It’s been a while since I last did a fun shoot of a random image concept that’s been playing around in my head. This one, in particular, was planned as far back as mid-December last year. I remember since I was at the Rockwell Christmas Bazaar when I came up with the idea of shooting this.
So the plan: Beer bottles on/in a bed of ice with light coming from beneath the ice for what I imagined would make it look clear and crisp. Think looking into a cooler filled with ice and these delicious beers waiting snugly in their cold embrace. That’s what I was going for.
As you would see later on, the plan changed quite a bit the more thought I put into the photo. The issues that I foresaw and the adjustments resulting from these I will elaborate on now. First, I need to get some light shooting from behind the bottles so how do I waterproof my flashes AND get them to be hidden behind the bottles. This bit was tricky but I decided to throw my lights in Ziploc bags and tape the openings shut. Problem solved.
Second, flashes can now be placed underneath the ice but that would lead to hotspots in the ice that would just turn spots around it completely white. This would render the use of the ice pretty much useless since you’ll lose most of the detail anyway to the flash. Then it hit me. Why am I insisting that the lights have to be placed underneath the ice? I was going for the cooler look but it doesn’t have to follow that I use an actual cooler for the photo. The solution: Use a clear walled container that I can shoot light through from outside the ice.
Third, shooting ice should be like shooting glass meaning what you are actually capturing are reflections that will be bouncing off of the material. I was planning to shoot this in the condo where the floors are brown. This would easily come through and give a weird warm color to the ice, something that you won’t really associate with a cold object. Instinct would initially shout at me at this point, “USE WHITE!” However, this won’t really be the best choice for this situation. For the same reason as the second issue, white will kill the detail in the photo. The best bet will be a dark background. For this shoot, I used the doormat that was a dark charcoal grey. (I also gelled the ice light blue to give a cooler tone to the photo and give the ice a little bit of a nudge)
Fourth, I only had three lights at most to shoot the image and I knew that this will not be enough to get all the light that I would need on the ice and on the bottles. My solution to this was to shoot with my infrared shutter release and move my main light and ice light frame by frame. Since I was working with ice, I knew I had to work quickly to make sure that the bottles don’t move between frames from the ice melting beneath the bottles.
With all that figured out in my head, it was time to finally put all this theory into practice and actually set up and shoot the image. Honestly, from here on the process becomes pretty straightforward. Planning does pay off!
Gear used was pretty basic. Two flashes (main and ice with the ice light gelled blue), two triggers, a cheap softbox, and, of course, my camera. Honestly, you can go as cheap or as expensive as you would want with my set up leaning towards the cheaper side of things.
I tested out the framing first with just the container and the five bottles without any ice to make sure that my lens can get all of them in one image. Once I confirmed that, I ran out to get two bags of ice and dumped all of them into my clear container. Carefully place the bottles on top of the ice, put a few cubes on top of the bottles and we’re ready to start shooting! From here on I’ll let the images do the talking.
Once I had all my base frames, I imported all of them into Lightroom. I picked out the images for the ice shots and opened them in Photoshop as layers. Since the camera did not move, I knew that all the images should align perfectly assuming that the ice beneath the bottles didn’t melt too quickly.
Knowing that, select all the layers and change their blending mode to lighten. This is one of my favourite tricks to use in Photoshop when I need to copy the look of multiple lights in an image. What this does is that it brings up the brightest parts from all the layers. Since we know that the brightest parts in the ice will be the parts where we aim the ice light, the final look will quickly (and cleanly) combine all the ice layers as if we took all of it in just one frame. Save this and the combined image should add itself to your Lightroom library.
I repeated this procedure with the photos where I moved the main light for the bottles. This gave me the look of three softboxes on the bottles even if I had just one. Once you’re done with this, take the combined ice image and bottle image and open these as layers in Photoshop. From here, you can already make your layer masks to blend the ice and bottle images as well as make your other edits. For me, I boosted the blues in the ice to give a stronger cool feel to the photo.
That’s about it! Where you take your images from here will depend on you already. Really hoping that this was useful for anyone who does end up reading this. Cheers!
Side note: Shout out to the Nipa Brew crew (https://www.facebook.com/nipabrew/?fref=ts) for the bottles! They made for good models.