In this post I’ll show you the story behind this image:
Since I started with highspeed photography I wanted to take an image of an bottle of champagne just in the moment after uncorking.
I knew it will be an enormous mess and therefore I always waited and did something else. Then finally last week there was the announcement of the weekly digital photography school assignment and its topic was ‘Celebrate’. As I read the topic I saw the picture in front of my eyes. But still I though about whether to do it or not the whole weekend. Finally on Monday I decided to give it a try.
Before starting you have to think about the shot, what you’ll need and how you’re going to realize it.
Firstly the decision which trigger to take? Sound or light barrier. That decision was really easy; both trigger would work, but one would have to place the light barrier somewhere near the cork and when uncorking there is a lot of liquid getting its way out of the bottle, so there is a big possibility that the light barrier gets wet. Therefore I decided to go with the sound trigger. (I used a hiviz.com sound trigger and an arduino to control the delay similar to my ‘bursting balloon setup‘)
Where to shoot is also an easy decision. You really want do this in your flat! I guess this was my messiest shot ever. I decided to do it in my basement. To prevent my basement getting completely wet I bought a big 2x5m (6×15 feet) plastic, which was mounted in front and under the bottle (where I supposed it will get wet).
How to fix the bottle? I had no great idea, so I just used gaffer tap to fix the bottle. (At that moment I had no idea whether it will work or not, so I didn’t want to spent time to think about the best fix for the bottle..)
Lights? One, two? Umbrella? I wanted to try with the umbrella. The reason for this decision was that I need a smooth light to evenly highlight the bottle. When you use a flash without modifier the chances to produce highlight spots on the bottle are much bigger. And if it doesn’t work as expected I had the chance to switch back.
Champagne? Surely champagne would be to expensive for that stage of project. I knew that I will not hit the first one. So I decided to go with the cheapest bottle of sparkling wine. They didn’t even look like champagne (champagne mostly has a green bottle and a golden bottleneck), mine had a black bottleneck. By luck I went into a second store on the first shooting day and saw an even cheaper bottle with golden bottleneck, so I decided to get some more. Finally I had 7 bottles on first day.
So I had all the stuff together, time for the shooting.
The first thing I did was to remove all the stuff that could get wet and place it on the opposite corner of my basement. Then I mounted the plastic and fixed the bottle with gaffer tape.
I checked the lightning setup with my umbrella. I didn’t want to use shoot through because then the umbrella could speckle my new umbrella (yeah I know, in two months this will may look different. but I just got it two weeks ago, I didn’t wanted to damage it.. :D).. On the first test shot I had the reflection of the umbrella on the bottle, so I moved the in a more narrow angle to the bottle. From last time I knew I have to put the flash on 1/4th power or even half power with the umbrella. So I gave 1/4th a try, a little to dark, so 1/2th.. And lightning was ok for some test shoots.
Some more shots to test how long I could exposure to still have a black image. Usually I shot with an exposure of about 4-6 seconds, but for that one it was to short. I knew I had to get around that table and to trigger the cork by hand. So I tried and about 13 seconds seem to be really black (I had the screen of the laptop on, otherwise you really can’t see anything).
I started the cam, went over to the bottle and slightly pushed the cork away from the bottle and BOOOOOOOOOM…
I recognized that the hardest part on this image will be to put the cork in a position that one has enough time to put away the hand, turn of the flashlight, start the camera and then have the cork to uncork within 13 seconds. So I decided to use a selfmade cam trigger to start the cam from the table, so that I hadn’t to walk around and could work on the cork and then start the cam.
Second try.. I did it as proposed and just when I had my hands on the cork and turned it slightly, I went off.. (I didn’t even had a chance to turn on the cam.. So.. All the work for nothing..)
Third try.. Who would think.. Exactly the same as with the second one.. Therefore, no image..
Number 4.. Moving the cork forward.. Getting back, start the cam.. And then.. Booom.. Yeah I got one.. Or not? Damn, Damn, Damn, the flash didn’t fire.. Oh my god.. Actually I always test the flashes before I begin to work on the cork, but something went wrong.. Having a look on the flash showed the problem, they had the auto stand by on.. And then I realized that I was too stupid to start the flash in the correct mode. (As Zack Arias said: “You have to know your equipment! You need to be able to change it without looking at it.”). This one was definitely an attempt which would have been good, when I had setup everything correct. Thats the hard way to learn it.. But I’m nearly sure that I’ll not do that mistake again (in the next time :D).
At that point, I was very frustrated (see tweet). One out of 4 attempts worked and I was too stupid for a second one.. I had to go out, think about it and have a short break.
After that short break I came back and knew, I had 3 more attempts, if I’m lucky if I’ll get one image at the end of the evening.
#5: Setup everything, starting the cam.. Nothing.. Looking at the cork, moving it slightly forward, starting the cam.. Nothing.. Once again some millimeters, start the cam again and BOOOM.. *Flash*.. And I knew, yeah, that worked.. Going to the cam and check the result.. Yes, something there, but not exactly what I wanted..
The flash duration was too long (remember it was on 1/2 power reflecting in an umbrella), therefore the ‘motion of the champagne’ wasn’t freeze enough. (Afterward I’d agree, I should have seen this on the very first image, but I wasn’t happy about my hand being in the image, I didn’t even looked correctly at it).
Conclusion, change the lightning setup and only 2 bottles left (at nearly 10 PM).
I decided to go with two flashes, at the right end of the image, both pointing in the direction of the bottle, both on about 1/16th.. (Not 100% sure whether 1/16th or 1/32th..)
I took the picture at the end of the evening, therefore the flashes are not on the tripods..
Number 6: Setup everything, start cam.. You know the story.. And it worked.. Here is the image..
To make it a little shorter.. Number 7 didn’t worked.. 🙁
Conclusion of day 1:
I had mixed feelings, I knew it can be done, but it will be difficult. The most difficult part is the movement of the cork.. It can be about 1/16th turn which is enough that the cork will fly away (when working with a flashlight this isn’t easy).. And the worst thing about it is, you can feel that the last 1/16th turn of the cork was to much and how it begins to fly.. (I tried to turn it back, but this isn’t working :D)
After looking at the image on the computer I though, yeah, I can be done, bit it will be tough and I have to optimize some things.. For example the bottle is to dark, light is to much on the right side and the bottle looks strange how it is now.. (It should be in a 45 degree angle)..
The second day was much shorter. I could use the main time on the correct lightning of the bottle and the foam. Since I knew that I’ll not be successful every time, so the light should be okay that time.
I wanted to have the bottle at an 45 degree angle, therefore I tilted the cam, so that the bottle was in the left bottom corner. (With this I also had the greatest distance possible inside the image).
I used two flashes, one from behind, to highlight the champagne inside the bottle and another as fill from the front, to highlight the golden bottleneck.
Here are the test images I made before starting with uncorking the champagne.
After the confirmation that the lightning setup is okay, I continued with the process from yesterday. The first bottle did fire while manipulating the cork, so therefore no image.
On second try I got what I wanted:
Finally I like the result. But there is still room to optimize. And this was the messiest thing I did, but I guess I’ll give it another try somewhen.
If you have any questions, please let me know!