BTS: Thinking Outside the Barrel to Photograph for a Magazine

A couple of years ago I was tasked with getting a shot of grape stomping for a local food magazine, Edible Ozarkansas, who were doing a story on the history of local wine production in Arkansas. Right away, images of Lucy and Ethel of "I Love Lucy" stomping grapes in the giant barrel came scrolling through my mind. Challenge accepted.

I started looking around for inspiration for a shot. Obviously, I needed a barrel, grapes, and feet. Beyond that, I had never thought much about grape stomping, so I didn’t know what else I’d want. The problem I quickly ran into was that all of the images I was seeing of grape stomping was from a top-down angle. They were looking down into a barrel at the feet doing the smashing. In my mind, the angle should be a front view of the action, not a top view. Ah-ha! Now there was a plan.

After obtaining an old whiskey barrel locally for $10, I grabbed some power tools and an extra set of hands (thanks, Dad!). We set to work cutting into the side of the barrel so I could see into it, being sure to leave a small lip at the bottom to keep the juices in as best as possible. It wasn’t an easy task to keep the slats of the barrel from coming apart after cutting into the metal band, but it worked.

Next came dragging the barrel up the 23 stairs to my studio, buying a whole bunch of grapes, and sweet-talking the editor of the magazine, Amanda, into being my grape-stomping foot model. I had to run back to the store to get some redder grapes (the “black” grapes I bought initially were too dark to look wine-y), but that was really the only gaffe of the whole production.

For the shot, I used three lights: two Paul C. Buff Einstein E640s with two 10x36” gridded stripboxes at about 45-degree angles on either side of the barrel, and a speedlight on slave mode held by an assistant pointed downwards into the barrel behind the model’s legs. I set the Einsteins on “action mode” to help freeze the motion of the juice, and clicked away.

There was juice everywhere. Everywhere! Two years later, I’m still finding spots of grape juice on the walls and floor of the studio, even though I put a tarp down underneath it all.

Note the grape stems and juice everywhere, but a very pleased-looking magazine editor as well. Lit from above with another Einstein and beauty dish just for a BTS shot.

Here's the result:

Nikon D800, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII @ 100mm, ISO 200, f/10, 1/250 s

The final image (skirt version instead of blue jeans) ended up on the cover of the magazine, and was eventually awarded two “Eddy” awards by Edible Communities, the magazine’s “mothership”: one for "Critics' Choice" and one for “Readers’ Choice” in the “Best Cover Imagery” category.

via Edible Communities

I could have just taken one flash and shot down into a barrel of someone squashing grapes with their feet to get a shot that was good enough, but I wanted something more than that. Something flashier, something juicier, something I had to work at.

What’s the messiest your studio has ever been? Have you ever been doing "routine" work that ended up winning some kind of award? Let's hear some stories below.

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Will Gavillan's picture

Fantastic shot and great problem solving!

Stephen Ironside's picture


Anonymous's picture

The awards were well deserved. While I don't have a "messy" shot like that, for me no amount of effort is too great to get "The" shot.

Stephen Ironside's picture

I'm sure you'll make a mess some day. Enjoy it when it happens. It's more fun that way.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

The images are great

Anton Lenke's picture

AND you added an additional light just to uplevel the BTS shot? Gold star for you for sure.