Product photographer image of Cheers martini glasses with liquid splash and olive garnish. Packaging photography.

Product Packaging Photography | The Story Behind Cheers!

Recently, I was going through some of my photos with a creative director who was curious about which photos in my portfolio were my favorites, and why. As I told her about some of the images, she mentioned that most people have no idea how much work goes into these photos. Cheers, has always been one of my favorite photos for this reason. It’s old, dated, not that great, but still remains in my portfolio, probably for my nostalgia over the days of film.

As a product photographer in my early career, I shot this image for a graphic designer working on a glassware packaging project. She came to me looking for product photography for this concept with 3 different styles of glasses – the martini glass has always been my favorite. When I saw the comp, or layout, I knew exactly how I was going to pull this off.

On a tabletop I secured 3 martini glasses to a piece of 2×4 with hot glue. The 4th martini glass was glued down at an angle on a separate piece of 2×4. The idea was to fill the glasses with liquid and then slide the board with the angled glass into the board with the three glasses, causing the liquid in the angled glass to slosh over the other three. With a cable release I would trigger the camera at the perfect time to capture the splash. I was so confident (young, dumb and cocky) that this would work, I didn’t even test it out prior to the designer showing up for the shoot. Lack of time may have played a part in it, as well. I spent the better part of a day building my set and lighting it. Lighting a photograph has always been the most important part of a setup for me. Preferably, when shooting advertising or packaging photography, a pre-light day is built into the budget and schedule, which gives the photographer a day to dial in the lighting for a particular photograph. The graphic designer showed up mid afternoon and we got to work.

Keep in mind this was before digital photography. I shot 90% of my work with a 4×5 large format film camera. This camera uses 4″x5″ sheets of film, which have to be loaded into the back of the camera and removed individually for each shot. There were no previews, not even a viewfinder to look through while shooting. You set the image up by viewing it on the ground glass on the back of the camera, and then close the lens before loading the sheet of film. You don’t know what you’re getting until the film comes back from the lab. Polaroid sheet film was used to check exposure and composition, but even if you got the most perfect shot on Polaroid, it’s still not on the film you need it to be on.

Glasses cleaned, filled appropriately with liquid, garnishes placed exactly the way we wanted them, lighting dialed in, camera loaded and ready, we were good to go. Cable release in one hand, the other on the perfectly cut and placed piece of wood with the angled glass, I slid it into the other piece of wood causing the liquid to splash…in the opposite direction I had expected it to. Yep, that piece of film would show the liquid sloshing out the left side of the photo, away from the other glasses. This is when you look at your client, who’s looking back and forth between the liquid dripping off of the table and the clock on the wall, and assure her that you’ve got this.

Several hours and many various methods attempted later, I was just about at a loss. I had one more idea. I stood off to the side of the set and tossed an olive into the angled glass. 2 minutes of shaking later, I peeled the back off of the Polaroid and there it was  –  the perfect splash. I found the solution and now we were ready to get the shot on film.

After each attempt, the glasses needed to be emptied, dried, cleaned and then filled back up with another strategically placed garnish. Another sheet of film loaded, another olive tossed, and hopefully, another perfect splash. But without seeing each photo, we had no idea if we captured the splash, or not. We did this 30 or 40 times and at around 4AM the following morning we wrapped up, confident we got the shot we needed on film. When the film came back from the lab, this was the only usable shot we got. But, all you need is one.

With new digital technology, new lighting systems that could capture the splash so much better, and over 25 years more experience, I’m confident (not so young, not quite as dumb, and not nearly as cocky) that I could reshoot this much easier, and come up with a much better image. But where’s the fun in that?

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