It’s no secret that Coca-Cola is the world’s most recognized brand. People, who live all around the world and speak different languages, know what Coke is. It’s truly fascinating how a pharmacist put some cola syrup in a glass and topped it off with some carbonated water many years ago, has now turned into a world wide phenomenon.
Coke is my most favorite beverage, even over any type of alcohol. But there is one problem, I’m already slightly overweight and with diabetes running ramped in our family, this would really cap off my life. So, I do drink it once in awhile, but my regular drink of choice is either unsweetened iced tea (now they are calling it “northern tea” here in Florida) or True Lemon Lemonade. True Lemon Lemonade is made with Stevia and not any of those other questionable artificial sweeteners. Since I’m a Coke fan, I thought I would do a Coke shoot. Here we go.
First off, I thought I would make an equipment photo to make things easier. If you want to try this and don’t have all of this equipment, don’t have a coronary. You might be able to substitute some mirrors or fill cards for some of the flashes. Another idea might be to try some of those lights from a home improvement store. I’ll start from the left, front side and work our way back. First, you will see there are four black boxes with a little box above them. The bigger boxes are my PocketWizard Flex TT5s. These have been a blessing and a curse at the same time. Having worked with them for almost a year now, I think I have all of the “personalities” worked out. However, these are still the champions when it comes to radio flash triggers. That is what these are for, to trigger my flashes wirelessly. The little black box above them is the PocketWizard AC3. This allows me to change the flash power from the camera position; this is a very handy tool. The next item to the right are Nikon SB800s. These have been a great workhorse and have never let me down. You have probably noticed that one of them is inside a gallon zip bag. There is a reason for this; it’s called cheap insurance, more on this later. The next to the right are some acrylic ice cubes. This is one of the big secrets when doing a shoot like this. It might seem like a great idea to just pull some ice out of the freezer and throw it in a glass. Regular ice cubes aren’t clear and will melt. Also, they might fog the liquid that you are trying to photograph. There is a studio in New York City that will rent you acrylic ice cubes for only $500 a day! I’m not sure about you, but that sounds a little steep for me. I did some digging and there are some different outlets that sell similar products for a much more reasonable price.
In the center of the table, there is an official Coke glass. I think we might have picked this up at McDonalds when they were offering them. It’s made out of green glass and has the logo embossed on the front and back. To the right of the glass, there is a bottle of club soda. Again, this is one of those trade secrets that I found out. I’ll explain what roll this will play later. Next, is some non-stick cooking spray, any cooking oil will work. The little blue bottle is a mister that I found in the health and beauty section of Walmart. These are cheap and work for all kinds of situations. This one is filled with water. I know you are thinking to yourself, “Why is there Diet Sam’s Cola on the table?” Well, it what I had around the house. I hope the Coke police don’t come and arrest me. Lastly, in the middle row are some paper towels.
In the back row, I have a graphic that I printed out on some uncoated paper. I wanted something that would be big enough to use in a variety of uses. I printed the graphic 32” x 24”. If you are wondering how I printed this, I also do wide format photography printing. (Yes, this is a subtle sales hint.) I fixed the sheet of paper to a piece of foam board with some clips. What is holding up the board are some shoeboxes. These are used to build a platform for our glass. At the end of the row, there is a sheet of clear plexiglass. I have used this in the past and was an inexpensive purchase.
Now we have all of our photo equipment together, it’s time to create the set up. Instead of doing a diagram, I took a production shot as I thought it might be clearer.
This was the rough set up that I stared with. I knew that I wanted three separate zones of lighting. Let’s start off with the back of the make shift studio. I placed the graphic in a chair; this would help me get the blurred effect that I wanted. Also, this would ensure that I would have complete control on how to light it. For the glass platform itself is quite simple. As you can see I took two shoeboxes and put them on the table. I took the flash that was in the zip bag and placed it in the middle. Over that I placed the sheet of plexiglass. This creates a “clear stage” for our Coke glass.
As for the lighting, the umbrella that you see in the far left of the frame is going to light the background. The umbrella that is closer to the glass is going to ensure that the front of the glass is lit. The flash that is located under the plexiglass will light the final product from the inside out. Anytime I do something like this, I like to encase my flashes in zip bags to make sure that they stay dry.
At this point I put the camera on a tripod and fitted it with my 18mm-200mm lens. I was short on space or else I would have used one of my primes such as my 50mm f/1.4. I put the camera in manual mode, with the ISO at 100, 1/250 at f/5.6. All of the flashes I had in manual as well and they were at 1/8 power. To get started I put three cubes in the class and took a shot to see what it would look like. To my surprise, when the light from the flash below hit the acrylic, it acted as a lightening rod. This was neat as this will help illuminate the liquid from the inside out.
Ok, it was time to prep the glass. Here is where the oil and mister come into play. If you want to fake that “ice cold” look, put some oil on a paper towel and rub the front of the glass. Then using the mister, mist the glass until you get the desired look that you are going for. As we know, oil and water don’t mix so this is what gives us the beads that will help sell the effect. The glass went on the platform and it was ready to fill.
I was told that if you try and photograph straight cola, it’s too dark and will cause problems. Using club soda serves two purposes, first it will dilute the cola to make it a lighter color and second, it has fizz and will help to keep the cola from going flat during the shoot. For the first attempt, I filled the glass half with cola and then I topped it off with club soda. This was another learning lesson. Apparently, club soda is lighter than cola and doesn’t mix well this way. That went into the sink to start over. This time I put the club soda in the glass first and topped it off with cola. This proved to be a much more successful to get the two to play nice together.
I took a test photo and that is when the photographer’s fun really begins. I started adjusting the power of the flash that was illuminating the background to get the saturation that I wanted. Secondly, the flash that is illuminating the glass from the bottom was way to high as it was really close to the glass. I turned the power all the way down so I didn’t blow out the bottom of the glass. As for the umbrella that was lighting the front of the glass, I tweaked the power and position to get a result that I was kind of happy with. After three hours of messing around, this is what I ended up with…
A couple of thoughts here, is this perfect? Not really. Is it a great start? Sure it is. You don’t know unless you try. Also, I would look for a glass that has the letters of the logo in white. This would make it stand out more. I guess I could steal some of my wife’s nail polish and give it a go? Humm, bright pink anyone? The biggest issue that I was trying to work out was not to blow out the ice cubes on top, but have enough flash power so you could see through the glass.
As far as post production, I did some minor adjustments in Adobe Camera RAW and I used Nik’s Pro Contrast to help balance it out. To finish it off, I used Nik’s Sharpener Pro to really make all of the beads of water and bubbles come to life. The total time adjusting the image, ten minutes. If you light it right, it saves a ton of time in Photoshop later on.
I hope this inspires you to go out and try this. It may sound complicated, but once you have all of the parts pulled together that you need, it goes pretty fast. Buy a two liter of cola and a bottle of club soda and you will be on your way.
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean