In the words of Emril Lagasse, “lets kick it up a notch!,” which is exactly what we did on a recent Maker’s Mark 46 shoot by bringing fire to the table. Why?
Well, for those of you that don’t know, bourbon has to be aged in new charred Oak barrels, and to get that alligator skin inside, they torch the hell out of them (click here). So fire is very much a part of making bourbon, and, hence, a sensible addition to this image.
Now, you can’t add fire to just any bottle shot; there are a few things you needs to keep in mind otherwise it becomes a gimmick. First, the bottle design needs to be strong and domineering. Second, the label needs to be minimal and allow the fire to shine through. The Maker’s Mark 46 bottle satisfies both of these! Now ... off to production.
For those of you wondering, “is that real fire?,” it is. Although rendering in fire is an option, predicting and simulating the nuances of the real McCoy would be hard and time consuming in post. So first, we needed to find a safe place for this production. A studio with high ceilings (and fire extinguishers), or outside on a nice windless day works best.
Second came bottle selection and prep. Since dipping bottles in and making seals out of wax is not an exact science, we reviewed a dozen or so bottles to get one that was photogenic. Then, the back label needed to be removed. Usually a razor and Goof-Off is all you need, but, like all painted labels, this was screen-printed enamel and kiln fired on. This bottle needed to be partial submerged in acid to dissolve the label. (Easy but takes a day or two.)
Next is staging and lighting. The set is just a dark piece of wood with two pieces of slate roofing tiles on a sawhorse, slightly raised. Behind the slate, and just out of view, is a 2x3 wall stud used for the fire. The lighting comprised of two soft boxes, a strip box, two snootted lights, a gridded light, bounce/black cards, and a couple of reflectors. It’s really important that the bottle look just as good without the fire as with to be successful.
Now it was time to add the fire, which was the simplest part. Before lighting up the entire stud, we did tests to see what shutter speed would work best; 1/125s was perfect. Then, rubber cement was spread on the stud and lit, and repeated. Also, keep in mind, fire is not matter; it is a form of energy, which neither absorbs nor distorts light, meaning it only added, not subtracted or blocked, light.
Post product was also easy. A slight blend of the image with the reflector (without fire) was layered into the main shot with the fire, and the lettering was brightened a little. Also, the overall lighting did not do the wax seal justice, so we shot that separately and dropped it in. And last, the faint remnants of the back label were completely removed.