While glancing thru a photo equipment catalog, a really colorful image of a cup “bubbling” with bokeh caught my eye. The image’s color and composition just spoke to me. I resolved to make a similar image some day. Turns out that for a hobbyist photographer with a family, a full time job and a television set in the bedroom, the gap between resolution and action can be quite long. It took many months before I could finally bring together all the elements that make this picture.

Props and Equipment

I knew that a bright mug would be an essential component. None of the mugs in our kitchen passed the auditions. One day while browsing at the local Crate & Barrel, I spotted a bright yellow mug and instantly knew it was the one I was looking for.

The next required item on my list was a small string of Christmas lights. As luck would have it, I had just dumped my 10 year old set of Christmas lights with the intent of replacing it next season with the more energy efficient LED kind. Since it was a few months past Christmas already, I wasn’t going to readily find them in the stores. Luckily I was able to coax a friend to fish out and lend me a small strand of lights from their holiday stash.

Next I needed a dark backdrop. I had played around with black poster boards and determined that they were not ideal (prone to reflections) based on some preliminary experiments. I figured I need some kind of cloth material for the background. I tagged along with my wife on one of her visits to the fabric store and snagged myself a black rag of suitable size and texture.

Having acquired all the components, all I had to do was find a place to set them all up together and make time to shoot. Finding a place to shoot at home was not a slam dunk either. I needed a dark room with a wall to hang the backdrop and a fair amount of distance between the backdrop and the mug as well as between the mug and the camera. I also needed the room to position a couple of flashes around the mug as well.

The setup

The garage seemed to be the only place that fit the bill for the shoot. I waited for it to get dark, moved the cars out and went about setting up. In the picture below, you can get a sense of my setup and how I improvised to position the mug in relation to the backdrop and the camera. I then setup two flashes with umbrellas and wirelessly configured them to trigger from my Nikon D3S using Pocket Wizards. An AC3 zone controller helped me dial-up and dial-down the flashes as needed. With that it was time to shoot.

After months of planning this mentally, the shoot itself didn’t take too long. I played around a bit with different flash intensities and positions, but that was it. As far as post-processing goes, I darkened the background just a tad – nothing else.

What’s next

Overall, I came away happy with the results. Next time around I plan to play around more a bit with light placements and reflections. But before that I’ll have to keep my eyes open for the right kind of colorful mugs!