case with a recent image I created of a Bourbon, Neat. 

            A Bourbon, Neat is a relatively simple drink; just bourbon in a rock glass, minus the rock.  The propping is minimal, so the lighting needs to be intriguing and flawless.  I was not quite sure what I was going to do, and eventually put my efforts into another drink, an Old Fashion (see below). 

            Since I knew an Old Fashion was Don Draper’s favorite, I decided to look at Mad Men stills for reference on propping.  This is when I saw a still of Betty Draper sitting in a smoky bar silhouetted by the sun (click here) and instantly knew this was the look I wanted for the Bourbon, Neat.  Now it was just producing it. 

            To start I decided to allow the rock glass to take up most of the image, making it, and the black coffee table, the center of focus.  This also sent the background almost completely out of focus, giving me the advantage of creating a believable set from simple supplies.

            The background is just a chair and a black sweep with a large square hole cut in it.  A piece of fabric was hung in front of the hole to simulate a window, and 1/8 diffusion was tapped to the back of it.

            To light the image, I first concentrated on shaping the glass and the front of the set with strobes.  A strip light was placed to the right, accenting the side of the glass, and a large soft box was placed on the left, angled behind a diffusion panel, producing a sweeping gradient on the front of the glass.  A small gridded soft box lit the chair, and a slight ceiling bounce provided overall fill.  The color temperature was set to 5600K, producing a slightly warm tone. 

            For my “sunlight,” a 650w tungsten Fresnel was placed behind the window zoomed onto the glass.  Aside from silhouetting the glass, this light also produced a slight glow in the 1/8 diffusion but was not enough to brighten the “window” to my liking.  So two 750w tungsten floodlights were placed behind the set, out of view, to further brighten the 1/8 diffusion and window.  Last, to reinforce my sunlight, a scrimmed 150 tungsten Fresnel was used to light the base of the glass. 

            The exposure was for one second, which gave dominance to the tungsten lights.  Also, I did not gel or color correct any of the tungsten sources, which is how I produced that orange sunset glow.  And, for the final touch, I lit a dozen candles on the floor and blew them all out right before capturing the final image.