Bottle Rocket: How an Imaginative Photographer Created a Colorful Image


© Sam Garcia

Depending on how you look at it, this photo took Sam Garcia an hour, or four years, to make.

Formerly a professional markets technical representative for Nikon, and an instructor for the Nikon School of Photography, Garcia’s travels across the country and around the world presented him with many room-service breakfast trays, from which he took the Tabasco and ketchup bottles that accompanied the meals.

At home he filled the little bottles with water, added food coloring, and put them on windowsills to bring touches of color into the rooms. “They acted kind of like the suncatchers you see in the Southwest,” he says.

Eventually the bottles made the transition from merely decorative pieces to color sources for photography. “But you never saw the bottles in the first photographs I made,” Garcia explains. “You saw the light coming through them falling on and illuminating something else.”

Then, about four years ago, the bottles became the subject matter of an ongoing series of imaginative images. “One day I realized they could be much more than just color sources,” Garcia says. “And at the same time I thought it might be fun to photograph them without providing any clue to their size.” With nothing to indicate scale, you’d have no way of knowing that the bottles in this photograph, save one, are only about an inch tall.

To make the photograph, he placed on his kitchen table a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil he’d wrinkled up a bit and set the bottles on it. He used a plant mister to water the foil to boost reflections and add texture. The setup was brightly backlit by sunlight streaming in through the window—“the strongest saturation for anything translucent comes from backlighting”—and his camera was steadied by a tabletop tripod.

The image is essentially the result of Garcia pursuing “the fun of making stuff that defies people’s expectations of gear, subject matter, and settings.” He once wrote that “anybody can buy a magician’s top hat. It’s getting the rabbit out of it that’s hard to do.”

Small bottles, water, food coloring, aluminum foil, and sunlight through a kitchen window. A pretty cool rabbit, I’d say.

Tech Talk: Sam Garcia took the suncatcher image with a Nikon Coolpix P7000 on a Manfrotto Digi Tabletop Tripod; the 6-42.6mm f/2.8 lens was at its maximum focal length. The camera settings were 1/60 second, f/8, ISO 100, aperture priority, and Matrix metering.