The Whiskey Donut

As a wedding photographer in Tucson, Arizona, the majority of my photography is bride and groom-centric. I think most wedding photographers revel in the opportunity to photograph something outside the norm, especially when it involves a winning combination of whiskey and donuts.

Batch Cafe and Bar is the brainchild of two good friend’s of mine, Ronnie Spece, and Kade Mislinski. Located in downtown Tucson, they opened their doors to the public on January 1st, 2016 to a warm reception from patrons intrigued by the notion that there could be such a thing as gourmet donuts and why it would pair with whiskey, bourbon, rye, and scotch.

Ronnie and Kade had been asking me to come by and bless the new space with some photographic tithings. I overpacked for the job and brought a pelican with Einsteins and a huge PLM modifier with the appropriate light stands to support them. I wheeled a cart FULL of gear to the cafe thinking I was going to mimic the look of a large window light source and go for a natural look; that artisanal natural food photo look I’ve seen on blog posts.

That’s When I Realized

I quickly realized there was no chance I would be using any of my big lights. When I arrived, diners were enjoying the menu and space was limited. I don’t ever want to detract from the guest experience any time I’m working near patrons of an establishment. The last thing I want is for patrons to recall their first visit to the new restaurant, and see a huge umbrella and large light popping off incessantly while they are still forming their first opinions on the dining experience. This job was more suitable for the small flashes.

I pulled out a couple of small collapsible Manfrotto light stands, two Yongnuo 560iv flashes, my MagGrids and MagSphere and prepped for the shoot. Working small allowed me to be less conspicuous.

I started by photographing some natural lit photos of the donut selection and some photos of a table of guests who were kind enough to be our impromptu models. The front of the cafe has all the window light I needed to get that light artisanal quality I imagined when I brought my large lights, so luckily I was able to scratch that style of image off my list before I got into my creative lighting work. I photographed the bartender making an ‘Old Fashioned’ cocktail using my flashes, but I wanted to close this session out with a signature image that embodied the theme of this establishment. We had to have a picture that brought together the Whiskey and Donut concept, and it had to be special.

The Setup

The bartender helped me with a lineup of impressive whiskey bottles, the criteria being they had to be mostly full. We placed the bottles on a small table bordered by the brick wall. We used a donut that was topped with Fruity Pebbles cereal pieces as the centerpiece as it the most colorful donut on the menu. I used the MagSphere camera left to give some fill to the bottles, and then I used a triple stack of MagGrids to spotlight the donut. I placed the flash up high above the donut, just out of frame camera right.

The photo was decent, but it was missing something. It didn’t have the signature quality about it that I set out to achieve.. So, I took all the bottles, placed them on a table in the middle of the restaurant with nothing around it. Past that table were guests still eating, but I knew the way I was setting the image up, there wouldn’t be any ambient light or light spill from my flashes that would show them in the setting. Again the bottles were the backdrop for the donut. This time, I placed the Mag Sphere directly behind the bottles and rim lit them. The whiskey and bottle colors made for an awesome backdrop as the light danced through and between the bottles to great effect. THIS was the look I was hoping for. The triple stack of grids was again high and camera right just out of frame.

It was all well and good, but I had a one last trick up my sleeve. Actually, it was in a can. You may have heard of Atmosphere Aerosol; the spray can for photographers that use butane and mineral oil to give a lingering fog/smoke effect to your images. This stuff loves to work with MagMod gear. I had my assistant spray the Atmosphere Aerosol between the wall of whiskey bottles and the MagSphere. I finally found the look I was after. Working at low flash power, I was able to shoot rapidly. I needed as many frames as possible to ensure that I captured the Atmosphere Aerosol at the best instance of it spraying from the can. Depending on where the can was pointed, it could be too prominent on one side of the image versus the other. And there you have it.

I make it a point to make use of MagMod gear as much as possible and to learn the range of uses of the products, but lately, I’ve found I’m using the gear more and more simply because it is the best solution for a large majority of my lighting needs. I could have saved myself the torture of bringing a huge case and big light stands had I only brought my small lighting kit. On this day, MagMod proved to be the best tool for the job.

The photo in one day has already brought huge fanfare and intrigue to people who are unfamiliar with my friends’ establishment. I feel excited to have contributed a signature image that will boost the reach of their marketing as they move forward in establishing their presence on a crowded street of restaurants and bars.

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Equipment: Nikon D750, Nikon 70-200 2.8 VR, Yongnuo 560iv flash, MagGrid x 3, MagSphere. Settings: ISO 800, 1/200th, F/8. Flash power 1/64 on both flashes.

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