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Cooking up a Photograph in Your Kitchen

In this post Ronan Palliser shares some behind the scene details on the taking of this eye catching shot.



  • 1 small kitchen
  • 5 martini glasses
  • 500ml of water
  • 3 drops of food colouring in different colours
  • A dollop of off-camera flash (triggered by PC cord, radio receiver or infra-red such as Nikon CLS)

You will also need:

  • An ironing board and a chair
  • 2 sheets of white printer paper
  • 2 pieces of black card (optional)
  • Glass from a 16″x12″ photo frame
  • An A1 size sheet of white mounting board


Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 1/250th of a second

Bake at f/8, ISO 200


First you need to construct a mini studio. Place the two sheets of printer paper on the ironing board, and cover with glass taken from the photo frame, to create a reflective base. For the backdrop, prop the A1 sheet of mounting board up on a chair, and place behind the ironing board.

Position your martini glasses on the ironing board, in two rows – three at the back, two at the front, and adjust the position of your camera (on the tripod) relative to the whole set up so that you can compose the photograph with all the martini glasses in the frame, and the white backdrop filling the frame

Add the water to the glasses, so that each is filled to the same level, and drop some food colouring into the back row of glasses.


The secret to lighting glass is to not light the glass. You need to light the background, and the light that bounces back from that will backlight the glasses nicely. If you try to front light the glass you will get ugly reflections. To get some edge definition on the glass it is best if the background is only just big enough to fill the frame, and no bigger, so you can play with the distances between your camera, the ironing board and the background to fulfill this condition as best as you can. Also you can help define the edges even more by placing some black card or paper at either side of the glasses as seen in the setup shot.

To light the background, place your off-camera flash underneath the ironing board, pointing at the centre of the background with a wide zoom. Set to manual, and choose 1/4 power to start with.

Putting it all together:

Put your camera at its max sync speed, with an aperture of about f/8 to give good depth of field through your shot. I used a 50mm lens to take the shot, but use whatever you have available. Avoid wide angles as you’ll need a bigger background to fill the frame and will get distortion of the glasses.


Take a photo with the flash off to see that you are getting minimal ambient contribution to the shot. You can stop down your aperture or decrease your ISO if you have too much ambient light, or wait until it’s darker. Ideally you want the photo lit primarily by flash.

Turn on your flash, and take a few test shots, adjusting the flash power until you get a look you like. You don’t need a light meter – just make sure that the background is getting enough light to be white and evenly lit, but not too much to lose definition at the edges of the glasses due to flare. For me, 1/4 power on a Nikon SB-800 was sufficient.

With the lighting set up, you just need to check your composition and look for a shot which includes some of the stems of the glasses reflected in the base of your studio, keeping the top of the glasses level with each other.

And you’re done.


Before you disassemble your studio think about other shots you can take – for instance what about tilting everything (the base, the background and the camera) by about 15 degrees to get a shot of glasses with the water going at a seemingly impossible angle?


-2About the Author: Ronan Palliser is an Irish photography addict, living in Dublin. He maintains a daily photoblog at http://www.ronanpalliser.ie/blog and publishes a new photograph every day, with in-depth technical details about how the shot was taken.

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