DPP Home Profiles Martin Wonnacott: Master Of The Bar

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Martin Wonnacott: Master Of The Bar

The beautiful beverage photography of Martin Wonnacott

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"I love the Tanqueray shot,”Wonnacott says. “We got through quite a bit of tonic. They were very passionate about the effervescence and taste sensations, and the quality of the glass and all this kind of stuff. They’re very, very passionate—and lovely people, actually. We shot against a dark-green backdrop and had a green light behind the bottle. If you look in the glass, you see some nice dark greens coming through. You wouldn’t get that if you shot that on white and dropped it in."
Wonnacott’s portfolio reveals his passion and skill. The images are almost always graphic and simple, more often than not rich and colorful, and in many cases, extremely close up. The luxury, and simultaneous challenge, of shooting beverages is that the liquids are practically alive—full of interesting colors, shapes, textures and movements. The master photographer simply stays out of its way and capitalizes on the life of the beverage.

“I think it’s looking for natural beauty in whatever you’re looking at,” he says of his approach. “Every object, someone has designed it, someone has taken a lot of care with it. Or if it’s a liquid, there’s some inherent quality to that liquid that’s different from another one. If there isn’t, you’ve got to find what makes it different. Again, it comes back to simplicity and feeling what you’re looking at. A lot of it comes from the heart. When I’m approaching a shot, I go with gut feeling.

“Everything I use is real product,” Wonnacott continues. “I think a lot of people shoot and they change it. They use other liquids. You kind of want to use the real thing where you can, whatever that means. The Tanqueray, the effervescence—that’s something that you’ll get one frame or two frames maybe, where you get it just right. It’s all about trying to capture that realism, and it comes from energy that comes from the drink. It’s capturing that, and it’s working hard to get that. It’s one of those things where you can’t just hope it happens; you have to kind of make it happen.

“Don’t overthink it,” he cautions. “Don’t overlight it, and get in there. Overlighting is my pet peeve. People think, Oh, it’s glass, we’ve got to put lots of lights because you’ll see them. More often than not, less is more. But again, it’s what you’re doing with that light. Maybe it’s cards and reflectors. It’s back to realism. And it’s not overthinking—which is easier said than done.”

Clearly a talented shooter, Wonnacott emphasizes the need to be a good marketer, as well. "It’s so important," he says. “'t’s unbelievably important. You can take amazing pictures, you can be a lovely person, but if you’ve got no drive and no dedication to the marketing, and you don’t spend in the right areas or whatever, you’re going to fail. If you don’t focus on that side of it, it’s going to be tough. You might get a lucky break, of course. That does happen. It’s not the driving force to it, but in terms of survival, it’s a very important area not to ignore.
Wonnacott’s approach may sound simple, but deceptively so. As any studio shooter knows, things work differently with clients on set—particularly if those clients have spent considerable time and money to make the perfect picture.

“You need to have the confidence to be able to approach it in a more simplistic way,” Wonnacott says. “I think people panic, and I understand it. It’s difficult when you’ve got clients on set. It’s one thing to shoot a bottle at home on your own, but when you’ve got clients who’ve flown 4,000 miles, and there’s nine people on set, everyone is staring at you, you’re given this bottle or glass, and you put it in front of this camera, and you go, right, go! That changes how you approach things sometimes for some people. ‘Oh, I must get more lights out quick.’ Well, no, don’t. Stop, stop, stop!”

Wonnacott’s approach is to combine simplicity and perfectionism with trial and error. This is especially true with images of liquids in motion—like the beautifully minimal photograph of Baileys Irish Cream poured against the brand’s supple red background.

“The Baileys shoot was particularly complex,” Wonnacott explains. “It had to look so like Baileys; there couldn’t be any question. The texture had to be right. There were suggestions of using all sorts of other liquids, and there were a few other photographers in the pitch who were testing other ways you could use other liquids to look similar to it. But it worked out that we just used Baileys at room temperature. There you go. Stop messing around, and let’s just use the real thing.

Baileys: The perfect pour!
“There’s an element of getting into—pun not intended—getting into a bit of a flow,” Wonnacott continues. “You do a couple of takes and then you go, okay, we need to pour it more like this or like that. Once you get into a bit of a rhythm—and it’s multiple takes quite often—you kind of feel it. It’s all down to timing. With a lot of the splash stuff, I know people use lasers and all sorts of things. I do everything by just waiting for the right moment. I think you get some interesting stuff that happens rather than being too regimental.

“Dedication to the perfect image,” he says. “If it takes you all night, then it takes you all night. Generally, it doesn’t. But if that’s what it’s going to take, then you have to do it. Don’t settle for something that’s not quite right. It has to be right.”

Then again, Wonnacott adds, don’t forget to keep it simple: “Some shots are obviously very complicated, but other stuff... Some shots maybe take you half an hour. Don’t be afraid if it does.”

Wonnacott’s Gear
Sinar p3 and Sinar eVolution 75H digital back

Sinaron Digital 55mm and 90mm lenses (but always carries the 28mm, 45mm, 120mm and 150mm lenses)

Profoto Pro-8a Air pack and Pro heads with reflectors and grids

Roll of Rosco Heavy Frost

iPod; comfy sofa; fresh flowers; Nespresso coffee machine; fine builders’ tea, commonly known as PG Tips

Cheerful assistant(s) always on set

To see more of Martin Wonnacott’s photography, visit his website at www.wonnacott.com.


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