How I did it: Red or White?

It’s 9:00 am, and I just arrived at the location. I’ve been commissioned by a magazine to photograph wine expert Alex Sebastian at his Beaver, PA fine-dining restaurant, The Wooden Angel. Alex has one of the most extensive collections of US produced wines in the nation. A server shows me to the wine cellar so I can scout and set up. The place is extremely cramped. I barely have enough room for one small collapsable light stand, a Canon 580 speed light and a tiny shoot thru umbrella. Not my ideal lighting but some days are like that. 

A few minutes later Alex arrives. He’s a slight man with a warm and engaging smile and a firm handshake. Now, you know it’s going to be a proper assignment when your subject’s first words are, “Red or white?” It’s 9:15 am, and he’s asking if I want red wine or white wine! Red, of course. 

I’ve photographed Alex before, and I’ve been to his restaurant many times, so it was easy to establish a rapport. The wine didn’t hurt, either. After a few minutes of chit-chat and half a glass of deliciously fermented grapes, I directed Alex to where I had set up my light. Did I mention how cramped this cellar was? I could have used a tripod, but there just wasn’t room so I handheld my Canon 5D and 16-35mm lens set at 21mm for the 1/8 second exposure.

I continued to talk to Alex and coax different expressions all while practicing breathing techniques to get as many sharp images as possible. Sometimes the stars just align as they did for me on this job. The pictures with the best expressions were also crisp. I’m pretty sure the wine helped.

Because of the nature of this location, a wine cellar, I wanted to keep the photograph on the warm side. It just felt right. I could have balanced everything entirely correct, but that would have left the picture cold. And Alex is anything but cold.

The actual session lasted about a half hour. The magazine needed one picture, preferably a vertical, but of course, I still made many more images both vertical and horizontal, close-ups at 35mm and zoomed out to 16mm. As a former picture editor, I understand the importance of having as much choice as possible. You also never know, once they see how many images they have it might be encouragement to publish more.  

Soon it was time to go. Packing the gear took minimal effort, one body, one lens, one flash, one stand, and umbrella all in one bag. It took longer to finish the glass of wine. Let me tell you, starting your day with a delicious glass of wine is an excellent way to start. 

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