Spilled Bourbon Close-Up Photo | Mike Worley Photos

Spilled Bourbon Close-Up Photo

I originally titled these photos “In Kentucky, we don’t cry over spilled milk. Spilled bourbon – not so much”

spilled bourgon
My ‘choice’ shot of a spilled glass of bourbon on a black reflective surface

I got the idea for this studio shot of a glass of spilled bourbon from a similar photo of a wine glass on its side. However, since I live in Kentucky — bourbon capital of the world — it seemed only natural to create my own rendition using bourbon.


The setup is relatively simple. The ‘table’ is a piece of black plexiglass, which gives a very deep reflective surface. Most of the shots were against my standard white seamless paper studio backdrop. However, I cropped that out in the final selections.

There were two challenges to this shot. First was getting the lighting right. The second was to keep the glass from rolling, in a way not visible in the photo.


studio setup
The setup for the bourbon glass shot. The softbox at the right was not part of the setup

I experimented with several lighting setups for the shot. One challenge I faced which was new in my studio shots was my overhead light. I have a ceiling light which is bright enough to illuminate the area for setup but does affect a flash shot. However, I was initially surprised that I was getting a reflection of that light in the glass. So I had to relocate my table and turn down the power on the overhead light.

Positioning the flash units was really a matter of experimentation. Although I tried two softboxes, I wound up using a 26 inch softbox on the left of the photo and a flash with a two-inch snoot overhead shining directly down on the glass. Before I arrived at the final setup, I shot 37 trials. Patience – patience.

Away It Rolls

Keeping the glass in one place proved to be a challenge, even though the table top was level. I finally used a very thin layer of double-sided Scotch tape to hold the glass in place. Even then, I had to remove a small visible portion of the tape in Photoshop.


spilled bourbon
An alternative angle

In the inspiration photo, the photographer said he used water tinted with red food coloring for his ‘wine.’ However, I had a problem with that concept. First of all, I wasn’t sure how to make an amber-brown color with food coloring. And most importantly, bourbon really does have a color all its own.

The solution — I used real bourbon for the shot. To get the ‘spill’ effect, I filled the glass to a point where the liquid almost touched the rim when the glass was laid on its side. Then I finished the fill with a medicine syringe. I also used the syringe to create the ‘spill.’

And yes, I recovered almost all the bourbon when the shoot was completed. And for the curious, the bourbon was Woodford Reserve and the glass comes from Heaven Hill.

Next Time

There are a couple of things I would do differently if I try this type of shot again.

First, I would probably show the background for reference. A couple of people have commented that the glass looks like it’s ‘floating in the air.’ By having a bit of the background wall showing, it would put the table more in perspective.

Second, I would also try back-lighting the shot. As I looked at the original example, that’s how that photographer lighted his wine glass. I think that gives it a nice perspective as well.

What are your thoughts on this type of photo? How do you think I might improve it?

This entry was posted in Photo of the Week, Photo Shoot, Studio, Technique and tagged , , , , .

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