Chai Tea on Black Glass

The photo college I went to, Brooks Institute of Photography, was about as technically oriented as you could get. I was taught how to control my tools, control light, control my photography. This isn’t as cold as it may seem, but it is as strict as it sounds. Mistakes were okay, as long as they could be reproduced. What that means is, you can be open to ‘happy accidents’ but understanding why they happened was much more important than the results. It’s the hallmark of being a professional. When presented with a problem, I can produce a solution, diving into this toolset to get my clients what they want and need.

One of the more intense school assignments was a project called Black Glass. The project last a month, if I remember correctly, and it taught how to light and photograph reflections. Each image had to be shot on 4x5 Polaroid negative film before being shot on black and white and chrome film. Photographing a reflective surface is quite possibly the hardest thing in product photography for it ‘sees’ everything on set, including at times the photographer and camera. One of several techniques is to light softly, no hard edged light. This can mean lighting by reflection as well. Where you would point your light source at a large white foam core to bounce light back into the product surface. The school assignment was called black glass because the product we used, a mirrored cube, was placed on black glass, essentially a black mirrored surface. Even 14 years later the assignment still has a lasting impression.

Recently I had a job to photograph a dark reflective bottle, on a mirrored black surface and that old assignment came full circle. I used a large continuous light source, with two layers of diffusion material separated by about a foot to soften the light source as much as possible. I directed that light past two 7 foot strips of foam core to make a strip light source. This was directly reflected on the bottle as a nice long highlight with enough fall-off to lighten the rest of the bottle to get subtle detail. Because I used a continuous light source and not strobes my shutter speed was around ⅛” and so to fill in the label of the bottle I used a bright daylight balanced flashlight that was diffused with a small piece of white acetate.

Not being a big fan of composited images, I wanted to capture it in one frame, and did.

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Scott MansfieldComment