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Hot Beer with Pepper: Behind the scene of a beverage photography assignment

Hot Beer with Pepper: Behind the scene of a beverage photography assignment

About The Author


I am Justin VanAlstyne, a 30-something creative living near Fort Collins, CO. I specialize in commercial product and outdoor photography as well as web/graphic design

Out of the Ashes Craft Beer: Behind the scene of a beverage photography assignment

Behind the scene of a beverage photography assignment result

This image was created both as a portfolio piece and as a tool for me to experiment with lighting and retouching techniques. As is typically the case with my perfectionist mentality, there are a few things I would have done differently in hindsight. But that was really the point of this shoot, to experiment. I shot several different variations of the setup with and without the pepper and lime, and a beer glass. The final image is a composite of five different photos, lit with four strobes, and one burned wood background. Here’s how I did it…

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7 responses on "Hot Beer with Pepper: Behind the scene of a beverage photography assignment"

  1. Just a note to say I really like this shot. Ashes worked in could be cool, but I got the concept right off. The charred board was a great idea, a different take on the obvious concept and really well done! Enjoyed you BTS, thanks for sharing!

  2. In my HO I think we as perfectioists attempt to put too much into a photograph that the viewer, reader of a magazine etc does not even think about. I would never look for example at this excellent photo and think to myself , where is the ashes etc that caused the smoke. I appreciate we are looking at the image and being picky but in 50 years of making photographs that clients want, my own critique was always more stiff than the customer. I have never had the benefit of using the magic of Photoshop so am amazed at all the complicated steps it took to make the final image. We gave 15×12 trannies to the client so messing and he either liked it or did not. Of course the color seperations where more complex and if you have ever indulged in making dye transfers you would understand why I have white hair and wrinkles that rival the walls of the Grand Canyon! VERY FINE END RESULT. Anyone want to buy a Sinar System haha

    Excuse the spelling, typing on a 7 inch tablet does noy work too well!

  3. Technically well done, but without a small mound of ashes anywhere in the shot, I missed the concept. As for your spritzed water drops- too fine and even, not the way they would look in reality. Try putting one hero in the freezer for about 15 minutes, then set it on the set and watch the condensation form naturally. Yes, it will drip, but have you studied an ice cold beer bottle? I recommend going to a bar and staring at the beer bottles and learn about the life cycle of condensed vapor. Also good excuse to drink a few but still feel like you’re at work.

  4. I recognize the technical complexity of the shot and applaud your efforts. You have excellent technical skills – far better than most Photoshop users. However, to me the image does not work as the sum of the parts do not equate into the advertising message I believe you are trying to send to your target audience.

    For example, there’s smoke in the photo: where did it come from? There is no active source of ignition. The charred wood looks great, but it is not producing smoke and not readily obvious (on my computer screen). The table top / surface is in pristine condition as is the lime and pepper. In short, you are relying on the name of the beer to try to tie all of the individual parts together, instead of allowing the setting to portray the message that the bottle is arising from the ashes. Oh, and where are the ashes? Why are the lime and pepper not singed in some manner? To me the image just doesn’t work.

    I taught photography in college and recognized the lack of creativity of many technically proficient students. One thing I did was to have class sessions exploring creativity. To some creativity is a learned skill, to others it comes naturally. As I explained to my students, you can be a technically great photographer who starves due to a lack of creativity in the images or you can be a well paid photographer who lacks technical ability as long as you can provide creative images that the customer wants. I also taught the importance of sketching the shots and then thinking about the sketches before building the sets.

    So how would I construct this shot? Well, there are an infinite number of possibilities. However, I would construct a glowing smoldering campfire (small flames, red embers, and smoke) against a darkened background maybe with twinge of green foliage), and have either a shadowy hand (subdued lighting) grabbing the beer bottle from the ashes or alternatively have the darkened image of the claw of a Phoenix (bird) with wings outstretched pulling upward the bottle out of the ashes. Another example would be a fireman carrying the bottles out of a burning building, etc. The bottle should be well lit in order to portray the advertising message. Of course, you also need to ask, do you want to portray the desirability of a “warm” bottle of beer arising from the ashes as opposed to a cold bottle? If it’s a cold bottle you want, then you can show an image of a hand pulling out a cold bottle of beer out of the the remains of a long extinguished but frozen campfire (along with some ashes) surrounded by a wintery scene.

    • Hi Steve:

      I agree with you a lot. I was teaching commercial photography in a college before. Many times I just couldn’t understand the concept from some students’ work. To add a few technical commends on the photo: I think the beer lack of the clarity look in both bottle & class. Let’s just say: It’s a self assignment, good effort.


  5. Very good shoot!!
    The only think that it bothers me (because i am crazy) is that in post production,
    you forget to leave the natural shadow of the branch of the pepper on the label of the bottle.
    If you do that, the left side of the bottle is going to seems more natural.
    Very good work!!

  6. This is a great photograph, I don’t think people realise what goes into a product shot. The work that was involved in just getting this shot of a beer bottle was massive, but the result was just fantastic. It just makes me think a lot more about the attention to detail when getting a shot prepared.
    Thank you

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