Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Lighting in the Cellars

A little while ago a call came out of the blue.

Would I like to drive to Reims to shoot a feature on the world renown Champagne producers Louis Roederer?

 Louis Roederer produce amongst other things, the super, expensive Cristal Champagne, favoured by the rich and famous.

So after a sublime and drive to the the capital of champagne country we given a tour of the Roederer HQ and were told how Cristal champagne came into being.

It was made a the request of the somewhat justifiably paranoid Czar Nicolas II, who as much as he loved Louis Roederer champagne he was fearful that a champagne bottle could be used either to contain an explosive device in its dimpled base or it's dark green glass could conceal a poison of some kind . So Louis Roederer went away and came up with a solution, a bottle which was made of clear glass and without a dimple in it's base. This meant that the bottle had to be made from crystal glass for strength. 

Thus the name.

In fact the bottle still carries the Russian imperial crest of Czar Nicolas II. When you drink Cristal champagne you are drinking history itself, though for the record I prefer their vintage Rose which is much more affordable and has character in spades.

On the tour we were shown the champagne cellars which were the natural candidates for the portrait of Frederic Rouzaud, the new MD, who had just taken the helm from his father.

We asked for some time to set up before he came down to be photographed, we needed every moment and I had to think my feet to come up with this portrait which has been used extensively.

I wanted to backlight the Champagne bottles which involved quite a bit of maneuvering to ensure there was not a nasty accident involving tens of thousands of pounds of champagne bottles......yikes!

I put a bare bulb Elinchrom Ranger head with a totally bare bulb head(I wanted the light to spill everywhere) on full power under each champagne rack, I had to use full power as the  bottles on the rack soaked up a ton of light. Sometimes 1200 WS is very useful. The only problem was the light from the bare bulb heads was kicking right back at me giving me a ton of flare. To counter this I just flagged the lights with my Ranger carrying cases, it worked a treat. The only parts of light spoilage comes from the gaps in the top of the champagne racks which give the vertical lines of light, it would be an easy retouch but I have chosen to leave them in.

I had sorted the fancy backlit bottles so now for the key light which was another Elinchrom Ranger with my old favourite and super versatile modifier the Chimera Medium soft box, just off to the left of the camera, I took my shallow bank with me this time as it is good in tight spots.

So that was that, except that the narrow tunnel behind the subject was simply too dark.
Together with Nigel, my assistant on the shoot, we tried to place the light in many places and no matter what we did, we could not get it right without causing flare a hotspot or some other undesirable side effect, so with time rapidly running out I placed the fourth Ranger head on light stand with a kill spill pointing back towards the subject, ultimately there was the need for some post production on this, but by spinning the light stand with one leg toward the camera it meant we only had to clone one leg out, not two.

So the CEO came down and the shoot was over in just a couple of minutes.

Lighting one element at a time is so important, shooting tethered (this time with my Phase One P45+) enabled me to fine tune every element of the lighting.
Working with my Gitzo tripod with my geared Manfrotto 405 head meant the composition was finely considered and adjusted degree by degree by fingertip control, and with the camera mounted on a tripod it means I can get out from behind the camera and really interact with the sitter.

We left the cellar rather covered in dust but very happy with the result, which we toasted with a glass of what we had been photographing.

Well, the job should have some compensations.


Anders C. Madsen said...

Beautiful colors - I never thought of champagne as being orange.

Considering the amount of light stripes here and a visible light stand there I really see the value of something I learned from some bald British guy in Bruxelles last year: Make sure you get a shot of the empty scene without any disturbances for your retouch session! ;)

Drew Gardner said...

Hey Andres!

A good point well made, though real life as I'm finding is not always perfect.

Great to hear from you.



Andy said...

Great shot!
I was wondering how the bottles were lit, until i read further and saw the diagram too.
Nice tones indeed - real or not, i like it!

Smudge Chris said...

Great diagram, really shows how you managed to nail the shot.

Thanks for sharing

Drew Gardner said...

Thanks Chris and Andy,

The aim of the diagram is to make it possible for anyone replicate what I have done.



Fredrik said...

Thank you for a very instructional blog post, Drew! It always interesting to see a lighting diagram along with the picture, and especially with such a great pic as this! And some fun facts about the champagne are also welcome! I hope to see more posts like this in the future!

But is the direction of the eyes of Frederic intentional? I would assume it would be best if he either looked at the bottle or at the camera.

Drew Gardner said...

Hi Frederik,

Thanks for the comment, a pleasure to share the technique.

Pleased you picked up on his expression.

I do have other versions where he is looking straight into the camera but for some reason I favour this one because of the slightly uneasy slight smile expression and that he is looking away from camera.

A little more unconventional all round.

I'm not sure why I prefer this one, I just do.



Raul Kling said...

Great idea and excellent execution! Thanks for sharing both the image and the diagram.


Drew Gardner said...

Hi Raul,

Thank you for the comment

The lighting plan has gone down so well I will post another soon